Words & photos - Daniel Bevis
The W198-generation Mercedes-Benz 300SL has become an icon of car design thanks to its timelessly elegant simplicity. In either Gullwing or drop-top form, its slinky curves speak of boulevard cruising, Alpine blasts, and a keenness for lounging outside luxury hotels.
But, much like an iceberg or a mallard, there's far more going on beneath the surface than you might ever expect. Strip away those shimmering panels and you find a frantic spider's web of dinky aluminium tubes; a mind-bogglingly complex and intricate spaceframe that earns the car the 'L' in its name due to its gentleness on the scales, while also offering the stiffness and strength to justify the 'S'.
With the guts exposed, you can see how the venerable 3.0-litre straight-six is canted over by 45 degrees to fit under the low bonnet, the rear end is sprung laterally as well as independently, and the fuel tank is huge. The tangle of pipes was slightly reworked for the Roadster that replaced the Gullwing, allowing for conventionally opening doors (the reason for the roof-hinged doors in the first place being that the spaceframe was too high at the sides for ordinary doors - an issue that was engineered out at this stage of evolution, at the price of adding a little weight), but it was no less impressive. The next time you see a 300SL in the metal, use your X-ray vision to reveal the skeleton, it'll totally change your perspective.
...and, of course, here's what the old girl looks like when she's put her clothes back on: