You’ve definitely heard of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. The “Gullwing” is one of the most famous and most strikingly beautiful cars the world has ever seen. But did you know it had a predecessor? Well, meet the Mercedes-Benz W194.
Video: Mercedes‑Benz W194 dominator roars
The W194 was built to race in sportscar racing across the globe in 1952, and it was pretty darn successful. That one season it reeled off victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Bremgarten, the fearsome Eifelrennan on the Nordschleife and the mighty Carrera Panamericana.
Designed by the legendary Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the W194 was powered by a 3.0-litre straight-six (hence the alternate 300 SL name) attached to a welded aluminium spaceframe chassis. In total it weighed just over 1,100kg, and its weight, combined with a powerful (and most importantly reliable) engine and body focused on aerodynamic efficiency, all combined to make the W194 a force.
This particular car is the one that won the Carrera Panamericana, a fearsome race which crossed the whole of Mexico. in the hands of Karl Kling the W194 helped Mercedes to a 1-2 finish, despite crossing the line a smashed windscreen and Kling with a severely bleeding face after an altercation with a vulture had briefly knocked both he and his co-driver unconscious. Even now, you can see what made this stunning machine so good in its day, and there truly are few cars that have ever looked so graceful on the Goodwood Hill. The only question left is this: is this car actually better looking than the Gullwing that followed it?