Several stunning cars emerged from the design studios of motor manufacturers in the 1950s. Among these was the Mercedes-Benz 190SL. For many years this model lived in the shadow of its more illustrious stablemate, the 300SL, or ‘Gullwing’ as it came to be known, and its roadster sibling. But a select few aficionados knew better.
Text By Sudhir Matai - Photos by Justin Pinto
The W121 190SL rates as one of the most beautiful cars of the era, which is no small feat, considering that competition included the Jaguar E-Type, BMW 507 and first-generation Corvette. Although it looked very much like a 300SL roadster, the 190SL was, in actual fact, a scaled-down version based on a saloon car of the time, rather than on the more expensive tubular set-up of the 300.
A young lady, Manana Nhlanhla, who grew up in the KZN interior, adored the 190SL. For her, the car epitomised gracefulness. It conjured up images of Princess Grace driving her own 190SL in Monaco, or some of the uber-cool Jazz artists of the day who owned them including one of Nhlanhla’s favourites, Miles Davis.
The beautiful curves and timeless elegance of the W121 190SL has made it a highly sought-after collectable.
A young Nhlanhla decided that she would try her utmost to own the svelte roadster. “One day I wanted to wrap my hands around this car's steering wheel and know it was mine. I own a few other SL models, but I could not find a 190. A few years ago, we heard about this car for sale in Cape Town, it was in a beautiful condition so we bought it. I have one of each SL now so I call them the Four Sisters. One day maybe I will start a wine label by the same name,” laughs the owner.
Ms Nhlanhla’s 190SL is an award-winning car. It bagged the coveted Show and Shine category at the 2016 Concours South Africa, which she is very proud of. But this isn’t just a show pony. When the skies are clear Manana grabs the keys and heads for her favourite back roads in the Valley of a Thousand Hills early on weekend mornings. There she enjoys the driving sensations of the 190SL with the sun pouring into the cabin, because, she hardly ever closes the roof of her car.
Watch the beautiful Mercedes-Benz 190SL in motion and listen to Ms Nhlanhla talk about her pride and joy.