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Mercedes-Benz SL:
50 years of Roadster tradition

 

March 8, 2004

 

Mercedes Roadsters
50 fascinating years of a legendary sports car

 

Stuttgart - The Mercedes sports cars bearing the legendary "SL" in their model badge have passed a new milestone: it is now half a century since the start of their career as one of the world's most fascinating and desirable motor cars. To many people, they sum up the whole concept of a dream car. Top-notch design, ground-breaking engineering and sheer driving pleasure - these qualities have been the trademark of every SL over the past 50 years, from the earliest days right down to the SL sports car of today and the second-generation SLK-Class which will make its market debut in spring 2004. Since 1954, the SL and SLK Roadsters have been sold to more than 870,000 customers in every con-tinent of the world.

 

In February 1954, the "International Motor Sports Show" in New York saw the birth of a phenomenon. It was here that Mercedes-Benz presented not just one but two of the soon-to-be-legendary SL models to the press and public: the 300 SL gullwing coupé and the open-top 190 SL.

 

The 300 SL, with its eye-catching "gull-wing" doors and the performance of a full-blooded racing car, was an instant hit with the showgoers of the time while the 190 SL, an open-top sports car with a folding soft top, founded the Mercedes-Benz Roadster tradition. It was only in 1957 that the 300 SL too presented itself in open-top guise, and made the leap from gull-wing coupé to roadster.

 

Whatever the exact chronology, the 300 SL is still regarded as the first in a long line of charismatic Mercedes sports cars. It was this model whose im-mediate forerunner, the racing version, had drawn the attention of American auto importer Max Hoffman with a string of successes on the track. Hoffmann was so enthusiastic about these vehicles that he asked the company's Board of Management in Stuttgart to develop a civilian version of the sports car. Thus began the unstoppable rise of the 300 SL. The striking gull-wing doors of this model were just one of many claims to fame. Other unconventional engineering features included the intricate but extremely sturdy tubular spaceframe chassis and a high-performance direct petrol injection engine which produced 215 hp, a sensational figure for the times. The same technology was also featured in the later open-top version of the 300 SL.

 

1963: new Mercedes Roadster with pagoda roof

 

The 300 SL and 190 SL continued in production until their successor arrived in 1963. This new model created quite a stir, particularly due to its quirky ap-pearance. Its most striking feature, alongside the crisp new lines, was a re-movable hardtop which dipped inwards in the middle. This unique feature immediately made one think of a Japanese pagoda - and "pagoda", in fact, soon became its nickname. Interestingly, however, it was safety considera-tions rather than styling which inspired its development. Mercedes engineer Béla Barényi, the pioneer of modern-day passenger car safety engineering, had patented this unusual roof shape some years before, in 1956, as a de-sign which offered extreme rigidity and maximum occupant safety in an acci-dent. Equally impressive was the large headroom which the pagoda model offered when the hardtop was in place.

 

At the same time the SL had evolved into a highly civilised sports car which was particularly in its element as a tourer. And like its predecessor, this sec-ond generation model also included some ground-breaking technical high-lights. These included safety bodywork and an easy-to-use soft top. The bonnet initially sheltered a 150 hp 2.3 litre six-cylinder engine which gave the SL 230 a top speed of 200 km/h.

 

1971: the SL Roadster acquires an eight-cylinder version

 

In 1971, the "pagoda" model was followed by a new SL sports car which was destined to continue in production for 18 years, until 1989 - longer than any other Mercedes passenger car. The advanced styling of this classic ensured that it continued to look contemporary throughout its long production run. To this day, its combination of distinctive curves and clean, frill-free lines gives it a hand-some and iconic appearance.

 

From every angle, the powerful, self-assured, luxurious and masculine third-generation SL, which came with an equally tasteful removable hardtop, pre-sented a well-proportioned roadster profile. Striking characteristics included elegance, quality and also safety, since the crash performance of this open-top two-seater was way ahead of the standards of the times. Furthermore, for the first time ever the SL was now also available in an eight-cylinder version. Developing 200 hp at 5800 rpm, the new engine gave the Roadster a 0 to 100 km/h acceleration time of just 10 seconds, while at 212 km/h its top speed was an advance of 12 km/h on the previous model.

 

1989: new standards in design and safety

 

The successor model made its first public appearance at the Geneva Interna-tional Motor Show in spring 1989. It set new standards not only in terms of superb design quality and top-down driving pleasure but also, and above all, on safety. The fourth-generation SL took occupant protection to the same level as a Mercedes saloon. For example the standard-fitted safety package included a sensor-controlled pop-up roll-over bar which in a crash or extreme driving situation was extended into position automatically by a combination of spring and hydraulic power in just 0.3 seconds. The A-pillar, incorporating internal tubular reinforcement, further enhanced the protection provided by the unique automatic roll-over bar.

 

The SL-Class of 1989 was the first production car in the world to be fitted as standard with an advanced-design integral seat, i.e. a seat with integrated three-point belt. The seat frame was also designed to absorb energy in a side impact. Around 20 patented solutions are to be found in this seat alone.

 

Between 1989 and July 2001, more than 180,000 units of this model series, internally coded R 129, were built.

 

2001: fourth-generation SL with leading-edge technology

 

The current SL-Class, which now comprises three models, with six-, eight- and twelve-cylinder engines, raised the bar even further on both engineering and styling. A supercharged AMG version developing 368 kW/500 hp is also available.

 

With its comprehensive safety concept, the SL-Class sets the benchmark on vehicle safety for a new generation of sports cars. Its systems cover every aspect of vehicle safety, from accident avoidance based on electronic vehicle dynamics systems like SBCT, ABC, Brake Assist and ESP® through high-strength body construction to fastest possible accident rescue following an accident. In addition to the high structural strength, occupant protection is further enhanced by two-stage driver and passenger airbags, innovative head/thorax bags in the doors, integral seats, belt tensioners, belt force limit-ers and the sensor-controlled roll-over bars.

Also new in this class is the vario-roof, which allows the SL to offer an open-top motoring experience without compromises, combining the top-down fun of a roadster with all the comfort of a Mercedes coupé.

 

While the styling of this Mercedes sports car mirrors its advanced technology, it also stresses appeal, driving enjoyment and the fascination of top-down motoring. Discreetly but effectively, in a nod to SL tradition, the designers have also incorporated cues from the very first SL of 1954. Typical SL fea-tures have been stylishly woven together with new elements from the Mer-cedes design language of today. Combined, these show the road ahead for the future of the Roadster. These include twin headlamps with a particularly dynamic new treatment.

 

SLK-Class: compact Roadster acquires cult status

 

With the legendary 190 SL, Mercedes-Benz demonstrated all of 50 years ago that even a small roadster can offer big driving pleasure. Mercedes returned to this idea when it unveiled the SLK-Class, which has been setting new standards in this vehicle class ever since autumn 1996. This benchmark posi-tion is based not only on technological leadership but also on another charac-teristic sports car quality: emotional appeal.

 

Visual appeal, advanced engineering and exemplary safety - these are all hallmarks of the compact Mercedes Roadster, which has long since become a contemporary cult car and is in great demand on both the new and the used car markets, where the SLK-Class is one of the leading performers in terms of value retention.

 

Having been sold to over 308,000 enthusiastic customers all over the world, picked up more than 40 international awards and assumed the position of world leader in its market segment, the first generation of the SLK-Class can look back on a proud and successful record.

 

Eight years after the premiere of the first SLK, and 50 years after the pre-miere of the first SL Roadster, the second generation of the SLK-Class was presented to the public in spring 2004. As refreshing, enlivening and potent as an Italian espresso, the new Roadster displays even stronger sporting credentials than its predecessor.

 

At the same time, the new SLK also expands on the established and familiar strengths of its predecessor - for example with its further refined, space-saving vario-roof, a range of even more advanced safety systems and one-of-a-kind new developments like bi-xenon headlamps with cornering light func-tion, the 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission and the AIRSCARF neck-level heating system (optional features). The new SLK-Class comes in a choice of three different models: the four-cylinder SLK 200 KOMPRESSOR, the SLK 350 with newly developed V6 engine and - for the first time in this class - an eight-cylinder Mercedes-AMG model.

 

The design language is equally dynamic: handsome, racing-inspired features like the eye-catching nose, the radiator grille fins and the twin-pipe exhaust system, are a reminder that the SLK comes from a company whose great Roadster tradition stretches back exactly 50 years.

 

Mercedes engineer Frank Knothe: a 38-year relationship with the SL

 

At the Mercedes-Benz Technology Centre in Sindelfingen, Frank Knothe has been actively involved in development and testing of the Roadster mod-els for the past 38 years. Knothe's professional career began on December 1, 1966, when he joined Mercedes-Benz as a 24-year-old engineering graduate. One of his first tasks was to integrate a 2.8 litre six-cylinder engine in the SL models of the time. On the successor model too, Knothe worked with Mer-cedes Development Chief Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who had a big hand in the inno-vative design and engineering of the "R 107" through to his retirement in 1972. Following the launch of the "R 129" in 1989, Frank Knothe and his team also assumed responsibility for the development of the SLK-Class, whose innovative vario-roof made a big impression when it came out in 1996.

 

Today, as the S-, SL- and SLK-Class model series Director, Frank Knothe is responsible for full-vehicle development and testing of all these models. Pri-vately, he drives a 1985 300 SL, which has picked up a lot mileage and a lot of memories along the way.



 

The SL Roadsters from Mercedes-Benz
Dream cars through the ages

  • 1957-1963: from gull-wing coupé to roadster
  • 1963-1971: the "pagoda", a high-class tourer
  • 1971-1989: a monumental 18-year production run
  • 1989-2001: uncompromising roadster safety
  • 2001 and beyond: new SL-Class is a technological trend-setter

 

On June 15, 1951, the Board of Management of Daimler-Benz reached a de-cision which was to have far-reaching implications: Mercedes cars would re-turn to the racing circuits of the world. This proved to be a sound move, since as well as providing the Mercedes-Benz brand with two Formula 1 world championship titles in the nineteen-fifties, it was also the foundation of a con-tinuing fascination: the legend of the SL.

 

Very few combinations of letters have achieved the charismatic appeal of the name "SL" - actually conceived simply as an abbreviation for "sporty" and "light". These two letters today represent the authentication of a unique Mer-cedes tradition and vouchsafe the continuation of a living, pulsating legend.



The legend began in the grey post-war period. Purses were empty, the Auto-bahns virtually deserted and there were more than enough parking spaces to go round. Policemen stood at crossroads directing traffic, because there were hardly any traffic lights. But there were visions; one of which was to see the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL as a pure racing car - and this vision was achieved in bravura style. Although - due to cost implications and shortage of time - only the W 186 saloon (the famous "three hundred") had been available as the technical basis, the Mercedes sports car was successful right from the start. Rudolf Uhlenhaut, who had given vital impetus to the 300 SL project, was to remember later "We took the standard engine from the 300 and built a tubu-lar frame and aluminium body around it."

 

The concept proved a good one and, in 1952, an SL was already second across the finishing line of the famous Mille Miglia rally. But the true charisma of the two letters really became apparent later that same year, when the 300 SL took part in the Carrera Panamericana. The magnificent double victory of Karl Kling and his co-driver Hans Klenk and Hermann Lang and Erwin Grupp in this notorious long-distance race made the gullwing coupé the focus of attention, once and for all, especially after the 300 SL had been fastest in Berne, at the Le Mans 24 Hours and on the Nürburgring all in the same year.

 

Impetus from the US

 

Despite its success on the racing circuit, the 300 SL as a road-going sports car - and thus as the nucleus of all SLs - was almost never built. However, from the US came a message from an Austrian gentleman, Max Hoffmann, still known even today by the nickname of "Maxie", who wanted to buy from Daimler-Benz cars that didn't exist.

 

This brilliant salesman, with a real sense for trends and what might become such, was convinced that he could sell 1000 road-going versions of the Mer-cedes-Benz 300 SL on the North American continent. After all, the sports car had become famous over the other side of the "pond" as well, thanks to its racing successes. Hoffman's arguments soon convinced the Stuttgart com-pany's Board of Management and the road-going version of the 300 SL was thus revealed to the public gaze at the international motor show in New York on February 6, 1954.

 

1957 to 1963: the gull-wing model becomes a roadster

 

Three years later, in March 1957, the gull-wing model was succeeded by the Roadster, which ultimately went on to be produced until 1963. Once again, the US market was a deciding factor in this decision, for powerful, open cars were all the rage there. From 1958 onwards the Roadster, whose long, verti-cally arranged headlamps also differentiated it from the coupé, was available with a hardtop as well. This was the foundation for the Mercedes-Benz phi-losophy that an SL should be open but, at the same time, suitable for driving in all weathers.

 

The 300 SL was a sensation in both versions and proved to have a unique power of attraction, with motor enthusiasts from all over the world wanting to buy one. The well-known German motoring journalist and author Fritz B. Buch commented succinctly but accurately, "It has lodged itself in my heart." It is therefore hardly surprising that the Coupé version was honoured with the title of "Sports Car of the Century" at the end of its own century.

 

The 300 SL was a jewel on wheels. International celebrities shared this view and were delighted to be seen with the Mercedes-Benz sports car. Film star Zsa Zsa Gabor bought herself a 300 SL, as did the newspaper magnate Wil-liam Randolph Hearst; whilst aristocratic heads such as the Duke of Edin-burgh and Shah Reza Pahlevi were as proud to drive the SL as the King of Rock'n Roll himself, Elvis Presley.

 

Direct petrol injection for 210 hp of power

 

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was not just an object of popularity and respect: for many it represented, quite simply, the epitome of the modern sports car. 215 hp from an engine displacement of three litres and a, for those times, incredible top speed of over 250 km/h - depending on the rear axle ratio - served to prove its true sporting ancestry. Dr. Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the "father" of the SL, made it quite clear when he said, "Feel free to consider the SL models as sports cars - as long as the emphasis is on Sport."

 

The 300 SL was, to its core, a high-tech product in the innovative tradition of Mercedes-Benz. From the basic straight six-cylinder engine of the saloon, which produced just 115 horsepower, the racing engineers had bred a high-performance unit. To get it up initially to 210 hp at 5760 rpm, they developed for the very first time a direct petrol injection system for a series model with a four-stroke engine. The injection jets were positioned in the upper part of the cylinder wall where, in a normal 300 engine, the spark plugs would be lo-cated. In the SL engine, these were moved to the side of the cylinder head. The crankshaft of the six-cylinder unit, with 2996 cubic centimetres engine displacement resulting from a stroke of 85 millimetres and a bore of 88 milli-metres, was supported by seven bearings.

 

With the addition of a sports camshaft and a compression ratio of 8.55:1, the power pack could even produce 215 hp at 5800 rpm. This corresponds to a power output per litre of 71.5 hp - a quite unbelievable figure for the time, since most engines made do with a modest output of 30 hp per litre dis-placement, at most. The speed of the SL engine was also a cause for admi-ration: 6600 rpm was the figure quoted by Mercedes-Benz for its maximum speed, with 6000 rpm at cruising speed. Back then, anything over 4000 rpm was rare.

 

Each of these high-performance engines was tested for 24 hours on a test bed, with one in six even tested at full throttle. The engines would then be dismantled and checked once again before being re-assembled and sub-jected to a further eight hours of endurance testing. Only once this procedure had been completed were they considered fit to be installed in the SL Road-ster.

 

Bodywork engineering based on aircraft construction

 

An even greater technical sensation was caused by the tubular frame; a prin-ciple derived from aircraft construction. The intricate construction, which ex-perts welded together by hand from individual, fine steel tubes, was light and yet rigid. Efforts to make the frame as sturdy as possible in the original coupé version resulted in a very high sill which left no room for normal doors. This more or less inevitably gave rise to another spectacular innovation that was to become the hallmark of the 300 SL: its gull-wing doors. However, when it came to the Roadster, the engineers redesigned the tubular frame construc-tion, by lowering it in the door area, to make getting in and out easier and to increase the boot space. The idea behind the open-top car had been from the start, after all, to offer a sporty tourer or luxury convertible.

 

A further prominent feature of the SL models of the nineteen-fifties were the crescent-shaped protrusions over the wheels, which gave the SL such a strik-ing appearance. These were originally designed to protect the sides of the vehicles from dirt and damage from loose chippings and were hence officially known as "splash shields".

 

The Mercedes engineers also improved the Roadster in other important points. For example, it was given a new single-joint swing axle with a lower pivot point and compensating spring, which was superior to the original dou-ble-joint axle and was less demanding on drivers driving at the limits of stabil-ity. From 1961 onwards, Mercedes-Benz fitted disk brakes to all four wheels of the SL Roadster.

 

The American motoring magazine "Road & Track" advised its readers with regard to the 300 SL Roadster "When a comfortable interior is matched by remarkably good vehicle handling, with wheels that grip in what can only be described as an incredible fashion, with light and precise steering and with performance that is as good as, if not better than, any car so far built, then there's only one thing left to say: the sports car of the future has arrived!"

 

Yet even this dream had to end and, on February 8, 1963, production of the 300 SL ceased. Up until that point, 3,258 sports cars had been built, 1,858 of them as Roadsters.

 

1963 to 1971: forms that move

 

A living legend - such as the SL - is a story with sequels. The successor to the 300 SL was already waiting in the wings and celebrated its premiere at the Geneva Motor Show in 1963. Yet another model from Stuttgart to catch the eye - not so much because of a dimensional concept that offered im-proved spaciousness and touring comfort, and which had already been signed off on October 21, 1958 by the Board Member responsible for Pas-senger Car Development, Professor Dr Fritz Nallinger, but more because of the unusual appearance of the sports car. It was the unusual proportions and lines of the car which differentiated the 230 SL (internal code W 113) from all others. Its dominant design feature was a removable hardtop which, uncon-ventionally, was lower in the middle than at the sides.

 

Appropriately enough, this sports car became known as the "pagoda" in common parlance, since its roof was reminiscent of Japanese temple archi-tecture. Yet the reasons behind this development were not so much those of style as of safety. Mercedes engineer Béla Barényi, the pioneer of modern safety engineering, had already designed and patented this unusual roof shape in 1956. He had real-ised the advantages that it offered in terms of rigidity, thus offering the vehicle occupants maximum possible safety. Similarly impressive was the generous headroom in the 230 SL, even with its "pagoda roof" in place.

 

Sport and comfort combined

 

This second SL generation aroused conflicting opinions among many people at the time. The 230 SL was a true tourer, but its performance was certainly not that of a tame cruiser: 150 hp from its 2.3-litre six-cylinder engine could take it up to 200 km/h. The press, meanwhile, remained enthusiastic about the most refined sports car ever to exist. As a test report of the time noted, "This is a fast, road-hugging car with good brakes and good visibility."

 

So it was hardly surprising that the SL of 1963 was also able to demonstrate its sporting prowess. In 1963, Eugen Böhringer and Klaus Kaiser won the punishing Spa-Sofia-Liège rally after a four-day non-stop run.

 

Once again, Mercedes-Benz was to introduce some surprises with this gen-eration of SL, in the form of pioneering technical highlights. One sensation was, for example, the easy manual operation of the car's soft-top - "the fast-est soft-top in the world", as one specialist magazine was to put it. Innovative elements were also applied by the Mercedes engineers when it came to the car's safety engineering. The 230 SL was the first sports car in the world to feature a "safety body with rigid passenger compartment and front and rear crumple zones". Mercedes saloons in the upper and medium class had fea-tured this trailblazing invention from Béla Barényi since 1959 and 1961, but the SL marked the arrival of this technology in the world of the sports car.

 

The 230 SL was also to make a name for itself as a trendsetter by being the first passenger car to feature an alternator as standard and the first sports car with automatic transmission (as an optional extra).

 

In 1965 the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" tried to analyse what lay behind the fascination of the SL. In a wide-scale survey, only 4.4 per cent of drivers quoted its exclusivity or its high image value. Many more people were impressed by quite different factors: its high speed, bold styling, sporty char-acter, the delightful possibility it offered of turning an open car quickly and easily into a coupé, its manoeuvrability, easy handling and high quality proved far more attractive.

 

Nor did progress pass by the 230 SL unnoticed in the following years. In early 1967 it was replaced by the 250 SL, which featured a sophisticated oil cooler, through which cooling water was circulated. 5196 models of this version were produced. Just eleven months later, still in 1967, it was followed by the 280 SL, which featured a larger bore engine and produced an output of 170 hp at 5750 rpm. Between 1963 and 1971, 48,912 "pagodas" were built and sold. The sports car was a hit in the US and, in the last year of its production, al-most 70 per cent of 280 SLs went to North America. For the Americans, the Mercedes Roadster had one invaluable advantage over every other Euro-pean sports car: it came with an excellent power steering system and auto-matic transmission - just the way the Americans liked it.

 

1971 to 1989: the 18-year reign of the third SL

 

This advantage was, of course, bequeathed to the next generation to suc-ceed the original 300 SL. This took over from the "pagoda" in 1971 and bore the internal code number R 107. This SL series was remarkable for the vari-ety of models it offered, which ranged from the 280 SL with a straight six-cylinder to the 560 SL with a V8 engine and which, over the course of the years, included eight different engines (not including special versions for other countries). These produced between 177 and 245 hp and made possi-ble top speeds of between 200 and 225 km/h, thus marking a decisive step on the part of Mercedes-Benz towards large engines. Eight cylinders and a large displacement have been part of the SL concept ever since.

 

The life span of this SL generation was unusually long. It lasted from the days of bell-bottom trousers and Flower Power, when the first buggy drove on the moon, to the Glasnost era, when Michael Gorbatschow in the USSR began the process of reforming state and party, thus laying the foundations for German reunification. America was to experience five Presidents and Ger-many three Chancellors during this period. With an uninterrupted production life of 18 years, the R 107 was the longest produced passenger car model of the Mercedes-Benz brand and, by 1989, a total of 237,287 of them had been sold.

 

The charm of the seventies

 

The question of what role the R 107 played in the SL legend is not an easy one to answer. As a two-seater weighing almost 1.6 tonnes it did not, at first glance, appear to be either sporty (S) or light (L). But the experts neverthe-less praised its dynamic appearance. As racing driver Hans Herrmann com-mented, "It's powerful, yet not ostentatious. It simply oozes superiority and masculinity."

 

To the observer, the body of the R107 revealed generous curves and an opu-lent amount of chromium. In some instances the new arrival was even de-scribed as a "new baroque creation". In fact, the lines of this SL family, too, had been designed with great care and attention to detail. The boot lid, for example, repeated the concave curvature of the roof towards the centre of the car, in the interests of a harmonious overall appearance. Stylistic adven-tures were consciously avoided by the designers of the SL. By giving the car such uncomplicated lines they provided it, almost without realising it, with the basis for its long life.

 

Indeed the R 107 really did become something of an automotive monument. Its seventies-style understated charm made it pretty well ageless. The doors felt heavy to the touch and shut with a satisfyingly solid "thunk". All the details seemed part of a homogenous whole, engineered for eternity. This was hardly surprising given that the engineers had been aiming to make this open-top car as sturdy as a saloon car.

 

Suspension engineering takes a new route

 

The engineering, however, was certainly not reminiscent of anything monu-mental at all but was - in the true tradition of the SL - very innovative. This was demonstrated even in small, creative ideas. The R 107, for example, was the first car to feature the pronounced horizontal ridges on the rear lights that prevent them from getting dirty. The car's suspension engineering also fol-lowed an unconventional route: at the front, A-frame arms were attached to a sub-frame whilst, in the rear, a sub-frame with state-of-the-art semi-trailing arms was responsible for wheel control. Models with over 3.5 litres engine capacity were even fitted with a newly designed, sophisticated semi-independent rear suspension system with upper arms that were linked to the semi-trailing arms by the wheel linkage in order to reduce the stress on the rear axle during acceleration. In Hans Hermann's judgement it was "A fool-proof car, if you don't overdo it too much."

 

Trendsetter on safety issues

 

Should one's driving style be too aggressive after all, and the laws of physics be ignored, the SL could come up trumps with what was at the time a unique and pioneering safety concept. It featured crumple zones and longitudinal members that, because of their shape and the varying thickness of the steel used, would deform and absorb energy in a pre-defined manner in the event of a crash. At the same time the engine and transmission unit would be forced back and down, thus minimising damage to the interior of the vehicle.

 

A robust A-pillar with a hollow cross section also provided safety reserves in the event of a roll-over. Its unusually high rigidity was due to an innovative welding process used instead of conventional spot welding. This was also the first car in which Mercedes-Benz fitted the front windscreen using an adhe-sive bonding process, a clever move which ensured yet further stability. Fur-ther innovative details rounded off the cutting edge safety concept. The dashboard was covered with energy-absorbing PVC foam and the knee area made safer by impact-absorbing bolsters. Another new idea was the door handle without a release button. The door is opened simply by pulling the handle, thus ensuring that it cannot open unintentionally in the event of a col-lision.

 

Mercedes-Benz was rigorous in ensuring that further safety details were in-troduced into the R 107 during the course of its production life.

  • Along with other Mercedes models, the SL was fitted with inertia-reel seat belts and headrests as standard in 1973.
  • The innovative anti-lock braking system (ABS) was made available for the first time for the whole SL series in 1980.
  • From early 1982 onwards, a steering-wheel airbag could be ordered as an option for the SL.

 

Celebrities' Darling

 

Its unmistakable star quality led to the R 107 being given a supporting role in the famous TV soap opera "Dallas". In the lives of other celebrities, however, the SL took on the leading automotive role. Amongst them were Uschi Glas, Mario del Monaco, Kurt Edelhagen, Peter Maffei, Heinz Oestergard, Curd Jürgens, Gerd Müller and many more.

 

The107 series also achieved success in the world of motor racing, although as the SLC coupé rather than as the SL Roadster. The early predecessors of today's CL Coupés, launched in 1971, were, for the first (and only) time de-veloped on the basis of the SL rather than of the top-bracket saloon. Between August 17 and September 24, 1978, several SLCs drove round the whole of South America in the Vuelta a America Sud, covering 28 602 kilometres in the process, including 6000 kilometres of special tests. The victorious team comprised Andrew Cowan and Colin Malkin in a Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC. The SLC also came second in one of the world's most arduous rallies, the East African Safari Rally, in 1979. In the same year the SLCs completed the Bandama Rally on the Ivory Coast with an impeccable four-car victory - a success that was repeated with a double victory in 1980.

 

1989 to 2001: styling and engineering reach new heights

 

In spite of the successful renaissance of the SL idea, work had already begun on its successor in the early nineteen-eighties. The briefing paper stated "In-dependent, sporty design, compact external dimensions combined with im-proved interior spaciousness, comfortable ride and interior, to be achieved by emphasising the driving experience."

 

The car finally celebrated its premiere at the International Motor Show in Ge-neva in 1989. The new SL, internal code name R 129, was introduced as a legitimate heir of the SL name. Its exterior was the object of considerable en-thusiasm. In the opinion of many experts, it was closer to the 300 SL of 1954 than either of its predecessors had been. The ex-Formula 1 World Cham-pion, Juan Manuel Fangio, expressed his feelings back then as follows: "For me, the new Mercedes-Benz SL combines, at the very highest level, the characteristics of a sports car with the qualities of a comfortable roadster and, as such, is a remarkable demonstration of the current state of automotive engineering."

 

The SL of the nineties was perhaps not flamboyant, but was instead some-thing of a timeless automotive sculpture that exuded serenity and yet excite-ment at the same time. Its pronounced wedge shape was evidence of both taste and style - and of the "strong symbolism" which Bruno Sacco had aimed to achieve. "A new car should not just look new, but also be noticeably new. And people will only recognise innovative engineering if it is combined with a similarly innovative appearance."

 

Particularly characteristic of the powerful look of the car is the line from the headlamp along the wing to the top end of the A-pillar. Even apparently insig-nificant details show top engineering quality. Thus the soft-top, which is at its widest at the imaginary B-pillar position, still manages to merge into the nar-rowing body lines as we follow them back. This was achieved by Mercedes-Benz with a particularly clever ruse: as the roof opens, the mechanism pushes the soft-top out by about 25 millimetres to each side.

 

Thanks to its sophisticated mechanism, the soft-top can be opened or closed while the traffic lights are still on red, allowing drivers to take advantage of every single ray of sun. And the draught stop, specially designed and devel-oped for the SL, ensures that open-top driving remains draught-free and yet convincingly genuine - and has since been frequently copied.

 

Technical sensations ensure high levels of safety

 

The SL didn't just offer unalloyed enjoyment of open-air driving - it also raised the level of occupant protection and comfort of a roadster to that of a Mercedes saloon, thus ensuring absolute driving enjoyment under the open sky. The standard safety package of the two-seater included a sensor-controlled roll-over bar that would trigger automatically by spring power and hydraulics within 0.3 seconds in the event of a crash or an extreme driving situation. The A-pillar hides a reinforcing tube, which provides a practical en-hancement to the protective effect of the unique automatic roll-over bar.

 

The SL of 1989 was the first standard production car to be fitted with integral seats with integrated inertia-reel seat belts, designed especially for this vehi-cle. The dimensions of the seat frame mean that it absorbs energy in the event of a lateral impact, in which case the broad cast aluminium frame member between the door sill and the seat cushion will deform. 20 patents have been issued for very specific elements within this integral seat.

 

The power of twelve cylinders

A twelve-cylinder engine with six litres displacement and 394 hp, which took the SL to 250 km/h without any trouble at all, marked the peak with regard to the engines for standard production models. These had initially included lively straight six-cylinder units and V8 engines and, from 1998 onwards, cutting-edge high-performance V engines with exemplary consumption and emis-sions figures. Superior handling was also ensured by a newly developed in-dependent multi-link suspension, which provided significant improvements in straight-running and stability.

From 1989 until July 2001 more than 180,000 "R 129" models were pro-duced.

 

2001 and beyond:
a stylish synthesis of tradition and innova-tion

 

With its sleek styling and advanced engineering, the sports car unveiled by Mercedes-Benz in autumn 2001 continued the long tradition of the SL Road-sters. With this latest incarnation, the popular Mercedes model series whose triumphant international career began exactly fifty years ago with the legendary "gull wing" 300 SL is now entering its fifth generation.

 

Along with the innovative vario-roof, which transforms it from an open-top roadster into a weather-proof coupé (or vice versa) in a matter of moments, the new SL-Class also features the electrohydraulic Sensotronic Brake Con-trol system (SBCT), a world first for Mercedes-Benz which works in tandem with the proven Elelectronic Stability Program ESP® and the Active Body Control (ABC). Thus the SL-Class offers a unique package of state-of-the-art electronic control systems. High standards of occupant protection are ensured by high-strength body construction, two-stage driver and passenger airbags, innovative head/thorax bags in the doors, newly developed integral seats, high-performance belt ten-sioners, belt force limiters and the sensor-controlled roll-over bars.

 

While the styling of this Mercedes sports car mirrors its advanced technology, it also stresses appeal, driving enjoyment and the fascination of top-down motoring. Discreetly but effectively, in a nod to SL tradition, the designers have also incorporated cues from the very first SL of 1954. Typical SL fea-tures have been stylishly woven together new elements from the Mercedes design language of today, which offer perspectives on the future of the Road-ster. These include twin headlamps with a particularly dynamic new treat-ment, whose state-of-the-art clear-lens design creates an enhanced and dis-tinctive appearance.

 

High-tech engines with six, eight and twelve cylinders

 

A dynamic sports car experience is provided not only by the innovative vehi-cle dynamics systems but also by the powerful six, eight and twelve-cylinder engines, whose outputs range from 180 kW/245 hp to 368 kW/ 500 hp.

 

Heading the line-up is a newly developed twelve-cylinder unit which combines performance with refinement. Equipped with twin turbochargers, air-to-water intercoolers, three-valve cylinder heads, alternating-current twin-spark ignition and other high-tech innovations, it is one of the most advanced passenger car engines in the world. It is also one of the most powerful in its class, with a rated output of 368 kW/500 hp. Peak torque of 800 Newton metres comes on stream at 1800 rpm and remains constant through to 3600 rpm, for effortless performance in any situation. The SL 600 accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in just 4.7 seconds, with a 60 to 120 km/h sprint time of 4.9 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h.

 

The impressive performance of the twelve-cylinder model is combined with superb refinement and extremely low noise, for ultra-civilised and enjoyable motoring. The extensive standard specification of the SL-Class will meet the aspirations of drivers who demand not only impeccable engineering but also high stan-dards of comfort and exclusiveness. Automatic climate control, xenon head-lamps (SL 600: bi-xenon), leather-upholstered integral seats, a multifunction steering wheel, a stereo radio, power seat adjustment with memory function and many other luxury features are fitted as standard on the eight and twelve-cylinder models. Optionally, a wide range of innovative assistance systems can be supplied, like DISTRONIC proximity control, the TELEAID automatic emergency call system, the COMAND control and display system (standard on the SL 600) and the electronic tyre pressure monitoring system.

 

Model chronology:
the Mercedes-Benz SL Roadsters

Period Internal
Code
Models and Engins Numbers Produced
1957-1963 W 198 II

300 SL (1957- 1963): six-in-line, 215 hp

1858
1963-1971 W 113

230 SL (1963- 1967): six-in-line, 150 hp
250 SL (1966- 1968): six-in-line, 150 hp
280 SL (1968- 1971): six-in-line, 170 hp


48,912
1971-1989 R 107 280 SL (1974- 1985): six-in-line, 185 hp
300 SL (1985- 1989): six-in-line, 180 hp
350 SL (1971- 1980): V8, 200 hp
380 SL (1980- 1985): V8, 218 hp
420 SL (1985- 1989): V8, 204 hp
450 SL (1971- 1980): V8, 225 hp
500 SL (1980- 1989): V8, 240 hp
560 SL (1985- 1989): V8, 227 hp


237,287
1989-2001 R 129 SL 280 (1993- 1998): six-in-line, 193 hp
SL 280 (1998- 2001): V6, 204 hp
300 SL (1989- 1993): six-in-line, 190 hp
300 SL-24 (1989- 1993): six-in-line, 231 hp
SL 320 (1993- 1998): six-in-line, 231 hp
SL 320 (1998- 2001): V6, 224 hp
500 SL (1989- 1998): V8, 326 hp
SL 500 (1998- 2001): V8, 306 hp
600 SL (1992- 2001): V12, 394 hp


180,200
from 2001 R 230 SL 500 (from 2001): V8, 306 hp
SL 600 (from 2003): V12, 500 hp
SL 350 (from 2002): V6, 245 hp
69,900*
*up to end of December 2003  

 


Mercedes-Benz 190 SL and SLK-Class

Compact, innovative and easy on the eye

  • 190 SL: dream car of the fifties
  • SLK-Class: roadster exhilaration since 1996

Maximilian Edwin Hoffman spent hours trying to persuade the Daimler-Benz Board of Management to build a reasonably priced sports car for the Ameri-can market. When he finally obtained the go-ahead from the then Director General Dr. Fritz Könecke, the elegant American still felt he had lost out. This was due to the proposal from Development chief Dr. Fritz Nallinger recom-mending that the small sports car Hoffman wanted to build should be con-structed on the platform of the 180 Saloon. Hoffman's immediate rejoinder was to the effect of "That's not going to come to anything."

Later, the car buff good-naturedly conceded: "I lost the outcome was the 190 SL."

 

The notable Board meeting in Stuttgart, viewed as the session which gave birth to the famous 190 SL, took place on September 2, 1953. The people responsible for the business had invited Max Hoffman because the entrepre-neurial American had been importing European cars to the USA ever since 1946 and had demonstrated an unfailing instinct and a considerable level of prescience. He was therefore the right person to partner Mercedes-Benz when it came to penetrating the American market.

 

The 190 SL, whose prospects of success were rated so low by its overseas godfather after what had for him been a disappointing meeting with the Board of Management was, together with the legendary gull-wing 300 SL, to throw open the doors of the American market to the world's oldest automotive brand. With this in mind, Hoffman was promised the 300 SL for the "Interna-tional Motor Sports Show" in New York, held from February 6 to 14, 1954. And its baby brother, the 190 SL, was to make its debut alongside it. The in-tention was to win the hearts and minds of the American public with an ele-gant sports car from a renowned company - one which combined an exciting design with a modest price tag.

 

This of course meant that the engineers were left with no more than five months to develop this car. Things had to move swiftly, and just two weeks after the meeting with Hoffman, the directors at Daimler-Benz were already examining initial draft designs for the new car. Two weeks later, they met to evaluate the first 1:10 scale model and eight weeks after that, the first 1:1 model was ready for their inspection. Then the already breathtaking pace of development actually increased. The floor assembly of the 180 model had to be adapted to suit the new design notions and the right engine had to be found. The tight schedule also meant that the shapes for the wooden blocks which would eventually give rise to the body of this car needed to be in final form no later than October 31, 1953. Faced with this time pressure, it was ultimately to be Walter Häcker who made the decisive changes to the draft designs for the body shape, culminating in the unmistakable character of the 190 SL.

 

While the designers were working flat out and with great enthusiasm on the new sports car, the Board of Management were giving fundamental thought to the future model policy. One of the reports from these Board meetings consequently states that the 190 SL should be viewed as a sports tourer rather than as a racing sports car.

 

Double premiere in New York

 

Finally, on February 6, 1954, the New Yorkers enthusiastically responded to the arrival of the 190 SL with their hallmark exuberance and style. The Ger-man journal "Automobil + Motorrad Chronik" reported a "turbulent debut". Other newspapers and magazines also marvelled at the chic sports car from Stuttgart and informed their readers of the new "Star in the Automotive Fir-mament", heaping praise on its "refined elegance". Another German journal, "Motorrundschau" then encapsulated what many people were by then think-ing of the 190 SL: "A tantalising dream for the thousands of people for whom the 300 SL would always be unattainable."

 

Nevertheless, for an initial period, the younger brother of the motor racing star remained no less elusive for the buying public because the 190 SL, after causing such a sensation, was simply not put on the market - not immedi-ately anyway. The designers were still being vociferous about a range of weaknesses: in their eyes, the car still did not have quite the right look and the new engine, later used in the saloon version of this model, still behaved in a rather idiosyncratic manner. All in all, there was no hiding from the fact that the rapid pace of development had left no time for thorough trials and test cycles. Under no circumstances was Mercedes-Benz willing to dispense with this rigorous approach to a new product.

 

The engineers thus set about teaching their engine better manners. They ex-perimented with various carburettor configurations, modified the shift lever configuration, and the body first exhibited in New York was also subjected to a number of refinements. This process did away with the stylised air intake on the bonnet, the front edge of the bonnet was offset towards the windscreen, the bumpers, turn signals and tail lights were modified and the familiar "comet tail" bulges above the wheel arches on the SL models also appeared above the rear wheels of the modified 190 SL. This final version was first unveiled to an admiring public at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1955. Volume pro-duction started in May 1955, once the vehicle had completed all its technical trials and was deemed fit and ready for life on the open road.

 

At this point, the 190 SL appeared on a stage where, at least during its early days in Germany, it looked somewhat out of place. Back in 1955, road traffic was still dominated by two-wheeled forms of transport. Most Germans would not have dared to dream of ever owning more than the tiniest of cars - fre-quently no more than a modified motorcycle with stabilisers. On the other hand, the stress and worry of finding somewhere to park were still completely unknown at this time, a total of 1.6 million cars shared a road network some 129,238 kilometres in length, of which 2,174 kilometres were motorway. Nowadays, although the number of kilometres on the road network has al-most doubled, with a five-fold increase in the length of motorway sections, the roads in Germany have to carry almost 45 million passenger cars.

 

The year which gave birth to the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL also saw the parti-tion of Germany, when the two German states gained separate autonomy. At the same time, when the Warsaw Pact was established, the political tempera-ture between East and West dropped well below zero - the Cold War in-duced fear in a great many people.

 

Despite all this, there was still optimism in the air. The first indistinct signs of the economic miracle were starting to emerge in West Germany, prompting the much aspired for upturn in fortunes. The shortage of workers prompted thoughts of turning to Italy as an initial source of migrant workers. At the same time, Italy became the dream destination for holiday travel.

 

While the front pages of newspapers were reporting on the worldwide fight against polio with the new "Salk" vaccine, the sports pages were enthusing about the racetrack successes of Mercedes-Benz cars. They swept to victory in the Grand Prix events in Belgium, Great Britain, the Netherlands and in Argentina. Mercedes driver Juan Manuel Fangio became World Champion. The cars with the star emblem also dominated all of the world's most gruel-ling long-distance races - the Mille Miglia, the Targa Florio and the Tourist Trophy.

 

A car for the heart

 

Meanwhile, the journals and magazines were busy discussing the 190 SL. "Auto Motor und Sport" considered it to be an "elegant, fast sports tourer which can also be used as a perfectly normal car for everyday use," describ-ing it as a car with "above-average roadholding". The same publication also went on to say that the 190 SL "was renowned for the fact that it just keeps on going." It also praised the soft top, claiming that it was "made to a quality standard that, outside Sindelfingen, could only be matched in a very few loca-tions in the world. The rapid and convenient operation required to raise and lower the convertible roof is a major benefit of the 190 SL."

 

This had an almost prophetic ring to it. At the time, no-one even imagined just how important a role this feature would come to play in the success of the SLK-Class. "Das Automobil" struck an even more enthusiastic note. "You can only own a car like this whole-heartedly - it casts a spell on its owner" was the accolade it bestowed. This was followed by a scarcely less remarkable confession: "I was able to feel for myself how much this car enhanced my personal stand-ing, not only with hotel porters and ladies young and old. When you acquire this car, you are purchasing more than a means of transport. You are also acquiring recognition and, over and above the value of actually using the car, you also gain the kind of good fortune that fills the child who resides in every man with delight."

 

Other publications tended to focus their attention more on technical details. One such journal, the "Automobil Revue", advised its readers: "in terms of road safety, the 190 SL is one of the very finest cars in production at this time." Then we have "Sports-Cars Illustrated" which listed a long string of positive qualities of the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL in a sober, factual manner: "The synchromesh works every time and the transmission is idiot-proof. You can drive economically if you so wish." At this point, the author of "Sports-Cars Illustrated" finally gave way to enthusiasm and confessed: "Where the 190 SL chassis really shines is when cornering and when driving in a straight line at high speeds. This is more than just a pleasure, it is actually a character building experience."

 

Based on proven technology

 

Unlike the gull-wing 300 SL, the 190 SL was not of course designed as a thoroughbred sports car. Instead, it was conceived as an elegant two-seater sports coupé for touring and everyday driving. The chassis platform was bor-rowed from the short-wheelbase floor assembly of the 180 model with its fa-miliar single-joint swing axle with a lowered fulcrum point. The front suspen-sion with its subframe concept was derived from the 180/180 D models.

 

The 190 SL was powered by a newly developed four-cylinder 1.9-litre engine with overhead camshaft which was capable of delivering 105 hp. Depending on road conditions, this meant the car could achieve road speeds substan-tially in excess of 170 km/h and accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h (approx. 0-60 mph) in about 14 seconds.

 

The 190 SL was available as a soft-top Roadster or as a coupé with remov-able hardtop with the additional option of a soft-top as well. Other items of optional equipment included a sports version for motor racing, featuring lighter doors with a cutout for the arm, stripped away bumpers and a small Plexiglas windshield in front of the driver instead of a windscreen. However, the Oberste Nationale Sportkommission (ONS or Governing National Sports Committee) refused to approve this sports version which was therefore with-drawn in March 1956.

 

Although this marked the end of any possible motorsport career for the 190 SL in Europe, it nevertheless came second at the 1956 Grand Prix in the Por-tuguese colony of Mação and was awarded Best in Class. In 1958 it went on to victory in its class of the Hong Kong Rally. The sporting career of the 190 SL was not even halted in 1961 when it was equipped with a diesel engine, going on as it did to break many records for diesel-engined cars.

 

Having said all that, the 190 SL garnered even more success on elegant city streets than it did on the race track. A broad range of prominent social figures chose this elegant sports car to complement their image, including Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra who drove a 190 SL in the film "Ten Thousand Bedrooms".

 

The Mercedes-Benz 190 SL remained in production until 1963. Many detail modifications helped to define its curriculum vitae. These included the chrome trim strips on the upper edges of the doors and large tail lights cho-sen for the 1956 model. From July 1957 the bumper overriders on the US version became standard equipment on all models, and in October 1959 the coupé versions were fitted with a new hardtop with an enlarged rear window.

 

The clearest indication of just how much loved and successful the 190 SL was is demonstrated by the production figures: between May 1955 and Feb-ruary 1963, no less than 25,881 cars left the assembly lines in Sindelfingen - far in excess of the aspirations initially discussed at that decisive Board meet-ing back on 2 September 1953.

 

SLK-Class: two studies pave the way for a new roadster star

 

Against this historical backdrop, it seemed only logical some decades later to revisit these considerations: would it not perhaps be appropriate for the SL-Class models, now firmly established in their own right, to be joined by a younger brother? After all, in the mid-Nineties, Mercedes-Benz had launched an entirely new product initiative, to which a compact roadster could lend fresh emphasis by drawing attention to the sporting heart of the Mercedes-Benz brand.

 

An appropriate acronym for this newcomer was swiftly coined: SLK. These three letters form the German initials for three characteristic properties of this car: sporty, lightweight and [k]compact. Recalling as they do the great sport-ing successes of Mercedes-Benz back in the Twenties and Thirties, they have an almost mystical resonance.

 

In Turin in April 1994, roadster enthusiasts were able to gain a first glimpse of how Mercedes-Benz believed a compact modern roadster should look. A bril-liant silver showstopper with a distinct aura of spartan sportiness sent the trade professionals into raptures. "We are exhibiting a forward-looking Road-ster study which delivers a unique synthesis of purist motoring pleasure with all the safety features for which Mercedes cars are renowned", announced the famous car manufacturer from Stuttgart.

 

To find out just how seriously the people in charge at Mercedes-Benz were taking this SLK project in its earliest days, you need look no further than the Paris Motor Show held in September of the same year. Here the company unveiled its second study, this time with vario-roof and in the form of a cus-tomised version with blue paintwork, harmonising blue-tone leather and a range of luxury accessories such as automatic transmission, air-conditioning system, power windows, a stereo system and much more besides. This en-abled Mercedes-Benz to demonstrate convincingly the breadth of appeal and the potential inherent in a compact roadster

 

Then the automotive enthusiasts started to wait. Many viewed the SLK as a very auspicious prospect indeed. Mercedes-Benz had done the unexpected and had demonstrated that a small and relatively inexpensive roadster was capable of offering a great deal of motoring pleasure while still being an ab-solutely serious and down-to-earth car in terms of safety and quality. This meant that the two Roadster studies had already opened up a new market niche and the SLK had already assumed the status of a trendsetter even be-fore it went into production.

 

By 1996 everything was in place: the production version of the new SLK-Class was launched at the Turin Motor Show. Especially high levels of inter-est were shown in the fully-lowering steel vario-roof which substantively backed up the SLK claim to being a car for all weathers. Using an intelligent electro-hydraulic system, the entire roof folds down into the boot in just 25 seconds leaving the owner free to roam under an open sky.

 

The SLK also fielded a convincing range of other qualities. Take safety for example: two fixed roll-over bars behind the seats protect occupants from injury if the car should overturn and, in conjunction with the exceptionally ro-bust A-pillars, deliver a very high level of safety even when these Mercedes-Benz cars are driven with the top down. Board of Management member Pro-fessor Jürgen Hubbert summarised what distinguishes the SLK: "Its design is exciting, and it exudes an appealing charisma. In a car like this, the journey is an end in itself."

 

Engines from 136 to 354 hp

 

The sporting talent of the SLK will initially be unleashed by two engine vari-ants: the SLK 200 is powered by a 2-litre four-cylinder engine with a power rating of 100 kW/136 hp. The SLK 230 KOMPRESSOR features a super-charged 2.3 litre engine, also a four-cylinder unit, delivering 142 kW/193 hp onto the road. In early 2000, the two-litre engine was also fitted with a belt-driven supercharger, boosting power to the rear axle to a new level of 120 kW/163 hp. The choice of engines was broadened by the arrival of two six-cylinder models, a 160 kW/218 hp unit for the SLK 320 and the 260 kW/354 hp powerplant in the SLK 32 AMG.

 

Moreover, Mercedes-Benz substantially upgraded the level of equipment for its Roadster and incorporated innovations such as the Electronic Stability Program (ESP®), a six-speed manual transmission and SPEEDTRONIC in its standard equipment package. In visual terms, a new design of bumper and side skirt gave the car an even more dynamic appearance. All the attach-ments and door handles were painted to match the vehicle body to enable the whole car to present an image of a unified whole in both colour and form. New taillights, stainless steel trim on the exhaust tailpipe and a painted radia-tor grille gave the SLK design an even more commanding identity.

 

With its SLK-Class, Mercedes-Benz succeeded in developing a car which really exudes an air of freedom, independence and adventure. A car for the emotions. An attractive roadster with a strong character promising untram-melled joie de vivre to its owners. More than 40 international prizes and awards bear testament to the tremendous popularity of this compact road-ster, a car recognised in its class as a real trendsetter and one whose tech-nology, design and level of equipment satisfies the most demanding of aspi-rations:

  • In 1996 Italian artists and art critics hailed the SLK as the "most beautiful car in the world". The British "Car Magazine" praised the Mercedes Road-ster as the "Best technical concept" and "Bild am Sonntag" awarded it the "Golden Steering Wheel".
  • In 1997 alone, the SLK harvested no less than 20 international awards. These included the title "Best of What's New" from the American maga-zine "Popular Science" and the title "Import Car of The Year" from the Japanese automotive press.
  • In 1998 the "American Marketing Association" declared the SLK to be the "Best New Product" and the readers of the German magazine "Auto, Mo-tor und Sport" voted the Mercedes Roadster the "Best Convertible".
  • In 1999, or almost three years since its market launch, the SLK was still winning highly prized titles: "Best Convertible", "Best Gear 1999" and the German award of "Most Popular Convertible" to name but three.

 

Even the real optimists at Mercedes-Benz had not anticipated the incredibly high popularity rating of the SLK series. In the early days, the maximum an-nual production target was assumed to be in the region of 35,000 units, but even in 1997, almost 50,000 SLK models rolled off the assembly line. As a result, virtually one in three of all compact roadsters sold worldwide that year bore the letters SLK on the back. By the end of its time in production, more than 308,000 people had taken ownership of a new SLK Roadster.

 

2004: more power, more safety, more driving pleasure

 

The new SLK-Class which will make its market debut in spring 2004 aims to follow in this successful tradition. The new Roadster will be even sportier, even more dynamic and will offer even greater levels of motoring pleasure. In doing so, it looks sure to satisfy the continually rising aspirations of drivers who want to own a car that inspires the emotions.

 

The second generation of the SLK-Class has an even sportier edge in terms of both its design and engineering and, with its powerful engines, newly de-veloped chassis, direct steering and precise six-speed manual transmission, delivers an even more agile driving experience. The body is 72 millimetres longer and 65 millimetres wider than the outgoing model, providing the SLK's passengers with more space and even greater comfort.

 

The SLK-Class offers a choice of three new engines, with outputs ranging from 120 kW/163 hp to 265 kW/360 hp. They include - for the first time in this class - an eight-cylinder Mercedes-AMG unit, while the SLK 350 is pow-ered by a new 200 kW/272 hp V6 engine which combines driving pleasure with performance.

 

Once again the second-generation SLK is strong on charismatic design, which takes some cues from Formula 1 motor racing. And it more than lives up to its reputation as the trend-setter and technology leader among the sports cars in its class. Standard specification includes a new-generation vario-roof which transforms this Roadster into a coupé in 22 seconds flat, head-thorax sidebags, adaptive front air-bags and two-stage belt force limit-ers. The Mercedes engineers have also added even more sports refinement to the suspension, steering and manual transmission.

 

As a world first, Mercedes-Benz is offering the SLK with the AIRSCARF neck-level heating system, which at the touch of a button directs a flow of warm air to the neck from vents in the head restraints. This means the SLK's occu-pants can enjoy open-air motoring all the year round.

 

Styling themes from Formula 1

 

The styling of the new SLK-Class immediately advertises its sporty and more powerful character. Typical roadster features like the long bonnet, steeply raked front windscreen, wide doors and short-cropped tail have been given even greater emphasis in the new models, which now feature a 30 millimetre longer wheelbase, a distinctly
V-shaped front end and a wedge-shaped silhouette.

 

Handsome, racing-inspired features like the eye-catching nose, the radiator grille fins and the twin-pipe exhaust system are a reminder that the SLK is from a company whose great Roadster tradition stretches back exactly 50 years.

Model chronology:
the compact Mercedes Roadsters

Period Internal
Code

Models and Engins

Numbers Produced
1955-1963 W 121 190 SL: four-in-line, 105 hp

25,881
1996-2004 R 170 SLK 200 (1996-2000 ): four-in-line, 136 hp
SLK 200 KOMPRESSOR (2000-2004): four-in-line, 163 hp
SLK 230 KOMPRESSOR (1996-2000): four-in-line, 193 hp
SLK 230 KOMPRESSOR (2000-2004): four-in-line, 197 hp
SLK 320 (2000-2004): V6, 218 hp
SL 32 AMG (2001-2004): V6, 354 hp


308,000
FROM 2004 R 171 SLK 200 KOMPRESSOR: four-in-line, 163 hp
SLK 350: V6, 272 hp
SLK 55 AMG: V8, 360 hp
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