Estimate: £17,000- £19,000
The story of the R107-series Mercedes SL is a truly unusual one, and something not repeated in quite the same way anywhere else in automotive history. The car went into production in April 1971, and carried on selling strongly right up until August 1989… and in all that time, very little changed. If you remove the number plates from early and late examples and park them side-by-side, only the truly hardcore enthusiasts would be able to differentiate them.
Why so long without any significant alterations? Quite simply, because Mercedes-Benz got it right the first time. The design is beautifully judged and fabulously executed, and the mechanicals that reside beneath that sports/luxury silhouette are reassuringly rugged: borrowing the fundamental chassis architecture from the dependable W114 saloon, the engines added to the mix were sourced from the top-of-the-range S-Class models. The upshot of all this was a range of premium roadsters with ineffable class and impeccable reliability.
It’s interesting to note the extent to which Mercedes-Benz stuck with the original design for so long. The lights and their fittings, the bumpers, everything’s interchangeable between early and late models – and even the idiosyncratic quirks endured: look, for example, just below the front indicator, and you’ll spy an inexplicable hole in the metalwork. Why? Only the designers can tell you, but every single R107 has them. The point is that these cars were so good, they remained consistently desirable in their original 1971 form for eighteen solid years – almost a quarter of a million were sold, and many still remain on the road today. Naturally, with so many produced, quality, integrity and provenance can wildly vary from car to car. So allow us to introduce you to what is undoubtedly one of the very best on the UK market today…
This really is a remarkably honest and original example of the R107 SL. It’s one of quite a few classic Mercedes in the owner’s collection (along with a variety of other marques), and the reason for the sale is simply that age-old dichotomy that you can’t keep ’em all – as beloved as this 380 SL is, it needs to make way for other restoration projects.
This particular car is a success story of just such a project. When the owner bought it a couple of years ago, it was in the possession of somebody who didn’t know quite what to do with it; it had belonged to their father-in-law, who had passed away, so the Mercedes was sitting in storage awaiting a new life. When the current owner went to inspect it, he found a car that was mechanically very sound and absolutely rust-free, but in need of aesthetic refurbishment as the paint was dilapidated and the chrome was crumbling away.
Over the course of the last couple of years, the SL has been beautifully restored to its former glory. Nothing needed to be done with the engine or transmission, which was all in tip-top order, and the same goes for the mint original interior. It was the body that needed attention, so the car received a full stripdown and a complete repaint in its original colour. It also received all-new seals throughout, and had the bumpers and other chrome items replaced. The result is a machine which gleams like a new pin; a matching-numbers car with an extensive history, ready to be pressed into daily use. The car comes with a fully stamped service book, oodles of paperwork detailing its entire history, and it’s recently received a thorough service. There may be a fair few SLs on the market, but you’d be hard pushed to find a better one than this.
The gleaming Metallic Champagne paintwork is absolutely immaculate on this car – as you’d expect, being a very recent repaint of high quality. In the course of refreshing the exterior aesthetics, the owner has left no stone unturned in the pursuit of perfection, and the condition of the body bears this out. He has replaced both chrome bumpers and their supports, all of the rubber weather seals throughout (including the boot, doors, A-pillars, soft top and hard top), a new OEM rear exhaust box, new chin rubber, a set of new tyres less than fifty miles ago… and all of the nuts and bolts that came off the car during the stripdown were replaced with new ones.
As you can imagine – and as you can see from the photos – the exterior is absolutely stunning.
The interior is equally well presented, and there’s been no restoration work in here. Those pristine seats are the unrestored originals, and it’s obvious that this car has always been garaged by virtue of the fact that the dash top is entirely free from cracks, and there’s no lacquer peel on the wood of the centre console. Everything is period-perfect. You’ll find two battery cut-off isolators in the car – one is under the bonnet, the other in the glovebox. The period Clarion radio-cassette is also a lovely detail, and the manual is included.
It’s an impressively solid car too. The usual areas for concern in terms of corrosion with R107 SLs are the bulkhead, the leading edge of the front wings, the spare wheel well and boot floor, and the soft top storage area – and on this car, there’s not a hint of rust anywhere. All of those areas are totally pristine. It’s all ship-shape underneath the carpets as well, and the car enjoys the factory-optional rear seats.
The soft-top is an official Mercedes-Benz item, and is in beautiful condition with no tears or creases, and no cracks or milkiness to the rear window. The car also comes with its original hardtop, which is simple to fit and seals correctly. The only corrosion to be found is actually on the removable hardtop, where a couple of 50p-sized blisters are evident under the paint – but this would be very simple to rectify.
Perhaps most reassuring about this car is that, as well as being cosmetically and mechanically spot-on, there’s no sign of previous welding or structural restoration either. This is, quite simply, a car that’s been looked after. An honest car that wants for nothing.
The oily bits of this 380 SL are all as superlative as you’d imagine them to be given the condition of the rest of the car. The matching-numbers 3.8-litre V8 is a creamy-smooth cruiser with just the right amount of urgency to make the SL hustle when you want it too, but its true character lies in its relaxed nature – and with a substantial service history to back it up, you can be sure that this is a good example. It’s recently benefited from a full service including a new timing chain tensioner and valve cover gaskets, and it runs beautifully. It’s also reassuring to note that while our photoshoot took place in 35-degree heat, the SL was happy to be left idling for some time and the temperature needle stayed in the right place!
The transmission is also excellent – the 4-speed auto ’box shifts smoothly and cleanly with no jerkiness, changing gear exactly when it should. There are no grumbles or rattles, no leaks, just Mercedes solidity. The same is true of the steering, suspension and braking systems, all of which are in perfect working order.
The R107 SL has earned its place in posterity by virtue of its desirability and dependability. Indeed, it’s earned on merit its position as a late-twentieth century icon. And in 2020, the model makes for a thoroughly intriguing and alluring proposition, for the fact that buying an excellent example such as this one can fulfil three distinct roles. First of all, it’s a bona fide collectible: with this mileage, this condition, and this originality, C807 SFP represents an amazing investment opportunity.
Secondly, this is a car built for summertime peacocking. If the desire took you to use such a machine for high days and holidays, scooping trophies in show-and-shine contests and displaying the machine for the enjoyment of others, the originality and quality of this car means that you’d have an assured winner on your hands.
Thirdly – and, we suspect, most realistic for the majority of prospective R107 buyers – is that it’s a true all-rounder. This isn’t just an ornament, a pretty object to be admired; yes, it’s joyful to behold and fabulously correct, but these things were engineered to be enjoyed and that’s precisely what this car is ready for.
We’re basking in a fabulous summer in 2020, and the idea of cruising through the city and out into the countryside with the top down is extremely attractive. But as autumn arrives and fades into winter, this car will be equally dependable and pleasurable through all seasons. With the hard-top in situ it’ll be just as happy curving its way up the snowy Col de Turini as it would slithering through twilit Knightsbridge.
You see, this isn’t just a car, it’s a lifestyle. And what a gloriously aspirational lifestyle it is.