Historic Sports Cars

Mercedes 300SL

In 1954, Mercedes introduced its 300SL luxury sports car. It came out as a closed sports car featuring two seats and a unique set of gull wing doors. Years later, the car was offered to the market in the form of an open roadster. In its heyday, the Mercedes 300SL proved to be the fastest production type of car built.

Mercedes has a long love affair with the naming of its cars in numbers and letters form. The 300 in this name referenced the three liter cylinder engine displacement. The SL letters represented Sport Light from the German Sport Leicht.

Mercedes' 300SL is most remembered for proving to be the world's first gasoline powered car that was also outfitted with a fuel injection system that ran straight into the combustion chamber. Its version with gull wings was produced from 1955 until 1957. In 1963, the roadster production came to an end when it was replaced by the 230SL.

The 300SL gets credit for altering the American public's image of Mercedes as a car maker of solidly built but slower cars to one of a manufacturer of sporty kinds of cars. This car's engine was canted to a fifty degree angle that allowed for a hood line that was lower. Its Bosch made direct fuel injection system gave it nearly twice the power of the original version with a 115 horsepower carburetor. This was the first such car that performed direct fuel injection into the engine's cylinders. Because of this cutting edged innovation, the car proved to be capable of 161 miles per hour, though this depended on the drag and gear ratio. This caused it to be the very fastest production model car of the day. Almost unique to the 1950's, the Mercedes' 300 SL featured steering that was fairly precise and a terrific four wheel suspension system that facilitated both better all around handling and a fairly comfortable ride.

Shelby Cobra Roadster

The Shelby Cobra Roadster was born in 1962 when the mechanics of AC Cars in Surrey, England took their chassis prototype CSX0001 and shipped it via air freight to race car legend Carroll Shelby in Los Angeles. His team at Dean Moon's shop, in fewer than eight hours, fitted out this chassis with a transmission and engine that they had acquired. They started road testing the new creation immediately, on February 2, 1962.

Production turned out to be simple to do. AC cars already had affected the majority of necessary modifications to have Shelby's small block V8 engine put in as they had previously installed a 2.6 liter Ford Zephyr engine in the prototype. This included the necessary significant rework to the front end of the AC Ace chassis.

The fifty-one commercially produced Mark I's were equipped with bigger versions of the Ford Windsor engine. A significant modification was made in 1962 when the chief engineer of AC cars, Alan Turner, finished his substantial design change to the front end of the car, and he was able to properly fit it out with a rack and pinion model of steering that still utilized suspension of the transverse leaf type. This became the Mark II that entered production in 1963. The vehicle's steering rack came from the MGB and its steering column was adapted from the VW Beetle. Around five hundred and twenty-eight Mark II Shelby Cobras were manufactured until the end of the 1965 summer.

Fully three hundred Mark III cars were dispatched to Shelby in California between 1965 and 1966. Although Shelby's team did not race the vehicles, they were later successfully raced by many independents that won races, driving them successfully into the 1970's. Thirty one cars from this model were labeled specially as semi-competition vehicles. These turned out to be the most valuable and rarest of all Shelby Cobras ever produced. Today they sell for more than one and a half million dollars each.

These AC Shelby Cobras were great successes in the racing circuits. Sadly, the models proved to be dismal financial failures. Carroll Shelby and Ford ended their importing from England partnership with AC cars in 1967. Although AC Cars continued manufacturing the AC Roadster for several more years using narrow fenders and a smaller Ford 289 block engine, this model too was discontinued in Europe just before 1970.

Ferrari 250

From 1953 until 1964, Ferrari built and marketed the Ferrari 250 luxury sports car. This proved to be the firm's most successful of early lines. The 250 series had a few variations released as well.

Practically all of the Ferrari 250's boasted the same engine, the Colombo Tipo V12. This turned out to be a less than big engine, yet it sported lighter weight and a significant output that made it a popular hit. As a result, this Ferrari V12 weighed in at hundreds of pounds below its main rivals, such as about half the weight of the Jaguar XK's straight six.

This light but potent Ferrari 250 V12 engine powered the tinier Ferrari 250 cars to many racing victories. As was customary for the Ferrari company, the Colombo V12 engine debuted on a race track. The racing 250 models came out a full three years before the street models did.

First among the line up of 250's was the 250 S Berlinetta experimental prototype. This raced in the 1952 Mille Miglia. After a long fought race battle against the Mercedes 300SL rival, the smaller Ferrari had the victory at the conclusion of the race. It was later a contestant in both the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as the Carrera Panamericana. Successful variations of the Ferrari 250 street car models were the 250 Europa GT, the 250 GT Boano and Ellena, the 250 GT Berlinetta, the 250 GT Series I Cabriolet Pininfarina, the 250 GT Coupe Pininfarina, the 250 GT Series II Cabriolet Pininfarina, the 250 GT Berlinetta SWB, and the 250 GT California Spyder LWB.
In 1965, the line up met its replacements, the 275 and 330 models.