The 1960s were a transformative time for Mercedes-Benz. A decade earlier, it was still recovering from World War II, rebuilding its bombed factories, and slowly phasing out its prewar models. But it had been revitalized on the global stage by the introduction of the 1954 300SL, a car that we went so far as to call it “the best car ever made.” By the new decade, however, the 300SL was aging fast as automakers from Chevrolet to Ferrari caught up to it, and by 1963 it was ripe for replacement. So how did Mercedes replace its living legend? Simple: It created a new one from scratch.
Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple at the outset. Remember, in 1963, the Jaguar E-Type ruled the sports car world, Ferrari’s 250s were still dominating racing, and Chevrolet introduced the split-window StingRay Corvette; the 300SL’s chassis dated back to the W194 racers of 1952. Mercedes needed to make a change, and to the automotive world, it was only natural that it would build another race-bred world-beater. But after the Le Mans disaster of 1955, Mercedes had dropped its racing program, leaving little incentive to create another true performance car. So the company made a decision that it would adhere to for nearly half a century: It was moving away from sports cars, and doubling down on luxury.
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How the W113 Helped Create the Mercedes-Benz We Know Today