Expression of joie de vivre, elegant and ready to reach ever new destinations. The long-awaited Mercedes-Benz 190 SL (W 121) made its debut in 1955. The two-seater convertible, based on the technologically superior middle class models, brought happiness and a touch of color in everyday life in the years of the economic miracle. 190 SL transformed every trip into an event, while adding a touch of style and sporty elegance. Together with the ‘older sister’ (300 SL), the Cabrio inaugurated the tradition of the famous Mercedes-Benz SL models, culminating in the current R 231. Today the W 121 is a classic, offered at an extraordinarily attractive price.
Industry experts and public opinion had dreamed of this car since the presentation of the prototype on the occasion of the New York Motor Show in February 1954. Mercedes-Benz 190 SL made its definitive debut in March 1955 at the 25th edition of the Show in Geneva, where it met with unparalleled success. The German weekly ‘Die Zeit’, for example, described the car in enthusiastic terms: “Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, a car with irresistibly captivating lines”. This Roadster was designed on the initiative of the official Mercedes-Benz importer for the United States, Maximilian Edwin Hoffman.
190 SL, whose series production began in May 1955, was a convertible two-seater that combined uncompromising comfort and style. Karl Wilfert and Walter Häcker designed the bodywork by looking at the 300 SL super sports car ‘Gull wings’ (W 198). While the bodywork of the Seagull Coupe was based on a complex spaceframe structure, the 190 SL Cabrio boasted the shortened floor of the 180 Sedan (W 120) model with load-bearing body. 190 SL was fitted with the new M 121, a 77 kW (105 HP) 1.9 four-cylinder engine with overhead camshaft.
Mercedes-Benz 190 SL perfectly embodied the typical atmosphere of the ‘Swinging Fifties’, an era characterized by joie de vivre, colors and light-heartedness. All this ferment is most evident in German films in which the model makes its appearance. Just think, for example, of ‘Die Zwillinge vom Zillertal’ (The Zillertal twins, 1957) and ‘Solange noch die Rosen blühn’ (Until the roses bloom, 1956). In any case, the 190 SL became the dream car of the 1950s, a period in which the economic recovery was beginning to bear fruit and the idea of individual mobility increasingly asserted itself. Never as in those years many had the opportunity to make a dream come true, that is to own a car.
In this sense, the 190 SL had perfect timing. The two-seater convertible of the Stuttgart company transformed every trip into an event, adding a note of sportiness thanks to the reinterpretation of the ‘Gran Turismo’ car concept. Thus, 60 years ago, the W 121 also started the tradition of the extraordinary Mercedes-Benz SL models: convertible touring cars with a sporting character capable of combining maximum perfection with good versatility and adaptability to daily use.
The 190 SL, due to its size and weight, has never been considered a purely sports car. Its character is summed up in a tourist behavior that is appreciable with a relaxed driving and without exasperating the steering, brakes and gearbox. Differently, in more sustained conditions, the 190 SL can become a very demanding car and not favor the maximum driving result. Drum brakes are undoubtedly insufficient for such an important mass and at high speeds it is better to pay attention. The steering, very soft on the move, guarantees maximum comfort but not the same precision in rapid set-up changes. But the qualities of the 190 SL are expressed in driving it in harmony, not pulling the gears and appreciating the driving comfort that is comparable to an “everyday” car. The engine, with its 105 hp, is very elastic and favors low-speed gait and limited use of the gearbox. Mountain roads, even of a certain slope, are the natural habitat of the 190 SL which, one hairpin after another, shows all its elasticity and silence. Driving with the convertible top closed is less comfortable but, if in good condition, it is able to withstand any deluge. In conclusion: the 190 SL is appreciated for its pleasantness and for its elegance. Without avoiding trivialities, this is exactly what is expected from a Mercedes-Benz, so much so that the temptation is to use it every day. Even to go to the office!