50 Years of Pure Class, Mercedes-Benz R107 SL
The Mercedes-Benz R107 SL has retained cult car status now for 50 years and continues to stimulate interest from both younger and older generations. As the world’s leading Mercedes-Benz classic car restorer and dealer, the SLShop would like to take a moment to outline why we believe this marque was a disruptor to society and the automotive world. We’d also like to outline how we are creating the finest classic Mercedes-Benz convertibles for the 21st Century, through a range of driver-focused upgrades.
The 1960s, a Time of Social and Political Change
Roll back the clock to the halcyon days of car design, when the West was alive with competitive innovation and rule-bending ideas and attitudes. The sixties were awash with exciting movements, with radical changes to society and cultural norms evident at the turn of every corner. Where men were turning to skin-tight jeans and long wavey locks, women were out fighting patriarchy and uncovering the exploitation of Playboy – a battle Mary Quant captured with the cut of the mini skirt. Ford’s pivotal female workforce brought manufacturing to a halt demanding equal pay in Dagenham; activists questioning authority became the neck that turned the heads of governments globally. The spirit of the sixties cannot be summarised in one sentence.
The 300SL, 190SL, Pagoda W113 SL and R107 SL
Car Design and The Mercedes-Benz R107 SL
Throughout this decade, European automotive design largely focused on low-slung, two-seater sports cars with flowing curves and race-ready stances. Elongated bonnets merged into shallow angled windscreens embracing speed, and wide rear fenders reflected the female form. In some cases, distinct headlights created aggressive anthropomorphic fascias. Driver and passengers were in the spotlight, exposed by the large Riva Aquarama-styled windscreens. Everyone wanted to assume their position as Connery or Loren. Mercedes-Benz had created a distinct bloodline with the 300 SL and 190 SL, which evolved into the 1963 W113 ‘Pagoda’roadster and scarcely conformed to the trends sweeping Triumph, Jaguar, Ferrari and Lamborghini in Europe. The ‘Pagoda’ was an outlier with its minor emphasis on curved fenders, favouring flatter surfaces that predetermined the distinctive shape of the R107 SL.
Channelling this context of continual change, head of design at Mercedes-Benz, Freidrich Geiger, penned a new roadster with a distinct form to appeal to both men and women in Europe and North America: the R107 SL. Meanwhile, in Italy, Giorgetto Giugiaro’s design of the De Tomasa Mangusta foretold a move to crisper lines and the cult futuristic ‘wedge’ shape, leaving Lamborghini’s Miura looking like a relic of the past. Freidrich Geiger launched Mercedes-Benz into the 1970s with a distinct vision of the new decade – one of horizontal Germanic elegance through simplicity and precisely positioned detail. The R107 SL landed in 1971 with a horizontal form like nothing else. The ‘wedges’ of Italian designers Giugiaro, Gandini and others followed and marked a break from the consolidated practices of the sixties, overlapping with Gieger’s pen and the Mercedes-Benz R107’s defined force of individuality.
Mercedes-Benz 450 SL (R 107 series, 1971 to 1989). This version was built until 1980
The R107’s Qualities
Building on the success of the ‘Pagoda’, the R107 was geared towards the American market at a time when the government was tightening its rules on crash testing and convertible safety. The R107 needed to fulfil the authority’s expectations as well as the public’s predisposition for the flat panel profiles of American roadsters and coupes – think Mustang, the 1970 Oldsmobile Tornado and the Chevrolet Camaro but not as lairy. If you take the side profile of the R107, you notice the larger panel surfaces and the lower profile akin to a Grand Tourer; with wide flared wheel arches echoing the lines of its predecessor. Engineers incorporated rubber crash impact bumpers into the chrome brightware, which were extended by 8-inches in 1974 to comply with US regulatory changes. The A-pillar benefited from a new welding process and a bonded windscreen, making it 50% stronger than the ‘Pagoda’ and removing the need for a Targa style bar. Beneath the extended horizontal bonnet, the R107 could initially be specified in Europe with a 3.5 litre V8 (350 SL) to give a modestly hasty 0-60mph time of 8 seconds. The American SL350 came with a 4.5 litre V8 from the outset. From 1974 customers could opt for a 2.8 litre straight-6 or a 5.0 litre V8 with the later SL/SLC models. Each model incorporated fuel-injection, a manual or auto box and optional power-assisted ABS from 1980 onwards.
Mercedes-Benz 350 SL (R 107 series, 1971 to 1989). This version was built until 1980
What Made the R107 So Unique?
So, what in our eyes is most provocative about the R107 SL? Undoubtedly, the R107’s affiliation with celebrities made it universally desirable, while motorsport successes confirmed engineering rigidity and dynamism. But the R107 is much more evocative than this and to reduce it to these individual moments of the limelight, would do a disservice to its creators, admirers and buyers.
From a styling perspective, the exterior took a more neutral direction with modernist traits to appeal to men and women. Elaborate detail is replaced by simple streaks circulating the bottom half above the sills, which are mirrored in the front and rear lights. The absence of panel lines also gives a sense of motion when stationary. Of course, the interior was naturally luxurious in its use of materials and space – particularly with the longer wheelbase SLC offering a 2+2 configuration. Where paint finishes are concerned, the flatter European paint palettes reinforced neutrality. In the United States, popular culture iconised the R107 with more flamboyant colour schemes, favouring reds and yellows. The continental differences demonstrate that the R107 slotted neatly into society to accommodate every individuality, transcending genders, age, colour and creed.
The shape was not markedly masculine or feminine and accommodates both without entertaining old school stereotypes. The R107 remains immune to the perennial attitude that convertibles are overtly feminine. This underlying neutrality was individually progressive and reflective of this era of change, accounting for its successes in Europe and America. Yes, the price was twice that of a Jaguar E-type and reserved the R107 for the higher echelons of society, but the R107 embodied a new era of functional and luxurious driving. The original launch video perfectly captures this raison d’etre, showcasing its versatility in urban areas alongside the spirited power delivery of circa 240 German horses (V8) spurring the R107 onto the autobahn.
The R107 overcame trends and merged practicality with subtle performance. Engineering and brand class took a new form – one of simplicity and firmness – to be more than just a moment in time. With this focus, the R107’s moment lasted 18 years, and during this time of production, over 300,175 units of the ‘Sport Leicht’ left the factory, making it one of the best-selling Daimler-Benz models to date. Read 50 facts about the R107 SL.
Restorations and SportLine Upgrades at SLShop
At SLShop, we are continuing this era by restoring and improving a range of Iconic Mercedes-Benz models. We offer the same experience customers would have received when buying new. What unifies our approach to each customer, is our unrivalled commitment to quality and attention to detail. Whether you require an underbody check for structural issues, or you’d like to swap the American style bumpers for classic chrome, we will work consistently to fulfil your individual expectations. If you’d rather put your spanner skills to work, we hold the most comprehensive deposit of W113 ‘Pagoda’ and R107 SL parts. From sun visors and suspension arms to replacement bulkheads, we’ve got you covered.
The R107 SL is well known for its kilometre crunching grand touring traits, but the over-engineered German icon is capable of more. For those who desire a performance-orientated transformation, SLShop has developed a range of SportLine modifications. These include a manual gearbox conversion, Limited Slip Differential, new suspension and braking systems, revised ignitions, ECU remap and more. As with all our commissions, customers can opt to modernise their interior with a new sound system, heated seats and steering wheel to name a few. If you want to take this further, the SportLine R will give you the ultimate R107 SL track-day set up.
If you’re not sure what you desire, check out our current stock online or swing by our Stratford-Upon Avon showroom. Alternatively, join us for an immersive experience out on the road this summer, as we celebrate 50 years of the R107 with a series of exciting events.