“With some considerable experience with it during the
period of five years since its introduction, we can state unequivocally that
this machine is one of the finest two-seater coupés on the market today” American
magazine Road & Track on the ‘miniature 300 SL’ in December 1960
Launched in New York at the same event at which the
ground-breaking 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ was revealed to an unsuspecting world, the
190 SL was another high-tech wonder from the meticulous engineers at
Daimler-Benz. This time, though, instead of occupying the high ground of
Ferrari, Rolls-Royce and Bentley, it was more affordable, though still
expensive: DM.17,650 with optional hard top (DM.16,500 without) vs DM.32,500
for the 300 SL.
Built with the precision of a WW2 fighter, to
standards of quality and technology unknown to British competition from
Austin-Healey, MG and Triumph, the junior relation to the other-worldly 300 SL
Gullwing and later Roadster enjoyed a passionate following among the world’s
elite until it was superseded by the 230 SL ‘Pagoda’ in 1963.
The Mercedes-Benz 190 SL
American buyers loved the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, bar
two things. First, it was a coupé rather than a convertible and, secondly, it
was eye-wateringly expensive. The 190 SL addressed both issues.
Smaller, lighter and more accessible – financially and
physically – than the 300 SL, the 190 SL was offered either as a soft-top
convertible with optional alloy hardtop, or a pure roadster with only a
hardtop. The stylish, well-appointed two-seater enjoyed a long and successful
production run from 1955 right through to 1963, with demand remaining strong
Although the 190 SL shared much of the 300 SL’s
advanced engineering, there were some fundamental differences. In place of the
Gullwing’s futuristic spaceframe chassis, the 190 SL was a monocoque with a
detachable sub-frame on which the refined four-cylinder, overhead-camshaft
1,897cc engine was mounted. Breathing through twin Solex downdraft
carburettors, the M121 unit produced 105bhp at 5,700rpm, an output sufficient
to propel the 190 SL to 60mph in 13.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 106mph.
Its four-speed, all-synchromesh gearbox was built to Mercedes’ usual high
standards and the 190 SL had all-independent suspension and servo-assisted drum
brakes. Effortless cruising at 80mph+ coupled with safe handling made the
beautifully put together, ‘junior SL’ a wonderful sports car for everyday
Until the end of 1956, such was the demand for the 190
SL that just one colour was available: classic Mercedes silver-grey. From then
onwards the usual palette of colours could be ordered.
Even the launch of the roadster version of the 300 SL
in 1957 did little to dampen the sales of its little sister. They were, after
all, targeting different levels of the market. The 190 SL made occasional
appearances on the racetrack and in international rallies. At the time of
writing, a pre-1958 190 SL is eligible for the Mille Miglia retrospective.
With only small detail changes in trim, the 190 SL
remained largely unchanged throughout its life. In total, from 1955 to 1963,
25,881 were produced.
This Motor Car
Mercedes-Benz 190 SL ‘501.399’ was sold new to Monsieur
Charles Marcoux of 31 Rue de Lancy, Geneva, on 14 August 1957. The sale was
handled by official agent Etoilauto SA, Rue de Hesse, Geneva. Mr Marcoux paid the ‘special price’ of 19,000 Swiss
francs for the car, noted as 15,000 in cash and 4,000 in works, which we assume
referred to either works he requested or works the car required after arriving
from Germany. The original invoice dated 14th
August 1957 and handwritten receipt dated 19th August 1957, both in
perfect condition, accompany the car today.
The original contract of sale (also with the car)
dated 29 May 1957 evidences the order and the car’s particular specification of
DB 543 ‘grenadine’ with 955 grey leather interior and grey soft top. A copy of
the factory data card details this specification and the factory hardtop
present with the car today. The paperwork notes that Mr Marcoux will collect
the car in Zurich, where it was imported on 3 August 1957: even the original
customs receipt is with the car.
The original service booklet confirms servicing work
at 518km (9 September 1957) and 2,181km (9 March 1961). Also present are the
original ownership manual, spare parts catalogue ‘B’ (1957), European dealer
directory (with fold-out map inside the rear cover), and typewritten factory
technical advice (dated July 1956), all contained in their beige vinyl wallet.
Everything is almost ‘as new’.
The 190 SL was kept largely unused by Charles Marcoux
until his passing, when it was inherited by his daughter. She lent it for
long-term display at the now closed classic car museum near Geneva airport
where it was first spotted by Simon Kidston, who organised auctions there from
1997 onwards. In 2016 Mr Marcoux’s daughter instructed a local garage, Garage
Blaise Fischer, Chemin de Grange-Collomb 14, 1212 Lancy, Switzerland, to
perform a major post-storage service on the Mercedes, a job that cost 14,959
Swiss francs. At that time the odometer read 7,060km.
Today, that figure is just over 7,400km, and a letter
from Mrs Marcoux dated 6 February 2021 confirms this figure to be the total
distance covered from new. She also states that, to her knowledge, the car has
never been totally repainted.
Kidston SA finally collected the car recently from Mrs
Marcoux, finding it stored behind boxes and boats in a garage near Geneva. Its
spare wheel still has the original Firestone tyre fitted. The suspension still
has its red and yellow factory markings. The upholstery is original and looks
like that of a two-year old car. Engine compressions are all between 8.5-8.8,
and the underbonnet labels and finishes are untouched. The factory lubrication
sticker is still on the windscreen. Unsurprisingly it drives like a new car.
Genuine ‘one owner, very low mileage’ classic cars are
the Holy Grail of collecting. This ‘time warp’ Mercedes-Benz 190 SL, with by
far the lowest mileage and best documentation we have ever seen, is surely