Monday 22nd April 1996
At the 66th Turin International Motor Show, the series version of the Mercedes-Benz SLK was publicly presented for the first time. The designation “SLK” derives from the company’s design mission to create a roadster that was at once sporty, light and short—in German: sportlich (sporty), leicht (light) und kurz (short). It was powered by a 193 hp 2.3 L supercharged straight-4 engine and a choice of automatic transmission or 5-speed manual transmission. The SLK was a modern incarnation of the 1950s Mercedes-Benz 190SL by returning to four cylinders and a 94-inch (2,400 mm) wheelbase. The roof design, marketed as the Vario-Roof, consists of a folding steel hard top divided in half along a transverse axis. Both halves are linked by a kinematic mechanism which is locked securely when the roof is closed. At the touch of a button on the centre console, a hydraulic system with five cylinders controls the fully automatic folding process in which the boot lid is also integrated. It opens by tipping to the rear so that the two roof halves have sufficient movement to pivot backwards as the roof opens; the roof sections then position themselves on top of each other and fold into the boot. If the roof is to be closed, the same sequence of movements is performed in reverse order. The hydraulic system stows the roof in the upper section of the boot. A plastic roller blind separates the roof from the luggage space below, a volume with a capacity of 145 litres in the first-generation SLK. With the roof closed, the load volume increased to 348 litres (12.3 cu ft). Two fixed roll-over bars behind the seats worked with the A-pillars to form an integrated system offering a high degree of roll-over protection. The steel roof provides added protection, which is normally found in a coupe, but with the flexibility of a convertible at the same time.
Worldwide sales hit 55,000, over double the entire nine-year production of 190SLs, and between 1996 and 2004, over 311,000 SLKs were sold. The very first U.S.-market R170 Mercedes SLK was completed on November 1, 1996 and went on sale in January 1997 for the 1998 model year. The last was completed on April 7, 2004.