The 1989 Mercedes SL base model was the 228 hp (170 kW) 3.0 L inline 6 300SL version. But it was the 322 hp (240 kW) 500SL (with a 5.0 L V8 engine) which made the most headlines. Specification was high, with electric action for the windows, mirrors, seats and hood.1994 saw a mild facelift for the SL, and the 300SL was replaced in Europe by the SL280 and SL320 (with 2.8 L and 3.2 L I6 engines). The SL500 continued with the same powerful engine. A 389 hp (290 kW) 6.0 L V12 SL600 topped the range in 1993.
The SL320 replaced the 300SL in the United States in 1995, but the SL280 was not offered. The 6-cylinder SLs were dropped from the US lineup in 1998, leaving just the V8 and V12. The SL500 got a new 302 hp (225 kW) 5.0 L V8 for 1999.
The Mercedes W129-series SL was considerably more modern, but it certainly wasn’t light - the new convertible-only 500SL was over two tonnes (the SLC coupe model was replaced by the S-Class-based SEC). The extra weight was largely down to more sophisticated equipment and improvements to the structure, however, such as a hydraulically powered soft top and automatically deploying anti-roll bars. New five-link rear suspension fine-tuned handling, and the front double-wishbone layout was revised. The engines were all-aluminium units: a 3.0-litre straight-six (190bhp in 12-valve form or 231bhp in the 300SL-24) and a new 5.0-litre V8 (326bhp). All were packed with the latest technology: adaptive suspension with active damping, airbags, electronic stability control, a complex electronic engine management system and every luxury item available at the time, but they were more grand tourers than sports cars, even with the increasing number of aftermarket tuning options offered by companies such as AMG, whose relationship with Mercedes was getting closer.
Range revisions in autumn 1993 brought a change in naming policy with ’SL’ becoming a prefix, and a new line-up. A 2.8-litre model was back - now called SL 280 - with 193bhp and good for 140mph and 0-60 in 9.5 seconds, the SL 320 (231bhp, 149mph and 0-60 in 8.1 seconds) replaced the 300SL and the SL500 continued alongside the 600SL, the most powerful SL yet: 390bhp with a 48-valve V12, giving 155mph and 0-60 in 6.1 seconds. These measures put plenty of clear ground between this range and the SLK, launched in 1996; with its supercharged 2.3-litre engine (193bhp), the nippy little SLK was arguably closer to the spirit of the original SL than the SL itself. The V8 and V12 both now had five-speed automatic transmission, and by 1998, features such as rain-sensing wipers, xenon headlamps, Brake Assist, ESP and anti-skid control were offered on all models.
New 2.8 V6 and 3.2 V6 engines replaced the old straight-sixes in the summer of ’98, but again, the SL was looking dated compared to lighter, lither, more agile modern rivals. The range went out, if not in a blaze of glory, in a sheer onslaught of power: AMG, now working in a partnership with Mercedes-Benz, produced the SL 73 AMG (1999) which had a 7.3-litre V12 (525bhp, 553lb ft), the supercharged V8-engined SL 55 AMG (354bhp, 391lb ft) and, in 2001, an updated SL 55 with 500bhp and 516lb ft.
- 1990–1993 300SL
- 1994–1997 SL320
- 1990–1993 500SL
- 1998–2003 SL500
- 1993 600SL
- 1994–1998 SL600