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Car Tales: Adorable, Mercedes-Benz 190 SL Roadster

I absolutely adore the Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster. Such a lovely car to drive, such sensual and dramatic curves, a perfect work of engineering art. Every time I take one for a spin through Beverly Hills, I watch the heads spin in awe of its beauty, tongues almost literally hanging out in adoration.
1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster for sale
So much of that 1950s’ era, but equally so much of today. And tomorrow….

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Celebrities loved them. Grace Kelly, the world-famous actress who became Princess Grace of Monaco, would chauffeur her good friend Frank Sinatra around Beverly Hills in her 190SL. Beatle Ringo Starr was another owner, as was the quintessentially stylish Miles Davis, the actress Ingrid Bergman, and film director Alfred Hitchcock.
1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster side view
First revealed early in 1954, at the chilly February opening of the International Motor Sports Show in New York City, the Mercedes 190SL sat at that event next to the revolutionary 300SL ‘Gullwing’.
Both cars would prove central to the revival of the Mercedes-Benz fortunes, less than 10 years from the finish of World War 2, physical symbols of the new German post-war economic miracle. At the time the 190SL was somewhat the baby child of the 300SL, itself a very expensive automobile, retailing at around $7000. At the instigation of the now legendary Maximilian Hoffman, the Mercedes-Benz 190SL had been dreamt up at a meeting as late as September 1953.
As Austrian-born Hoffman, a prolific importer of European luxury and sports cars to his famous Frank Lloyd-Wright designed Manhattan showrooms at 430 Park Avenue, already had persuaded Porsche of a ready US market for what became the 356 Speedster and had let BMW know that there were potential American customers for its 507, Mercedes-Benz was happy to hear him out and to act on his suggestions. He had let them know there was an unquestioned market for the 300SL Gullwing. And now this marketing genius had another dream.
With lightning speed the German company put Hoffman’s plan into action: an affordable new roadster, a convertible sports car, that in the USA could rival Fords and Chevrolets and cost less than $4000. And it would be the Mercedes 190SL, on sale from January 1955 to 1963.
1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster rear view
The United States of America opened its arms to the 190SL: of the 25,881 manufactured, 40 per cent were sold in the USA, at $3998 a pop – the models with removable hardtop came in at $4,295. Such an influx of cash further ensured the continuation of the Mercedes dynasty. Without the 190SL we might not have the wonder that is Mercedes-Benz to this day.
At this moment we have one here at Beverly Hills Car Club, a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster that is finished in Light Blue gracefully combined with a Red interior. This luxury Roadster is equipped with a 4-speed manual transmission, single exhaust outlet, Solex dual carburetors, floor-mounted shifter, body-color dashboard, VDO dash instruments, two-spoke steering wheel with a horn ring, body-color matching hard top only, boot cover, chrome trim/bumpers, Napa tires, Mercedes-Benz hub caps, jack, and a full-size spare tire fitted in the trunk.
Amenities include a dash-mounted rearview mirror, manual-crank windows, forward-folding front seats, chrome bumpers, lap belts, driver-side mirror, sun visors, analog clock in glove compartment, cigar lighter with an ashtray, and door pockets. This is a highly collectible 190SL that has just come out of long-term ownership and is also mechanically sound.
1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster interior
The SL rubric is no mystery. Or, rather, it is, permitting a patina of enigma to this wonderful Mercedes. In fact, Mercedes, perhaps being consciously ambivalent, never defined its meaning. Leicht means either ‘easy’ or ‘light’ as an adjective in German. In the context of a motor-car it clearly means ‘Light’. So: Super-Light…
When it hit the sales market in May 1955, the Mercedes 190SL was deemed revolutionary: so classy, so luxuriously stylish, such a sense of discrete oomph! – subtly power-packed before the term had been invented.
For its time the Mercedes-Benz 190SL was the quintessence of modern, space-age motoring. Its monocoque chassis – ‘monocoque’ is a French term for ‘single shell’ – was extremely unique in that age. Other innovations – now considered commonplace – were its winding windows, the overhead camshaft-driven engine, an all-syncromesh four-speed manual transmission, and independent heating controls for both driver and passenger.
During its first years the 190SL was available as a sports-racing model with small perspex windscreen and spartan one-piece leather covered bucket seats and aluminum doors. In 1959, the hardtop’s rear window was enlarged.
1957 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Roadster engine
In 1956, a few six-cylinder prototypes had been built for testing. A 190SL with a unique engine, using the 300SL block, squeezed into the engine bay with a one-off mix of Benz-bin parts, was entered in the 1956 Alpine Rally, but the costs of production proved prohibitive. Two other prototypes, fitted with fuel injected M180 220SE engines were baptised the W127/220SL.
In June 1956, Rudi Uhlenhaut and Karl Kling lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit in the two W127s 25 seconds faster than a regular 190SL. On 12 April 1957, MB’s board decided to build the W127, six-cylinder 220SL alongside the 190SL, but production challenges postponed manufacturing until it was overtaken by the Mercedes-Benz 230SL ‘Pagoda’.
Both the 190SL and the 300SL were replaced by the 230SL in 1963.
But it is the original Mercedes-Benz 190SL that we are dealing with here. And when you slip into the sumptuous leather driving-seat of a Mercedes-Benz 190SL, you will feel you are the only celebrity who has ever existed.
-Alex Manos, Owner
Mercedes-Benz 190SL buyer Alex Manos

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