Although it tended to be overshadowed by the larger 300SL, the 190SL was a high- quality sports tourer noted for its refinement and elegance. When introduced in February 1954, it was thought to be a little slow, but by 1958 the engine output had been raised to 105 bhp, commendable for a 2-liter power unit running with little stress.
All this gave the car good performance with a top speed of 110 mph and 0 to 60 in 13.3 seconds. Contemporary road testers found third gear a useful overtaking ratio, taking the 190SL to over 75 mph.
Performance was described as sparkling with a reassuring level of safety. Fuel consumption of 20 to 26 mpg with a 14.3-gallon tank gave the car a cruising range of around 350 miles, emphasizing its essentially touring character.
Strictly a two-seater, the 190 has good luggage capacity with space behind the seats as well as a commodious trunk. The car’s stability is commendable and the ride is good even by modern standards. The car pictured here comes equipped with factory hard top and retains its original interior.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1958 Mercedes-Benz 190SL
Years Produced:1955-63
Number Produced:25,881
Original List Price:$3,998 (1955)
SCM Valuation:N/A
Tune Up Cost:$375
Distributor Caps:$25
Chassis Number Location:On the firewall above the battery, also on the left door pillar
Engine Number Location:On left rear upper corner of motor
Club Info:Mercedes-Benz Club of America, 1907 Lelaray Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80909
Alternatives:Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider, Borgward Isabella Cabriolet, VW Karmann Ghia Cabriolet

The 1958 190SL roadster pictured here with optional removable hard top was sold at Christie’s London sale on March 26, 2001 for $20,163, including buyer’s premium. The car sold under the low estimate of $23,000, and well below the high estimate of $26,000.
The 190SL belongs in the same league as other under-powered but stylish sports cars, like the cast-iron Alfa 2000 or the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. It is not a scaled-down 300SL, it is a stand-alone sports car, albeit one that happens to look a lot like a 300SL.
Introduced in 1954, with actual production starting in 1955, the 190SL (“Sports Leicht” or light) was based upon the 180 sedan model, with many modifications to the unit-body frame/floor assembly. Totals reached 25,881 190SLs before production ended in February 1963, when the switchover to the 230SL started.
The 190SL body is made of steel, with aluminum alloy doors, hood and trunk lid. Powered by an 1897ci four-cylinder M 121 model motor, with twin dual-downdraft Solex 44PHH carburetors, the 190SL made a reported 105 DIN horsepower at 5,700 rpm. (Advertising for the US version stated 125 horsepower and a top speed of 118 mph versus the European claims for 106 mph.) The 190SL had many running changes throughout its nine-year lifespan. Perhaps the most noticeable one occurred in 1956, with the addition of chrome trim to the fender moldings and stone guards to the front of the rear wheel openings. There was also a change to the removable hard top. Earlier versions had a small rear window, while cars built after September 1959 adopted a wrap-around style, improving rearward vision.
Options available from the factory for the 190SL included a choice of Becker or Blaupunkt radios, leather upholstery, leather fitted suitcases, a right-hand side mirror, spotlights, and a hard top.
The 190SL was not an inexpensive car. With a cost new in 1958 of $5,020 (East coast) or $5,129 (West coast), the 190 SL was priced at about one-half the cost of a 300SL, or about the same as two 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop sport coupes. At their lowest price, in the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, you could find a rundown, used-up example for less than $1,000, while decent cars traded in the $2,500 range. The fact that at one time 190SLs were cheap on the secondary market presents a problem to today’s buyer considering the purchase of one. Many a 190SL was used as a casual beach car, an inexpensive convertible for the summer or possibly purchased as a “bargain” that just needed a few repairs to make it “like new” with a cheap respray and a set of carpets.
Disappointed purchasers found out quickly that parts, although widely available, are costly, and that the body, by nature of its complicated construction, is not easy to repair. Sad 190SLs could be found gracing the back row of independent Mercedes shops because their owners were unwilling or unable to pay the repair bill. Their eventual fate was often the slow death of becoming a parts car or a trip to the crusher. This makes decent cars hard to find today.
Fully restored, excellent, no-excuses, “superstar” 190SLs have now topped as much as $60,000 in private treaty, dealer-to-retail-buyer and auction sales. The high teens to low twenties is the price range for acceptable, non-rusty examples needing just a little bit of help here and there (i.e., drivers in #3 to 3+ condition). This car appears to have sold right where expected in today’s market, and if the new owner can make a magnet stick to the body shell with no help from Elmer’s glue, then beach days this summer at Brighton will be a little bit more fun than in the family Vauxhall.—Dave Kinney
(Historic data courtesy of auction company.)

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