The R129 was the fourth generation of the SL-Class, launched in 1989, and acts as a neat showcase of how the scale of cars has evolved; seemingly large for a roadster in period, it actually feels pretty compact in today’s traffic. The crisp styling has aged extremely well too; the Bruno Sacco-penned lines marked a sea-change from the 1970s styling hangover of the brand, ensuring that the R129 remained in production for over a decade while appearing smartly contemporary throughout. It was also, as you’d imagine, a real technological powerhouse, with pop-up rollbars, self-lowering active suspension on some models, and all manner of passive safety systems. For those of us who fondly remember the carefree motoring of the 1990s, one might feel that the R129 is more in keeping with the values and aspirations of My Generation. It’s an intangible yearning, just something that I Can’t Explain.
(That’s right, we’re doing The Who puns. And they’ll be coming Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere until you’ve Had Enough.)
Why do we keep referencing The Who? Well, the fact of the matter is that this very car used to belong to wild-haired frontman Roger Daltrey. Naturally this was long after the Keith Moon era, so there was never any danger of the SL being launched into a swimming pool – fear not, we had a good comb through the car, it’s as dry as a bone. What is for sure is that a frisson of rock star royalty permeates every micron of this beautifully presented Benz. Daltrey sat in that seat, he palmed that wheel, he gripped that gear-knob. Did he test out new material on the powerful audio system? Ah, that’s mere speculation, but C’mon Everybody, we can dream…
The current owner has had the car for over ten years, during which time it’s enjoyed gentle use and always been fastidiously maintained. He’s traced the owner history right back to Roger Daltrey, with paperwork to back it up, and the car has recently enjoyed its 60,000 mile service – despite not yet having reached that particular milestone. It’s been a case of maintaining the car in the correct fashion, replacing parts and trim as necessary, but generally speaking there’s been no need to carry out any major work simply because, being a low-mileage example of a high-quality car, it hasn’t thrown up any problems. This has simply been a pleasurable and reliable classic, all original and with an interesting history; it’s not getting a lot of use these days, which is the sole reason for the sale. The owner has had a fun decade-or-so with it, and feels that now’s the time for it to pass into the hands of a new keeper. Let’s See Action, begs the SL, and who are we to argue?
The document file that accompanies this car is pleasingly robust – no Pictures of Lily here, but rather a reassuring sheaf of paperwork confirming just how well this SL’s been looked after. All of the old MOTs are present, confirming the gradual pace at which the mileage has crept up year on year, and the present owner has also kept all the receipts from work carried out during his tenure. This includes a bill for £520 for re-trimming the headlining inside the hardtop in 2016.
We can see that the only mechanical problem the car’s ever really presented is moisture in the distributor cap affecting the running, and this is only a symptom of irregular use; a bill from March of this year shows a replacement dizzy having been fitted, so the problem has been rectified correctly.
What’s also present in the documentation is a paper trail from the DVLA right back to the car’s first owner, so it isn’t just a humble pub brag that this was Daltrey’s motor – it’s a provable fact. Got Nothing To Prove, you might say, but it’s a handy titbit to keep in your back pocket.
The low mileage and careful custodianship of this SL speak volumes when it comes to the interior. It’s no secret that early examples of the R129 series can sometimes be a bit flaky when it comes to the insides – seat stitching can fail, wood veneer peels, seat switches break, and bolsters sag – but none of that is a concern with Daltrey’s SL. In fact, it looks exactly like you’d expect a well-loved 54k-mile SL to look: factory-original and lavishly specced, with just a gentle suggestion of the patina of ages. Some slight wear on the leading edge of the seats from ingress/egress and the carpets on the lower half of the dash could possibly benefit from a clean.
Everything is factory specification, save for a modern Sony CD head unit, and everything is working as it should. The seats are electrically adjustable, and tilt back and forward correctly to allow rear access; you’ll have to assume that The Kids Are Alright staying home, as the car is a strict two-seater – although the rear storage is beautifully preserved, with both cubby holes in fine condition and one of them containing the original first aid kit. The hardtop has been re-trimmed to a high standard to complement the excellent original trim and carpets. There’s some wear to the gear-knob, as you might expect – but when you consider that it was Roger Daltrey’s hand that started off the patination, it’s not exactly a negative mark against the interior. The only issue of any significance is behind the driver's seat. Sadly the lower plastic covers for the seat hinges/mechanisms has become brittle and have broken away from their original mounts. Replacements would be needed, ideally. However, with the seat back, it's not something you would ever notice.
A real plus point is that it comes with two keys – the early key style is reportedly hard to get hold of from Mercedes-Benz, so this saves the heartache of trying to get a spare cut. Everything is in order in the boot, with the carpet being in good condition, the spare wheel being a matching alloy, and the original M-B warning triangle still in place.
Mercedes’ SL line has been running strongly since 1954, with the original guiding principles of Sportlich-Leicht (‘Sports Lightweight’) gradually becoming more of a badge identifier than a deep-seated ethos; weighing in at around 1,800kg, you can’t box them up as featherweights alongside their 1950s counterparts. Nevertheless, the spirit of the original idea (mooted by American importer Max Hoffman, to provide a sort of road-going race car for well-to-do performance enthusiasts) is still visible, and the design of the R129’s bodywork bears this out; sure, it doesn’t quite look like it’s come straight from the Carrera Panamericana, but there’s an undisguised rakishness about the jutting wedge shape of the nose, and the long bonnet/short tail proportions.
You’ll be pleased to note that, as a buyer, you don’t have a lot to worry about in terms of bodywork either. These cars appear unaffected by the 1990s issues M-B had with iffy steel on some models, and they were built to last. And with this particular example, aside from Boris the Spider living in the wing mirror, there’s little to be concerned about here. You’ll spot the odd scuff here and there, on the mirrors and bumper corners, along with a little peeling paint on the jacking points, but absolutely nothing at all to detract from the car’s bold and imposing profile.
The paintwork – which is all-original – is still deep and lustrous, and polishes up like a dream.
There are couple of minor chips in the door shuts, as is to be expected of a car of this age, which would be very easy to touch in; there’s also a little age-related corrosion inside the passenger-side headlight, but it doesn’t affect its operation. You’ll no doubt have spotted the factory hard-top in situ; there’s a very small bubbling of corrosion to one lower corner, but aside from this it’s all solid. We didn’t remove the hardtop for the shoot (it’s a sizeable item and, honestly, it’s tricky to remove while maintaining correct social distancing so we left it in place), but the owner assures us that the soft top within is also in excellent condition and perfect working order. There are no major jobs to carry out, it’s all just ready to rock n’ roll – an Instant Party Mixture.
This Magic Bus is the 300 SL you want in terms of spec. You see, the regular 300 SL had a SOHC 12v engine offering 188bhp, but this one is the brawnier 300 SL-24 – it features the far superior DOHC 24v motor, good for 228bhp, which is much more like it. It’s a muscular motor, but also a supremely refined one that wholly suits the SL’s grand tourer character. It’s always in The Quiet Ones, so they say, and you’ll be pleased to note that The Dirty Jobs haven’t been neglected: maintenance has been fastidious throughout the car’s life, as evidenced by the service history, and the car has recently enjoyed its full 60,000-mile service despite being a few thousand miles shy of that point. The owner has also taken the trouble to have the under-bonnet sound insulation replaced with OEM material to maintain that level of luxurious refinement.
The R129 series was offered with a five-speed automatic in the six-cylinder cars, and it’s operating perfectly here with smooth and neat selections and no troubling noises; the diff is equally healthy.
The suspension on these cars is an interesting area – lesser models had an excellent setup with independent anti-dive front struts and a 5-linked rear set up for anti-squat and anti-lift, but the eagle-eyed may have spotted the switch on the dash with the suspension damper icon on it: that denotes that this car has the optional Adaptive Damping System, which builds on the already strong base with a clever hydraulic self-levelling system with height control and active cornering correction. It makes for a Jekyll-and-Hyde proposition, meaning the SL can either be a wafty cruiser or a pin-sharp B-road weapon – if the fancy takes you, you can Run, Run, Run.
The steering in the R129 is a variable-rate power-assisted recirculating ball system that offers an impressive level of precision and is well suited to the SL’s continent-crunching character, and this is all in good order here. The brakes are strong and dependable, and have received new front discs and pads within the last eighteen months.
The wheels are all the correct and original items, all in excellent condition with just a little corrosion to the lip of one of the rears. The front wheels wear Dunlops, with Goodyears at the back, and all have decent tread. Out In The Street, it’s all Pure And Easy.
The owner of this beautifully presented SL has clearly loved his ten-years-and-more time with the car, but Love Ain’t For Keeping – with the car not being used as much as it perhaps deserves, it’s time for it to be Leaving Here for The Last Time, set for a new chapter of adventure.
All puns aside, this really is a superb proposition for somebody looking to add a drop-top Merc to their 2020 lifestyle: with the values of its predecessor, the R107, becoming increasingly robust, the 1990s R129 represents incredible value for money. It has all the charm and panache of a classic SL, combined with the dependability of rugged mechanicals, the sophistication of the clever suspension and chassis arrangements, and a truly sumptuous interior. Flick the switch for the adaptive damping and it’ll be a proper hoot on country roads; flick it back, and you’ve got a sublimely cosseting cruiser ready to whisk you across continents in a single bound.
It won’t be too long before the market catches on and these desirable young-timers start to escalate well beyond the £10k mark and beyond, so we’re looking at a car with decent investment potential, but it’s also a beautifully built and thoroughly engaging driver’s car. With genuine low mileage and hard proof that it’s always been properly looked after, this is a 300 SL-24 that you can depend upon. And with Roger Daltrey’s name down as it’s first owner, it’ll always have that sprinkle of stardust which elevates it above other R129s. So, what’s stopping you? Put The Money Down - you’ll love it to Keith Moon and back.
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