Well, there are only so many Japanese oddities and exciting exotics one can dig up. Sometimes, you just find a straight-up decent old SL in a sexy shade of blue and it speaks to you. My German was never any good, unfortunately. I studied it for six years in the French school system, where foreign languages, regrettably, are notoriously badly taught. But enough stuck in my head for me to remember “Das ist ein schönes Auto!”
In my experience, foreign language teaching is pretty terrible in several countries besides France. Japan, the US, the UK and Spain are all pretty terrible at it too. Many central European countries excel at it, on the other hand: the average Dutch person is famously able to juggle three or four languages. Once, in Amsterdam, I personally witnessed a guy switching from Dutch to English to German to Italian to French and back to Dutch over a couple of minutes. A very impressive feat. Switzerland is a bit like that too, but without the laid back attitude.
I think the R107 is an equivalent to a polyglot. It was all things to all nations. Well, it was chiefly big profits for the Daimler-Benz and the Bundesrepublik, of course. But Mercedes made these for such a looooong time for a reason: they just couldn’t stop selling them, right up to this “Final Edition” version. The world never reached its R107 saturation point.
Perhaps that is because there seemed to be more than one R107. Compared to the 300 SL of yore, which was just one-car-wows-all, the long-lived R107 divided the world to better conquer it. The Europeans usually got theirs with a straight-6 (as the 280 SL from 1971 to 1985, then the 300 SL for the final years) and the thin chrome bumpers that the car was designed to wear from birth, as well as square composite headlamps. By contrast, the American clientele were thirsty for V8s and got sealed beam quads on their SLs, as well as black botox bumpers after the first few years.
The engine choices made the Euro-spec and US-spec cars very different indeed. Whereas the Europeans could get a V8 if they wanted – their 350 SL had an actual 3.5 litre V8, for instance, unlike the American market 350 SL that has a 4.5, until M-B addressed that little terminological discrepancy. Certain V8 engines were only available for Euro-spec cars, such as the 4.2 and the 5.0, and their power output was pretty impressive. The late-model 500 SLs wrung 245hp out of that big 8-cyl. – not too shabby for a car finishing its second decade.
By contrast, the American R107s were never available with a measly 6-cyl. – given the price these things were sold at, a V8 was an absolute minimum. The big 4.5 was in service throughout the ‘70s, but it really started hitting the gas tank a bit too hard. After the Second Oil Shock, M-B switched to a 3.8 that only provided 204hp for the good people who still wanted one. And it turned out they still wanted one. “Shut up and take my money.” But since 1977, the 240hp European-spec 500 SL (confusingly called 450 SL 5.0 before 1980, perhaps because Mercedes-Benz really had trouble keeping the bootlid badges up to date) was known and some were imported on the grey market, making the locally-sourced 380 SL look even worse than it already was.
Fortunately, in 1986 Mercedes produced an even bigger 5549cc engine out of a very large top hat and shoehorned it in the R107 (actually, it was just the same block as the 500 SL with added stroke). It wasn’t quite as powerful as the Euro-spec 5-litre, but with 227hp (or 231hp, according to Daimler-Benz’s website), it was a marked improvement over the 3.8 that it replaced, though it did make for the heaviest SL ever, too.
Here’s where the multilingual Mercedes magic takes us now. The butter-smooth 5.6 was also made available on two other markets, namely Australia and Japan. In both cases, the Euro-style bumpers and headlamps were used, along with the lighter aluminium bootlid, which has the ugly (according to our Editor, who doesn’t seem to care for these cars much) black plastic rear spoiler. Clearly, the SL’s rear end looks better without that tacked-on plastic, but the verruca-like third brake light imposed on American roadsters was thankfully spared the Japanese and Australian 560 SLs.
The only major difference between those two, as far as I can make out, is that the Australian cars all have RHD, whereas the Japanese were adamant that a fancy foreign car must have its steering wheel on the wrong side, a bizarre quirk that they are slowly starting to evolve from nowadays. So this is essentially an American-spec engine inside a Euro-spec body – quite the bilingual Benz!
The Yanase sticker on the rear windscreen indicates that this SL was definitely imported in Japan from new. Present-day M-Bs are still imported and distributed by this company who, judging by the number of three-pointed stars one sees on the streets of Tokyo, must be doing fantastically well.
If the 560 SL is the ultimate R107, then this last-year Japanese version in this shade of blue might be the nec plus ultra of the breed. This is the one you want, clearly. Biggest engine, best trim and looks, plus that all-important touch of Japanese service: where else would the importer add a parking pole with a tiny Mercedes star as a cherry on the top (or rather the side)? I’m guessing that Yanase are also behind that “Final Edition” script, which seems to have been a Japan-only thing.
Two out of every three R107s ended up in North America, so if you are from there, I can understand that seeing these so much over the years, not to mention the type of people who drove them, may have blunted your appreciation of this design. But it’s been over 30 years since they stopped making these and the design itself is 50 years of age, so it’s a classic no matter how you slice it. And for those of us who only saw these occasionally (and usually sans 5mph bumpers), this particular SL became something of an archetype for sporty Benzes, chiefly thanks to its impressive longevity.
I personally prefer these to the Pagoda, which always looked a bit gawky to me. The R107 and its stretched coupé sister model always looked more poised, solid and luxurious than its predecessor. The R129 that came out just as they were making this very car lacks this generation’s classic good looks, generous chrome and iconic hardtop. So short of spotting a gullwing 300 SL on the street one day (never say never) or perhaps a particularly well-preserved 190 SL (marginally less unlikely), this will probably be the schönest curbside SL to be found in my corner of the world.
Curbside Classic: c. 1981 Mercedes-Benz 380SL – The Art Of Aging Gracefully, by Joseph Dennis
CC Capsule: Mercedes-Benz 450 SL – Classic Is Always Trendy, by Jim Grey
Cohort Outtake/QOTD: Mercedes 280SL Spoiled By Spoiler – What’s The Worst Looking Factory Spoiler?, by PN
CC For Sale: Mercedes 450 SL – Actually It’s Gone Already, Thankfully. by PN
In Motion Capsule: Mercedes-Benz 450SL – The Art Of Aging Gracefully, Part 2, by Eric703
Curbside Outtake: 1987 Mercedes-Benz 560SL – Open Your Eyes, by Joseph Dennis
Cohort Outtake: Mercedes-Benz 450SL – The Ultimate Beater?, by Perry Shoar
COAL (COJL) – 1985 Mercedes-Benz 380 SL – Some Dreams Should Stay That Way, by Saabaru
There was never a 450SL 5.0. The 450SLC 5.0 was a genuine one-off in the sense it used a slightly different displacement alloy M117 V8 (5044 cc & 3 speed auto); it was a homologation exercise. The other 500s of the era (SL / SLC / SE / SEL) mostly used the 4973cc & 4 speed auto.
I’ve always liked the Mercedes SL – obviously the original 300SL was a true show stopper in both coupe and roadster form.
This generation looked remarkably modern when released in 1972, truly like a contemporary car in my eyes – certainly relative to what else was on the road back then. But it was kept on the market for ridiculously long and the US bumpers surely did it no favors.
Then came the R129 and SWOON. I grew up loving these, the W124 and the big S Classes of the 90s but the maintenance costs and upkeep would keep me from ever owning any of them.
A very good looking car .
The European 107’s also got manual trannies if they wanted, a thing that absolutely transforms the car, even the i6 M110 powered ones .
I had a 1975 Gray market 350SLC, M116 overhead cam V8 and four speed manual box ~ it was great if thirsty and rusty .
The US spec bumpers were awful, very reminiscent of the mid ‘70’s Ford offerings. Like a big old tattoo on a very beautiful woman.
The big M-B sedans could carry those bumpers better, because they were, well, big sedans. The lithe two-seater not so much.
My dislike stems from the excessive numbers seen in West LA at the time, and except for the rare early version, all sported those horrible bumpers. But this is a fine example.
Parking pole? That’s a lorgnette, for a closer look at you peons.
I first saw this car displayed, of all places, at the Folies Bergère in Paris. I was a great fan of it’s predecessor but this car looked too overdone, like a shrunken Eldorado.
The Millionaire’s Mustang, or at least the driver wanted to be thought of as a millionaire. It did take quite a bit of money to own one. Thank God for leasing! As Paul stated, they were everywhere in the 1980’s. I liked them, especially as they were so much smaller than a contemporary Eldorado or Mark IV. They were also much more prestigious than the American models. I wanted one for a very long time, they’ve hit the bottom of the depreciation curve several years ago and are on their way back up. They really remind me of the early two passenger Thunderbirds, which might have been part of their appeal. It surprises me that they are not as popular or valued as a collector vehicle. Oh yeah, there’s that Richard Gere thing, too.
A good advice is, to avoid both approaching a horse from behind and having too close a look at the full side profile of the R107. While not possibly life threatening as the former, the latter is at least horribly painful to my own sense of proportion and aesthetics, the hard top only adds insult to injury, in total it produces bizzare images of a high heel-rollerskate seen through a funhouse mirror.
Oddly enough, from all other angles it’s okay, I guess, just can’t get over that hideous 1/2 view.
Japanese sevicing? you definitely dont want that my old neighbour’s mate bought one of these Benz ex Japan 560 SL it looked great I saw it once next time he turned up was by Corolla the Benz ate its transmission, he was not happy when he turned up in his Benz again it had a rebuilt trans @$7500 just a shade more than he paid for the car it hadnt been serviced for most of its Japanese use, nice car though.
I don’t mind the US bumpers (likely due to familiarity) but these work too, yes lose the spoiler, but for sure keep these headlights. 560 spec, in a dark gray or maybe this blue but with a burgundy interior and I’m all set.
But since 1977, the 240hp European-spec 500 SL (confusingly called 450 SL 5.0 before 1980, perhaps because Mercedes-Benz really had trouble keeping the bootlid badges up to date)
No, C107 had the exclusive use of the specialised aluminium M117 5-litre V8 until May 1980, commanding almost DM 10,000 premium over 450 SLC. In June 1980, R107 and C107 received the new aluminium V8 engines from W126 S-Class and were renamed as 380 SL/SLC and 500 SL/SLC.
The 450 SLC 5.0 had slightly larger displacement (5,025 cc) and used three-speed automatic gearbox. For 500 SE/SEL/SL/SLC, the displacement was reduced to 4,973 cc, and the automatic gearboxes were upgraded to four speeds.
The 5.5-litre (not 5.6 as many mistakenly wrote, thinking 560 means 5.6) V8 engine was supposedly to be “Americans, we’re sorry we screwed up with 380 SL in the first place. Here’s the 560 SL! More power! Happy now?” No idea why Mercedes-Benz didn’t included 500 SL when 500 SEL/SEC were finally introduced in the United States for the 1984 model year.