We shall start this review with a piece of the conclusion, namely that the Mercedes SLS AMG, be it in a Gullwing or Roadster form, is a German supercar that feels like it follows American rules, with a big, burbling V8 hidden under a long bonnet and straight line performance that can make one dizzy. To see why the SLS offers so much more than aural and straight line pleasures, you'll have to read the rest of the review, but let's stick with the aforementioned idea for now.
The fact that the Mercedes-Benz SLS feels so American is literally a world-class irony. That's because this car is here today as a result of World War II.
You might be tempted to believe that the SLS is the successor of the SLR McLaren, which went out of production in 2010, but the car was actually conceived as a spiritual successor for the mid-1950s 300SL, the famous Gullwing. The Flugelturen, as Germans called it, also sat at the top of the Mercedes-Benz SL family tree, but none of the following SL generations managed to reach its status and performance (it was the fastest production car of its time). This is why the SLS AMG was born, to bring back the spirit of the original Gullwing.
Like we said, the whole story is connected to the War. The W198 1954 Mercedes 300SL, the original Gullwing, didn't come out of nowhere, the car was a road-going incarnation of the carmaker's W194 racecar. The idea of translating the W194 racer to the road came from Max Hoffman, who was the German automaker's importer in America during the 50s. Hoffman asked the Germans to build a street version of the W194, guaranteeing that the US market can swallow 1,000 units and thus making the project happen.
Let's go back another step and talk about the origin of the W194 racecar. The vehicle was Mercedes-Benz's way of returning to racing after the war. Since the less-than-perfect economical situation created by the war touched all the companies in the country, including Mercedes, the automaker had to make its motorsport comeback using a limited budget. This, together with the Formula 1 regulation instability, determined the company to choose sportscar racing.
The financial difficulties didn't allow the carmaker to build everything from the ground up, so they had to start the project using the six-cylinder engine in the type 300 sedan model used by government officials. In came a new cylinder head and triple Solex carburetors and the unit was ready to compete.
However, since the powerplant hadn't been created from the ground up, it was pretty heavy for motorsport standard and so was its gearbox. In order to produce a competitive car, the engineers had to cut weight, which is why they came up with the tubular frame chassis, which, in turn, forced them to create the gullwing doors, as the generous side of the frame's cross section didn't leave enough room for conventional doors. This was the price they had to pay for the fact that the space-frame structure was light enough to be carried by one man alone.
We have to tell you that the doors were not the only unusual part of the car that were used as dictated by the chassis - the engine was canted at an angle of 45 degrees in order to bring the hoodline lower.
The entire package was wrapped in an aluminum body and an appropriate name was found for it: SL, which stood for "Sport Leicht" (Sports Light). The W194 was one of the most important racing cars of its era, but it's time to leave the track behind and return to the road story now.
The W198 300SL, which came to life in 1954 had some important particularities compared to the racer it was based on. First of all, the carburetors were ditched in favor of fuel injection, with the six-cylinder unit being the first in the world to offer direct fuel injection.
As for the body of the Gullwing, this was made out of steel, with the only parts that used aluminum, like the racecar, being the doors, hood and boot lid. However, Mercedes also offered an extremely pricey all-aluminum body.
The vehicle proved to be a huge success and when production ended in 1957, Hoffman intervened again, seeing the potential of a version that was closer to the boulevard needs. Thus, the 300SL Coupe was replaced by the 300SL Roadster one year later. Unlike the Coupe, the Roadster was a car you could actually get in and out of with little hustle and Americans had the open air sportscar in their blood, so it became a hit despite the lack of Gullwing doors.
All these history lessons were well-learned by the AMG engineers, who used a different approach when they created the new Gullwing. This was the first AMG vehicle created from the ground up, not based on a Mercedes model and they wanted to make everything perfect. Thus, the SLS AMG was designed from the very beginning both as a coupe and as a convertible.
You couldn't tell that from the market launch schedule, but now that they're both available, the Roadster promises to make up for the lack of wings by offering a bouquet of assets which we set out to discover in the following chapters. There's no need to stretch out to reach the handle like in the case of the coupe, you can simply close the door like any any normal car and let the chapters unfold in front of you.Continue reading