It’s now over 30 years since the ‘R129’ generation of Mercedes-Benz SL made its debut – heralded as a car that brought new levels of technology and luxury to the sports car market.
The styling was also amazing – designed by Mercedes visionary Bruno Sacco, it bookended a career that had begun with the equally handsome W114 saloon. Yet it had plenty more going for it than just looks.
Safety, for instance, was right at the forefront of its design. For example, the car was the first to have an automatic pop-up rollover bar, which would automatically launch itself in open top mode in less than half a second to protect the occupants if the car was about to overturn. The seats also included several safety innovations including built in seat belt tensioners and side impact protection.
This example dates from 1997, and is an early facelift car with a more modern cabin and the 3.2-litre straight six which replaced the 3.0-litre unit.
This is a really unusual specification, but there’s a reason for that. The car was supplied by Mercedes-Benz’s Diplomatic and Tourist sales department in Piccadilly back in April 1997. It was built to Vietnamese specification (randomly) according to the build sheet, and was shipped overseas where it was used by HM Ambassador to Russia for three years before being brought back to the UK in 2000.
It’s an area of the car’s life that’s a little sketchy, but probably for good reason! After that, it was owned by three successive owners before being acquired at a collector’s auction by the current keeper in 2015.
The vendor has looked after the car fastidiously during his ownership.
There is a folder of service history and receipts provided with the Mercedes, including the original service book stamped up to 75,763 miles – less than 14,000 miles ago.
Since then, the car has been maintained in accordance with its service schedule and with no skimping on costs.
The vast majority of the folder of receipts are from either independent Mercedes-Benz specialists or main dealers and provide a snapshot of the high quality and specialist care that this car has received throughout its life.
There is a V5C present and he has said he will happily renew the MOT for the car’s next owner if required – the current test expires in November this year.
The exterior paint colour of this SL is called Smoke Silver, but in reality it’s more of a white gold hue – a very unusual and distinctive choice for the model and rarely seen in the UK. But this was an export-specification car, so the unusual colour goes with the territory. We like it.
Overall, it’s in fine order, with a deep and lustrous shine and no discernible damage, ripples or dents to the bodywork. The only minor imperfection we could find was a discoloured patch to the left of the Mercedes badge on the bootlid, which we suspect is an aged cold metal smart repair that has faded differently to the rest of the paint.
The bumpers are straight and in fine condition, the wheels are unmarked and the tyres all-round are nearly new.
At the time of our visit the car was fitted with its smoked glass hardtop roof – a highly desirable optional extra that would have cost over £5,000 when new. It’s a stunning feature, and gives the SL the feeling of a high-end enclosed coupé.
As removing the hardtop is a two-man job, we weren’t able to take it off to inspect the soft top, but the vendor assures us that the roof (it’s black, incidentally) is in fine working order and works exactly as it should. There’s apparently some slight ageing to the rear window, but nothing of any note. It also comes with a factory wind deflector, stored in its own compartment in the boot.
One of the more unusual yet desirable options on the SL is its two-tone grey and black leather trim. The perforated hide was a high-end option in 1997 and still looks great today, with minimal wear.
All of the dials and switchgear work as they should and there are no dashboard lights illuminated, while the carpets have been protected from new by genuine accessory overmats, which exhibit a little wear, but not much.
The original Becker stereo works perfectly and has a swing-away six-disc changer in the boot, where you’ll also find the original first aid kit and warning triangle. The air con also works perfectly.
Under the bonnet, the Mercedes features a 3.2-litre 24-valve straight six which develops 228bhp, with a well-matched automatic transmission that suits the powertrain.
It’s a lovely combination that we were lucky enough to try out on a short test drive, from which we were able to determine that the car runs smoothly, works well in all gears including reverse and feels tight and responsive, with no untoward noises from the steering and suspension.
This is as much a relaxing cruiser as it is a sports car – a terrific daily driver, and one that won’t break the bank to run.
This is a really smart, well-preserved and original example of the classic R129 SL, which is a Mercedes-Benz model that is rapidly appreciating in both following and value.
It’s in superb bodily order, has an interesting history and a great maintenance record, while it’s also a perfect modern classic for day-to-day use. There’s a lot to like.
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