Remember how excited everyone was when Mercedes-Benz launched the SLS AMG in 2010? It was the spiritual successor to the Mercedes 300SL, everyone thought, on account of its gullwing doors, but while a great sports car in its own right, the 300SL really was in a league of its own.
As Jason Cammisa explains in Hagerty’s latest Revelations video (head here, or subscribe to Hagerty on YouTube for more), much of the W198 300SL’s greatness is down to a racing car, the W194. It dominated sports car racing in 1952 and, happy with its work, Mercedes-Benz retired the model to make way for its successor.
It might have disappeared without a murmur had Mercedes-Benz US importer Max Hoffman not convinced the factory to build a road-going variant. And that’s exactly what they did, giving Mercedes not just one of the greatest racing cars of the era, but one of its greatest road cars too.
Cammisa takes us through the car’s spaceframe construction, the reason behind those gullwing doors, and the novel fuel-injected straight six, which made it impeccably reliable as well as one of the quickest cars of the 1950s.
While not without its foibles, drivers would have needed to knock on Ferrari’s door – or wait until 1961 for Jaguar to build the E-type – to drive a finer sports car.
That kind of talent has a price, and today you’ll pay nearly a million pounds for a Mercedes 300SL in excellent, Condition 2 shape, with the best in the world now selling for £1.2 million. Or up to £5 million, if you’re talking the vanishingly rare alloy-bodied models. Das Beste oder nichts doesn’t come cheap.