The revolutionary 300SL is the reason that Mercedes-Benz is a household name today. The historic gull-wing sports car instantly evokes thoughts of the glamorous racing circuits of the 1950s. The "SL" designation, which means "Super Light," still rings true as the original 300SL is still a competent performer even among modern cars. Now with earlier examples over 60 years old, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL is a collectible in the truest sense of the word, with perfect examples commanding the attention of museums worldwide. It is now evident that this icon will continue to inspire for many decades to come.
- Partial Aluminum Construction
- Pivoting Steering Wheel
- Engine/Motor: 3.0L Inline Six
- Horsepower: 175-240
- Torque: 202 lb-ft
- Drivetrain: RWD
- Transmission: Four-Speed Manual
- Incredible Collectibility
- Engaging Handling
- Extremely Recognizable
- Extremely Expensive
- Difficult To Find
The heart of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL is just as polarizing as the car's exterior. Beneath the hood is the iconic 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine. Early iterations produce 175 horsepower and 157 lb-ft of torque. At the same time, examples that feature Bosch mechanical fuel injection produce 240 horsepower and 203 lb-ft of torque.
Variants with fuel injection also receive a larger intake and exhaust valves, both of which contribute to the high rating. The engine delivers power to the rear wheels through a four-speed manual transmission. The long gears allow the 300SL to reach a top speed of 163 MPH, making it the fast production car of the time.
21st Century Handling And Performance
Most 1950s cars handle like a boat and steer like a semi-truck, and enthusiasts love them for it. The Mercedes-Benz 300SL is a performer that departs drastically from that stereotype. The design is about performance from the ground up, and the dedication to that engineering makes for a car with performance and handling that is much more at home 60 years later.
The 300SL can reach 60 mph in just 7.0 seconds, impressive for the era. But even more impressive is the car's driving characteristics. The low tube frame keeps the center of gravity on the ground driver and passenger sit in between the car's frame rails. The 300SL can accelerate into a corner, hit it hard, and shake it off without a care.
While the stiff suspension may feel bumpy or crude in regular driving, the intention becomes apparent on a curvy mountain road. The utter domination of the 300SL on the racing circuit in the 1950s is no surprise once behind the wheel. With a variety of championships around the world under its belt, the precise steering and handling easily out maneuver any of the cars contemporaries.
A Forgiving Interior
Despite the racing nature of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, the interior is a forgiving place to be, something unique among sports cars of this era. While larger frame individuals struggle to step over the high sill and nestle themselves into the tight bucket seat, once inside it is manageable.
A full-leather interior greets passengers, and comfortable armrests make pleasure-cruising easy. The steering wheel swings down to help with egress, but its massive size is apparent once in place. Clear analog readouts ease some worries that come with aggressive driving. An AM radio provides entertainment, while a dash mount rearview mirror is the extent of onboard safety equipment. An optional heater keeps the cabin warm, but air conditioning exists only as an aftermarket add-on. Roadster variants feature both a hardtop and retractable soft top.
The 300 SL's Collectibility
The 300SL is the most iconic car ever to wear the imposing Mercedes-Benz logo, making the 300SL the desire of many affluent car collectors. As such, the average selling price in the last 5 years is $1.2 million. Cars with unique heritage sell well into the $2 million range, far beyond the vehicle's original $10,950 MSRP in 1955.
With only 1400 coupes and 1900 roadsters leaving the factory from 1954-1963, there are comparably few examples to go around. Furthermore, for many extremely hard conditions on the race circuit when new ended their life early on. Today, approximately 650 of these iconic cars remain in a variety of conditions. While many are in static museums, some enthusiasts still drive them on the streets in original condition, which is the only proper way to enjoy the car. Overall, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL is a car well deserving of its icon status, and despite its age, it will continue to enamor passionate automotive enthusiasts for years to come.