The M121 4-cylinder engine produced a modest 105 hp and it desperately needed another 50-even 30 would have done the trick

Available from May 1955, the 190SL convertible shared styling cues with its grander brother, the 300SL. It was a sports tourer, robustly built and designed for customers who preferred refinement over performance. Well-designed and sturdy, it's still a decent daily driver. The car presented here is a fresh example of this desirable convertible. Just out of a rotisserie restoration, the engine bay and undercarriage illustrate the quality of the work.

The 190SL Convertible is finished in classic silver, and the interior features red leather and gray carpeting with a white Bakelite steering wheel in noteworthy condition.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1999 Chevrolet Corvette Lingenfelter LS7 Twin-Turbo
Number Produced:10 Lingenfelter coupes (18,078 C5 coupes) in 1999
Original List Price:$48,725 with options + LPE mods for $90,000 total. $70,000 more spent on LS7 conversion
Tune Up Cost:Same as new LS-7; less than $350
Distributor Caps:$12
Engine Number Location:Pad forward of cylinder head on right side
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society
Investment Grade:C

This 1955 Mercedes-Benz 190SL Convertible sold for $94,190 at the Artcurial auction in Paris, France, on December 10, 2007.

As with many immediate post-WWII European luxury automobiles sold in the U.S., Max Hoffman’s DNA runs through the 190SL. Hoffman was an Austrian-born car dealer and racer who emigrated to America in 1941. He opened his New York City Park Avenue showroom in 1946 with a French Delahaye and quickly became the key contact for recovering European car manufacturers targeting the American market.

The U.S. market needed luxury convertibles

The U.S. was booming and the wealthy were looking for new ways to distinguish themselves. Hoffman understood that European cars could do the trick, but only if manufacturers would build luxury convertibles he could sell to his customers rather than Spartan sedans aimed at the hard-up Europeans.

Hoffman was in Stuttgart in September 1953, meeting with Mercedes-Benz board members, and promised he could sell 200 luxury convertibles every month, if only they could be built. Consequently, Karl Wilfert, Mercedes’s chief stylist, was asked to assemble the 190SL program team with design chief Walter Häcker. A parallel team was responsible for the 300SL program, as both cars were to be launched simultaneously.

Both cars would be successful, though the simple and relatively inexpensive 190SL far outsold its big brother. Close to 26,000 190SLs were produced in the eight-year run from 1955 to 1962, which worked out to 270 cars a month. The U.S. took 70% of the production and the 190SL outsold its close competitor, the Jaguar XK 140/150, by 8,000 units between 1955 and 1960.

At its introduction, the 190SL Convertible was modern and well-built, with a practicality rarely found in the era. Its low stance and horizontal grille were emphasized by its wide track and the fender eyebrows. The easy-to-operate soft top could be complemented by an optional hard top, transforming the car into a weather-tight coupe.

The strong frame-floor construction integrated a front sub-frame for the engine, isolated with rubber bushings for a vibration-free ride, with steel panels welded on the structure. Light alloy openings helped to reduce the gross weight to a manageable 2,600 lb.

Suspension was independent all around. The 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine was mated with an all-synchro 4-speed manual gearbox with a floor shifter. The interior was plush, with thickly padded seats and two large gauges in front of the driver. As a final touch, the 190SL boasted the same solid, door-closing thump characteristic of more expensive models, and Road & Track called it “well worth the money.”

The problem is how good the 300SLs are

The appeal of the 190SL has faded over time, and prices have been stagnant in the $50,000-range, though that may be changing. The problem isn’t so much how bad the 190SL was, but rather how good its bigger siblings were.

The 300SL coupe and 300SL roadster are icons, heading fast for the million-dollar mark-a ’57 roadster brought $742,500 at RM Phoenix this past January. Part of the reason they are prohibitively expensive may be that their performance is still real world, 50 years later, while the dumpy 190SL is much more of a Sunday cruiser.

The 300SL was glamorous from day one, and Stirling Moss’s outright win in a race-prepped SLR in the 1955 Mille Miglia with Dennis Jenkinson at an average of 97.96 mph is still the stuff of legend. The fuel-injected, 215-horsepower engine could propel the car past 140 mph, while the 190SL wheezes into the 90s on a good day.

Compared to the extraordinary 300SL, the 190SL was just plain dull. The newly-designed M121 4-cylinder engine produced a modest 105 hp, and it needed about another 50; even 30 would have done the trick. Conscious of this weakness, a few projects were initiated: Fuel injection was tried (M126), a 2,200-cc 6-cylinder prototype was built (W127), and an optional Judson supercharger was available (but the engine was not strong enough and bearings failed quickly). The 190SL needed power and never got it.

The car featured at Artcurial in December 2007 was fresh out of a full rotisserie restoration by a well-known brand specialist in the Netherlands. The same shop also provided Artcurial with the 190SL that sold at Retromobile in February 2007 for $99,884 (SCM# 44558). When I examined our subject car, I found it to be in #1 condition in correct silver livery with red leather. It was fully rebuilt to period-correct Mercedes-Benz specifications, which justified the remarkable $94,000 result. Although short of options (no radio, no clock) the price was commensurate with the car’s condition. The price is also in line with excellent examples of the 190’s contemporary competition, such as the Austin-Healey 3000 and Jaguar XK 140, so I’d say it’s market-correct, at least in Europe today. The 190SL may not be the fastest car in its class, but it’s comfortable, convenient, and practical. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.

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