By the late 1950s, open-top two-seaters were so popular that Mercedes-Benz decided to convert the 300 SL (W 198). In spring 1957 the legendary “Gullwing” was succeeded by the 300 SL Roadster, thus bringing the thrill of open-top driving to the range of high performance sports cars. Equipped with a new rear axle design, this model boasted state-of-the-art handling characteristics and in 1961 became the first Mercedes-Benz production car to be given disc brakes on all four wheels.
Discontinuation of the 300 SL Roadster marked the end of an era: the last Mercedes-Benz passenger car with independent frame left the Sindelfingen plant in 1963.
Concealed beneath the stylish bodywork, the spaceframe remained the roadster’s loadbearing structure, although it featured a number of modifications. Lower at the sides, the new frame design now made conventional front-hinged doors possible. This not only made getting into and out of the car easier, it was also a key design prerequisite for any opentop vehicle. Thanks to the frame’s flatter rear-end and a redesigned fuel reservoir, the spare wheel was now stowed underfloor and the area beneath the boot lid could properly be called a boot. The soft top was easy to operate and was stowed under a purpose-built hatch behind the seats when not required. From late 1958 Mercedes-Benz also optionally supplied an elegant and easy-to-fit hardtop for use when the weather turned colder. In 1957 a slimmed-down version of the 300 SL Roadster, the 300 SLS, made a number of headlinegrabbing appearances when Paul O’Shea won Class D of the American Sports Car Championship by a convincing margin.
The detachable concave coupé roof was more than just avant-garde design. It was a tangible expression of the principle that “form follows function”. In spite of its lightweight construction, the design offered a very high degree of rigidity and in combination with largeformat windows gave the driver excellent visibility.