Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Design Classic No.300 - The Mercedes 300SL Coupe

Eternal youth is a miracle bestowed on only a small number of cars, and the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL coupe is one of this elite group. The Stuttgart-based brand unveiled its new sports car in February 1954 at the International Motor Sports Show in New York, and in so doing lit the fuse for an icon of the automotive world. With its flat, graceful body, the 300 SL had lost nothing of its freshness even as the millennium drew to a close and was voted “Sports car of the Century” in 1999. “Gullwing” doors provided that essential touch of inspiration, opening up towards the sky to reveal a tightly sculptured interior.

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was conceived initially as a purpose-built racing sports car (W 194). In 1952, the coupe notched up an impressive record of success in the year’s major races. At the Grand Prix in Bern the 300 SL sealed a clean sweep of the podium places, an awesome performance backed up by a one-two finish ahead of a stunned field in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Nürburgring duly yielded another one-two-three, and the new Mercedes racing sports car also claimed victory in the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. It all added up to a majestic return to motor sport for Mercedes-Benz, picking up where the brand had left off during a highly successful period before the Second World War.  

The new sports car was a real crowd-puller, thanks in no small measure to its wonderfully charismatic “gullwing” doors. Rather than serving merely as a stylistic gimmick, they represented the central element of the 300 SL design, the ultimate example of necessity as the mother of invention. The car’s aluminum skin was stretched over a tubular frame, which – in the interests of stability – rose much further than usual up the sides of the vehicle, making it impossible to fit conventional doors. The response of the engineers was to devise an upwards-opening door concept. The elegance of the car’s side view remained undisturbed by a door handle, with a discreet pull-out bar disengaging the lock. The door then opened upwards with the help of a telescopic spring.

text courtesy of

SoVibrant 2010

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