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Mercedes Benz 190SL W121.This original black and white photograph shows a lefthand drive 190 SL Mercedes when still a brand new car. I'm not sure where this photograph was taken, but it came in a bunch of photos, some of which featured scenes in the former British Empire. A sign to the left, in the distance, says United Motors I think, but may well have nothing to do with the Mercedes shown in the foreground.
The W121 series 190SL was sold between 1955 and 1963, offering an affordable sporty Mercedes to those who couldn't afford the beautiful 300SL coupe, and didn't need the practicality of the Ponton-series saloons. Both a roadster (shown here with a folding roof) and a coupe (removable hardtop) version were available when the car was launched, with a coupe/convertible joining the ranks shortly afterwards. Many of the styling cues seen on the 300, such as the flares over the wheel arches, and the front grille and lamp treatment, were found on the 190SL, but under the bonnet, things were very different. The engine was a 4 cylinder unit of 1.9 litres, which developed a leisurely 105bhp. This gave the car a reasonable turn of speed, but perhaps lacking the grunt that the lovely styling might have suggested. Whereas the competition-inspired 300SL Gullwing featured a tubular chassis, the 190SL made do with traditional underpinnings, based around the 180 saloon series, with independent suspension front and rear.
If the production 190SL was found to be lacking in the speed department, the lucky buyer in 1955 could opt for an upgrade kit to turn their car into a Rennsport. The kit comprised many modifications, not least replacement (unglazed) doors in aluminium, a lightweight bonnet incorporating an air duct, revised windscreen for the driver only, and some mods for the engine. The factory also recommended that you ditch unnecessary trim items, such as the hefty chrome bumpers, to lighten the car yet further. Take-up of the Rennsport option was patchy the say the least, and was swiftly dropped from the options catalogue.
The Mercedes 190SL today.
For many years the 190SL was seen as the poor relation in the sports car range, with many cars falling into disrepair while the swift and beautiful 300SLs stole all the limelight. The situation has changed in recent years though, and 190SLs are being restored, although with so many minor detail changes being made to the model throughout production, restoring one to exactly the correct spec for a given year, can require some detective work. The cars themselves were very well made, as all Mercedes cars once were (!), but they still manage to rust spectacularly if left neglected in poor conditions. The steel wings and sills are perhaps the worst offenders. Thankfully the doors, bonnet and bootlid were built in aluminium so corrosion is less of an issue, but on the flip side meant that they were more prone to picking up damage, which can be tricky to repair. An interesting blog, detailing the restoration of a 190SL Mercedes Benz in the UK can be found on this site (external link).
Other classic Mercedes items on oldclassiccar.co.uk include:
Mercedes parts noticeboards
Car photos (including Mercedes Benz)
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