The oldest SL

New in its full splendour:  the oldest SL1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) restoration, 2011

  • Extensive restoration of the oldest existing SL at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center
  • The 300 SL (W 194) is one of the most important racing cars of the 1950s
  • Visible traces of a long, exciting vehicle life

The roots of the SL-Class lie in motor racing: in the early 1950s, Mercedes-Benz developed the 300 SL, W 194 series racing car. It was a unique blend of three ingredients: lightweight construction, aerodynamics and reliability. The original SL was presented to the stunned press on 12 March 1952 on the motorway between Stuttgart and Heilbronn – a surprise coup absolutely in line with the later great sports successes of the W 194.1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) restoration, 2011Because the 1952 racing season was exceptionally successful for Mercedes-Benz. These were the results reaped by the 300 SL that year: second and fourth places at the Mille Miglia, a triple victory at the Bern Sports Car Grand Prix, a double win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a fourfold triumph at the Great Jubilee Prize at Nürburgring and a double victory in the 3rd Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. The brand returned to motor sports – and through the publicity effect, to the international markets – with a great fanfare.1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) restoration, 2011In the Second World War post-era at the beginning of the 1950s, characterised by the reconstruction in Germany, this was a decisively important signal, for great parts of the country still lay in ruins. The production plants and office buildings of the then Daimler-Benz AG were not all fully rebuilt yet, either. However, the incipient “economic miracle”, as the economic revival was to be called, could already be felt. And the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL fitted in perfectly: rising, one could say, like a phoenix from its ashes, it led the way for the brand to return to its erstwhile splendour.1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) restoration, 2011The very looks of the vehicle helped here, for with its slender, elegant matt silver-coloured bodywork and its large Mercedes star in the radiator grille, it embodied high speed even while standing perfectly still.  And then there were its gullwing doors, in the case of the very first W 194 series, very short indeed, resembling entry hatches more than actual doors: they lent the racing car a very characteristic aspect – and were instrumental in creating the SL myth. The vehicle with chassis number 2 had these short gullwing doors, making it the oldest SL, and at the same time the only one in existence anywhere in the world today with this particular feature.

Restoration of the 300 SL with chassis number 2

The first 300 SL, the premiere vehicle from 1952, no longer exists; it was property of the factory and was eventually scrapped. However, the second car built, with chassis number 194 010 00002/52 still exists and has remained in the property of the firm ever since it was built in 1951/52. The “/2” embossed on diverse parts bears witness to their genuine nature. This oldest SL in existence was painstakingly restored for the “60 years of the SL” anniversary to be celebrated in 2012. To do this, the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Fellbach examined every single part of the entirely disassembled vehicle and wherever necessary reconditioned the component in line with the highest standards of authenticity and quality. The work was based on one clear principle: to preserve substance and patina in every way; at the same time, as far as possible the vehicle was to look as it did in 1952: thus, the second 300 SL (W 194) ever built shines again in new splendour – while displaying the traces of a long and exciting vehicle life with pride.1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) restoration, 2011In the course of the restoration work, first of all, the space frame, the actual backbone of the vehicle, was measured using the most advanced methods. The result: the dimensional deviations were well within the acceptable tolerance range, even after 60 years. This is where the advantages of Number 2’s individual history become evident. Because although the vehicle was used in racing events in 1952, it was never used as a racing car, only as a training and replacement vehicle, for instance in the Bern Sports Car Grand Prix. And this SL was never involved in an accident, either, which also contributed to its overall very good condition today.

A vehicle with character

The W 194 with chassis number “2” is one of two vehicles built that share a special history: number 1 and number 2 were built by hand in Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s Stuttgart-Untertürkheim racing workshop. The following eight vehicles, which were used mainly in the racing events of the year 1952, were manufactured more rationally in the Sindelfingen factory, for instance using pressed parts for the chassis – without using large-series production methods, though.1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) restoration, 2011In those days it was usual to build racing cars more or less as individual items, because each one was designed directly with its specific task in mind. And during the car’s assembly, too, the basic design was modified again and again in order to seek the very best results. This made a unique specimen of each W 194 in a sense – the first two having a much stronger aura of handcrafted one-of-a-kind specimens.1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) restoration, 2011This special character of Number 2 is visible in many of its components: for instance the welding seams show clearly that they were made by hand. Or for example the exhaust system, the fuel tank, the windscreen washer fluid reservoir and the seat frames are all recognisably individually crafted.1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) restoration, 2011Its lightweight design was a great asset for the W 194. This can be seen in its aluminium-magnesium-sheet metal body, which in this vehicle is very thin. It is also evident in the diverse components that are made lighter by means of perforations, for example the front axle, even the handbrake lever. Every gram is skimped on –and that’s why the expensive material magnesium is used, for instance, on the transmission bell, and the rear axle- and steering gear housings. Other components are consistently made from aluminium, for example the fuel tank, the washer fluid reservoir and the main brake cylinder. And the effort is worthwhile: the ready-to-drive W 194 had an unladen weight of just 1060 kilograms (2337 lbs).1952 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194) restoration, 2011The sum total of the effort and sums invested show the W 194 to have been a costly project, i.e. a project with prestige character indeed: the company was prepared to invest at that time in order to regain prestige on the international level through the positive publicity effect of the racing successes. And the plan bears fruit, exactly as expected.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email