Classic Collectible Mercedes Benz  Cabriolets, Coupes and SL's
190SL Roadster 1955-1963

HISTORY of the 190SL ------------------------- 190 SL emblem and badge

The Road & Track October 1955 Test Said "The outstanding achievement of the 190SL is without a doubt its quality in design and workmanship. But a close second is the general feeling of solidity which it immediately conveys..."

Also known as "Baby Merc" or the “Little Brother” to the 300 SL, 190 SL’s make a great and fun collector automobile, and are relatively affordable. The car came as a coupe (with a detachable hardtop) or a roadster with convertible top to which a hardtop could be fitted. These cars were guaranteed to sell to enthusiasts who couldn't stretch to a Gullwing and didn't need the electrifying performance of a Gullwing. Although the 190SL shared the same wheelbase as the 300SL, a number of it's major components came from the 180 Saloon. Several modifications were made between the unveiling of the prototype in New York at the New York Motor Show and the beginning of production in the Spring of 1955. The first uni body Mercedes Benz used a steel chassis with aluminum hood, trunk lid, doors and dash. Even with those aluminum pieces, it was a heavy car, weighing in at almost 2600 lbs!

190SL Production Changes

  • April 1955
    • Dashboard modified to improve accessibility of switches under steering wheel
    • From engine 11, cylinder head gasket changed from 1.5mm to 1.7 mm
    • Locking lever for backrests modified
    • Rear axle ratio now 3.89:1
  • July 1955
    • Cigarette lighter with shrouded element, and element diameter increased from 21mm to 22mm
    • Moldings fitted to windows and instrument panel changed from clamp to screw fastening
    • Clutch operating lever modified
  • August 1955
    • Impressing of glovebox lid by pressing tool
  • November 1955
    • Fuel filler pipe at tank inlet cut off straight
  • December 1955
    • For coupe, rear wheel arch eyebrows fitted with decorative moldings; optional on roadster
    • Rivets on soft top replaced by fasteners
    • Interior door panels fastened with clips instead of screws
  • January 1956
    • Rubber cover for accelorater pad (was bare steel)
    • New ashtray with rotating base
  • February 1956
    • Modified jacking points
    • Coupe roof material changed from aluminum to pressed steel
  • March 1956
    • Narrow upper door trim molding strip on coupe replaced by wider chrome rail, also fitted to Roadster; glovebox lid with lock now standard
    • Coupe and roadster interior door panels now standardized
    • New ignition switch 545 1413
  • April 1956
    • Renk radiator cap with 1 bar opening pressure
    • Headlight flasher function standard
    • Fresh air blower on driver's side, second bosch horn, brake servo ATE T50 standard
  • June 1956
    • Larger rear lights from 220a and 220S saloon fitted (except chassis 2680, 2683, and 2701)
  • January 1957
    • Convex taillight lenses fitted
  • February 1957
    • Modified interior door handles
  • July 1957
    • Number plate lights fitted in bumper overriders
  • October 1957
    • Red instead of amber indicator lenses for U.S. market
  • January 1958
    • For U.S. cars, dividing strip between stop and tail lights removed.
  • July 1958
    • New indicator and park lights for U.S. versions
  • January 1959
    • Lockable fuel tank cap shares key with door locks
  • October 1959
    • Coupe hard-top with larger rear window
    • Roadster hard-top with larger rear window
  • February 1960
    • Paint number plate moved from engine compartment and combined with body number plate on left front door pillar; body number continues to be stamped into engine firewall
  • October 1961
    • Seat belt anchorage points fitted
  • January 1962
    • Bosch horns limited to 100 decibels
  • February 1962
    • Mounting holes for seat belts on transmission tunnel closed with sealing plugs
  • May 1962
    • Front wheel arches sprayed with PVC for protection against corrosion
  • July 1962
    • Foglamps with yellow reflector instead of yellow glass

Production Numbers:
Production Numbers of the 190SL from 1955 until 1963
190SL coupe (hard top only) vin prefix - 121 040
roadster (soft top only) vin prefix - 121 042
Engine prefix - 121 921
mid 1961 saw the engine prefix change to 121 928
1955 1727 units
1956 4032 units
1957 3332 units
1958 2722 units
1959 3949 units
1960 3977 units
1961 3792 units
1962 2246 units
104 units
Total: 25881 units


Buying A 190SL

Know what you're buying and what to look for and know what to avoid.

When these cars are well maintained and properly taken care of, they increase in value. (these are approximate values based on actual sales of vehicles.) :---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- values last updated SEPTEMBER/2011


A car's value is determined by condition. Standard condition guidelines are as follows:

Excellent- A close to perfect original or a very well restored vehicle. Generally a body-off restoration, but a well done body-on restoration that has been fully detailed may qualify. The vehicle is stunning to look at and any flaws are trivial and not readily apparent. Everything works as new, all equipment is original, NOS or excellent quality reproductions. PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT # 1 CARS ARE VERY RARE, AND ARE ORIGINAL RIGHT DOWN TO THE HOSE CLAMPS. DO NOT ASSUME THAT JUST BECAUSE A CAR HAS A #1 ASKING PRICE, THAT IT IS IN # 1 CONDITION. MOST CARS FOR SALE OUT THERE ARE LOW # 2 TO HIGH # 3 CARS.

Very Good- An extremely presentable vehicle showing minimal wear, or a well restored vehicle. Runs and drives smooth and tight. Needs no mechanical or cosmetic work. All areas have been detailed. Beautiful to look at but clearly not a # 1 vehicle.

Good- Presentable inside and out with some signs of wear. Not detailed but clean. Body should be straight and solid with no rust-through anywhere. Shiny, attractive paint but may have evidence of minor fading or checking or other imperfections. Runs and drives well but may need some minor mechanical or cosmetic work. But it is useable and enjoyable as is.

Fair- Runs and drives ok but needs work throughout the vehicle. Body shows signs of wear or previous restoration work. Any rust should be minimal and not in any structural areas. Cosmetics, body and mechanicals all need work to some degree.

Poor- In need of complete restoration, but is complete and not a rust bucket beyond repair. May or may not run but is not roadworthy.

These values are from Collector Car Market Review and are based on actual sales of vehicles, not on asking prices of vehicles. Asking prices, and sales prices are very different.

190 SL  
# 1 EXCELLENT $88,100.00
# 2 VERY GOOD $57,500.00
# 3 GOOD $43,200.00
# 4 FAIR $25,000.00
# 5 POOR $11,000.00

Keep in mind that due to the high cost of restoration, mint examples of these cars can and have sold for more than the prices quoted here.


Once the mechanical parts are sorted out, this is basically a bullet proof car. The only trouble spots are the Solex carburetors and the old-fashioned T-50 power brake boosters. The 190 SL’s are very rust prone so they must be checked thoroughly at the following places: (see photos below for reference)

  • all four jack points
  • the mounts for the rear trailing arms
  • floors
  • the spare tire well in the trunk
  • under the brake booster and the battery tray
  • the front fenders tend to get rusty around the headlights
  • the eyebrows above all four wheels
  • spaces behind the front and rear wheels also tend to rust


Make sure the car you purchase is complete. You do not want to buy a basket case, there are plenty of these cars out there, so make sure it has complete sheetmetal. Mechanical parts for this car are available, however, some of the chrome plated items will cost you if you can find them. 190 SL’s are a very simple car and therefore are easy and affordable to maintain. To completely restore one can of course be a costly affair, but once it is done, it is a very enjoyable automobile with lots of style. Condition of a car CANNOT be determined by its location. Don't be fooled by a car's current geographical location. Just because a car is in California today, does not mean that is where it started life.

Where to find the engine number and chassis number.

Check the VIN number. You will find the VIN number on a plate on the right side firewall and stamped on the frame near the voltage regulator. A small plate with the same information is just above. The engine number is on a data plate on the left side of the engine near the cylinder head. (See diagram.)

The chassis prefix for a 190 SL Coupe is 121 040. The engine prefix is 121 921.**
The chassis prefix for a 190 SL Roadster is 121 040. The engine prefix is 121 921.**
** mid 1961 saw the engine prefix change to 121 928

Look at the car in general. Walk around the car several times looking at the gaps for the doors, trunk and hood. Look at the general overall condition of the car. Ask the current owner for all the documentation he has on the car. The more information you have, the easier your purchase decision will be. The best tool to use for checking the condition of body panels are your hands.

RUST is of course the enemy. 190 SL's were rust prone from the beginning and were never adequately protected from the "monster that never sleeps". Always put your intended purchase on a lift, up in the air to fully inspect (and poke if necessary) the bottom undercarriage of the car. Any owner who won't allow this may have something to hide. Luckily the hood, trunklid and doors are aluminum.

Look for rust in the following places.

Mercedes Benz 190 SL rust prone areas-chassis

Mercedes Benz 190 SL rust prone areas-body


Technical Specifications of the 190SL

Engine Type: 4 cylinder (M121)
Bore and stroke: 85 x 83.6mm
Displacement: 1897 cc
Power output: 105 hp (DIN) @ 5700 rpm
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Torque: 14.5 mkg @ 3200 rpm (104.9 ft/lb)
Carburetion: 2 dual downdraft carburetor Solex 44 PHH
Engine speed at 100km/hr: 3350 rpm
Gear ratios: I. 352:1
  II. 2.32:1
Rear axle ratio: 3.90
Chassis: unit frame and body
Suspension: independent front, single joint swing axle rear, with coil springs
Brakes and area: drum, 1064sq cm (servo optional)
Wheelbase: 2400 mm (112 inches)
Track front/rear: 1430/1475 mm (56.2/58.1 in)
Length: 4220 mm (166.1 inches)
Width: 1740 mm (68.5 inches)
Height: 1320 mm (52inches)
Ground clearance: 185 mm (7.3 inches)
Tires: 6.4 x 13 sport
Turning circle: 11 meters (36.1 feet)
Steering type and ratio: recirculating ball, 18.5:1
Weight: roadster: 2552 lbs ------------------------------------------------------- coupe: 2596 lbs
Maximum speed: 106 mph
Acceleration: 14.5 sec 0-100 km
Fuel consumption: 12.5 liters/100km (18.75 mpg)
Fuel tank capacity: 65 liters (17 gal.)

Examples of the beautiful 190 SL

Mercedes Benz 190SL



Mercedes Benz 190SL

Silver Star Restorations is an independent shop and is not affiliated with Mercedes Benz of North American or Daimler Benz AG
call Silver Star at 828-321-4268