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German Drop Top: 1960 Mercedes 190SL

At first glance this Mercedes for sale on eBay might look like an easy project to get back on the road, but with a closer look it’s apparent it is not. It was perhaps already in sad shape 30 years ago when it was put away. Bidding at this time is over $45,000 with 3 days left. The old “a rising tide lifts all boats” adage applies here. Prices people are willing to pay for these 190SLs has risen as the price of 300SLs have gone into 7 figures.  Josh wrote about a similar, but much nicer, 190 SL on Barnfinds a few months ago. I couldn’t say it any better, so “what Josh said”. Basically, they look cool but aren’t great performers. SL specific parts are expensive, but parts common with the sedan are more reasonable. For example, a used grill for this 190SL will set you back over $3,000.

The interior will need some serious help and expensive parts. The dash pad is long gone and the paint on the dash needs help. The floors and trunk need repair as well.

The engine turns but will need serious attention. And no, that flex hose is not stock. Fortunately, many parts are common to 190 W120 “Ponton” sedans and are not terribly expensive and are readily available.

That rusty bumper is not likely the only bad news on this little SL. The paint around that rusty hole on the quarter looks rather thick. Perhaps there’s a little bondo involved. With rusty floors, the frame and suspension might well have rust issues. When you can by a running and driving example in “fair” condition for $60,000, what is a reasonable price for this one? If a partial restoration is not practical, perhaps this is a good candidate for a full restoration to a six figure car by someone with very deep pockets. These little SLs are great little drivers coveted by many but this one does not appear to be a less expensive way to own one. What do you think it might take to restore this 190SL to “fair” condition?


  1. Francisco


  2. Leo

    If you cant afford to fix it “right” then you probably just need to keep on walking…

  3. Bruce Best

    These cars are more cruisers than sports cars. Fun yes but while the mechanical bits are easy the body has more rust pockets than just about any other car I know. Those eyelashes over every sheet have NO I repeat NO rust protection. While they are leaded in any kind of crack means that whole area under the eyebrow will rust completely away. A massive problem to repair and a very very expensive one as well.

    To balance they are really beautiful to look at and drive. You pays your money and you takes your chances but before you purchase one of these go over them carefully with magnets.

    Of a note this car is very unusual in having a cast aluminum door jambs. Expensive and heavy but then that is the biggest problem with this car just too heavy to be really fun.

  4. Adam Wright

    My first barn find was a 190SL, a family friend had it in her back yard under a tarp. My brother and I got it home and had it running in an afternoon. The car was beautiful and I was so excited, until I drove it. It was horrible, like driving a pregnant yak. Slow, under-powered, lumbering with this huge boat steering wheel. Also, they are really big, the 190SL was as big as my brother’s Passat wagon. I sold it and bought a Speedster, and have never looked back.

  5. Blyndgesser

    The mechanical bits are easy and mostly inexpensive. The body and interior parts are, emphatically, not.

  6. Squanto

    Crusher fodder.

  7. RicK

    don’t you mean Pontoon?

  8. Mike Burnett

    No, the correct German spelling is ‘Ponton’. SLS in Germany can ship body parts worldwide for the 190SL. I have just fiished restoring one and have another awaiting restoration. Parts such as the cardboard left side heater duct (yes, really!) are very hard to find in good condition and I have yet to find a new one anywhere. It is a mystery why a firm like Mercedes should make it out of cardboard when the right side duct is metal. A rusty internal heater duct is a nightmare to remove and restore. The bumpers are often rechromed more than once and suffer from deep pitting, so I have, unusually for me, gone the non-standard route and opted for a complete set of new bumpers and grille surround in rustproof stainless steel. They look great, though the top curve of the front bumper corner pièces is a slightly sharper profile than the original. You would have to know 190SL’s well to notice the difference, though. They are made in Vietnam for an English company called Harringtons who can post them overseas.

    The ones with the optional side facing back seat (there is no room for legs behind the front seats) fetch a higher price and it was a surprise to me to find that the convertible top and its hinged frame was an optional extra when new, which is very very expensive to replace either new or secondhand (if you can find one) so In the one shown above I would want to remove the hard top to confirm that the car actually has one.. Replacing the Solex PHH carbs with Webers will give better low speed performance though the originals and the cast aluminium plenum chamber that connects the carbs to the flexible air filter duct should be kept with the car in the event of resale. Try to find a replacement.

    Definitely a tourer rather than a full on sports car the heavy bodywork hods the car back, but great fun to drive and if properly restored a delight to drive and own. How I wish Mercedes had gone ahead with the 2.2 litre 6 cylinder version that exists only in prototype form, rather than going on to the rather boxy looking 230SL.

  9. Mike Burnett

    that should have read ‘holds the car back’ Sorry

  10. DRV

    Thanks Mike for the reference to Harringtons. I have wondered about their quality and want to get their bumpers for my 544 and save the originals.
    Is it just me, or do many think the 190 is a terrible poser for the 300? They will always be the way I saw them 20 years ago ( meh) no matter how popular they get.
    Many old cars that have come to light as a result of the “over”collecting hobby are well deserved, but for me this model is not so much…

    • Mike Burnett

      DRV, ref. Harrington’s stainless steel bumpers, I should mention that they are made of a soft grade of stainless steel, so they will scratch easily, but on the other hand being soft, most scratches will polish out easily with an abrasive chrome polish.

  11. Mike Burnett

    Hi DRV. The 190SL is caught between a rock and a hard place. It looks similar to the 300SL of the same era, but does not offer the performance one might expect from the 300SL’s ‘baby brother’. On the other hand, the lack of space behind the seats and in the boot (trunk) rule it out as a serious tourer. I was going to install a 6 cylinder engine in one as per the ultra rare 220 SL (different writers say there were 4 or 6 built as prototypes) but the skyrocketing values of this model make it a financially unsound proposition and of course the drum brakes will always limit the 190SL no matter how much one tunes the engine or suspension.

    On the positive side, I drove many thousands of miles with almost 100% reliability in mine, before taking it off the road for full renovation. The only fault that developed was a worn out flexible joint between the gearbox and propshaft, but I was able to replace it by the roadside with no jack and just a single spanner, as I was far from home at the time. It was a comfortable car in standard tune, even if it was not high performance. Far better built than the Porsche 911 of the early 60’s that I also had and couldn’t wait to get rid of.

  12. Pete

    MB has a historical restoration division that will rebuild this jewel from top to bottom. It will not just be restored, it will in fact be brand new. They will replace everything that is broken or rusted body and frame included if need be. They do turn out an excellent product and it only takes about a year to get it back after you pony up about 100K for a 190SL, far more for the 300SL though. All you have to do is ship it back and forth to germany to get her done. If you had the right car and got it at the right price it might be worth considering that approach.

  13. 94E320AMGcab

    My first barn find was also a 190SL. Actually it was the very first 190SL with a ’53 serial number ending in “00001”. A pretty royal blue with red leather interior. But unfortunately, very very rusty. And this was in 1973, North of Berkeley CA when I found it. These cars were/are notorious rust buckets. This particular one had rusted so bad, so quickly that somewhere in its past a previous owner had welded a makeshift tunnel over the drive line. It had to have happened long before I found it because the floor pans on either side had completely rusted through up to the welds. It was horrific to see on such a rare car. I was in college at the time and it broke my heart to pass it by. But even worse was when the owner’s mother had it crushed.

    Side note to the story; two years later, I found a ’54 300S coupe at a friend’s body shop also in Berkeley who was lein selling it for what he had into it…$4300.! The story was some famous band member from Marin County had forgot to set the handbrake while a tad too stoned one night at a party and left it rolled back down a steep hill into a power pole. The pole buried itself nearly two feet into the trunk and when delivered the owner owner paid by check which promptly bounced ten days later. Most of the sheet metal work had been roughed out. It was a beautiful metallic sky blue with white leather interior and I recall how I went running around all over own begging people I knew for enough cash to buy it. But nobody cared about what basically at that time was an old car too expensive to bother with. It was still a “throw-away world” back then.

  14. Mike Burnett

    Ouch! The very first 190SL and a 300S coupe. Either would be worth more than my house now. It confirms what I keep telling my son, ‘never throw anything away’! You should see my workshop now. Hardly any space to move, filled with things that will be worth a fortune one day, in a generation or two!

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