Throwback Thursday: 1957 Mercedes Benz 300SL Gull Wing


The 300SL name has been in the Mercedes stable for a long time, but the 50s-era Gull Wing models may be the best known, and for good reason. Along with the distinctive gull-wing doors, the 300SL had the world’s fastest top speed for its day and was the first car to offer fuel injection for consumer models.

The 300SL was an offshoot of the 1952 W194 race car, with “300” referring to its 3.0-liter engine and SL standing for “Sport Light.” The 300SL featured a tubular steel chassis for balance of strength and light weight. It was this frame that made the gull-wing doors necessary, with part of the chassis passing through the area where the lower half of a standard door would be. Without the gull-wing design, the 300SL would have been awkward to get in and out of; a tilt-away steering column was also incorporated to make entry and exit easier.

The 300SL featured a steel body, although a weight-saving aluminum body could be ordered. The engine was slanted over at a 45-degree angle for a lower hoodline, and put out nearly double the horsepower of the 115-hp carbureted version. It paid off with a 161-mph top speed; sold in considerable numbers in the US, the 300SL went a long way toward convincing Americans that Mercedes was more than a maker of reliable-but-stodgy sedans.

The 300SL did come with its problems; the Bosch mechanical fuel injection would continue to shoot gasoline into the cylinders for the second or so between cutting the ignition and when the engine actually stopped running. The raw gas would then wash any oil off the cylinder walls and dilute the crankcase oil. In addition, the race-inspired oil cooler would often not allow oil to get up to operating temperature , with many drivers blocking the air intake to the oil cooler. Mercedes’ recommended oil change interval was every 1,000 miles!