To us, it looks like a sexy old German roadster, but Imagine how the Mercedes-Benz SL looked to automotive audiences in 1957. Like a futuristic transporter ship, says Chris Harris, who recently drove a few Mercedes SLs through the ages.

Probably the most compelling changes in the consummate German tourer, lo these five decades, has been how it's changed from a relatively raw sports car of the W198 300 SL into a luxury two-door with its roof off in the R107 generation and beyond. In the middle sat the iconic W113 "Pagoda," which morphed from the simple, sporty 230SL into the smog-choked, but luxurious 280SL in six years.

What's more, examining the SL in all of its incarnations provides a stark view of the changes in passenger cars during the most vibrant period in motoring history, and then how the industry continued to evolve toward the modern, moneyed, technologically-rife ideal of everyday luxury.

If you hadn't noticed, times have changed quite a bit.