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Mercedes-Benz R129

Mercedes-Benz R129 Published: 6th Feb 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mercedes-Benz R129
Mercedes-Benz R129
Mercedes-Benz R129
Mercedes-Benz R129
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This SL, in coupé and roadster forms, blends classic and modern together beautifully yet still at prices you wouldn’t credit

Replacing the R107 resulted in Mercedes spending a decade perfecting its R129 SL, not simply as its successor but also as a template for future models. Based upon the E Class, like the R107, the R129’s beauty lies in the fact that there’s a model to suit all tastes, pace and pockets although because it being more complex these SLs aren’t as simple to maintain as earlier ones with many jobs beyond the realms of DIY enthusiasts.

What makes them so special

Derived from a shortened W124 E Class floorpan, the R129 naturally feels much more modern compared to the R107 and is never more evident in the car’s handling with the earlier SL’s dated rear diagonal swing axle giving way to a grippier more secure multi-link axle. This feeling of safety and security is bolstered by the R129 being one of the first cars to come with the type of today’s driver aids that’s now taken for granted such as anti-lock brakes, (Acceleration Skid Control) traction control plus there’s a clever automatic roll over protection system.

A wide choice of engines keeps everybody contented from a smooth 2.8-litre six, through to the 24-valve 3-litre 300SL, right up to the full fat 6-litre 409bhp V12. For the majority, it rests between the brace of 3-litres (badged 300SL or SL300) because they go well enough and are easier to own.

Right choice

There’s a choice of 12 or 24-valves and while the latter is sportier, care of a twin cam 231bhp tune, the earlier 190bhp car is easier to run and the more reliable. According to Mercedes experts, the best model is an original V8 5-litre. While later cars look nicer and boast more gizmos, build is not as good as the earlier SLs. The 280 is okay but the six-cylinder engine can give problems, it’s further claimed. Mercedes offered special SL models such as the Mille Miglia and Silver Arrows before the R230 took over.

Affordability

Watch it! These SLs can seem remarkable value for money but, as many have discovered, you get what you pay for and cost more in the long run. You still see them for less than £5000, as values have levelled off, but they will be sans service history or TLC and bear in mind that it can cost as much again for relatively minor repairs, such as to the transmissions or the power hoods. Realistically, it’s much better to spend closer to £15,000 at a marque specialist offering a strong warranty – still cheap for what this car offers. The very best and special editions can exceed 30 grand with Silver Arrows examples matching R107 values so prices on some versions are on the way up.

Significant dates

R129 begins full production in 1989 offering the 500SL, 300SL and 300SL-24 (24v). For 1992 a Flagship V12 6-litre 600SL joins range (394bhp), fed via standard auto transmission. Two years later the model names are changed by reversing symbols; i.e. 500SL becomes the SL500 and a new (231bhp) 320 replaces 300-24 unit. Shortly after (1995) a facelift sees a milder look with new bumpers and grille. Glass roof for the removable hardtop becomes an option. In 1997, a Panoramic glass roof for the removable hardtop becomes a worthwhile option as does a Sports option on some SLs. Another revise in ’98 sees new door mirrors and colour-coded door handles. Mechanically, a new 224bhp 3.2V6 engine for the SL320 model surfaces. Final fling after 12 year run before it is succeeded by the R230 is marked by the Final Edition and Silver Arrows special editions.

Don’t get caught out…

  • Best buy from a known SL specialist.
  • Plenty around but avoid ‘pimped-up’ custom jobbies as they won’t be easy to sell on.
  • Look for a solid service history, preferably stamped by main dealers or specialists.
  • Rust is not a major issue but check front bulkheads and if there’s water in the footwell, find another SL.
  • Make sure a hard top comes with the deal, check carefully and also look for rust.
  • Inspect hood for operation and condition; fully automatic, and some £5000 to replace…
  • The (M119) V8 (500SL) is the sturdiest of the lot and generally fine so long as the timing chains are kept well serviced.
  • The straight six engine (of which the 24V unit is recommended more for its speed than smoothness over the earlier power plant) suffers from the typical weeping head gasket.
  • Check the rear diff ’s ASC traction control as this can also fail. On pre ’95 cars, wiring loom can bio-degrade and cost £1300 to fix.
  • A jaded interior can run to Jag Mk2 money to bring back into shape; trim can be bought new from M-B but be warned can be mega expensive.
  • See that the auto trans works okay as its electric gubbins are known to play up and isn’t cheap to put right.


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