In the postwar years in the continent of Europe, much time was spent rebuilding all that had been destroyed.  London was a shell, France was recovering from bombing and German occupation, and Germany was just a bombed out wreck – a shell of what it used to be.  In Germany, however, things were different because their country was divided in half (kind of like the American Civil War).  The Russians were in charge of rebuilding East Berlin, and the Germans were in charge of West Berlin (with Western help).

Many automakers survived WWII by making vehicles for the military.  Mercedes-Benz was no exception.  They also provided all the cars for the government and military, except for the Gestapo.  To prove that they were rising from the ashes and smoke of WWII, and to show off Germany’s rising economy, they created the 300SL (a collector’s item nowadays).  It was a sleek, gull winged, curvy race car for the road.  It was (and is) very cool.

The SL was originally built to compete in GT3 racing class.  A GT means Grand Touring and the car was designed to be fast and comfortable when touring.  It’s relatively underpowered carbureted engine made 115 horsepower.   That is as much power as a 2011 VW Jetta with 4 cylinders.  That is not a lot of power.  The 300 SL had a dirty secret.  It had a very light tubed chassis that was made out of aluminum and tin.  It only weighed 1600 pounds before racing accessories, and that is really light.  Those 2-seater Smart Cars that are in production today weigh 1875 pounds.   With the roll cage, fluids, and driver, the 300SL racing car weighed only approximately 2000 pounds.  Basically, the 300SL went fast, because it was light.

It won a lot of races.  One of its most famous wins was the Carrera Panamericana.  It was a summer rally through Mexico that ended in 1957, when a driver flew off the road and killed himself. 

Mercedes-Benz decided to make it into a road car.  “SL” stood for “Sport Leicht” (Sport Light).  It was and is best known for being the first ever four-stroke engine car to have fuel injection.  It also kept its distinctive gull wing doors.  Instead of having normal doors, the doors went up and down, instead of in and out.  It came with a four-speed manual and a 3.0 liter in-line six (look at Geeky Speak post for translation).  It was a beauty.  It is considered one of the coolest classic cars of all time (though I wouldn’t say no to a 1970 Lamborghini Countach!  It is so low it could drive under our kitchen table!!).

More than 80% of the 1,400 300SL’s produced between 1955 and 1957 were sold in the U.S.  The 300SL changed the world’s image of Mercedes-Benz from building solid and luxurious cars, to making fast, sporty cars.  The SL was the fastest car of its era.  The auto magazines said it could go 161 mph. 

The German’s have the reputation of being ahead of the auto game, and the SL was no exception.  It was the first road going car that came with fuel injection.  It came fitted with a Bosch mechanical Gasoline direct injection (GDI) system.  The 300SL road car had almost double the power of the race car (190 horsepower).  The oil amount was geared towards racing, it had to have 10 liters of oil on it at all times or it would not function properly.  One of the key roles of helping the SL go so fast was that it had very good aerodynamics. 

Unlike many of the cars of the 50’s, the SL had very good steering and was fun to drive.  One of the reasons being that it had four-wheel independent suspension.  One had to be careful driving it because of the rear swing axle.  It could be very dangerous in the wet and on rough roads. 

It is now one of the most collectible cars in MBZ history because of its technological firsts, gull wing doors and good looks.  Prices have reached U.S. $700,000 for its Gull Wing models.  Sports Car International (a publication) ranked the 300SL the number five sports car of all time.

If you would like to see pictures, go onto the website for the SL, then here it is.  It is very cool:

One interesting fact is that Mercedes-Benz still supplies parts for every car that they have made. 

Now for its successor: the SLS AMG.  The SLS AMG is the first car built from the ground up by Mercedes Benz’ performance division, AMG.  The SLS is a luxury grand touring super car developed to replace the MBZ SLR McLaren.  The SLS is also the spiritual successor to the 300SL.  It was unveiled in 2009. 

Fun Facts: the SLS is featured as the cover car for the PlayStation 3 racing game “Gran Turismo 5”, and was the safety car for the 2010 Formula One season. 

The engineers decided against auto-closing systems for the doors as they would have added 90 pounds to the car.  Currently, it is made in four different configurations.  The first was the Desert Gold Edition that debuted at the 2009 Dubai Auto Show.  Next was a GT3 racing version.  For the 2011-2013 model years, there will be a roadster version with normal doors and a soft top.  For the eco-minded there will be an electric version called E-Cell that will most likely be a coupe.  Hmmm, could this be a competitor to the Nissan Leaf? Uh, no! Coming up, will be an AMG Black Series version with as much as 661 pounds reduced. 

Coming up soon: fuel injection, four stroke.  That will help decode the article.

6 thoughts on “Germany’s rise from the ashes of WWII

  1. Thanks again, Candler. I must say, I never felt attracted the the Mercedes Benz, because of its histroy. And its price.

  2. I was going to buy a 300SL in the late70s. Price was affordable then (not like now….) but I got stuck when my insurance agent asked where I was going to store the car. When I told them I planned to drive it daily they redid the quote and it became so high I couldn’t afford it.

  3. Great article,

    That’s amazing that the original 300SL weighed less than a SMART car. I saw a recent article in Road & Track featuring the 1954-6 300SL and the new SLS AMG, it was really cool.

  4. Yes my very first car was a 1959 Mercedes 910b in the 70’s and I never had problems getting parts for it – from the dealer. Even replaced the engine, no prob.

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