Time Capsules – A moment with three Low Mileage SLs

With less than 22,000 miles between the three, these ultra low mileage SLs are really something special. Kyle Fortune was given special permission to add a digit or two to the odometers.

Words by Kyle Fortune

We’re used to seeing immaculate condition SLs, but even here, having three generations of SL in ‘as new’ condition isn’t something that happens every day,” says Bruce Greetham, SLSHOP Director. All silver, all absolutely perfect, if it were possible, each could be placed in showrooms in their respective eras and sold as if they’d come directly from the factory.

Individually, then, they’re all incredibly special, but getting these three well-appointed stars together is something you’d think was only possible in Mercedes-Benz’s own museum, or its from its fabled ‘holy halls’. We’re not in Stuttgart though, we’re in Warwickshire, with Bruce Greetham and Sam Bailey, SLSHOP owner, and I all holding the keys to these time capsule SLs, while Ali Cusick points the camera.

Before any keys are turned or pistons fired, we discuss the story of each car. Each is unique, and has it’s own particular history. We pore over the details, discussing the twists and turns of fate that put each of these cars here on this particular day. Let’s start with the oldest – the Pagoda.

1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SL Pagoda –
13,000 miles from new

Back in 1969 the first (and only until 2018) owner of this Mercedes-Benz Pagoda walked into Jacksons Mercedes-Benz dealership in the Channel Islands, to collect this 280SL. It would have looked exactly like it does today, too, though the odometer would be reading a delivery mileage, rather than the 13,000 it now wears. That’s around 255 miles a year, give or take, in the 51 years since this 113 Pagoda rolled off the production line in Sindelfingen, Despite the age, there’s no evidence of those scant 13,000 miles, with Bruce saying when he went to assess the car for its current owner he was absolutely blown away by the originality.

Everything is correct, every code, sticker, is present, with only serviceable items having been changed since it was built,” says Bruce. He admits this car has since become his go to reference for all 113 SLs, such is its utter perfection. That originality is evident when you look at it; there’s none of the tells of even the best restored cars, or signs that it’s in any way been titivated throughout its life, it being exactly as it was in 1969.

Finished in 180G Silver/Grey Metallic, with black MB Tex upholstery and a black soft top, ordered without rear-view mirrors or a stereo it’s simply stunning. The Pagoda’s design arguably remains the pinnacle of crisp elegance and simple style adorned with modest embellishment. There are Teutonic sensibilities to its shape, the Pagoda an alternative in period to Jaguar’s E-Type, and while that Jaguar looks its vintage today, there’s a sophistication and even suave modernity to the SL, that’s evident both inside and out, even in 2020.

Getting in a Pagoda is always an event, from the satisfying mechanical resistance of the thumb push on the door handle to the weight of the door itself, the 113 feels substantial in a way that none of its contemporaries do. That’s achieved, though, with a lightness of touch, as while the interior’s controls all look delicate, they all operate with a satisfying, reassuring, weightiness that betrays Benz engineers’ obsession with the details and adds to the sense of genuine luxury and quality. Salt and pepper carpets, just enough chrome contrasting the black trim inside, with the body-coloured dash uniting the outside with the inside. It’s absolutely beautiful in here.

The seats, indulgently sprung, though lacking in anything in the way of body-hugging bolstering, are hugely comfortable. The MB Tex covering those seats is yielding and soft but also having an air or quality. MB Tex exudes an longevity not found with unrestored leather of a similar vintage. That pervading, weighty quality is what defines the SL, despite what the letters actually stand for, it a trait pretty much unique to the marque even here on its sporting flagship.

That is evident on the road. Yes, there’s an inherent, obvious reluctance to put any miles on it, but so too is there the need to. Machines only work well if they’re allowed to work as they’re designed to, after all. The SLSHOP regularly exercises this Pagoda to ensure it’s at its best, and that’s obvious as it fires on the first turn of the key, the 2.8-litre in-line six-cylinder engine revving with a smooth eagerness that gives it performance that in its day would have been considered brisk, rather than properly quick. Rated at 170PS at 5,750rpm, with its peak torque also high up the rev range, it’ll cover the benchmark 0-62mph sprint in 9 seconds, and in its motherland it’ll reach a 124mph maximum speed.

A beguiling mix of grand tourer and sports car, it’s eager and agile if you press it, but exhibits a dignified gait if you’re in less of a hurry. The automatic is a bit lazy in its shifts if left alone, but it’s not a consideration most of the time. Grip levels are high – it’s more likely your cornering enthusiasm is curtailed by gently sliding out of the seat than the car unseating itself.

The steering is pleasingly direct, after working through an initial vagueness that makes for an easy fast cruiser at Autobahn speeds, while the brakes, too, are impressive in their stopping power for their vintage, Benz always ahead of its rivals in this regard. The Pagoda is that rare classic that could be used every day, though, with this example we’ll give the owner a pass, as this Pagoda is of museum quality and should be kept as such.

1989 Mercedes-Benz 500SL –
6,500 miles from new

The elements that define the Pagoda, continue as we move through the generations and on to the R107 seen here today. This one has covered a mere 6,500 miles, being one of the last R107s built in 1989.

This Mercedes-Benz R107 left Stuttgart in December ‘89 to arrive at Hughes of Beaconsfield on the same day the dealership was showing the new R129 SL to customers. Faced with the impressive new model, the intended owner had a change of heart, and ordered a new R129 at the last moment – leaving this car to languish unsold until 1991! For this reason when it was finally registered to the first owner it wore a J plate, to digits further on than the G of 1989 it should have worn. Finding an R107 on a J plate is not unheard of, but it is certainly rare. Cancelled order cars do appear now and then, but only once in a blue moon. Used sparingly since, this 500 SL was, like the Pagoda, ordered in silver – here 735G Astral Silver – with black leather interior and a black soft top.

As a barometer of the then Mercedes-Benz zeitgeist the SL couldn’t be more representative. The R107 is obviously an SL, with plenty of proportional and visual nods to its predecessor, but one that’s been built with a concession to the company’s then determined focus on safety, too. It feels, and looks more substantial than the car it replaced, the exterior having the grooved rear and front indicator lights famously designed to prevent dirt building up on them, the interior being largely devoid of the hard surfaces that define the interior of the 113. That that’s been achieved while retaining the dignified class is impressive, the sometimes indulgent use of chrome – notably in the door shuts where the shiny material welcomes you to the softer, more padded interior – is almost an apologetic concession to old-school luxury from a company which at its core was pursuing safety.

It all retains that simplicity and purity of operation, from the clarity of the instrumentation, to the unambiguity of the heating and ventilation controls, the SL is a paragon of well-considered ergonomics that should perhaps be adopted again today. The way you sit on, rather than properly in, the seat is demonstrative of the SL’s gradual drift from a sports car to grand tourer, even if, like the Pagoda before it, the R107 has talent that belies its weighty luxury and at least hints to its sporting past.

The Mercedes-Benz R107 500 SL uses a 5.0-litre V8 under its lengthy bonnet producing 245PS, mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, capable of 0 to 62mph in 7.8 seconds and a top speed of 140mph. It feels tight on the road, which given it’s still effectively a new car, being 100% original and maintained without expense, isn’t entirely surprising. You could step out of the Pagoda and drive this and immediately recognise the bloodline, the R107 riding with a supple sophistication, soft yet controlled, and surprisingly wieldy in the bends.

The engine provides easy pace, it feels uncouth to ask lots of it, it pulling strongly enough in its mid-range to not need the full sweep of the rev-counter’s needle. The automatic shifts unhurried dignity, a trait that is entirely in keeping with the SL’s schtick. The steering exhibits that easy, light weighting and initial lack of response around the straight ahead for high speed stability, which, once worked through sees the SL turn in with something approaching conviction. Not that you’ll be hustling an R107, there are other cars for doing that. The virtues of an R107 is the hugely satisfying ease with which it performs, underpinned by a solidity and quality that wasn’t just unusual back in its heyday, but remains so today.

1993 Mercedes-Benz 500SL –
2,800 miles from new

Stepping from the R107 into the R129 isn’t quite the culture shock you might imagine. With the R107 having spanned nearly two decades of production its interior evolved, it outside where the changes are most obvious, painted plastics taking over from chrome and black rubber, smooth integration very much the order of the day, though there’s nods to both its predecessors here, the R129 not entirely unfaithful to what preceded it. It’s an elegant shape, the R129, that’s aged well, this car hailing from an era where mobile phones were becoming genuinely mobile, and computers personal. 1989 was when it was first launched, with this example being a 1993 model, although it has never been registered!

Bought by a collector in Germany, it’s unusual in being RHD given its first owner, its 2,800 miles collected during delivery and for its annual TUV (MOT) testing since. Now in the UK it’s an as new R129 SL500, with air conditioning and cruise control, but it’s not those options that make it special, it’s the other add-ons that are long since gone from any other R129s. Bruce points out the factory paint markings under the bonnet that accurately demonstrated the mounting positions for components, this as original an R129 as is possible. Ordered in Brilliant Silver with black leather and a black soft top, it’s as if it rolled off the production line yesterday.

The interior is familiar after the R107, only the round vents and knobs here are replaced by rectangular vents and many more buttons. It’s still a lesson in user-friendliness and ease. In it the seats have a little bit more bolstering to embrace you, hoodwinking you into believing there might be a bit more sporting ability but in reality, it’s subterfuge. Yes, against its contemporaries this generation of SL was considered more GT than sports car, but with its greater performance, the quad-cam 48-valve 5.0-litre V8 producing 320PS to allow a 6.5 second 0-62mph time, it’s more of a convincing sports car than the R107 it replaced.

Really, though, the R129 SL500’s strengths remain its unflappable breadth of performance and capability, rather than the more singular pursuit of its rivals. With the SL, Mercedes-Benz has never been afraid to carve its own path among the competition, and in doing so create its own unique and appealing niche. The R129 exemplifies that ably, with some agility if you really want it, but with the long-legged ability and comfort that makes it about as easy a means to travel as you could ever wish for.

Roof up, or down, too, the button to achieve that exhibiting a rare hint of pragmatic humour on Mercedes-Benz’s part, being shaped exactly like the top it operates. There’s modernity, the R129 feeling, and being, like a car on the cusp of change. It certainly feels like the last of the over-engineered Mercedes-Benzes, it reputedly the final car to be built without an accountant managing every cost, and it feels it inside such is the solidity and quality. Its eventual replacement lost that, these three being era-defining SLs for all the right reasons, and sampling all here, in immaculate, new condition only underlines that, and what an incredible and unique machine the SL is.  

Words by Kyle Fortune

These three cars represent the very best of their breed, being low mileage cars that were well optioned by previous owners. Only a company like SLSHOP, with their market presence and customer base could curate such a collection all in once place… but what of the cars today?

The Pagoda was sold by SLSHOP some time ago, and kindly leant to us for the photoshoot. This was a car that technically never reached the public market, changing hands behind closed doors for an undisclosed fee. It’s a similar story with the R107, it appeared on the SLSHOP website temporarily but was sold from the moment Bruce found it was available – these sort of cars have buyers waiting, they don’t tend to go through the full SLSHOP process. The R129 will be moving to pastures new in the coming weeks, but if you are looking for a low mileage R107 then SLSHOP might know of a car… Speak with Bruce to discuss your requirements. You never know, maybe Bruce has three more low-mileage SLs hiding behind the three-pointed star cufflinks…