By the late Sixties, Mercedes-Benz’s SL model had attained legendary status thanks to the iconic 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ and the less powerful but equally remarkable 190 SL. But as fabulous as they were, neither of these cars came close to the popularity enjoyed by their successor, the 107 series.
Taking inspiration from earlier SL models and with much of its architecture based on the Pagoda, the R107 SL had a production run of close to two decades. The styling, with its distinctive front end, clean, curvy lines and sleek, low profile gave it an aura of timeless beauty, making it an instant hit.
The 107 was the first SL model to receive an internal designation “R” instead of the usual “W”, and was also the first to be powered by an eight-cylinder engine.
At launch two models were offered; the 350 SL with a 200bhp 3.5-litre V8 under its long bonnet and the 450 SL, powered by a 225bhp 4.5-litre V8. While the former did the 0-100kph run in nine seconds before topping out at 210kph, the bigger V8 was good for a top speed of 215kph and clocked 8.8 seconds doing the benchmark sprint.
These two models were later joined by the entry-level 280SL driven by a 185bhp 2.8-litre six-cylinder inline engine, widening the appeal of the already popular model.
However, it wasn’t just looks or an extensive engine range that made it a best-seller. The R107 SL models benefitted from robust build quality and a host of safety features like front and rear crumple zones and a rigid passenger cell. Additionally, new safety norms introduced in the US at the time meant the A-pillar and windscreen were thoroughly restructured with up to 50 per cent more strength than previous roadsters. The result of these changes was that the car could be licenced for export to the USA even without a Targa bar. Inside the car, impact-absorbing sheet-steel replaced the previous hard dashboard, while anti-lock braking system, airbag and belt tensioner were offered as standard from the Eighties.
Further revisions around that time included an improved suspension system with trailing arms at the rear and standard power steering, and a refreshed engine line-up with a 3.8-litre V8 replacing the 3.5, and the 4.5-litre eight-cylinder making way for a new 5.0-litre mill.
Meanwhile, a newly-designed 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine replaced the entry-level 2.8-litre engine, creating a 300 SL again after a 22-year break.
The most spectacular model in the series, however, was the 560 SL, which was made exclusively for North American, Japanese and Australian markets. Powered by a 5.6-litre eight-cylinder engine, the 560 SL managed a top speed of 223kph and sprinted from 0-100kph in 7.7 seconds.
By the time it came to the end of its production life in August 1989, the R 107 series had set a record for Mercedes-Benz cars: no other passenger car series has ever been produced over such a long period — with the exception of the venerable G-Class — in the entire history of the company.
Getting your hands on one of these could set you back by anything from Dh40K to Dh200K depending on model designation and age. Although later engines including the straight-six from the 300 SL and the alloy V8s are better, complex electronics in these models would mean more expensive maintenance. Also keep an eye out for rust, broken timing chain and worn-out suspension parts. Sort these out, and you’ll have no reason to regret your decision to splash out on one of the best loved Mercs of all time.