Mercedes-Benz-Blog TRIVIA: From "Sport Light" to SL Legend - PART II


Stuttgart, Germany, Feb 20, 2002

Preparations for the 1953 racing season

* Direct gasoline injection
* Pressure from Maximilian Hoffman in New York

The successes and the findings acquired during the 1952 season gave rise to new deliberations concerning the design and improvement of the 300 SL racing car for the 1953 season. The bodywork was revised in parts and made of sheet magnesium – a material even lighter than aluminum. In the wind tunnel, the car acquired an optimized shape, especially in the front section, resulting not only in a new face but also in improved air flow through the engine compartment. Engine heat was no longer channeled off towards the rear through the propeller shaft tunnel but dissipated in aerodynamically more efficient style through near-by louvers in the side fenders into the open air.

Direct gasoline injection

Engine output also rose. Thanks to the latest double horizontal carburetor made by Weber, a new cylinder head with larger ducts and further enlarged valves, the six-cylinder reached the desired output of 200 hp at last – 201 hp to be precise. Carburetor adjustment was a tricky business, and the development engineers saw no reason to sit back and rest on their laurels. They wanted greater reliability.
The solution to the problem was direct gasoline injection. The company was able to look back on many years of experience with direct injection in aeroengine production – integrating it in the 300 SL engine wasn't all that difficult. The first direct gasoline injection engine for the 1953 car developed 215 hp and was internally designated M 198. Its cylinder block was made of light alloy.

A lot more happened under the sheet metal skin. Transmission housing and fuel tank were made of light alloy. To shift more weight to the rear axle, the wheelbase was to be shortened and transmission, oil reservoir and battery moved towards the rear. The rear axle suspension points were lowered and the swing arms linked up straight to the wheel hubs. That was the state of planning and development on December 1, 1952. On principle, the 1953 model was ready for the next racing season.

Pressure from Maximilian Hoffman in New York

Maximilian – "Maxie" – Hoffman in New York had been the official importer for the Mercedes-Benz brand in the US market since 1952. He was interested not only in the 180 and 300 sedan models but also, and above all, in the 300 SL whose fantastic successes had tremendously boosted the brand's popularity in the United States. He made out realistic sales prospects for a "civilian" version of this car. To lend emphasis to his wishes, he ordered 1,000 units of the – as yet non-existing – 300 SL to be shipped to the USA "immediately after completion of the production version." He also pushed the idea of a "small" version: the 190 SL.

At the time, the Daimler-Benz engineers had more design and development work on their hands than they were able to cope with. They even had to abandon their plans to compete in sports car races in 1953. Hoffman's demand for a 300 SL sports coupe was therefore not exactly welcome, but it had its own, very special appeal because a sports car was not yet part of the Mercedes-Benz car range.

It was just a few months before the New York Auto Show – a favorable stage for bringing a new Mercedes-Benz car range to a good start. The Board of Management decided – do the right thing and do it right – to re-knit the virtually ready 1953 racing SL into a road-going version for everyday use. The racing coupe became the basis for the production car.

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