The success story continued in 1954 with the 300 SL “Gullwing”, a coupé that turned the heads of sports car enthusiasts with its unique design and extraordinary power. The roots of the car’s development lay in the USA: “What we need over here is a great Mercedes-Benz sports car,” US importer Maximilian Hoffman is reported to have said. In September 1953 he convinced the Board of Management at Daimler-Benz to build a series version of the successful 300 SL racing sports car. Incredibly, just five months later in February 1954, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 198) made its sensational debut at the International Motor Sports Show in New York. The new sports car exuded elegance and innovation in equal measure. It was the world’s first four-stroke production passenger car to be equipped with output- and efficiency-enhancing direct fuel injection.
Breath-taking engine output of 215 hp (158 kW) provided a top speed of 250 km/h, depending on final drive ratio. That made the 300 SL the fastest production car of its day. As with the legendary racing sports car from the 1952 season, the vehicle featured consistent lightweight design throughout and a spaceframe that supported the engine, transmission and axles and left no room for conventional doors.
The top-hinged, upswinging doors became the 300 SL’s most distinctive feature and earned it the popular name “Gullwing”. Even today the 300 SL is considered the ultimate dream car. In December 1999 it was voted Sports Car of the Century by a jury of trade journalists.
Weighing just 50 kilograms, the innovative spaceframe was a lightweight structure that offered maximum rigidity. The only downside, on account of the extra height at the sills, was its incompatibility with conventional doors. Mercedes-Benz engineers solved this problem with the introduction of upswinging “Gullwing” doors.