300 SL Production History
The 300 SL Gull Wing and 300 SL Roadster were built in Sindelfingen, Germany between 1954 and 1963. The Gull Wing and Roadster share many of the same parts, the same race bred engineering and the outstanding craftsmanship of the people of Mercedes Benz. Both models were continuously improved throughout their production cycle. As late as 1961, major improvements were introduced that exemplified the Mercedes Benz philosophy of delivering the best motor cars to their customers.
The 300 SL marked the end of era at Mercedes Benz and was the last design to use a separate body and frame. The direct fuel injection system of the 300 SLs was replaced by simpler manifold port systems and would not reappear in production cars until the late 2000s.
The 300 SL set the look for all the Mercedes Benz sports cars that followed. The iconic grille, with its large center star and elongated grille opening, would be repeated on every generation of SL. The twin bulges on the hood and side vents, functional and efficient on the Gull Wing, would reappear as styling cues on other sports cars that followed the legendary 300 SLs. The large tachometer and speedometer, centered in the driver's view, would become a symbol of the sports car instrument panel.
Best of all, the 300 SL represented the people of Mercedes Benz. Faced with the limited resources of post war recovery, the racing department and its leaders displayed resourceful ingenuity and built winning race cars with legendary track records. The pride of the factory workers is evident in their faces in the 300 SL production line factory photos. No outside shop or specialty contractor shared the accomplishments…the stunning success of the 300 SLs and their racing counterparts represented the determination and skill of the people that are Mercedes Benz.
Derived from the all-conquering racing cars of 1952, the production model of the 300 SL was introduced to the public on February 6, 1954 at the New York International Automobile Show. A total of 1400 Gull Wing coupes were built during the period 1954 to 1957, 29 of which featured all aluminum bodies.
The factory type designations for the Gull Wing were:
198.040XXYYYYY for the 300 SL Gull Wing with steel body shell
198.043XXYYYYY for the 300 SL Gull Wing with aluminum body shell
198.980XXYYYYY for the 300 SL engine
The "XXYYYYY" portion represents the serial number used to identify individual cars and engines.
The "XX" digits represent the year of manufacture in reversed order. For example, "45" indicates a production year of 1954. The "YYYYY" digits represent sequential serial numbers assigned during the model year. Rarely, if ever, do the engine and chassis serial numbers coincide as the factory made no effort to correlate same.
The standard Gull Wing, as identified by the factory type designation 190.040, was built with a welded steel body shell. The hood, doors, trunk lid, rocker panels, firewall, floor pans, and belly pans were aluminum.
Designed as type "198.043," Mercedes-Benz built 29 all aluminum Gull Wings. All of the body panels including the welded body shell were aluminum. With the exception of the windshield, lightweight plastic material was used in the windows. Taken together, these changes resulted in an overall weight reduction of some 187 pounds. In addition, these 29 vehicles also sported a revised camshaft and other modifications that increased the horsepower of their engines.
The standard Gull Wing Coupe was Silver Gray Metallic in color and used a combination of vinyl and plaid fabric for the interior. Other exterior colors and leather interiors were available by special order. A radio and special luggage were also available by special order. The instrument panel was always painted the same color as the exterior of the car.
Five different rear axle gear ratios were available: 3.25:1, 3.42:1, 3.64:1, 3.89:1, and 4.11:1, with 3.64:1 becoming standard. When the 3.25:1 and the 3.42:1 ratios were ordered the usual speedometer that read to 160mph was replaced with one that read to 180mph.
Rudge wheels, available as a factory installed option, used knock-off hubs for the front and rear wheels instead of the more usual bolt-on arrangement.
Between August and December of 1954, 167 Gull Wing coupes were produced by the Mercedes-Benz Aktiengesellschaft Sindelfingen plant at Unterturkheim, Stuttgart, Germany. The first Gull Wing delivered, serial number 198040.4500003, was shipped to New York, USA on August 23, 1954. During this year many running changes were made including relocation of the gearshift lever, a new design for the clutch lever assembly and a switch to a DB recirculating ball steering system. The transmission gear ratios were adjusted and the rear axle ratio was standardized to 3.64:1 with other ratios as options.
During the period January to December 1955, the most prolific year, 855 Gull Wing coupes were produced, 26 of which were equipped with all aluminum body shells for competition. Running changes during this year included substitution of the ATE T-50 brake booster for the older Treadle-Vac unit and elimination of the welting between the eyebrows and the fenders on the steel bodied cars. The concave star and barrel on the front grille was replaced with a two piece flat star.
During 1956, 308 Gull Wing coupes were produced; three of these cars were built with all aluminum bodies. Running changes included replacement of the engine's internal duplex oil pump with an external pressure pump and a single function suction pump in the oil pan. The introduction of a dual point/single coil ignition system was introduced and replaced the single point/single coil ignition system.
During 1957, 70 Gull Wing coupes were produced between January and May. Chassis numbers 7500037, 7500038, and 7500062 were used for the first 300 SL Roadsters built in 1957. Production of 1957 Gull Wings was intermixed with the conversion to the new 300 SL Roadster.
Although bearing a strong outward resemblance to its predecessor and continuing the previous numbering system, the 300 SL Roadster was much more than a Gull Wing with a soft top. Even though the radiator, motor, transmission, front suspension and numerous small parts were interchangeable, substantial chassis changes allowed for installation of a lower roll center single pivot trailing arm rear axle to replace the prior dual pivot system. With this rear axle change the Roadster's corning performance was much more neutral and the tendency to oversteer was reduced significantly. Wheel width was increased to 5.5" and the standard axle ratio was changed to 3.89:1 for cars designated for USA delivery with the previous ratios remaining available upon special order.
A major revision of the space frame design accommodated conventional doors also allowed for roll-down windows. A removable hard top was available as an extra cost option. Instrumentation was revamped along with revised heating/ventilation controls.
Fuel tank capacity was decreased to make room for the spare tire and to provide a modicum of trunk space. Headlight and taillight designs were altered to provide a more contemporary appearance.
The total number of Roadsters produced between 1957 and 1963 was 1858.
During 1957, 554 Roadsters were produced.
324 Roadsters were produced and an electromagnetic valve in the mixture controller to was introduced to prevent overrun. The interior was changed with the elimination of the separately hinged cover for the armrests.
211 Roadsters were produced in 1959.
249 Roadsters were produced in 1959. Plastic parts were introduced in the form of a revised brake fluid container and a new lining for the fuel tank. This year also saw the change to dual floating shoe front brakes. This was the final Mercedes-Benz engineering change for drum brakes.
250 Roadsters were produced, and it was a year of significant change in that Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels were introduced beginning with Chassis No. 002780.
244 Roadsters were produced. 1962 was another year of significant engineering change for the Roadster with the introduction of the aluminum engine block at Chassis No. 003049.
During 1963 a mere 26 Roadsters were produced with no notable changes from 1962. The 1963 production represented the final development of the 300 SL chassis and engine with the addition of the disc brakes and the aluminum alloy engine.