In the immediate post-World War II period Mercedes was struggling to get back on its
feet. With almost three-quarters of its factories being razed it was not until 1948 that the
company was able to start making cars again. Initially these were pre-WWII carry over
models which continued until 1953 when the company released the 180 Ponton saloon.
It was this car that formed the basis of the 190SL. The first prototype was built early in
1954 but underwent considerable reworking before the production model appeared in
March of that year.
Under the body sat a shortened and stiffened 180 platform. A central tunnel was fitted
to this to provide the main support and box sections were welded to the floorpan. It had
independent suspension all round. The front end was suspended by double wishbones,
coil springs and anti-roll bars. It had low pivot swing axles, with coil springs and trailing
arms at the back. Telescopic dampers were fitted front and rear.
The use of 13-inch wheels further helped lower the centre of gravity. Power came from
a 1897cc in-line four with a cast-iron block and alloy head. The same unit was later
fitted to the saloons. This engine had two Solex 44 carburettors and developed 78
kilowatts. The 190SL stayed in production until 1963 when it was replaced by the
attractive `Pagoda’ 230SL, by which time 26,000 cars had been made.
The 190SL was considered a glamourous car even though its small wheels gave it the
appearance of being over-bodied. From its finish it was obviously a Mercedes. Even
the painted hubcaps smacked of Mercedes quality. There was none of the ruggedness
of British roadsters or the delicacy of Italian thoroughbreds.
Inside the 190SL was markedly opulent with its painted dashboard, chrome-bezelled
white-on-black VDO gauges in the main facia and even the clock mounted on the glove
box lid. It had a foot-operated wash-wipe button, but many unlabelled knobs, switches
and levers for headlights, sidelights, indicator lights and rear lights tended to
bamboozle the new owner. The large bakelite steering wheel with its chrome horn ring
was characteristically Mercedes of that period.
Those who drove it quickly came to the conclusion that the 190SL was sporting rather
than being a sportscar. Certainly, they reported that driving one was an enjoyable
experience. The gearbox was described as a delight with an affirmative long throw
movement to select the four speeds. Although fitted with synchromesh on all gears it
didn’t like to be rushed on down-changes. Throttle response was described as positive
and the clutch action light. In conclusion it was described as an easy car to drive with
effortless, yet never vague recirculating ball steering and was found to be much more
friendly than many cars of this vintage.