Mercedes-Benz SL (1971 – 1989) Review

Mercedes-Benz SL (1971 – 1989) At A Glance


+Elegant, iconic, long-lived and offered in many guises

-It's a bit of a cruiser, even in the higher-powered versions. Extremely rust prone.

The 1971 R107 Mercedes-Benz SL took off where its R113 predecessor left off - it offered a range of engines, and came with both soft and hard tops. Initially, it was sold in V8 form only - 350 and 450SL, although the extra engine capacity didn’t add much power, but torque took a big leap and allowed it to be fitted with a much taller rear axle ratio. And it was this that cemented the SL as even more of an open-topped cruiser than the cars that came before. Later in its life, the SL received the 2.8-litre twin-cam to become the 280SL, a very capable entry-level car that encouraged new customers into the Mercedes-Benz camp.

In 1980, the SL received a facelift. Although the styling remained pretty much untouched, there were a raft of technical changes to reflect the new technology that had been included in  the 1979 S-Class sister car. Main change was upgrading the standard gearbox from a four- to a five-speed manual.

The V8s were upgraded to 380SL- and 500SL specification, which were then further tweaked for improved fuel consumption in September 1981, after just a year in production. Further running changes included increasing the six-cylinder 280SL's engine capacity to 3.0-litres in 1985. At the same time, the 380SL became the 420SL, and a new entry was the impressive 560SL, which ended up joining the 500 - but not replacing it. And despite all of the power, like all SLs, the 560SL should be considered a tourers rather than sports car.

Ask Honest John

Is a Mercedes-Benz SL a sensible buy as a classic?

"I am in love with classic Mercedes-Benz SLs, especially R107 models built between 1970 and 1989. Finding a Mercedes-Benz R107 at a good price and in good condition, especially late RHD SL500 (242 BHP) models, is increasingly difficult. The LHD SL560 produced from 1985 only for US, Japan and Australia seems tempting. What are the potential pitfalls of importing one? What would you look for where and who could help? What are the insurance and emissions implications? The European 560 SEC the 560 V8 produced 296 or 275 BHP (latter with catalyst). Are all 560 SLs restricted by US-required emissions equipment to 227 BHP? Is it possible to remove the emissions equipment from a 560SL to unleash its full potential? "
I'm afraid you've missed the boat on R107s. Ten years ago, prices were competitive but not any more. It's unlikely that you'll save any money on importing one by the time you've paid fees, shipping and VAT... and that's before your planned modifications. As power seems to be high on your list of requirements, have a look at the R129 series that replaced the R107 as these can still be found for under £10k.
Answered by Keith Moody

What should I do to prepare my car for winter storage?

"I recently purchased a 1986 Mercedes Benz SL 300 (R107) and I'm about to lay it up for the winter in a garage. Would you recommend adding a fuel stabiliser to the petrol in the tank and, if so, which brand would you recommend? Also, should I periodically start the car and bring the engine up to running temperature? Any other tips would be very much appreciated as I have been reading conflicting advice."
Try to use it as much as you can in November and December. Unless you've opted for a six-months of road tax, the main reason to lay up a car up over winter is to avoid the salt on the road - and as we don't normally see the gritters out until January and February, you've still got some crisp days to enjoy the car on. Keeping it moving will prevent flat spots forming in the rubber. If you're dead set on storage - make sure all your fluid levels are topped up. We'd also recommend investing in a trickle charger to keep your battery in good health. And yes, we'd suggest using an additive in the fuel tank. Millers make a range of suitable additives and we've used them before.
Answered by Keith Moody

How much should I be paying for a 1983 Mercedes-Benz SL?

"I am looking at a 1983 Mercedes-Benz 380 SL with 120,000 miles. It has two previous owners and a full history. It's good condition but has an oil leak. What would you say is a fair price?"
Once we get into cars of this era, car valuation tends to be done on condition. So, for example, a dealer with a concours winning example on his forecourt might price the car at £24,000 - but this would be top money for one of the very best examples. A very good car sold privately (a Condition 1 car) might be up for around £16,000. A Condition 2 car (average) might be around £8000 while a Condition 3 car (rough, but could have an MoT) might set you back about £3000. It sounds like your car is in the middle to upper tier of values for this model. If you're not sure have a look around for recent examples sold at auction, in the private ads or on eBay and see what sort of money they fetched. Values for the R107-series Mercedes SL have risen pretty steeply in the past ten years. Two owners with full history suggest a car that's been well looked after. So why hasn't the oil leak been sorted? These models do tend to leak a bit from the cambox, but there's also a variety of other places they can leak from, so more investigation is needed. How much oil is it using? How long has it been like that? What has the owner tried to do to fix it? If you're not a hands-on person, arrange with a local garage to take the car in for an inspection. And if you need an expert on hand why not try the Mercedes-Benz Club UK? They may have a knowledgeable member living locally who might be able to help you assess the problem.
Answered by Keith Moody

What cars would you recommend as possible future classics?

"What cars would you recommend as possible future classics? They must be automatic and reasonable to maintain."
You could have a look at a Mercedes-Benz SL (R107) although these are expensive now. Maybe a P38 Range Rover or a Bentley Arnage Red Label. If you'd like to go a bit more modern, then perhaps one of the first Audi TTs with the DSG box like the 2003 3.2 is an option (although the boxes are fragile) or something like a Smart Roadster. Also worth a look might be an American muscle car like a Mustang, or you could go for a high-performance model like a BMW M3 or Mercedes-Benz AMG. Feeling flush? Then how about a Nissan GT-R.
Answered by Keith Moody
More Questions

What does a Mercedes-Benz SL (1971 – 1989) cost?