What to pay attention to when buying a Mercedes 450SL, 280SL, 380SL or 560SL?
The Mercedes-Benz R107 SL-series is nicknamed 'der Pantzerwagen', the tank. Sticking this label on a sporty open two-seater, at the time the most frivolous thing Das Haus had to offer, is telling for its legendary quality. Especially because the letters SL stand for Sport Light. With an empty weight of more than 1500 kilos and a driving behaviour geared towards comfort, the R107 is more of a grand tourer than a real sports car. Introduced in 1971, the car remained in production until the end of the 80s. With a continuous production time of 18 years this is the second longest produced Mercedes of all time. The undisputed number 1 is the G-Class Geländewagen, which is still on the price lists today.
For years, the R107 series was considered to be the unloved child of the Mercedes classic scene. As with so many old prestige class cars, the image of a car is often based on the kinds of people who drive around with it just before the car reaches its lowest point in value. Or rather, the prejudice that sticks to these people. With third generation SL's, these were more often than average moustached men wearing a golden wristwatch, accompanied by a substantial bag of cash and a blonde lady dressed in panther print. Not exactly the types the average god-fearing Mercedes owner wants to associate with. With the passing of time, the R107 SL has fortunately shaken off its moustachian image and the car is now being judged on its merits. One piece of German solidity, wrapped in a chic jacket with a sober elegance. But is the R107 still as indestructible as its legendary image after 40 years? Now that the car has come of age as an emerging classic, we take a closer look at the most popular versions.
Mercedes 350SL and 450SL purchase tips
In recent years, the 450SL has been widely imported from the United States. Americans bought these large eight-cylinder two-seaters in great numbers, despite their substantial new price. In the US, the open Mercedes initially came on the market as 350SL, but the engine was considered to be too light in power. Soon the engine capacity for the American market was increased to 4.5 litres. After a year the type designation was also changed to 450SL. Initially the 350SL could still be ordered with a four-speed manual gearbox, but soon the much more popular automatic transmission became the only available transmission. A V8 SL with manual transmission is very rare and therefore also sought-after by collectors. The 450SL V8 engines are wonderfully smooth, credit to their high torque (286 - 325 Nm).
Mercedes 380SL and 420SL
The 380SL succeeded the 450SL in 1980. For the American market the power was drastically reduced, to about 155 hp and 260 Nm of torque. This makes it the least powerful of the V8 R107 versions and therefore also the least valuable. However, the build quality and reliability improved considerably compared to the previous SL's. So it will be easier to find a good 380SL. In 1985 the 380 was succeeded by the 420SL, with a slightly larger and stronger engine.
Mercedes 560SL and 500SL
Only supplied in the US, Australia and Japan and equipped with a monstrously large 5.6 liter V8. With 227 hp this car is less quick than its displacement suggests. The earliest 450SL's (pre-emission) with 225 hp come very close. The European markets got a slightly smaller top model: the 500SL. With 240 hp and more than 400 Nm of torque, this is the most powerful R107 Mercedes.
Mercedes 280SL and 300SL
The R107 SL with 6 cylinder in-line engine. Lighter and more economical than the V8 versions and not so much slower. These versions were especially popular in European markets. Due to grey imports, a few 280SL's ended up in the US. The latest version of the six cylinder is by far the most popular, not in the least because of the legendary type name: 300SL.
Mercedesses from these years of construction are generally considered indestructible. The youngest 107's have passed the age of 30 and the first versions are approaching the age of 50. So it is logical that the ravages of time can cause a number of problems, even with well maintained examples. Usually these are common age-related problems: leaking gaskets, oil seals and dried out rubber hoses are common, both at high and low mileage. Vehicles with low mileage (longer periods of inactivity) regularly suffer from a clogged injection system. In the worst case this means that the tank must be cleaned, with replacement of hoses, fuel filter, fuel pump, new or cleaned injectors and a rebuild of the fuel distributor. Problems are manifested by poor starting, irregular idling and incorrect fuel pressure values. Technical wear and tear parts are not overly expensive, although the elimination of a lot of overdue maintenance can be very costly.
Although less dramatic than many cars from the 70s and 80s, Mercedes SLs, expecially the early versions, can rust heavily. Weak spots are the front fenders above the headlights and on the ribbed underside behind the wheels, sills and the rear fenders on the underside in front of the wheels. Floor panels are other common areas for rust through damage, as are the corners of the boot floor, parts of the chassis beam and crossmembers and the boxed section in the front wheel arches. Repair panels are available in abundance, at reasonable prices. Welding skills and time are a must if you intend to fix a rusty SL.
Many SLs are imported from the sunshine states of the US. Although a dry climate is good for preserving the bodywork, it is often disastrous for the interior. Typical SL ailments are cracked dashboards (for which repair panels are available), dried out and torn seat upholstery and dried out rubbers. Keep this in mind in the purchase budget and determine whether this outweighs the price of a car with an interior in good condition.
Restoring your own Mercedes R107 SL?
Because prices of the R107 have been on the upswing in recent years, it can be interesting for enthusiasts to buy a restoration project. The price difference between project cars and SL's in perfect condition gets bigger every year. If you are not planning to work on a project during weekends and evenings, it is wise to buy the best possible car you can afford, without any cosmetic work or overdue maintenance. When this work has to be outsourced, the costs soon exceed the value of the car, something that does not bother the skilled hobbyist. At Dandy Classics we regularly import Mercedes SL's from the US, both as a restoration project and in a good roadworthy condition. Check out the current offers here.