Unveiled in 1971, the R107-series SL was so good that it lasted 18 years with only minor modifications made to it. That’s because back then engineers had the final say — not the marketing men; this one was built to last. And it did. One of the most recognisable Mercs of all time, the third-generation SL put the brand on the map as the premiere carmaker in the world even though the legendary SL bloodline began with the 300SL ‘Gullwing’ of 1952.
The two-seater — with a detachable roof — presented luxury-hungry buyers with a stylish body, very well appointed cabin, robust build quality and solid performance.
Nicknamed “der Panzerwagen” (it wasn’t literally as heavy as the battle tank, that would be daft, but ironically, SL was short for Sport Light...), it was a good deal heftier than the Pagoda and it also had a far bigger wheelbase than it. It was wider and sat lower to the ground and sure was a good looker what with those horizontal headlights and fluted taillights. Under the elegant body sat a double-wishbone front suspension, and a new and improved trailing arm for the rear to ensure a smooth ride, but it could handle the twists too. Power came from a 3.5-litre V8 and it wasn’t long before a 4.5-litre V8 arrived, but the oil crisis from 1973-1974 forced Mercedes to offer the smaller 2.8-litre straight-six. In fact, during its life span, eight different engines sat in the bay until production ceased in 1989.
It had a couple of facelifts, the last of which in the Eighties saw the addition of a front air dam, and the model continued to sell very well until its demise. By that time, 237,287 examples had been built.
Even after all these years, the R107 SL is still a sought-after model — and it has aged incredibly well, too. It still looks the business and they often command a high premium. It’s commons to see these with half a million kilometres on the clock so the engines and transmissions (four and five-speed manual and automatics) aren’t a problem, but the pre ’76 models are prone to corrosion. It’s sensible to select from the post ’86 cars, which were rustproofed far better.