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Mercedes-Benz R129SL

Published: 4th Dec 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mercedes-Benz R129SL
Mercedes-Benz R129SL
Mercedes-Benz R129SL
Mercedes-Benz R129SL
Mercedes-Benz R129SL
Mercedes-Benz R129SL
Mercedes-Benz R129SL
Mercedes-Benz R129SL
Mercedes-Benz R129SL
Mercedes-Benz R129SL

Buyer Beware

Avoid ‘pimped-up’ cars with big non-OE wheels and chrome accessories. These add-ons usually spell impending trouble and won’t be easy to sell on, either.

A service history is vital and preferably stamped by main dealers or specialists rather than normal garages. Rust is not a major issue on this model if cared for. Check the usual places and also look for rust at the bottom rear sides of the hardtop.

Make sure the hardtop is with the car, because all R129s were sold with one. At the same time, inspect it for dents, as these usually spend a lot of time in the corner of garages during the summer.

If the hard top is on, make sure it’s removed and the hood inspected for operation and condition. Hoods are triple lined, fully automatic and so cost the thick end of £5000 to replace.

The bulkhead ventilation plenum chamber can rust out causing major water leaks in the front footwell area. If there’s water in the footwell, walk away and find another SL as repairs are involved and expensive.

If the car is model year 1993-95 more than likely there was or will be a wiring harness issue but a recall was never issued, leaving it up to the owners…

On the move see that the auto gearbox works okay as the electricals can play up. Check the rear diff’s ASC traction control too as it has been known to play up.

Suspensions and brakes wear in the normal ways and check the alloy wheels for condition plus also whether they are stuck to the hub; a problem caused by frequent lack of use but regular washing so the car rarely dries out on a run.

Interiors are sturdy but you may find seat bolsters become shabby. Rear seats should be immaculate as they are rarely used due to their size.

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The R129 SL blends classic and modern together – beautifully – and at prices you wouldn’t credit. Is there a catch?

Mercedes launched its much awaited replacement for the 20 year old R107 a quarter of a century ago. They say good things come to those who wait… But did you know the German carmaker spent a decade perfecting its all new SL, the R129? There again, Mercedes needed to because it was a completely different car for a different world.

Compared to its predecessor, the ‘R129’ SL was a revelation; a technological tour de force that immediately moved Mercedes’ game light years forward and yet these SLs trail its illustrious predecessors by miles, meaning you can buy one of the greatest cars ever for less than MG Midget money. But should you?


Like the earlier R107, the beauty of this suave SL lies in the fact that there’s a model to suit all tastes, moods and pocket. At launch, the R129 was virtually all new, being based upon the E Class saloon at the time (which remains one of the German’s best ever efforts we might add), albeit truncated for sports car use.

Typically Mercedes, a wide choice of engines keeps everybody happy – from a smooth 2.8-litre six, through the 24-valve 3-litre 300SL-24, right up to the fuller fat 5-litre V8 with 326bhp, or a full fat 6-litre V12 pumping out a massive 409bhp! There was even an SL60 which managed nearly 400bhp from 6-litres of AMG-tuned V8 to take on Ferrari’s and Porsche’s best.

For the majority of R129 buyers however, the choice rests between the brace of 3-litre models (badged 300SL - or SL300 after Mercedes revised its badging 20 years ago) because they go well enough and are easy to run.

There’s a choice of 12 or 24-valves and while the latter engine is sportier, care of a twin cam 231bhp tune, the earlier 190bhp car is easier to run and more reliable. The 280SL, with its mild 2.8 straight six, does the job adequately if all you want to do is quietly cruise while at the other end of the scale, the V8s (and the later V6s) still give GTi owners something to think about.

As you expect from Mercedes, virtually every SL you see will be an automatic (only the 280SL had a rarely specified manual option) but these five-speed self- shifters suit the cars’ characters well. Starting in 1994, Mercedes offered special SL models from time to time, such as the Mille Miglia edition cars of 1994 or the Silver Arrows of 2001 before the new R230 took over.

A facelift in 1995 promoted a less in-your-face look, while a rather nice panoramic glass roof for the standard hardtop (make sure your car comes with it) became optional but is worth seeking out. Other options include wheel and trim upgrades but, really, condition and a service history counts for much more.

We weren’t joking about a Merc for Midget money. We’ve seen reasonable looking SL at auctions for less than £5000 and while you might strike it lucky, it’s best to go for something approaching double this for a better example – hardly dear for what you’re getting is it? Up the ante to £15,000 or slightly over and you’ll get a cracker.

According to leading SL experts, The SL Shop in Worcester, the best model is a straight, original 1997 V8 5-litre. While the later cars look nicer and have more gizmos, the build is not as good as the earlier alternatives. The 280 is okay but that six-pot engine can give problems while the later V6s are clinical but lack character says expert Sam Bailey, who adds that so long as you don’t try a V8 you’ll like any R129!


Like chalk and cheese! Being based upon a shortened W124 E Class floorpan, the R129 feels much more modern than the R107, which design stems from the 1960s. This is never more evident in the chassis design where the earlier SL’s dated rear diagonal swing axle design at last gave way to a multi- link axle. This makes the R129 a far better sports proposition than its predecessor – little wonder one road tester exclaimed: “Nothing I’ve driven would suit me better than this
Mercedes. Nothing can match its all round appeal”.

Yet even if you drive sedately rather than sporting, you’ll also discover that this later SL feels far more secure on the move with the steering feeling more precise than the old R107.

The other impression that’s quickly formed is just how solidly smooth the car feels. Made during the era when Mercedes put engineering quality above all else (drive an SLK and you’ll see what we mean), you always feel safe and secure in this SL not least because the Merc was one of the first cars to come with the sort of electrical driver aids we now take for granted, such as anti-lock brakes and (Acceleration Skid Control) traction control. There’s also a automatic clever roll over protection system. These cars are also built like a Sherman tank which also helps a lot!

If all this sounds humdrum for a classic, fear not. Excitement may not be the SL’s forte but a satisfying and contented drive is.

We can’t see many wanting more performance than the V8 500SL musters; the V12 600SL seems quite superfluous as it’s not much quicker yet feels more unwieldy due to the greater weight we reckon. If you view the R129 as a S-Class with no roof and you won’t be far adrift. And what a roof! The automatic hood was a masterpiece at the time; one press of a button was all it took to stow the triple- lined canvass top completely away. Commonplace now on lesser cars, but a real crowd puller 25 years ago!


This needn’t be the stumbling block but, as durable as these Mercs are, you have to remember that they were expensive playthings when new to buy and maintain. And while the former has changed, the latter hasn’t!

We’re not implying that you need a massive mortgage to run one but you certainly need a sensible budget to keep in the style it’s been (or should have been) accustomed to. Thankfully, there’s an army of independent Mercedes specialists (many run by ex-factory trained staff) who can contain costs without compromising quality, while oil and filters replacements are a DIY or local Fred-in-a shed job although we’d use a specialist!



R129 begins full production (original build starts a year earlier) offering the 500SL, 300SL and 300SL-24 (24v)


Flagship V12 6-litre 600SL joins range offering 394bhp and 420lbft of torque, fed via standard auto transmission


Model names are changed by reversing symbols; i.e. 500SL becomes the SL500. New (231bhp) 320 replaces 300-24 unit


Facelift sees milder look with new bumpers and grille. Glass roof for the removable hardtop becomes an option


Another minor facelift (new door mirrors and colour-coded door handles), new 224bhp 3.2 V6 engine for the SL320 model

We Reckon...

The R129 SL is one of the best bargain prestige classics. It’s a different kettle of camshafts compared to the old R107 to drive and perhaps more ‘classical’ rather than a true classic. But for many that sounds like the ideal modern Merc for today’s classic motoring. Do you agree?

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