The Mercedes SL-Class, for nearly its entire history up until the past decade or so, has continuously been a truly iconic vehicle. Whether it be the original SL “Gullwing” coupe and roadster (W121/W198), the tidy “Pagoda Top W113, the modern classic R107/C107, or this chic R129, the SL-Class was always a car associated with prestige, disposable wealth, and a carefree, glamorous lifestyle. Prominently featured in film and TV, the SL was always shown driven by a man or woman who looked the part, being as beautiful and glamorous in his or her own right as the SL itself.
The SL’s prominence sadly began a rapid decline around the time of the fifth-generation R230’s introduction in 2001. Coupes in general, let alone expensive grand tourers, were on the rapid decline, and neither the SL roadster nor being seen in one had the same effect as say, a blinged-out Geländewagen (G-Class).
In any event, the the R129 will forever be my favorite SL. It was the SL that I first knew as a small child and the Mercedes-Benz that I grew up aspiring to own, let alone ride in. Its styling still looks sharp and head-turning today, and it most importantly, no one will confuse it with any other Mercedes-Benz model. For the glamorous, oh the flossy flossy.
Photographed at The Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham, Massachusetts – June 2017
It’s the Norma Desmond of cars: “I Am Big! It’s the Pictures that have gotten small”
I love these as well, always have, even though I don’t know that I will ever drive one, let alone own one. Too expensive for me new, and too expensive to keep up when old. But that does not make them any less attractive, or less desirable.
These are still glamorous, in a way that hardly any other 20-year-old car can pull off.
There’s a 1990s-era R129 that lives near me — an rotund older gentleman drives it, often wearing tweedy jackets, etc. A friend of mine and I have nicknamed him “Jack Kent Cooke,” not because he bears any sort of physical resemblance to the former Washington Redskins owner, but because he just SEEMS to be the kind of wealthy gentleman who would own a football team. All because he drives a 20-year-old Mercedes that has a retail value of… oh, about $15,000. It just looks like it’s worth a lot more. If this man drove a new SL, he wouldn’t seem nearly as intriguing.
There’s a guy at work that drives a 600SL as a daily. I nees to chat him up and hear more about his maintence budget one of these days
Nice car, Brendan, and I always liked these since they came out, but being quite a bit older than you, THIS is the SL that has always done it for me; especially the pictured example with the color keyed wheel covers.
I was 15 in 1975 when these were popular – the 450SL.
It’s even one of the few cars that actually looked decent with the mandated bumpers.
Rick, I’m younger than you but want my SL to be even older: the W113 SL. Love the look inside and out, there’s a tasteful simplicity and perception of Old World craftsmanship that isn’t around anymore.
The R129 screams too much 1980s/90s for me. Angular, plasticky appearance instead of the wood and metal of the old Mercs. The image it conjurs for me is a palm-lined boulevard in SoCal, car piloted by big hair, big sunglasses, wearing a big power suit and a big car phone pressed to ear. Not fair, but that’s the way it is.
OK Petrichor, I may as well keep this going. Here. Isn’t this better yet?
I like both of those, guys… Nice.
The one JPC posted has a gull-wing thing going on (without those doors), unless I am remembering the gull-wing wrong.
There were two SL roadsters in this period. The gullwing coupe was replaced by the 300SL roadster, which shared much of its styling and mechanicals. The 190SL had similar styling, but was smaller and didn’t have pretentions to being more than a pretty, glamorous top down tourer.
At some point, old white guys going further back remeniscing about old open-air mercedes becomes a problem….
Sweet ride , one of my favorite
(reply to Petricor)
…and if they’d been available they would have worn one of those glowing-blue earpieces like they’re a Borg drone.
“Resistance is futile. You too shall look like a douchebag.”
Sorry, Trek nerd here…
Rick, I’m the same age and I remember the owner of a popular night club near my house bought a 1972 light blue metallic 450SL with the royal blue convertible top and color keyed wheel covers…..Still had the small bumpers. I thought it was the most beautiful car in the world. Sporty, elegant and sophisticated.
I can admire the good looks of these, but they do not make my heart go pittapat. I need to go older to have an SL do that. In fact, as I think about it, I tend to love/like these starting with the original and going downhill in descending order from there. That would put these 4th on the JPC wannahaveifhewinsthelottery list.
And my curmudgeonly side is coming out today: It’s a roadster! Roll down the damned windows! 🙂
“It’s a roadster! Roll down the damned windows! 🙂”
+ like 5,000,000!!!!!
It’s a pet peeve of mine as well.
It goes for hardtops as well! The one and only hardtop I ever had was that LTD, and yes, the windows were either all the way down, or all the way up with the AC or heat on. Heck, on a nice cool fall day, the windows were all the way down with the heat on. That look should be unbroken, back seat passengers be damned! LOL.
Almost brought a 280 SEL, German, spec back in 1984, got nervous over US emissions & import regs.
Silver, red leather, beautiful car!
My family bought a 1977 450SEL in Germany during our 1982 summer holiday. We had no problem bringing it over to the United States and registering it there.
The caveat back then (until the reform in 1987) was that the vehicle had to be at least five years old and for personal use only without modifications to meet the US regulations. We couldn’t sell it in the US unless we had to modify the car. In 1991, my father brought our 450SEL back to Germany when he was reassigned there.
No problem with annual vehicle inspections in Texas during the 1980s. The mechanic couldn’t understand why our 450SEL without catalysators ended up with lowest emission values than typical cars with V8 engines.
I own two SL’s – a 2017 SL550R and a 1977 450SL. i am at a loss to explain the perceptual decline of the newer SL’s, as they are truly a direct descendant from their progenitors – at least the 230-250-450-560 iterations. I bought the 2017 because I wanted a nice grand tourer, not a full-on sports car and there are few to choose from in the realm. I did not want to spring for an Aston or Bentley and the 550 was half the price or less for a car of very similar capabilities to the vastly more expensive marques.
Lately I have found myself looking at new AM’s, Bentley’s and the Ferrari Portofino, but I am hard pressed to move up price wise to any of them because they deliver (except the Ferrari) a similar driving experience – the AM even has a slightly more powerful version of the engine in my current 550. My wife has opined that I am foolish for looking at these cars for double the price when I have a superb car already, and she is as usual, correct. I’m sticking with the 550 for now.
I think the decline of prestige of the 550 line is more related to the migration to the blinged out SUV’s than any decline in the cars themselves. I have a friend that owns both a MB G-wagon and a Bentley Bentayga and both strike me cold – I have no interest in either of them at all.
My 1977 450SL is a winter car for our home in FL, and while I like it, the car is anemic – no getting around the pathetic power output of the era. But it is a nice cruiser and sill fun to drive, though it is in no way a performance car, while the new 550 still does perform very well by today’s standards. The 1977 cost me something like $6500 – a huge bargain in my opinion. So what if the maintenance is a bit spendy – the cost of entry is exceptionally reasonable. The same cannot be said of the new 550SL, but nor could it be said of the 450 when new.
I drove the 550 350 miles through the mountains of Alberta and BC this past Sunday – a glorious sunny and warm day with light traffic, top down all the way. it’s a still a great car and it still delivers a satisfying driving experience.
Hey, these things depreciate like a stone, because “no one wants them.” I think it’s a blessing in disguise for car enthusiasts, who are now among the minority of shoppers who don’t want a CUV/SUV standing ten feet tall.
I’ve not compared the depreciation of the SL550 to other higher end cars, but I’m sure it’s comparable. I’ve had mine for 2 years and it is worth today about 65% of it’s purchase price, so I don’t think it’s too far off the norm.
The worst I have ever experienced was a 1999 Jag XK-8, it was horrible. The best may have been my current 2011 GMC 2500 Denali diesel with 180k miles on it, worth maybe 40% or so of new today.
That said, I would suggest that the buyers of high end, luxury GT cars like the SL’s or others are not terribly concerned about depreciation, their choice of vehicles is not an economically motivated decision in most cases. Strangely, a Ferrari owning friend of mine told me the Ferrari, though expensive to buy, is actually cheaper to own due to much lower depreciation. He cited his recently sold 2012 California as substantiation, and it was indeed the case.
Great words and pictures, Brendan. The CC Effect is *real*, even sometimes in reverse. Just the other day very recently, I spotted one of this generation of SL and remarked to myself just how sharp it looks after all this time.
I had to look up the 2001 edition just for reference, and I’m with you that I prefer this one.
I’m trying to remember a TV show from the 90s in which the main character/hero drove one of these. I think I was dark green. Anyone remember it?
I think this is the first convertible to have a roll bar pop up in case of a rollover.
Which is pretty cool.
A friend of mine recently bought a previous-generation 560 SL, which got me looking at values. The R107 values are beginning to inch up, but the R129 can be had for very little money—$20,000 would probably buy the nicest one on earth, while the 1971-88 R107s are inching up into the $30,000-$50,000 range.
Count me in as another fan, these are peak SL for me and I would pick these up if I wanted a two seater car I could enjoy. It also managed to hold onto that old Mercedes magic of still looking modern nearly 30 years after it first hit showrooms. I think the R230 only really got good looking after its refresher and even then it pales in comparison to this, and the new ones I just think are anonymous and bland.
Although, I have noticed the 500 variants, like the W140, are starting to climb back up in value while the 320 and 420 are still more or less the same. Maybe people are getting wise to the 500s being the best all around versions you can buy.
Clive James is a septuagenarian Australian academic, poet, wit, and raconteur, a man of very high learning and low tastes who made a living writing beautifully hilarious TV reviews in England. He then graduated to being a TV presenter himself. His programs were a delight of the high and low-brow, the serious and the definitely not.
In 1991 or so he did one his “Postcards” from L.A. There, amid much silliness including having his bald (and very ugly) head fitted with a “Hair Unit”, he hired 500 SL to get about in. He is not a car guy. His dry-as-dust witticisms every time the SL came up were priceless. Ironically enough, they were inevitably about the absurdity of an impractical 2-seat car being so pricey. The only one I can find is this (as to why he hired the SL having first got a roofless Mustang):
“I had hired the wrong car. It turns out American stars no longer drive American cars. They drive German cars. The exotic hire car firm coughed up a Mercedes that ran smoothly the only way I could tell it was going was it was moving.”
So, yes indeed. Hollywood and SL’s. The early ’90’s were peak Hollywood for crazy money. As this is famously the very last build-expense-be-damned Benz, I think practically no-one else could afford them.
Nice feature! As a kid of the 90s, I’ve always loved these, too.
The size and maintenance have scared me away from owning one, though. There was a very rare I-6, 5 speed variant for sale a few years ago that was tempting, though. The thought being it would be more reliable and simple than the V8s or worse the V12. But alas that sold the same afternoon it was posted for they are truly rare.
I love the SL lineage but the R107 really does nothing for me. Those big US diving board bumpers… But it is remarkable to think that car was introduced in 1972, it’s/was soooo modern looking!
It was a lot of fun watching the recent gullwing auctions on Bring a Trailer. Such wonderful cars!
You can have your I-6 and 5-speed, in time capsule form!
I was critical of this car above, but this particular example is lovely.
Sorry, I meant to clarify – very rare here in the US.
Odd that this example and all of those lower spec R129 were apparently not badged as such from the factory. A way to mitigate badge envy from the higher spec models?