60 years of the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL.
Open for joie de vivre, elegance, and departure to new destinations: the eagerly awaited Mercedes-Benz 190 SL (W 121) was launched in 1955. The two-seater Cabriolet technologically based on the upper mid-size category brought joy and colour to everyday life during the years of the economic miracle. Internationally the 190 SL set standards for a culture of comfortable travel with style and sporty elegance. Together with its “elder sibling”, the 300 SL, it paved the way for the successful Mercedes-Benz SL tradition – culminating in the current R 231. Today the W 121 is a classic car that fetches exceptionally good prices.
Experts in the industry and the general public alike had been dreaming of this car since the appearance of a prototype version at the International Motor Sports Show in New York in February 1954. The Mercedes-Benz 190 SL then appeared in its finished form in March 1955 at the 25th International Motor Show in Geneva where it met with a resounding response. German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”, for example, raved about the “Mercedes-Benz 190 SL with its irresistibly beautiful lines”. The impetus for developing the Roadster came from the US-American Mercedes-Benz importer Maximilian Edwin Hoffman.
The 190 SL, which went into main production in May 1955, was an open-top, two-seater car for comfortable and stylish travel. Karl Wilfert and Walter Häcker designed its body with sporty lines and in a style reminiscent of the 300 SL “Gullwing” (W 198) super sports car. Whereas the Gullwing Coupé was based on a complex space frame, the 190 SL Cabriolet had the shortened floor assembly of the 180 Saloon model (W 120) with self-supporting chassis-body structure. The 190 SL was powered by the newly developed M 121, a 77 kW (105 hp) 1.9-litre four-cylinder engine with an overhead camshaft.
The Mercedes-Benz 190 SL stood for the feeling of being alive in the “Swinging Fifties”, for a colourful joie de vivre and lightness – as also shown by the car’s appearances in light-hearted German films of the time such as “Die Zwillinge vom Zillertal” (The Zillertal Twins, 1957) and “Solange noch die Rosen blühn” (As Long As The Roses Are In Bloom, 1956). However, the 190 SL primarily became the dream car of the 1950s against the economic backdrop of the starting recovery and the strengthening of individual mobility: never before had so many people had the opportunity to realise the dream of having their own car.