R107 SL Alternatives – 1975

The Mercedes-Benz R 107 SL enjoyed an incredibly long production run, spanning the years between 1971 and 1989. During the nearly two decades the car was available to buy from dealer showrooms, what makes the SL even more impressive is just how hard it is to choose contemporary rivals.

As a luxurious, premium, long distance cruiser, the SL doesn’t so much compete with others but tolerates them snapping and yapping at it’s heels as it goes about it’s business.

As a direct competitor, the only really significant one to mention is the E Type and XJS from Jaguar. Here we round up other choice picks from the gleaming showroom windows of 1975.

Join us as we delve into the past with a full wallet and a thirst for an automotive adventure.

(This is a 2 part blog post, we also visited 1989 looking at R 129 SL alternatives)

The Automotive Market Place – 1975

The year that Watergate embroiled the Whitehouse, Volkswagen’s Golf rocked the automotive world, crude oil jumped by 10%, Margaret Thatcher became the leader of the Conservative party, the USA enjoyed an energy crisis, Bruce Springsteen was Born To Run and Monty Python and the Holy Grail was busy causing upset at the box office.

For Context – Britain’s best selling car of 1975 was the… Ford Cortina

In 1975 Mercedes-Benz dealerships are offering a 280SL, 350SL or range-topping 450SL with 222bhp and an impressive 135mph top speed. 

Mercedes-Benz 450SL (1973-80)

4.5 litre V8 – 222 bhp

Cost for a good one now : Click Here

The big V8 Sport Leichte was instantly popular. It would go on to weather an energy crisis and a fuel crisis, while some rival brands would wither and die in just a few short years. New engines were a while away, the R107 SL was just 2 years old and buyers loved it. But what else could you choose at the time?

Also in showrooms back in 1975…

Jaguar E Type Series 3 V12 (1971-75)

5.3 litre V12 – 254 bhp

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £39,999

1975 was the final throw of the dice for the E Type Series 3, with the arrival of the all new XJ-S now imminent. By ’75 the E Type was looking old hat, all curves and 60’s style against a new breed of more angular Europeans.

The global economy made a V12 less than appealing and those headlights are still cause for debate some 40 years later. Early cars in good condition are prime real estate, later Series 3 cars look much more affordable.

Triumph Stag (1970-77)

3.0 litre – 145 bhp

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £27,500

The design and concept were great – the funding and execution were not. What should have been a great car was hampered by build quality, bad management and a severe lack of development funding. Poor engineering meant they were essentially rubbish, despite the promising looks. The engine was poorly thought out, made from the wrong bits, engineered to a tight time frame and a tighter budget. If it didn’t overheat then the timing chain would stretch, the head gasket would fail or the pistons would hit the valves. Doesn’t that sound fun?

BMW E9 3.0 CSi (1970-75)

3.0 litre – 200 bhp

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £39,999

Munich have never fielded what one might call a direct competitor to the SL, but the 3.0 CS was essentially a capable opponent. It may not have had the all out punch of the 450SL as a Grand Tourer, but what it lacked in top-end clout it made up for in agility. Not necessarily a definite alternative, but an interesting ‘other’ and a capable tourer all the same. C

Citroen SM (1970-75)

3.0 litre V6 – 174 bhp

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £45,000

The French may not be renowned for the high performance GT, but the SM was most certainly that. It introduced the world to an array of technological innovations that had road testers in awe of the beautiful car. Stunning though it was, failure in the USA signalled the end for the SM. In 1974 the car failed to meet the USA’s stringent bumper regulations, rendering it illegal and close the door to a lucrative and altogether necessary Grand Tourer market. Poor sales in 1974 meant when Peugeot bought Citroen the following year, the SM was axed. 

Jensen Healey (1972-76)

2.0 litre – 144 bhp 

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £13,500

So the 144bhp Jensen was never going to tease buyers from the 450SL, but the Brit did have the 280SL in it’s sights. After all, it is a two-seat roadster in the most traditional sense. Good handling and a Lotus engine were plus points, but the brand didn’t have what it took to weather the 1973 oil crisis. Supply issues, strikes and inflation meant that Jensen were nothing but a memory after 1976.

Jensen Interceptor MKIII (1971-76)

7.2 litre – 284 bhp

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £100,000

Huge engine, pricey even then, Jensen was doomed and two words – fuel bills. 

Lotus Eclat Series 1 (1975-80)

2.0 litre – 160 bhp

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £10,000

A different animal entirely but an interesting proposition. Some would say it hasn’t aged well or that it’s day hasn’t yet come. Always in the shadow of the Esprit. Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious?

Maserati Merak (1972-83)

3.0 litre V6 – 187 bhp

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £60,000

Too many years with values in the doldrums mean a cheap one is risky and an expensive one makes very little sense. Jeremy Clarkson bought one for a telly show once. That went really well, until it blew up.

Porsche 930 Turbo (1975—77)

3.0 litre – 260 bhp 

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £60,000

Spent decades fighting an image problem and values have sky rocketed in recent years. Famously difficult to drive in the wet. Not comparable to an SL on so many levels.

Aston Martin V8 Series 3 (1973—78)

5.3 litre V8 – 310 bhp

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £100,000

It’s a V8, it’s got over 200 bhp, it’s a grand tourer, it’s…. Twice the price of an SL? And how do we feel about the looks…? The 1975 Series 3 has the same lines as the DBS, introduced in 1967 to replace the curvaceous DB6. Is this a great looking car through the lens of 2018, has it aged as well as our beloved SL? Let us know in the comments.

Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS (1975-85)

2.9 litre V8 – 252 bhp

Cost for a good one now: Approx. £65,000

It’s a V8, it’s got over 200 bhp, but on a European road trip compared to an SL it’ll be stressful, expensive and cramped. Will it start every day and run flawlessly like a good Mercedes-Benz will? A real icon of the era and a defining Ferrari shape.

Did you enjoy our round up of contemporary rivals?

Read about R 129 SL rivals from 1989 here

Are there any cars you’d like to see in this list?

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