My Curbside Classic: 1981 Mercedes-Benz 380SLC – In A Class Of Its Own


It has taken 32 years, five cars, and a lot of Google Translate, but I at last own a Mercedes-Benz. Last year I said yes to a beautiful sage-green 380 SLC. Or 380 SL C, to be precise. The kerning is important. A separate ‘C’ shows that it was a coupe derived from the SL. When SLC replaces SLK in a couple of years, you can be sure that space will have disappeared. Ironed out. Homogenised. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the C107 SLC is how for so long it appeared an anomaly in the Mercedes range.

With no direct heir or precedent, the SLC was the distorted version of the splendid roadster. In developing the SL, Mercedes’ styling team worked hard to visually lengthen the short-ish wheelbase of the roadster: cue an abundance of chrome and ribbed flanks. These elongations complemented the more limousine-like comfort levels that the car introduced. Trouble is, the SLC added a foot to these lines, and those tricks were stretched beyond their intent.

Mercedes SLC

Yet look at today’s cars: Hatchbacks are enormous, and the wheelbase that once seemed too much on the SLC is now comparable to that of a C-Class. Suddenly those proportions leave the SL looking stumpy, and the SLC in a class of its own.

Mercedes SLC


Class. An important word to describe the sage Mercedes. When I first drove her (and it is a her), I can only describe the feeling as if gently commandeering a stately dowager. Inputs were suggestions, for which you would be glad of a response. Turn the wheel clockwise, and she would consider, before deigning to swoop to the right. Press your foot closer to the thick carpet, and hear her sigh ‘must we?’ before kicking down and huffing along. She sweeps down the road as though descending a marble staircase, her chrome hanging with the effortless superiority of pearls.


The model we found is a 1981 model originally registered in Switzerland, and until recently resided near the shores of Lake Constance in Germany. Constance, as we now address her, sports a beige leather interior, electric windows and sunroof, plus ABS. Naturally, her alloy European-spec V8 (218 hp vs 155 hp in the States) is complemented by the 4-speed automatic, and naturally, any performance gusto one might expect can be bettered by, say, a Honda Fit. We tried earnestly to encourage a degree of alacrity, to which she responded by doing everything she had been doing, but more loudly. By the time there was more speed it did not seem quite so necessary; better to flick the cruise control lever up and nestle into the squishy chairs at 3,000 rpm: the lady’s not for turning.

Mercedes SLC

Robert Forrest writes about cars and design at thesilvercowcreamer