The unbreakable, 90’s Mercedes SL

There was a time when Mercedes had a well-deserved reputation for building unbreakable cars. That period reached its peak in the mid-90’s but unfortunately ended with the E-class internally known as the W210, launched in 1995, which tainted the reputation for solid quality quite heavily. In parallel however, Mercedes still built cars based on the previous generation, and one of them, the Mercedes SL (R129), is no doubt the most attractive car from the era – and still a bit of a bargain.

The R129, here with body kit, one of Bruno Sacco’s best designs. Cars from 1995 had white turn signal glasses.

The R129 was built from 1989 through to 2001, an incredibly long lifetime if you compare to today. But again, Mercs from this period were pretty much indestructible, and their buyers, typically elderly German doctors, didn’t look much at driving thrills – so from that perspective, why change a winning concept?

The 90’s SL had a number of different drive trains through the years, from a relatively modest 2.8 litre straight six to a monstrous 7.3 litre AMG V12 developing 525 hp. No doubt the most well-known models in Europe are the 300 SL with a sraight six, and the V8 500 SL developing 326 hp – probably one of the most reliable engines in the modern era.

The 500 V8 with 326 hp in a well-filled engine room.

The SL had some innovative solutions such as an automatic, invisible roll bar and seat belts integrated in the seat backs. The larger the engine, the better the equipment level, but interestingly all cars were delivered with a hard top, to complement the regular soft top. Some cars have (very small) rear seats whereas others only have a flat surface, but in both cases, the area is really only useful as extra luggage space. The SL is a two-seater and an Autobahn cruiser by excellence, steady, heavy, reliable. It will not give you the thrill of an Italian full-blood, but if you choose somewhat wisely, not anywhere near the same running costs either.

A good place to be. The SL is a two-seater, whether it has back seats or not.

A solid, relatively low-mileage SL 500 with the indestructible 326 hp V8 is easily yours for EUR 25.000 or even less, and that’s the wisest choice in the line-up. Cars with smaller engines will not necessarily be cheaper and certainly not give any additional thrills. The same money will buy you a 600 SL with the 394 hp V12, but besides huge running costs, driving-wise that also becomes a very front-heavy car. Finally the AMG models are very rare and correspondingly expensive. Little reason to go there – a 500 SL is good enough, there are plenty of good cars on offer, and it’s doubtful they will get cheaper than today.

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