The idea of the Mercedes SLK is just two years younger than the idea of the Mercedes SL. Of course, back in 1954 the marketing folks didn’t quite have the clout or imagination they have now, so the original SLK was simply called the 190SL. Like today’s SLK, it was based on small-sedan mechanicals and shared very little with the high-end “Gullwing” 300SL. It also outsold its more glamorous relative about eight to one, mostly to the coasts where it served as respectable fair-weather transport for the well-heeled.
The 190SL extracted 104 horsepower from a 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine. Even by the standards of the day, it was all show and no go — but it was handsome enough and it was also very popular with the right kind of people. The 1.8-liter, 201-horsepower junior variant of the SLK is that car’s natural descendant, so when I found myself at loose ends in Palm Beach this past Saturday, it occurred to me that renting one might be just the ticket for the weekend. Although I have extensive wheel time in the previous two generations of the snub-nose convertible Benz, including a self-funded Nurburgring test day in a second-generation SLK200, I had yet to try out the current model. This would be my chance to see if the SLK is still firmly on the “touring” side of the sport/touring continuum.