The 190SL was introduced in 1955 - the year Mercedes swept all before it on the Mille Miglia with the 300SLR. Indeed, the graceful, new two-door, convertible grand tourer was sold alongside the road-going version of the SLR - the 300SL - whose styling it strongly resembled. In fact, the underpinnings of the two cars were quite different and, while the 300SL had a purpose-built tubular spaceframe (W198), its smaller sibling was built on a shortened version of the 'Ponton' saloon (W121) platform, which was of monocoque construction.
The 190SL also boasted an all-new engine - an over-square SOHC straight-four unit of 1897cc that produced some 120bhp, which was sufficient to propel the car to a maximum speed of 112mph. The engine was coupled to a manual four-speed gearbox operated by a lever between the seats. The suspension comprised double wishbones and coil springs at the front and a coil-sprung swing axle at the rear. Steering was by recirculating ball and braking by power-assisted drums all round.
Built to the highest standards and among the quickest comparable cars of the time, the 190SL featured a well-appointed cockpit, notable comfort for its occupants and relatively generous luggage space. Under the circumstances, even the steep asking price of £2,693 did nothing to deter purchasers.
The convertible could be ordered with or without a removable hard top. There was also the option of a third seat that was placed transversely behind the front ones and big enough to carry an adult. The 190SL continued in production until 1963, when both it and the 300SL were replaced by the 230SL. By this time over 25,000 190SLs had been built.
The left-hand drive 190SL registration '881 XUU' was built in 1957. Its coachwork is finished in black and its interior trimmed in red leather. It has apparently spent most of its life in a rust free environment and six years ago became the subject of a major restoration, when $15,000 was said to have been spent on the engine alone. The work included: overhauling the head and short block; the fitting of a new clutch, radiator and fuel pump; the refurbishing of the twin-choke Solex carburettors by a German specialist, the reconditioning of the generator and much more.
At the same time, many chrome parts were refinished, including those relating to: the locks, the dashboard, the engine, the doors, boot and seats. A further $3,200 was apparently spent on the Becker audio system, which was completely renovated. New clear sun visors were fitted and all the leather items recovered. New German carpet was installed in both the passenger compartment and the boot. The fog lights and trailer hitch (both understood to be rare options) were attended to. The soft and hard tops were restored.
Further work has been carried out recently, including the execution of an extensive service and the fitting of two new tyres. A distance of some 500 miles has subsequently been driven by way of a thorough health check and the vendor tells us he believes that "everything is as it should be". Furthermore, he describes the coachwork as "near concours", the paintwork as "very good" the engine as being "without any known problems", the gearbox as "excellent" and the interior trim to be "as new". The car is MOT'd until the end of October.
The Mercedes 190SL was a class act, its combination of grace and pace far outstripping anything offered in America or Britain at the time. Good ones are inevitably sought after and their prices rising. As they rarely come to auction these days, '881 XUU' represents a good opportunity to purchase an example of German engineering at its best.
Image and description kindly supplied by H&H Classic Auctions
Mercedes-Benz 1957 190SL
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