The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class tradition took its start in the 1950s when the company presented the 190 SL (W 121 series), which it explicitly described as a touring sports car, at the International Motor Sports Show in New York.
Also on display at the show: the 300 SL (W 198 I), the famous ‘Gullwing’. It was derived from the competition sports car (W 194) with the same name, and, more uncompromising as it was, sooner could be categorised as a super sports car.
Yet the tremendous charisma of the Gullwing rubs off on the entire SL series to this day. Based on the Gullwing the open-top 300 SL Roadster (W 198 II), built parallel to the 190 SL, arrived in 1957. An open-top two-seater thus became the classic body form of the SL family, whose model designation stands for the words “Super – Light”.
The 190 SL is the car more suited for everyday use. Bearing that in mind, and because of the fact that from the outset it was solely available with a folding soft top, it should be considered the forerunner of all subsequent SL series. The company characterised it in the following words in January 1954: “The 190 SL is a touring sports car which can be used both as a touring car and a workaday vehicle, but also as a sports car, and additionally as one for smaller sporting events.
… This vehicle, which we explicitly wish to describe as a touring sports car, thus offers the owner the possibility of using it as a two-seater for any purpose.” On another occasion the company stated: “We do not present our 190 SL touring car to you as the little brother of the 300 SL. Rather it is a top-quality product in its class….”
In 1963 the W 113 SL series appeared, called the “Pagoda SL” for the characteristic shape of its hardtop roof. In 1971 the R 107 series followed. Because of its long production life of 18 years, it achieved the highest production volume to date of all SL series. In March 1989 Mercedes-Benz then introduced the R 129 series, which featured numerous technical innovations and carried the SL-Class into the new millennium. After a production period of twelve years and two facelifts it was replaced in 2001 by the R 230 series – the first with a folding steel top.
Source: Daimler AG