1972 - 1989 Mercedes SL-Class (W107)

The W107-series SL, sometimes also known as the R107 (for Reihe, or ’series’ rather than Wagen), was nicknamed by insiders as the ’Panzerwagen’ when it was under development, because it was so heavy. At 3,400lbs, it was a good 300lbs more than the W113, and it wasn’t quite as elegant although the pagoda-style roof was retained. Upright, square headlights replaced the ovals, though US-market cars got twin circular lamps, and although it was actually only a quarter of an inch wider than the W113, it looked a lot bigger with its lowered, more squat stance and longer wheelbase.

Features

Its suspension was much-improved, with a new rear trailing arm layout finally putting rest to criticisms of its handling. Although the roadster only seated two (with a third fold-out jump seat optional in some markets), a 2+2 coupe version, the SLC, was added to the range (from a good £7000) with a wheelbase some 14 inches longer. Both models had similar equipment and engines, coming with either the continuing 2.8 straight-six as in the W113 (in some markets) or a 230bhp 3.5-litre V8 from the new Mercedes S-Class, or, in the USA, a 4.5-litre V8, also developing 230bhp due to the emissions controls (and just 190bhp by the new SAE measurements introduced in 1973).

The Mercedes 450SL was hardly quick, and it got even heavier and more ungainly-looking when it gained bigger bumpers to meet new US federal crash safety standards, and lost a further 10bhp in 1975 with further emissions controls. It showcased a number of new safety developments, though, including an interlocking ignition which would not start unless the driver’s seatbelt was fastened, antilock brakes, new to the USA, and from 1982, a driver’s front airbag. A new all-aluminium 3.8-litre engine replaced the 4.5 in 1981, giving 155bhp, and the SL only returned to the US performance league in 1986, when it gained a 5.6-litre V8 (238bhp, 287lb ft) and four-speed auto transmission instead of the old three-speed self-shifter.

European buyers were offered more performance from an earlier date, with a 5.0-litre model (240bhp) making its debut in 1981. The 220bhp 380SL replaced the 350SL and the range continued into the mid-Eighties, though by now it was looking - and feeling - very dated despite the power upgrades. A minor facelift in autumn 1986 brought revised engines and a line-up consisting of 300SL (188bhp), 420SL (218bhp), 500 SL (245bhp) and special-order 560 SL (300bhp), though the latter only produced around 240bhp in US-market cars, which were also hampered by the now-compulsory third high-level brake light, awkwardly positioned on the boot lid and spoiling the otherwise sleek profile. Nearly 237,400 Mercedes W107-s were produced over the 18-year production period, two-thirds of which went to the USA, but this SL - no longer particularly sporty and certainly no longer light - was long overdue for obsolescence by the time it was finally replaced in 1990.

Vehicles:

  • 1972 Mercedes-Benz W107 350SL
  • 1972-1980 450SLC
  • 1973-1980 450SL
  • 1980 380SLC
  • 1980 500SLC
  • 1981-1985 380SL
  • 1986-1989 560SL

Mercedes-Benz 350SL

In 1971 Mercedes presented the 350 SL, an open-top two-seat Roadster as successor to the 230/250/280 SL line featuring a 3.5 litre V8, as its name implies, and code-named Mercedes-Benz R107. The car stayed in production until 1989, when it was finally superseded by the R129 SL. In 1972 the 350 SL (205 hp) became available in the USA (although in this, its most important market, it initially featured a detuned 4.5 litre-V8). At the same time, the 450 SL (225 hp) was made accessible to Europeans, too, joined in the wake of the first fuel crisis by the "economy" 280 SL with a fuel-injected six (185 hp). The 350 SL (later rechristened 450 SL) remained the only available model in the USA until 1980.

A reshuffling of engines took place in 1980. The 280 SL regained its former strength of 185 hp (after suffering a slight detuning to 177 hp in the late seventies), a 3.8 litre light alloy V-8 (218 hp) replaced the former 3.5 litre (down to 195 hp in final form) and a new 5.0 litre (240 hp) superseded the 4.5 litre engine (down to 217 hp)). Shortly after their introduction, the new V-8 engines underwent some detail work stressing fuel economy and diminishing their ouput slightly. In the USA, the 450 SL was replaced in 1980 by the 380 SL, detuned to 155 hp.

Production hovered around 15,000 to 20,000 units per year, with 60 to 70 percent going to the US. An offspring of the R107 SL was the C107 SLC coupe. The SL’s wheelbase was stretched and the car received a fixed roof. This successor to the saloon-based SE coupes of the sixties suffered somewhat in terms of styling, being a derivative of the SL. It seemed unbalanced. Most criticism was directed towards the louvers in front of the C-pillars which, no doubt, were added to mask the fact that the SLC was an elongated SL. In Europe there were 280/350/450 SLCs, in the US a 350/450 SLC, later a 380 SLC until the model was replaced in 1983 by the new 380 SEC, based on the S-class introduced in the autumn of 1979 (W126). SLC production reached 7.000 units in good years. Special mention deserves the 450 SLC 5.0 of 1978, the first MB car with the new light alloy 5.0-litre engine and hood (bonnet) and trunk (boot) lid both made of aluminium.


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