A Short History of the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL Roadster

It might not be a widely known fact, but strictly speaking, the Mercedes SLK roadster has a 55-year-old pedigree. Allow us to explain. When the German automaker presented the first SLK concept study in 1994, it was continuing the firm's small roadster tradition which stated back in 1955 with the 190 SL.

The latter was the brainchild of Maximilian Edwin Hoffman, an enterprising American with Austrian roots who imported European cars to the USA. In 1953, after seeing the potential of a more affordable sports car than the 300 SL, he urged Daimler-Benz executives to build one.

The 190 SL was unveiled on February 6, 1954, in New York, alongside the 300 SL “gullwing”. It was designed more as an elegant two-seater touring model than a purebred sports car. It took engineers only five months to develop the open-top car, which used a shortened frame floor assembly from the Mercedes 180 (W120), combined with a single-joint swing axle sourced from the 220 (W180). The front suspension also came from the 180 model.

Under the bonnet, the 190 SL had a newly developed 105HP 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine with an overhead camshaft. Performance was good for the era, as the roadster could complete the 0-to-100 km/h (0-62 mph) sprint in 14 seconds and reach a top speed of over 170 km/h (106 mph).

Series production began in May 1955 and the 190 SL was available as a soft-top roadster as well as a coupe with removable hardtop, with or without the soft-top as an option.

Between May 1955 and February 1963, 25,881 units rolled off the assembly lines in Sindelfingen, well above the initial estimates.

By Csaba Daradics