I love using black and white pictures of vintage automobiles. Aside from the fact that most of those pictures are actually beautiful, they also have my love since they make this correspondent seem like a very knowledgeable automotive journalist. Competing with the rest of the Riot Engine team in spewing out automotive facts is definitely not something I’d want to do on a Sunday evening. Every time I put up one of these ‘Design’ features, I’ve to resort to warp speeds and travel back in time.
My first experience of the original Gullwing was in Test Drive Unlimited, a very popular console/PC game with a huge list of impressive cars to drive about town. When Mercedes-Benz launched the SLS AMG and had a number of journalists from India and elsewhere do the Carrera Panamericana Mexico run, I had the first of my lessons on the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Pretty much every magazine off the shelf talked us through the grainy black and white film that told us the story of the SL. That it was so successful and Mercedes-Benz decided to do a production run in 1954, targeting the American consumer is something we’re all familiar with now.
My memory having the structural integrity of smoke floating up towards the ceiling, I barely remember any mention of the roadster version of the 300 SL. It would seem the Jubiläum Grand Prix for sports cars at the Nürburgring in August 1952 saw the first appearance of four 300 SL coupés modified as roadsters, with one also having a slightly shorter wheelbase and narrower track. The competition wasn’t much to talk about and the four cars duly took the first four places.
The Vulture and the Windshield
The double victory in November 1952 of Karl Kling/Hans Klenk and Hermann Lang/Erwin Grupp in the Carrera Panamericana – an eight-stage race covering a total distance of 3,130 kilometres in far-off Mexico caused a worldwide sensation. This was the race where the Kling/Klenk team collided with a vulture, which smashed the windscreen. From then on the 300 SL windscreen was protected by a mesh outside the screen.
Having spent the last few hours trawling through pages of Mercedes-Benz history, I could go on, but what would I write about when we do get around to driving the SL? So, back to the future.
Though the phrase ‘All New’ has been bandied about recklessly these days, the 2013 SL is truly all new, for the first time Mercedes-Benz has implemented an all-aluminium bodyshell in a series-production model. High-strength steel tubing is integrated in the A-pillars for occupant safety. Branded the ‘SL’, in reference to the sporty and light nature of these cars, the endeavour to lose weight is not something that Mercedes-Benz intends to stop anytime soon. The SL, is available as either the SL 350 or SL 500. The SL 350 is lighter than its predecessor by 140 kgs and SL 500 lighter than its predecessor by 125 kgs! The new aluminium bodyshell weighs around 110 kilograms less than it would compared to the steel technology used before.
The steering knuckles and spring links on the front axle are also made out of aluminium to reduce the unsprung masses. The same also applies to virtually all the wheel location components on the rear axle. The frame of the various versions of roof offered, is made of magnesium, reducing around six kilograms thus providing a lower centre of gravity for the vehicle and, in turn, better agility.
The bonnet is characteristically long, with the passenger compartment set far out to the rear. As with other Germans auto majors this year, the rear end has a lot of horizontal elements that give an impression of a wide rear end. The powerful looking flanks are defined by elaborately styled lines. The ventilation grilles on the side of the car with chromed fins, cues of traditional Mercedes-Benz design heritage, clearly emphasise the legend of the SL.
Falling in line with recent Mercedes-Benz design language, the radiator grille stands upright. The centrally positioned star needs no introduction and stands proud at the center of the grille.
Opinion at Riot Engine is divided about the dynamically slanting headlamps. They flank the front end and give the new roadster its own unmistakable face.
The headlamps come as standard with the Intelligent Light System (ILS). With five different lighting functions that are tailored to typical driving and weather conditions, and are activated depending on the driving situation, they offer the driver a much better illuminated field of vision. The sidelights and the horizontal strip of the daytime running lamps in the far ends of the bumper are LEDs.
Exemplary aerodynamic qualities of the SL design are obvious benefits. Mercedes-Benz stakes claim to having the lowest drag coefficient (cd = 0.27 in the SL 350) in its segment, lowest wind noise that is virtually on a par with a closed saloon, the best comfort for open-top motoring so that you can still have the roof down even at high speed and virtually no accumulation of dirt on the side windows.
As Mercedes-Benz puts it, fine materials, perfectly finished with great attention to detail, distinguish the style and character of the interior.
Compared with its predecessor, the new generation of the SL is much longer 4612 mm (+50 mm) and wider 1877 mm (+57 mm), providing more room for more comfort in the interior, too. Shoulder room (+37 mm) and elbow room (+28 mm) have been increased, exceeding the dimensions normally found in this vehicle class.
The wood trim extends from the centre console across the dashboard into the doors, creating a cool wrap-around effect. Three types of wood along with two different aluminium trim finishes are available.