Project 107 is a Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC AMG On Steroids With A Racing Heart
This restomod is so special, it broke cover wearing a camo liveryby Michael Fira, on
The overflow of Porsche restomods of the last handful of years has us yearning for something different and this ’80s Mercedes-Benz SL with wide, race car-esque arches and seriously fat tires that wrap equally generous rims is the perfect antidote to the Porsche restomod craze. Built by Mechantronik, it’s been seen burning rubber throughout Germany and we think it may just be one of the coolest cars of its kind out there also because, well, we don’t really see resto-modded Mercs all that often.
A vintage SL packing a serious punch
The third-generation Mercedes-Benz SL (known internally as the R107) is famous for being the second longest-lasting model in the history of Mercedes-Benz having been introduced all the way back in 1971 and retiring a whopping 18 years later. To put it into perspective, only the G Wagon surpasses the R107, star of many a TV shows from the ’70s and ’80s such as Dallas. But we’re not here to talk about the blitz and glitz of television lifestyles. Instead, we’re taking a trip back to the late ’70s to understand why German tuner Mechatronik is trying to turn the boxiest of all SLs into a weapon of mass destruction.
We start our journey in the Ardennes forest in 1971. By then, the ear-splitting noise of WW2 mortar and machine guns had been replaced by the equally loud yet less terrifying gargle typical of race engines as the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit snakes its way around the forest. Once a year, the track plays host to a 24-hour race that’s one of the oldest and most revered in the world and the big news ahead of the 1971 edition centered around Mercedes-Benz and its entry in the race.
The three-pointed star had last been seen in the pit lane at Spa merely 24 months earlier when a factory-backed duo of 300 SEL sedans was supposed to compete thus ending Mercedes’ 14-year-long departure from the world of racing caused by the 1955 Le Mans disaster that claimed over 80 lives. But the SELs never raced and petrolheads had to wait another two decades before Mercedes was back in circuit racing in an official capacity. So, who entered a Mercedes car in the 1971 edition of the Spa 24-hour race?
The entrant was Hans Werner Aufrecht, the boss of AMG, then an independent Mercedes tuner that had set his sights on the European Touring Car Championship, scene of the BMW v. Ford war. Aufrecht’s weapon of choice was a 300 SEL as well and, while dwarfing both the Capri and the 2800 CS in engine size (the SEL was powered by a 6.3-liter behemoth), the ’Red Pig’ as it was nicknamed by the press wasn’t the fastest car out there. In the race, however, attrition took its toll on many competitors and Hans Heyer and Clemens Schickentanz walked away with a well-deserved podium finish. With a ban on big-engine monsters like the Merc or the Camaro coming in 1972, AMG left the show after one season.
A few years later, the championship would find itself in a perilous state as manufacturer interest dimmed considerably following the oil crisis and the good news that Jaguar would join in 1976 turn into an oil-starved nightmare. For starters, the XJ12-C was too heavy (the wood dash was still in place) and the engine wasn’t the most reliable either. Eating through brake rotors, British Leyland’s pride and joy made its way through a single season in the ETCC before the program was quietly shuttered. Aufrecht, amused by the prospect of battling both Jaguar and BMW in the top class (Division 5), got to work on a Group 2-spec SL.
Sadly, by the time the car was ready, it was already 1978 and that meant the only opposition came from the long-standing CSL. But the Batmobile proved to still have a few tricks up its sleeve and, even without the backing of famed BMW tuners Alpina and Schnitzer, the privateers managed to easily beat the troubles AMG-entered SL.
That’s because the SL wasn’t the ideal platform to build a racing car out of as the underpinnings came straight from the venerable W114 sedan, a quiet, sedated car that had never seen a race track in its life. Tipping the scales at 3,725 pounds the SL was miles away from the dry weight of a road-legal BMW CSL and it showed as the Group 2 car was no lighter than 2,700 pounds. A DOHC, 16-valve, 4.5-liter version of the SL’s V-8 was placed in front of a cabin and, revving at 6,500 rpm, it made 375 horsepower. That was a lot when you consider that the road car had to work with just 217 horsepower but getting all that power through the production three-speed automatic transmission proved problematic.
It wasn't until the car's third season that the 450 SLC began to show some promise.
Pitted against the 635 CSI Group 2, a privately-developed replacement for the now-decommissioned CSL, the AMG car came home second in the season-opener at Monza. Then, at the Nuerburgring-Nordschleife, in what would turn out to be the car’s last outing, the BMWs hiccuped and Mercedes won.
Now putting down 390 ponies, the SL was driven by the aging Schickentanz - who wasn’t as fast as he was back in 1971 - and Joerg Denzel. The duo made no mistakes throughout the six-hour-long race while everyone else went into self-distruct mode. The brace of BMW 320i’s was hit by trouble and retired one by one as did the only 635 CSI that took the start (due to a broken axle). Thus, lapping an incredible 30 seconds away from the pace set by Tom Walkinshaw in the Jaguar merely three years prior, Schickentanz approached the exit of the Northern Loop for the second-to-last time when he came into the pits.
A white-faced Aufrecht watched as the silver coupe pulled in front of the AMG pits while Clemens made wide gestures with his hand asking the mechanics to put the champagne in the freezer, just in case. He then rejoined the track and went on to win before Aufrecht could hit him for the scare. This was the first major victory in the history of AMG and it is as a tribute to this unique car that Mechatronik is building its revamped SL.
"We wanted to create a modern version of the ‘Mampe’ SLC,” explained Mechatronik’s Pascal Stephan to Classic Driver. "Our car will be based on the original chassis of the SL or SLC, but that’s where the similarities end as virtually everything else will be modern, from the carbon-fiber bodywork to the entirely new suspension, brakes and exhaust system."
Mechatronik knows its way around all matter of older and newer Mercedes products and has been churning out its own improved version of the SL for a few years already. Known as the M-SL, it isn’t a resto-mod per see because the company doesn’t improve the car’s performance, it just modernizes everything that’s old and potentially frail on it while keeping its spirit intact.
Project 107, on the other hand, is different.
With flared arches, huge wheels, and more oomph coming from an as-of-yet unknown AMG-tuned V-8, this SL will probably rock the Eifel mountains harder than even the old Group 2 car ever did.
Customers will be able to choose from three different versions: Touring, which is both the most comfortable and most discreet, lacking the racing-style bits you see here, Roadster and Performance. For the latter, there will also bo a track-focused Clubsport package which is most likely what Mechatronik’s busy testing on this mule.
"I think it’s very important to understand the philosophy of Project 107 is very different to the other cars we build here such as the M-SL and M-Coupé," added Stephan. "Of course, they’re greater in performance than the cars on which they’re based, but the focus is on reliability and creature comforts. This car is entirely different – the onus is entirely on performance."
But, before the car can hit the road, it needs an MOT and this requires some more testing and tuning. Some 2,000 track miles will also be under the belt of the mule by the time the production-ready resto-modded R107 will be ready either later this year or early next year.