The Private Collection

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1959 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL

1959 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL
1959 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL

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Despite wartime devastation, Daimler-Benz rebounded strongly by the mid-1950’s including a triumphant return to racing. Enter the brilliant, high-performance 300SL, the company’s first post-war sports car and a two-seat boulevard cruiser, the 190SL.

Like most sports cars of the time, the 190SL had a more basic sedan to thank for its existence. In the case of the 190SL, it was M-B’s W120 Series 180 introduced in 1953 and commonly known as the “Ponton” sedan (thanks to the visual and structural character of its body/chassis configuration). Mercedes-Benz followed the Austin-Healey/Triumph TR-series formula of the era by creating a new car using off-the-shelf components it had available from its other car lines. Known internally as the W121, the 190SL (Sport Light) used a shortened version of the W120 platform topped by the unique roadster body shell. Aluminum doors, hood and trunk lid were employed and along the 180’s all-independent coil-spring suspension including the swing axles which provided considerable flexibility during aggressive cornering.

1959 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL
1959 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL engine

Power was supplied by a new 105hp 1.9-litre overhead cam four-cylinder engine, initially with twin-Solex carburetors. The transmission was a floor-mounted 4-speed manual and braking was by drums at all four wheels. Styling was intentionally like its 300SL sibling; most notably the rounded overall lines, low nose, and wide grille with the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star causing no one to mistake this for any other vehicle.

From the onset, North America was seen as the main market for the car. The prototype was first displayed at the New York Sports Car Show which opened at the beginning of February 1954. Pilot production began in January 1955 with series production commencing in May of that same year. A removable hardtop model and a fixed roof coupe were shown at the Frankfurt show in September 1955. Luggage space is provided by a comparatively large trunk and a roomy interior befitting its sports tourer, yet practical status in the M-B hierarchy.

1959 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL

At $3,840.00 new it was half the price of its muscular sibling – which introduced a roadster model of its own in 1957. Further proving the success of the 190SL was the fact that very few changes were made during it eight-year production life. The drivetrain remained untouched save for a bump in compression ratio to 5.8:1 in 1959. Production ceased in February 1963.

1959 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL

Mercedes-Benz built 25,881 units which it considered a commercial success; sufficiently so that it prompted the development of the 230/250/280SL roadster that followed. The 190SL was never intended to be a sports car for the masses nor sell in huge numbers; but it no doubt, attracted customers into showrooms. It was marketed as more of a comfortable cruiser as opposed to the powerful 300SL sports car. The factory claimed a top speed of 110mph with 0-60mph times of 13.3 seconds while offering up to 26mpg; the perfect combination for effortless touring.

This is one of 3,949 190SL’s produced during the calendar year of 1959. The Mercedes-Benz factory data card confirms this as a numbers-matching example and shows the car originally built to U.S. specifications. It was purchased new in Paris on November 13, 1959. Finished in Mercedes-Benz 040 Black over a tan leather interior, its first owner is reported to have been an American woman with dual citizenship who claimed residences in both the U.S. and France. Initially, the car was driven in France before being shipped to the United States.

It is the beneficiary of a comprehensive nut-and-bolt restoration to original and an exceptionally well-cared for example with less than 47,000 miles on the odometer at the time of writing. Included with the car is a pouch containing original documents including the 190SL owner’s manual; Becker Mexico service manual and radio guarantee; 190SL 1959 catalog; service manual and complete tool roll.

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Vehicle Highlights

  • 120hp 1,897cc OHV in-line 4
  • 4-speed manual transmission
  • Independent front suspension
  • Low-pivot swing axle rear suspension
  • Servo-assisted four-wheel drum brakes

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