At the end of the fifties, the Mercedes sedans enjoyed not only an excellent reputation but also a notorious commercial success. What's more, the popular onesPonton" 180/190 They managed to become popular to the point of selling 437.310 units in just nine years of production. In addition, with regard to the most exclusive segments, the prestige of Mercedes was assured thanks to the W180 with six cylinders and, of course, the W186 finished with excellent refinements both in its mechanics and in the passenger compartment. Thus, the German house was the indisputable reference in terms of sedans. Effectively covering various scales from the middle segment to the most inaccessible.
However, the picture changed severely when talking about models with a sporty touch. On the one hand, at the highest point of the offer was the 300SL. Based on the W194 winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1952, this two-seater marked one of the great milestones in the history of supercars thanks to its innovative injection system. All this to reach 240CV in the most refined units, thus being the fastest production car of its time. Obviously, its sale price only made it available to a wealthy few. That is to say, it contributed as much in terms of publicity and technological milestone as little in financial matters.
By contrast, at the other end of the sporty range produced by Mercedes was the 190SL. A very striking convertible. Definitely. Elegant, seductive and ideal for leisurely and calm driving. In fact, too calm. Not surprisingly, its 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine only delivered 105CV. Therefore, apply here the term "sports” has to be done in a sense of loose compression, far removed from the purely performance and dynamic. Thus, at the end of the fifties, the management of Mercedes decided to create an intermediate model between the 300SL and the 190SL. In this way, and after not a few financial fluctuations, in 1963 the W113 saw the light.
Destined to be the most representative sports car for the German house during the sixties, the one nicknamed "Pagoda" delivered 45CV more than the 190SL thanks to a six-cylinder in-line engine. In addition, during its last four years in production, the 280SL version reached 170CV, always with the fuel injection signed by Bosch. However, it seemed to occur again that the term could not be applied "sports” in its strictest sense. And it is that, after all, the W113 was a two-seater to enjoy without too much effort behind the wheel. Much more committed to traveling comfortably than to performance performance.
Something, on the other hand, logical if we understand how Mercedes saw herself during those years. Not surprisingly, after the terrible accident that occurred at Le Mans 1955, the brand had put the competition aside. Thus, with a stroke of the pen, his racing department disappeared, leaving the Italians and British free rein both in F1 and in the World Championship for Makes. Because of this, Mercedes was not in tune with the spectacular GTs of the sixties. That was something reserved for brands like Ferrari. Therefore, a vehicle like the 300SL no longer made sense in the Mercedes range.
Something that, in the end, was fundamental to understanding the form and manner in which Mercedes conceived sportsmanship for at least three decades. Always more attached to comfortable two-seater versions of its sedans than to rigid and devilish designs ready to enter the circuit. At this point, the continuation of this character cannot be surprising when in 1971 the R107 took over from the W113. Moreover, thanks to this model, Mercedes experienced real success in the United States. Country where around 70% of the units were sold, preceded by a relative reputation for relaxed driving on long trips with the top open.
MERCEDES R107 500SL AMG, ADAPTING TO A MORE SPECIFIC MARKET
During its years in production, the R107 came to offer up to seven different engines. The less powerful with six-cylinder blocks and 185CV, yes. Although at the top of the range was the 450SL with its 8-liter V4.5 and 225CV. That is to say, after the years of the "Pagoda" the benefits of the two-seater Mercedes returned to the range marked by the 300SL of the fifties. What's more, in 1980 the 500SL appeared, improving to five liters and around 240 CV. Figures more than respectable although, in truth, only some eccentrics dared to adapt this model to the tracks on their own.
And it is that, not in vain, no matter how much power the 500SL exhibited, it was a luxury coupe. Not a true GT. Proof of this were its suspensions with additional rubber springs and diagonal oscillating axle. Designed to prioritize comfort when driving this vehicle with more than 4,3 meters in length and about 1.600 kilos in weight. This being the case, it was evident how the 500SL was still far from demanding driving. However, it was also obvious how his mechanics provided a very good foundation for any setup man who wanted to go a little further. Just the point where AMG entered.
In full expansion just when this model went on the market -after a few years they reached a hundred employees on the staff-, AMG thought of adapting the 500SL to the segment of the most hectic sports cars. At this point, they improved the cylinder heads, changed the intake, altered the exhausts, and even installed camshafts and transmissions made in their own workshops. In addition, they changed the suspensions for much more rigid ones from the Bilstein brand while finishing off the set with 16-inch BBS wheels. In other words, the dynamic behavior of the 500SL became much more nervous and direct. All this raising the power to 276CV.
With all this, the 500SL AMG became a very different machine from the one offered as standard by the factory. In addition, in the United States it found a small but generous community of buyers who did not mind paying the cost of the conversion in exchange for having a truly exclusive model. And not only that, but really well done. One of the reasons why, at the time, Mercedes would end up absorbing AMG. Undoubtedly, one of the key points to understand how, decades later, the German house returned to the field of the most high-performance supercars after years sticking to the philosophy of the 113 W1963.
Photographs: RM Sotheby's