- The 300 SL (W 194) notched up the first post-war race victories for Mercedes-Benz
- The first SL became an instant legend following its spectacular racing successes
Stuttgart – “Dear editors – The new Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (Super Light) sports car will complete test drives in public for the first time during this week. In light of this occasion, please find enclosed the car’s technical data and a photo.” This was how the company announced the debut of 300 SL (model series W 194) in a press release on 10 March 1952. Two days later, the car was shown to selected journalists on the Stuttgart-Heilbronn motorway, now the A 81.
A surviving photo shows a late-winter scene with the sports car that was to become famous. Next to it is a Mercedes‑Benz 300 S (W 188) – a sporty, luxurious touring car that provided some of the technology for the new sports car.The press release at the time also revealed Mercedes-Benz’s plans for the new racing car: “Three ‘300 SL’ models have now been registered for ‘Mille Miglia’, the famous Italian road race taking place on 3/4 May 1952, with the drivers Caracciola, Lang and Kling at the wheel. Rudolf Caracciola has already won this race once – driving a Mercedes-Benz SSKL in 1931.”
A total of ten W 194 models were built for the 1952 racing season. They proved to be extremely successful: second and fourth places in Mille Miglia, the top three places in the Berne Grand Prix for sports cars, the top two places in the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the top four places in the Jubilee Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. The last great adventure of the season was participation in the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in Mexico – a gruelling long-distance race over 3111 kilometres, lasting five days with eight stages. Here the cars piloted by Karl Kling/Hans Klenk and Hermann Lang /Erwin Grupp were the first to cross the finish line in November 1952, securing a legendary double success for Mercedes-Benz.
These motor-racing successes not only signalled Mercedes-Benz’s return to motorsport, they also enabled the tradition-steeped brand to fully recapture the allure it enjoyed before World War II, as the 300 SL made its debut not that long after the war’s end. In Germany and large parts of Europe, ruins were still very much part of the everyday landscape. The world’s economies were recovering, but the aftermath of the years 1939 to 1945 was still very palpable. It was at this time that Mercedes-Benz introduced the 300 SL racing car – its legendary victories regaining the brand world-wide recognition.
Not least in the USA, where the resident Mercedes-Benz importer Max Hoffman called for a suitable production sports car to enable customers to experience the recently established SL legend for themselves. In February 1954, the 300 SL (W 198) “gull-wing” model was unveiled at the International Motor Sports Show in New York and quickly became an automotive icon. At the same time, the 190 SL (W 121) model, which went into production in 1955, premiered as the racing version’s more practical and affordable counterpart. These two models laid the foundations for the tradition of SL production sports cars, which is being continued in 2012 with the R 231 model series.