In spite of this, the stewards got very flustered when the vehicle was presented to them for scrutineering before the Mille Miglia in May 1952. In the run-up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans the doors were extended down into the car’s flanks – to forestall any future protests – thereby assuming their final shape. Now they looked even more like outspread wings, for which reason the car was dubbed “gullwing” by the North Americans and “papillon” (butterfly) by the French. In two races, by the way, the 300 SL participated not in the guise of the “gullwing” car, but with a roadster body.
The interior was fully padded and lined, radiating a level of comfort unusual for racing cars. Speedometer and rev counter were located in the optimum position in the driver’s field of vision, below them and in somewhat smaller format were the gauges for water temperature, fuel pressure, oil temperature, and oil pressure. Even a stopwatch was installed. The bucket-type seats with high side sections were covered with tartan-style woollen fabric; the four-spoke steering wheel was removable to facilitate climbing in.
The archetype of the 300 SL, chassis number W 194 010 00001/52, completed its first test drives in November 1951, on the Solitude racetrack on the outskirts of Stuttgart, on the Nürburgring and on the Hockenheimring. The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sport coupé, unusually smooth and, at a height of just 1,225 millimetres, exceptionally low, was presented to the excited and stunned press on the motorway between Stuttgart and Heilbronn on March 12, 1952.
A total of ten W 194 series cars were built for the 1952 season. After the Le Mans race, it was planned to enter the SL in a sports car race on the Nürburgring. In order to make the cars intended for this race as light as possible, they were given a roadster body; a further, narrower car had been set up as a roadster right from the start.