1961 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster with hard top
Chassis no. 121042-10-017818
Having re-established itself with the new-design 300-series cars from 1951, and broken new ground with the upscale sports model 300SL, Daimler Benz AG set about designing the next generation of bread-and-butter sedans. The W120 and W121 "Ponton" cars (German for pontoon, a reference to their shape) debuted in 1953. These were mid-sized unibody sedans using four-cylinder sidevalve engines of 1.8 and 1.9 liters. Designated 180 and 190 from their metric displacement, they were available with both gasoline and diesel engines.
The Mercedes line, however, lacked a sports car under $7,500. The four-cylinder Ponton cars served as a good starting point to fill the gap, to create, in effect, a junior 300SL. Its platform was a shortened W121 monocoque, suitably strengthened to survive without a roof. The engine was a slightly undersquare 1,897cc ohc unit, newly developed from the 300SL by shortening both the block and the stroke. With dual downdraft Solex carburetors it developed 105 PS (104 bhp). This engine would be used in the four-cylinder Ponton sedans from 1957. The sports car's transmission was a four-speed manual unit with floor-mounted shift lever.
Designated 190SL, the new sportster was introduced at the New York Auto Show in 1954, and entered production in May 1955. Four-wheel independent coil-spring suspension used double wishbones in front and swing axles at the rear. The car had roll-up windows, a standard cockpit heater and a folding soft top. A removable steel hardtop was available, and eventually a fixed-roof model was offered. An optional side-facing seat enabled accommodation of a third passenger. At $3,998 at the American port of entry it cost more than two MGs, but it was hardly in the same class. More of a grand touring machine, it was more comparable to the Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider. The 190SL remained in production until replaced by the 230SL in 1963. In all, nearly 26,000 were built.
This 190SL has spent the bulk of its life on the West Coast, save for a brief two year stint (2008-2010) in rarely used, garaged comfort in the Midwest. Prior to its time in the Midwest, the car was described as having been in the the care of a single California owner for the previous 27 year, during which it is thought that the car had been restored in the early days of that ownership. Reviewing the car today, this seems very likely the car is certainly very clean and has good shut lines as well as being remarkably complete and correct in its detail features. These extend to the addition of its correct radio and eight day wind up clock as well as a correct period hard top.
The smaller brother of the mighty 300SL these cars may be, but Mercedes finish in this period was of fine quality nonetheless. These pretty SLs make enjoyable and reliable classics.