The SL nameplate has been an icon of the Mercedes Benz range ever since it was first seen on the 300 SL ‘Gullwing’. Built from 1954 onwards, the idea for a fast Mercedes GT car was first floated by Max Hoffman, the importer for Mercedes cars in the US. He perceived a market for such a car in affluent Post war America and given the legendary styling of that car, the SL name came to define the best of Mercedes engineering and luxury.
The car seen here is the third generation R107 model which was built between 1971 and 1989. More specifically, the Mercedes Benz 500 SL in these pictures was added to the range after the 1980 facelift. The 500 SL featured a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8, the first SL to have one, putting out 241 hp and 400 Nm of torque. This gave it a 0 to 100 kmph time of 7.2s and a top speed of well over 200 kmph. Apart from the engine you see here, this generation of the SL could be had with a whole host of powerplants, right from a 2.8-litre inline-6 up to a 5.6-litre V8. The car only came as a two seater soft-top convertible and a collapsible hard top was an optional extra. The exterior styling was also a textbook example of German cars of the era – clean lines and geometric shapes, but still elegant.
While there have been numerous generations of the SL Class, the R107 is especially significant because of its legendary build quality. So much so that aficionados came to call it the ‘Panzerwagen’. Never an out and out sports car, the R107 Mercedes Benz 500 SL was always more of a cruiser, even in its higher-powered versions. It featured luxurious, airy interiors and soft suspension. The engines too were tuned more towards long distance cruising. As was common for Mercedes’ of that era, the R107 was unbelievably over-engineered. Over its 18-year run, the only additions were updated engine and gearbox options. There were some minor cosmetic changes and minimal tweaks to the chassis to keep the legislators happy. The only drawback was that some older specimens were prone to rust.
This generation was arguably the heyday of the SL nameplate and established everything that can be expected from a fast Mercedes now: namely comfort, speed and tractability. The SL is no longer the flagship Mercedes for the enthusiast, that moniker was taken over first by the SLS, and then by the AMG GT and its many variants. However, these cars seem to be taking forward the essence of what the SL was, only reinventing it enough to still stay relevant.
This particular 1987 Mercedes Benz 500 SL will be on sale at Artcurial’s Automobiles sur les Champs 11 auction on November 11, 2017.