GRAN TURISMO CAR REVIEWS

1954 Mercedes Benz 300SL Coupe

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yellow_gullwing.jpg

Year: 1954
Host: GT4

Class: Sports Car / Grand Tourer
Type: 2-door coupe
Country: Germany

Price: $202,036 (GT4 memory card trade)

Construction: steel body on tubular steel frame chassis, aluminum hood.

Length: 177.9" // Width: 70.5" Height: 51.2"
Wheelbase: 94.5"
Overhang: @ 6 feet 11 inches
Track: 54.5"[F] 56.5" [R}
Ground Clearance: 5.9"
Steering: unassisted recirculating ball
Turns Lock to Lock: 3.00
Tires: 6.50-15 Super Sport
F. Suspension: dual wishbone, coils, anti-roll bar
R. Suspension: swing axle, radial arms, coils
Brakes: pwr-assisted drums

Engine: 3.0 liter SOHC slant-6
Aspiration: natural
Fuel System: mechanical fuel-injection
Valves / Cyl: 2
Bore x Stroke: 3.55 x 3.46"
Compression: 8.55:1
 
Stock HP: 212 @ 5,800 rpm
Stk Torque: 202 @ 4,600 rpm
 
Credits per HP: $953.00
Pounds per HP: 12.80
HP per LIter: 74.4
 
Idle Speed: 750 // Redline: 6,000 // RPM Limit: 7,000

Transmission: 5-speed manual
Differential: open

0-60 mph: 7.283 seconds
0-100mph: 27.783 seconds
0-150mph: 1:02.627
 
400 M:    15.555 @ 95 mph
1 Kilom: 27.783 @ 122 mph
 
Test Track Lap: 2:35.396 (flawed test)
100-zero mph: 3.77 seconds

Top Gear RPM @ 60 mph: 2,400

Top Speed at Redline
1st: 37 mph
2nd: 66 mph
3rd: 95 mph
4th: 151.20 mph @ 6,900 rpm 
  

---------------EXTERIOR / HISTORY-----------------

The Mercedes Benz 300SL Coupe. This is the classy-looking car with "gullwing" doors we've all seen, and some of us have won and driven. Clark Gable owned one, which pretty much sums it all up. I mean, I might as well not even finish this review. What more is there to say? That's like saying Jay Leno owned one. Actually, it wouldn't surprise me if Jay does own an original 300SL.

What I'm getting at...this tells us what an exclusive car we have here. A car someone on the very TOP would aspire to have. It cost $11,000 at a time many thought $4,000 was alot to pay for a car. In our game, a 300SL trades for $202,036, and in real-life these relics have sold for up to $450,000 at auctions! But other than the fact that the 300SL has gullwing doors, is expensive, and Clark Gable had one in his stables, what else is there to learn? Plenty, as it turns out.

Let's start with those doors. Many people assume Daimler Benz used them for outrageousness. No other production car in history had used doors which swung upwards like some portal into a spaceship. In reality, the purpose of these doors wasn't to be outrageous or different...they were designed this way to be simply functional (oooh, those Germans!) The 300SL features a steel tube frame underneath its body work, sections of which had triangular-shaped reinforcements between each tube. To design doors that swung out conventionally sideways simply wouldn't have worked, because part of the tube frame was located where a door would have been placed, and to install a door here would weaken the car. One thing Benz engineers wanted a strong chassis, you see....stronger than usual.


Why a strong chassis? The 300SL was based on the earlier Mercedes Benz 300SL racing car, which had been competing since 1952. This racing version also had gullwing doors for the same reason as production models would: better strength. The original goal of the 300SL racing program was to compete in the Mille Miglia, but surprisingly, M-B managed to place first and second for its class in the LeMans 24-hour event. In its first year of racing. Two 300SLs beat a Ferrari 330 America Berlinetta, along with Jaguars and other top marques...quite an achievement.

Nowadays, we all know Mercedes does well with racing, but back in the '50s they had little direct experience with it; so these early wins helped place this German company strongly on the map at a time when Germany itself was struggling to get its economy back.

 The 300SL road-going version was first shown at the 1954 New York Auto Show. Its extremely cute looks make you just want to pinch its fenders, right? Well, part of its cuteness happens to be due to the fact that it was heavily wind-tunnel tested, and actually boasts an incredibly low .380 of drag. .380 doesn't seem that low when compared to cars of today, but for the '50s, .380 was another technological achievement. The racing versions had less trim, which helped them boast an even lower figure of .250.

Go to your garage and have a look at your 300SL if you own one. Look closely at the elongated ridges over each wheel, which extend most of the length along each fender. Mercedes claimed these were strategically placed to enhance the 300SL's bodywork aesthetically, but even these ridges are aerodynamically designed.

SL...that stands for "Sport Leicht" in German, or Sport Light in English. Compared to others of its time, the 300SL actually wasn't the lightest sports car on the market, or even close to being lightest; but when compared to other models made by Mercedes (which were mostly luxury products, and some trucks), perhaps this is where the "light" part makes more sense. The tubular steel chassis had a steel body on it, but an aluminum hood. For a lot of money, a real-life customer could buy an all-aluminum car if they wanted, which weighed 176 pounds lighter than a regular 300SL. It was important that this car be light, but also strong, you see.

This car weighs in at 2,854 pounds in GT4. I have yet to get weight reductions for it. We can only win the 300SL, and it can be had in an incredible 9 different colors.    


-----------------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN-----------------

By the time this car hit the market, Benz had been making gasoline-powered engines for nearly 75 years. In many repects, they had mastered them, since even in the '50s Mercedes Benz cars were considered high-quality...their engines more durable than many others. Perhaps this is what spurred Mercedes to be the first to release a fuel-injected production car.

Sounds great, right? Fuel injection is considered superior for engine efficiency & precision when compared to older carbureted units. But in actuality, the 300SL engine was problematic. It had a mechanical fuel-injection design, with a habit of not shutting off fully once the intake stroke of each piston finished. This means that there was gas spraying when there shouldn't have been. This gas would not get burnt..instead it would get pushed past the piston rings and into the oil! Very bad!! Mercedes recommended oil changes for this car every 1,000 miles to get around this flaw (guess they didn't have manufacturer recalls back in those days?).

This small 3.0 liter engine also required 10 quarts of oil!!! Even for the times, this was alot to dump into an engine that wouldn't last long due to its wrongly-metered fuel-injection system. I understand the reasoning, however. Since the 300SL was based in part on a racing car that ran at high rpms, it makes sense to use this much oil. Lubrication will never become an issue, after all, assuming everything works right. But in a production car, this is bad. With 10 quarts, it takes a long time for the oil to heat up to proper operating temperatures. Nowadays, we have multi-viscosity oil (which changes properties from cold to hot) so having lots of oil isn't such an issue. Many modern German cars (BMWs as well as Mercedes) carry 7 or 8 quarts. But back in the '50s, the only way to guarantee a 300SL engine would run to full efficiency (or as close as one can get) would be to run the slant-6 like the wind for awhile.

Slant...almost forgot about the "slant" part. The engine was placed on a 50-degree slant so the car could have an inline block, but a low hood, thereby enhancing aerodynamics (again).

So sorry for all the tech-talk there. Anyways. With 212 horsepower to start (223 after oil change) the 3.0 liter slant-6 was pretty healthy for its day. And we have three power-kits to buy in GT4 that can enhance right up to 377 horses at the most. No supercharger, though. And no turbos. Not like we'll need them. Even when stock (on sports tires), the 300SL has problems. I'm not sure what the weight-distribution is on this car, but its rear tires haven't got enough traction. A limited-slip differential of some sort is needed immediately, or whatever tire happens to be inside-rear on a turn will merrily smoke up, even under medium pressure.

The 4-speed transmission is tall, but not too tall. I could make all the way to 151.20 mph around the Test Course, the engine zinging happily along just 100 rpms shy of its 7,000 rpms limit. 151.2 is about what the real-life version could achieve, too...all this also happened courtesy of good aerodynamics... as well as the engine's power itself.

------------------CHASSIS / HANDLING--------------------

For its time, the 300SL may have been great. It's not a muscle-car, and its low-speed handling is superb. The problems start to happen once we're pushing for Gran Turismo speeds.

Mostly, it's the rear-end that's problematic. Although it's possible to trail-brake this car, the rear can also get very loose and spin when trying to perform said actions. Interestingly, this happens easiest while the car has stock suspension parts. The reason this is interesting is: in real-life, the 300SL had a "swing-axle" design for its rear suspension, which means it had a live axle (just like on a truck or some older rear-drive cars), but instead of having a solid connection via leaf springs to the body, the axle was connected by its differential; hence, it could swing left and right from a pivot point connected between the differential and the body above. Imagine this. Imagine the high-speed catastrophes that can develop as this car is cornering at high speed, its rear-weight portion much less stable than its front....

...Tech talk again. I apologize. I know this is supposed to be a gaming website. Anyways, I happen to think PD captured this frightening behavior because this car (while stock) really does get way too loose...especially under braking & steering, even if that steering input happens to be small. It makes the 300SL incredibly fun to drive if you like a car that's always trying to surprise you. And interestingly, a lot of this disappears once we've got a modern suspension underneath...at least a sport or semi-racing suspension.

The power-assisted drum brakes on this car aren't half-bad as long as we're braking in a straight line. They aren't as capable as those brakes found on the Corvette C1, especially in cornering areas where brakes are needed, but they are still unrealistically good, stopping the car from 100 mph in just 3.77 seconds. That test was done with sport tires, but such figures still put the 300SL into a braking category that I doubt it would be able to match in real-life.
 
Overall, it's fun taking yet another look at a relic of our past, even if this is just a game.

PROS------------------------------



1). Gee golly, power sure is swell. 212 horsepower to start, a total of 377 with a Stage 3 NA kit. 

2). Tall gearing that works for tracks with long straights.

3). Classy looks. How can a car be so damn cute?

4). Exciting, passionate to drive (if you don't mind some occasional dangerous moments).


CONS-----------------------------------------

1). Poor stability at higher speeds. Better than many production cars of its day, perhaps, but downright dangerous in GT4.

2). Poor rear-end traction too. A limited slip is needed right away. To drive without one (and avoid wheelspin) means to drive slow.

3). Speaking of slow...great acceleration for a sports car from 1955, but simply average (or slightly below average) compared to many others, even from a decade later.

4). Original 4-speed transmission needs to be replaced for some situations.

5). The 300SL can only be won or traded from one memory card to another. Cost is over $200,000.


Published: February 7th, 2009

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