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Mercedes-Benz R107 SL

Mercedes-Benz R107 SL Published: 23rd Feb 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mercedes-Benz R107 SL
Mercedes-Benz R107 SL
Mercedes-Benz R107 SL
Mercedes-Benz R107 SL
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Is a Mercedes R107 SL the ultimate hassle-free classic?

The flattened, squared off lines of the R107 have always made it look larger than it is, and in the metal you’re left surprised by its daintiness and delicacy. Even the later cars, with larger wheels, chin spoilers and little boot lips retain an elegance almost unique to 1970’s and 80’s Mercs; where simplicity is key and where you sense that every line has been considered. Yet don’t confuse this delicacy with flimsiness. Like the W123 and other contemporary Benzes, the R107 is one of the most solidly-built classics you can get.

When new, the R107 was the darling of the Monte Carlo set, though by the late 1980s it was seen as dated and a little bit brash. It was no accident that led to oilman and rancher Bobby Ewing driving a 450SL in Dallas, and their mechanical longevity led to several being run on a shoestring in the 1990s. But does the slightly seedy banger of yesteryear make a compelling classic, 45 years on from its launch?

On the move

Our test example is a 300SL, a late entry-level model which shares its six-cylinder engine with the W126 S-class. It’s smooth and quiet, as befits an old Mercedes, and the interior is familiar to anyone who’s piloted an old E or S class. It’s still a pretty modern experience inside too – while there’s no airbag, there’s plenty of quality plastics and thin slivers of wood in much the same vein as modern Mercs. It doesn’t feel like a 1970’s car from inside – and unlike most sporting models of that era, there’s space for people of any figure inside. However, tall or portly, you’ll get comfortable with ease. And the dash is laid out clearly, concisely, and logically. It would be easy to criticise the lack of equipment, but then to do so is to compare it subconsciously to something more modern. And that speaks volumes about the car as a whole.

Slot the gear selector into D and pull off, and it still feels modern. It’s comfortable, rides well, and only the huge steering wheel really belies its age. That said, if you’re going to judge it by sports car standards you’ll be disappointed. In six-pot guise, it’s rapid enough but no ball of fire – and while the V8s certainly provide more urge, it’s rather more of an effortless experience than a sporting one. Even less sporting was the stretched and heavier (V8 only) SLC coupé, intended to provide a four seat upmarket GT but really best used as a 2+2.

The gears are well chosen, and provide good acceleration and cruising ratios. The latter, however, is this car’s real forte.

You could get into an R107 SL and drive anywhere, knowing that not only would you arrive in style, but that you’d also arrive in comfort. It’s not a car that encourages you to push on, because you’ll only miss your reflection in shop windows. And who wants to make an effort when they’re as cool as this? They’re even viable all-year dailies, with a nice snug hardtop that keeps the weather and the noise out. Try that with its period rivals!

Round the corners

You’re not going to get into trouble in an R107 unless you’re being silly. But despite its predictability, it’s no pin sharp sports car. The steering feels much like it does in the contemporary saloons; light, with a large wheel and a lot of assistance which serves to numb the feeling. But then, for someone coming from an insulated Insignia or an XF, this is going to be far more like it than a Healey 3000.

Autocar praised the handling of the 350SL when launched, noting that “The tendency to tail swing and transition to oversteer which used to be experienced with previous SLs, has been eliminated.” That’s not strictly true: push one hard on a damp road, or with old tyres, and the rear end will still step out, but it’s always controllable and you have to be misbehaving seriously in order to lose control of one. It’s not so much seat of the pants as intuition; you’re too insulated to really feel what’s going on – but this is no bad thing. Let’s be honest, how often are you going to drive your classic like you’ve stolen it? The steering and the ride make the R107 a pleasant car to waft about in, and that’s all the majority of SLs will be used for. While you can get performance enhancing accessories such as uprated suspension, six speed gearboxes and performance upgrades, they’re not cheap, and we think there’s no point when the original is still a very capable grand tourer.

It’s not about being a sports car. It’s about being a smooth operator.

Go or no go

Sports car? No, not really. But if you want a relaxed and cultured long distance open cruiser, then there are far worse ways of doing it. The R107 is one of the easiest classics to drive and live with on a daily basis, and is still more than stylish enough to cut it in even the finest of company.

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