Evolution of the Mercedes 190 SL Hard Top
Introduced at the 1954 New York Auto Show, the 190 SL quickly attracted the U.S. buying public as a less expensive alternative to the 300 SL while having a lot of the same eye ball appeal and styling cues. A 190 SL cost less than half what a new 300 SL did when new in the late 50s. 190 SLs were first available for the road as 1955 models. The 190 SL roadster came with a folding soft top, while a detachable hard top was optional equipment. The Coupe version of the 190 SL was essentially a roadster without a folding convertible top, it was equipped with a detachable hard top only. You may have noticed that there are two different types of detachable hard tops for the 190 SL, a ‘small window’ and ‘big window’ version. Hard tops for cars from the beginning of production into October of 1959 were of the ‘small window’ variety. Starting in October 1959 cars came equipped with a revised hard top with a larger back window, very similar to the hard tops fitted to the 300 SLs roadsters at the time. Many photos below illustrating the differences and how they compare to the 300 SL Roadster hard top.
Unless you own a 190 SL roadster equipped with a hard top you may not know that in order to attach the hard top to the car the entire convertible top mechanism must be removed. It’s not like a Pagoda SL where you simply fold the soft top into a well and put the hard top on. Attaching a 190 SL top requires that you remove the entire soft top and the frame it’s attached to. You have to removed several bolts and some trim screws in order to lift out the soft top mechanism, not a fun process and not one that many people go through often. As good as these cars look with their hard tops fixed, I think most 190 SL hard tops end up on storage racks next to the car or hanging from the garage rafters while people enjoy their cars with the top down.
Mercedes 190 SL Hard Top – ‘Small Window’: 1955 – October 1959
Here are a number of photos illustrating the early ‘small window’ hard top available for the 190 SL. The three quarter view shows the large blind spot created by the large ‘c pillar’ on the small window hard top. Like all Mercedes hard tops, before or since, the 190 SL hard tops were hefty pieces, complete with headliner. The top was trimmed with chrome around the edges with chrome trim surrounding the back window as well.
This 1958 190 SL in Strawberry Red metallic (DB 543) sold at RM Sotheby’s 2013 Scottsdale sale for $129,250. It was sold again at RM Sotheby’s 2018 Scottsdale sale for a surprising $196,000 with just a few thousand more miles on its odometer.
The white 190SL at Gooding and Co. (above) was described as having its ‘correct’ small window hard top, so it must have been manufactured before October of 1959. You can just barely see the back window from the side. It’s small and just on the rear plane of the hard top. Later ‘big window’ hard top windows wrapped around to the side, see below.
Mercedes 190 SL Hard Top – ‘Big Window’ – October 1959 – 1963
The ‘big window’ hard top for the 190 SL has very similar lines to the hard top available for 300 SL roadsters. Several photos are provided here, showing the 190 SL ‘big window’ hard top and the 300 SL Roadster equipped with a hard top for comparison. Visibility is better due to the larger window size and smaller ‘C pillar’. Restoration of 190SL hard tops is an involved process. Today, hard top restoration costs, for small or big window versions, easily costs $4,000+ when taking into account the headliner, chrome, paint and seals.
The exact breakdown of 190 SLs that left the factory as Coupes (hard top only cars) and how many roadsters were equipped with optional hard top isn’t known, but it is generally accepted that a roadster equipped with an optional hard top is the most desirable combination of 190 SL for collectors.