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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mercedes Benz 300SL


The Story of the 300 SL, by Miguel Caparros.

It is not often that you run into a show condition Mercedes 300 SL at a local car show in Georgia, this is the second time I ran into this car at a small event. The owners of this car have the means to afford their fantasy car and enjoy being with the local crowd instead of the slightly more formal venues these cars are normally seen in. With only 1400 cars made it is a rare beast. The 220 HP car was the fastest street production car of its time, with a top speed of 161 mph, this car is still fast 56 years later.

It is the lines of this car that takes your breath away. Strongly influenced by the factory race cars from 1952 and 53 and suggested by American Importer Max Hoffman (I am sure Max primed the financial pump too) Mercedes did a masterful job building the first supper car of the modern era. Max's instincts were right a lot in the 50's and he created a market in the United States for this car. Fully 80% of all the 1400 were sold in the States. In 1957, as I child, I rode in a friends of my fathers 300 SL, I thought it was the car of the future, the gull wing doors and having to climb over the sill to get into the cockpit was more like getting into an airplane than a car. 20 years later we had the opportunity to have one stay briefly with us.

The black with red interior 1957 gull wing was a boys dream come true. It was no easier getting in at 6 feet tall that it was at 4. The 300 was equipped with a swing away steering wheel that made the job a little easier. The steering wheel's mechanism was a little disturbing to the mechanic in me as I had nightmares of the wheel becoming loose while driving, you have to see the mechanism to understand, it is hinged like an elbow is the best way I can describe it. No accidents ever happened due to my fears as far as I know. Although it is a wide car for the era it is rather snug inside as the sills that are the structure of the car and take up two feet on each side.

Driving the car. My test subject was a 1957 and had benefited from the constant improvements that were made on these cars on a daily basis, I am a believer that no two 300's were ever the same. Mine had the remote short shifter and the car in the video has the original bent shifter that removed the possibility of mounting the radio that my test car had. Apparently the 57 car I had was equipped with the taller gear (more top speed) the give away to this option was the 180 MPH speedometer vs the 160 of all the other gear ratios. Unlike other cars of the era all you had to do with the 300 to start is was turn the key, this car was the technology demonstrator for MB and Bosch direct fuel injection. Lets just say we recently re-discovered direct injection, again.
The car started and settled to a cold idle of 1100 rpm once warmed up it was at 700 rpm and very smooth. Six cylinder engines are inherently smooth and the 300 injection helps it put out some serious power and instant response. Our shop was in historic Nyack New York, located 25 miles north of midtown New York City overlooking the Tapanzee bridge and the Hudson River it felt more like 150 miles we were so rural. We had an entrance and exit to the New York Through Way less than ½ mile away, and some very understanding police that tolerated us and several of the other Exotic car business that provided some great revenue for the area. The immediate reaction is how confined I felt not being able to open a window. I have never felt that confined even strapped in a race car, the combination of the black car and the late spring sun increased the temperature quickly to the uncomfortable level. I pop the door up driving down main street until I was on the turnpikes on ramp and pulled it down.
The car accelerated with authority, even by today's standards this is a quick car. The taller gearing that gives up acceleration for ease of cruising and greater top speed provided 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds. The ride motions of the car were certainly firm and the stiffness of the structure, lack of rattles and body shake gave a reassuring feel. There was mechanical noise from the engine and transmission but as the speed increased an interesting thing happened. The wind noise associated with the wind deflecting off moldings and sharp edges disturbing the air were not there. As a matter of fact it was a bit eery as speed increased. The New York State troopers frown on people like me but luck was with me that day. In an open stretch of empty road I was able to stretch the 300 SL's legs. I hit just over 155 with plenty more in reserve when I remembered I was driving a 20 year old car, and a very valuable one at that. These cars new went from $6,500 to $8,000 I seriously doubt that any ever sold for any less.

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