The speed of the 300 SL was a surprise to no one – it had been based directly on the 300 SL (W 194) racing car of 1952. The W 194 was the first Mercedes-Benz racing car designed since WWII, and it landed on the world stage with a slew of victories in its first year, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Bern-Bremgarten, the Eifelrennen at Nürburgring, and the iconic Carrera Panamericana.
The idea of taking the now globally famous Mercedes-Benz W 194 and building a road car was first suggested by Max Hoffman. He was quite possibly the most influential man in the automotive world in the mid-20th century who didn’t actually work for a manufacturer. He was a car importer based in New York, but he had been born and raised in Vienna – so he had a clear understanding of the thought processes on both sides of the North Atlantic.
Weighing just 50 kilograms, the innovative spaceframe was a lightweight structure that offered maximum rigidity. The only downside, on account of the extra height at the sills, was its incompatibility with conventional doors. Mercedes-Benz engineers solved this problem with the introduction of upswinging “Gullwing” doors.