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Car Tales: The Wonderful Excellence Of The Mercedes-Benz 190SL

‘Yet again it is all down to Max Hoffman, the often unsung patron and spiritual guide of US Mercedes-Benz lovers, a man with an astute eye on the needs of the American market.
1959 Mercedes-Benz 190SL for sale
‘The Austrian-born, New York-based Hoffman, whose Manhattan showroom at 430 Park Avenue was designed by architectural superstar Frank Lloyd Wright, was not only an important importer of luxury European cars into the United States, but also extremely influential in their development for this market.
‘It was largely due to Hoffman that several iconic and gorgeous automobiles appeared on US highways in significant quantities. These included the Porsche 356 Speedster, the BMW 507 roadster, and the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing with its clever beauty and sensational performance – Hoffman was the U.S. Mercedes-Benz importer.

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‘The Gullwing’s ‘SL’ rubric essentially translated as ‘Sports Light’, deriving from the lightweight aluminum with which parts were built on the 300SL.
1959 Mercedes-Benz 190SL rear view
‘And it was due to Maximilian Hoffman that the sensual, dramatic curves of the Mercedes-Benz 190SL, on sale from January 1955 to 1963, saw the light of day. The 190SL had been thought up by Hoffman at the same meeting in September 1953 with Mercedes-Benz at which he had discussed what became the 300SL.
‘A smaller sports-car that might rival the Austin-Healey, the MG TD, the Triumph TR2 and the Porsche 356 was his expressed desire.
‘Hoffman adored the 300SL Gullwing and its revolutionary beauty. But it would be a colossally expensive car: $10,950 to drive it out of Hoffman’s New York showroom, 10 per cent more than it would have been priced at in Europe.
‘What was needed, Hoffman decreed, was a less complicated and far less costly version of the 300SL, built on the same 94.5-inch wheelbase, itself that of the new Mercedes-Benz 180 but shortened by 10 inches. This idea became the 190SL, which would retail for a shade under $4000 and outsell the 300SL by eight to one – over 25,000 new 190SLs were sold.
The only thing was, Max Hoffman wanted the prototype to be shown at the 1954 New York Auto Show, in just five months time.
‘The German car firm was not intimidated by the tight deadline. At the 1954 New York Auto Show Mercedes-Benz revealed this two-seater roadster with a removable hardtop: the Mercedes-Benz 190SL, for this is what it was was, based on the 180 saloon, coupe, and convertible produced from 1954 to 1959, employing a carbureted 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine – unlike the 300SL’s direction-injected 3-liter slant six.
‘Right now at Beverly Hills Car Club we have just such an example of one of these fabulous cars, a gorgeous 1959 Mercedes-Benz 190SL in Silver Grey Metallic with a red interior. The vehicle comes equipped with a 4-speed manual transmission, dual Weber carburetors, soft top, whitewall tires, steel wheels, Mercedes-Benz hub caps, beauty rings, spare tire, and jack. Also included are service documents and receipts copies totaling over $17,000. This is a very clean and presentable 190SL that is mechanically sound.
‘The 190SL personifies the craftsmanship of Mercedes-Benz. But it clearly had been a race to complete the 190SL’s exterior design. Only two months was given to Walter Hacker, the son of an architect, and his design team. Hacker had been instructed to use detailing similar to that of the 300SL. And he pulled off a colossal success. Hacker’s influence on the 190SL, the 300SL – often considered the most beautiful car ever built – and the pagoda-topped 230SL remain as permanent tributes to his aesthetic and artistic genius.
‘The Mercedes-Benz 190SL rapidly infiltrated itself into the posher ends of middle-class American life – hardly the rarity found only in the most exclusive areas that the Gullwing 300SL certainly was.
‘But equally the 190SL was hardly immune to the acclaim of high-status purchasers: Grace Kelly, the world-famous actress – star of Rear Window, High Noon and To Catch a Thief – who became princess of Monaco, would drive her good friend Frank Sinatra around Los Angeles in her 190SL – a defining image that did much to boost the popularity of the car in the USA.
‘In France the writer Francois Sagan, author of Bonjour Tristesse and much else, adored her 190SL; as did the actresses Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gina Lollobrigida; and Karim Aga Khan. Jazz maestro Miles Davis owned one, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergmann, Ringo Starr, a young Karl Lagerfeld – though unfortunately he crashed his into a tree.
1959 Mercedes-Benz 190SL engine
‘There was also a celebrated high-class call-girl in Frankfurt, Germany: Rosemarie Nitribitt, whose black Mercedes-Benz 190SL was almost as notorious as she was.
‘Yet the beauty of the machine, the magnificent Mercedes-Benz 190SL, transcends such name owners.
‘For, when you slip into the leather driving-seat of a Mercedes-Benz 190SL, you will feel you are the only celebrity who has ever existed.
-Alex Manos, Owner
1959 Mercedes-Benz 190SL buyer Alex Manos

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