Mercedes Benz Classics: Owners Operation, Service, and Repair Workshop Manuals

MB W121 190SL History

Mercedes W 121 Series 190 SL Roadster, (1955-1963)

Stylish and Comfortable, the first open-top production sports car of the SL family. This sporty two seat road-going motor car was the premier vehicle for a new 121.921 four-cylinder 1.9 liter engine.

Revealed in New York in 1954, its market launch became a reality in 1955. In 1953 the sales potential for Mercedes-Benz sports cars from in the USA was realized and the 300 SL Racing Coupé (series W 194) was to be made available with modifications – as a production vehicle. At the same time an open-top sports car to accompany the Gullwing coupé was to be produced, that is how life for the 190SL began.

Mercedes Benz W121 190SL Vintage Beach Ad

For the Mercedes-Benz image and market position, the 1950’s were a time of great expansion after the Second World War. Thus in mid-September of 1953 the decision was taken to produce the 190 SL and the 300 SL as series production cars.

Mercedes Benz W121 190SL Vintage Sales Ad

They celebrated their premieres at the American International Motor Sports Show in New York which took place in February 1954. Mercedes-Benz registered a tremendously favorable response to both vehicles at the show.

Mercedes Benz W121 190SL Vintage Operation Manual Cover

This new SL body variant was a paradigm change in the model structure, making the 190 SL and 300 SL symbols of a new product philosophy and forerunners of the SL-Class. In March 1955, Daimler-Benz presented the final model of the 190SL sports car at the Geneva Motor Show. The final design 190 SL body offered a retractable convertible soft top.

Mercedes Benz W121 190SL Vintage Advertisement

The production body showed some clear differences from the show car: the stylised intake scoop on the bonnet was dropped; the forward edge of the bonnet had been moved farther back; there were splash guards above the rear wheel arches too; and the bumpers, indicators and tail lights were modified. The Sindelfingen factory started building the pre-production series in January 1955. Main series production commenced in May.

Mercedes Benz W121 190SL Vintage Studebaker-Packard Ad

The 190 SL is technically related to the “Ponton” (pontoon) saloons – the front wheel suspension including the sub-frame was adopted from model 180, though shortened. As an optional extra, a third seat could be fitted in the rear of the 190 SL. The motor press praised the 190 SL for its safe handling properties enhanced by the low-pivot single-joint swing axle, and other features.

Mercedes Benz W121 190SL Vintage Road Rally Ad

A new development introduces in the 190SL was the 1.9-liter petrol engine with the designation M 121 B II. The four-cylinder unit had a single overhead camshaft and is regarded as the forerunner of an entire family of engines. In the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL it developed 105 bhp (77 kW) at 5700 rpm and accelerated the fabric-topped variant from 0 to 100 km/h in 14.5 seconds. The top speed was a respectable 170 km/h – which made it one of the fastest cars on the road in the 1950s and 1960s. The petrol consumption was put at a rather moderate 8.6 litres per 100 km; the 65-litre tank provided adequate range.

Mercedes Benz W121 190SL Vintage Image

During its production run the 190 SL underwent many design improvements. The wide chrome strips on the upper edge of the door (introduced in March 1956) and larger tail lights (June 1956). From October 1959, a new hardtop with a larger rear window gave the coupés much improved rear visibility. In August 1960, the lock of the boot lid was changed and a recessed handle replaced the previous bow-type handle. In 1963, the last Mercedes-Benz 190 SL rolled out of the production bay. In all, 25,881 were built, most of them imported to the USA.

Mercedes Benz W121 190SL Vintage Paul Newman Ad

A sports variant of the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL

Early sales brochures showed a sports variant of the 190 SL with light-alloy doors, small Perspex racing windscreen, no soft top, no bumpers, heat exchanger or insulating material, which gave it a weight of 1000 kilograms, around ten percent less than the road version. The number of units built is not documented, and only a few sports versions found their way to customers. Modifications included fine tuning with modifications to the engine, body lowering, sports shocks and modified springs. The sports 190 SL scored its biggest success in 1956 in the Sports Car Grand Prix in Portuguese Mação. The right-hand-drive sports car took first place ahead of a Ferrari and various Jaguar and Austin-Healey vehicles. The same year the Mercedes-Benz general importer in Morocco won his class in the Grand Prix of Casablanca.

Mercedes Benz W121 190SL Race Car

 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL (W 121) Technical Highlights

Advanced four-cylinder engine with one overhead camshaft
State-of-the-art suspension for high-level ride comfort and safety
Retractable roadster convertible top

Mercedes W121 Model 190SL Production Figures

Internal designation: W 121B II
Production period: 1955-1963 (pre-production to end)
Number of units: 25,881 Roadster’s and Coupe’s