1. the Super Legacy
The R129 had a lot to live up to. Mercedes-Benz had sold almost a quarter of a million of the former R107 variant by the end of its production in 1989. The R107 changed very little over the course of its production, and yet the masses still salivated after them. How could it live up to the appeal then?
Similarly, the original W194 300SL had a racing pedigree, winning various titles in the 1950s. Most notably was the Carrera Panamericana, Mexico, November 1952, during which Karl Klang and co-driver won the 3111km race, averaging over 160hm/h. The team also hit a Vulture at over 200km/h, but still managed to win. The road-going version based on this car was rather special.
So, how did engineers and designers live up to expectations?
Classic lines. Follow the angular Germanic design of the former car, spiced with technology and creature comforts suitable for the appetites of wealthy nineties folk. To celebrate the racing and rally pedigree of its predecessors, power was a particular focus. A 32-valve, 5.0 litre, dual-cam V8 with 322bhp would be offered to those looking to achieve 0 – 60 seconds in less than six seconds. But in true SL fashion, lightness was never a priority… This is why the car maybe never saw a WRC stage or track.
2. The Immortal Panzerwagen
The SL was only ever light in its first instance. The original W194 300SL Gullwing racer weighed in at just 870kg, and even though the road car was slightly heavier, none of the following SL variants from the Pagoda to the R107 were light. ‘Super Leicht’ only by designation.
A non-light SL was inevitable with the R129, particularly as Mercedes chose to incorporate a V12 option – the SL600. More recent road tests of the SL500 and SL600 found that the V12 (the SL600) was no quicker than the 5.0 litre V8. Owners were just quicker to deliver bragging rights. The only thing quicker was the rate at which tyres would become disposed of. The V12 model sits on the wrong side of 2 tonnes, a large difference from the 1.8 tonne V8 version. When looking for an R129, perhaps opt for the V8 as you’ll achieve the same performance.
17 inch ‘Albali’ or ‘five spoke’ wheels
3. Quintessentially Sacco.
Legendary Chief Designer at Mercedes-Benz, Bruno Sacco, called this his ‘’most perfect car’’, due to its proportions and modern yet reflective structure. Sacco and his team managed to translate the convertible SL into a symbol of the future, deleting the chrome associated with predecessors.
Bruno Sacco was responsible for many of Mercedes’ iconic models, including the 190E and the C111-III, and yet he chose this as the most influential and timeless achievement.
4. Tech to Party Like it’s 1999
Leaping away from the proletarian basics of the R107 SL, the R129 was abundant in technology; with the seats alone having 20 patented parts. If you owned an R129 SL, you’ll know that the seatbelts automatically adjust to the height of the headrest. The seats had five separate electric motors and magnesium frames. Complex right?
The R129 SL may well have ended the Cold War with its alarmingly extensive technology. It was built with brake assist, stability control and active damping which was later teamed with self-levelling suspension. Owners also got rain-sensing wipers and occupant detection, so that the airbags are disengaged if the seat had less than 10kg atop it. The central locking was extensive, securing the glovebox amongst other storage spots throughout the car. No wonder the car was so heavy.
5. Ruling the Rollover
The W113 Pagoda and the R107 SL were infamous for the strength of the A-pillar, which would prevent the occupants from being crushed in the event of a rollover.
Building upon this functionality, the geeks at Mercedes-Benz created a hydraulic rollover bar that pops up in the event of a well, rollover. Hydraulic pressure holds down springs, compressing their energy until the right moment. At the point the computer sensors detect a rollover, the rollover bar is released, flipping the car away from the upside-down position and back onto four wheels in just three-tenths of a second. This process will even work when a failure of hydraulics has occurred.
6. Indulgent and Excessive
Up until 1989, Mercedes-Benz hadn’t offered a V12 engine with any of the former SL variants. Roll on the nineties and something had to change – AMG was finding its feet and Brabus had been in existence for several years. Over the channel, the XJS had been available with a V12 for years; not to mention the Series 3 E-type. Mercedes-Benz had reliability and swagger under its belt, while the XJS was extremely outdated by the 1990s.
A V12 straight from the factory was long overdue.
The R129 wasn’t designed with a V12 in mind though, resulting in the engine bay being lengthened to accommodate the sheer size of the engine.
7. Royal Endorsement
The SL was and still is owned by some of the most prolific actors and musicians known to humanity. The icing on the cake was an endorsement from former Princess Diana. In true Diana fashion, the Princess went against the grain and traded in her XJS for an SL500, probably due to the aforementioned fact that the XJS was outdated and inferior to the R129 SL’s engineering and technological capabilities. She was more willing to drop the British patriotism in favour of having a cool and usable car. A cool cat indeed.
This era of German ownership didn’t last long, as the press and public continued to harass the Princess and the Royals until she gave the car back. The follow-up act was a Vauxhall Senator, which was actually made in Germany, regardless of its British namesake.
Diana’s SL500 now continues her legacy as a cool, non-conformist induvial on display at the Mercedes-Benz museum in Stuttgart.
8. Introducing AMG
Mercedes and AMG had been co-operating closely since the late 1960s, but this relationship was brought closer when an agreement was signed in 1990. The first job for Affalterbach’s finest was pepping up the Mercedes R129. The SL60 of 1993 was the result of this newly forged relationship.
Only 633 SL60 variants were made; with only 49 being right-hand drive. To keep the sale of the V12 SL600 and S600, Mercedes ordered AMG to limit the SL60’s output. In official declarations, AMG claimed the M119 V8 in the SL60 produced a modest 375bhp, but they later revealed that the figure was 405bhp.
Taking things further, AMG took all the time to tinker with the M129 V12, taking the powerplant to new heights. The handbuilt 7.3-litre AMG V12 was paired with the R129 SL in 1995, creating the SL73. Possessing 518bhp and 750nm of torque, the SL73 was a lightning bolt capable of electrifying drivers to 60mph in 4.8 seconds. When de-restricted, the SL73 would reach 200mph. This engine went on to be used by Italian supercar firm, Pagani, in the infamous Zonda Pagani.
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