- Parts Store
- Car Showroom
- Owner Services
When the SL Shop’s Bruce Greetham bought this 500SL, it was in desperate need of some TLC. That’s just what the car got; a whole four years’ worth…
There’s no shortage of people who buy a classic car project and end up spending more time and money on it than they ever envisaged, but the SL Shop’s Bruce Greetham has taken things to extremes with the 500SL that he acquired in 2011.
Originally bought to tidy up and use regularly, once it had been purchased it was clear the car deserved a better fate. Says Bruce “Owned by the previous keeper for 15 years, the 1989 car was in need of some serious TLC if it wasn’t to get to the point where it was too far gone to be worth saving. But as a post-1986 car (preferred by many SL fans) and with the desirable colour combination of Nautic blue paint with mushroom leather trim it was a very desirable example of the R107. It also helped that this SL featured a wide array of factory-fitted options such as air conditioning and heated seats. With such a good spec, the 500SL deserved to really shine once more.”
Never bought as an investment, Bruce’s intention was to tidy up the 500SL so he could enjoy using it on a regular basis. But as is so often the case, once the car had been taken to the SL Shop’s restoration bay, Bruce started to change his mind.
He adds “I’m something of a perfectionist and it soon became clear that just because the SL was mine there was no reason why I shouldn’t strive to restore it to the same standard as a customer’s car. In fact, it I was to do that, it would show what the SL Shop is capable of, as until now we hadn’t done a complete R107 restoration due to the high cost of doing so relative to the value of the end result.”
A few months later, once the car had been stripped and decisions had to be made on how far to go with its restoration, Bruce decided to create the perfect SL. While there would be no blank cheques, the rebuild would take as long as necessary (within reason) and no corners would be cut. The SL would be restored to exactly the same specification and condition as when it left the factory and by the time the car returned to the road, four years would have elapsed.
STRIPPED FOR ACTION
With the 500SL in the workshop it could be completely dismantled down to a bare shell, so a full assessment could be made of the extent of any corrosion. As is typical for the R107, there was plenty of rust in the bulkhead, sills, chassis legs and boot floors. Using original panels throughout, the bodywork was repaired to the highest possible standard, paying particular attention to the panel gaps; these had to be as tight and even as possible.
Over the years the SL had been patched up by an array of garages, to get the car through its various MoTs. The result was a car that looked like a patchwork quilt in places, so unpicking everything was key to achieving the necessary standard of workmanship. Bruce chips in; “It’s exactly what we encounter with many of the cars brought in our workshops, so we’re used to seeing. That didn’t reduce the amount of work that we had to do to though!”
By the time the bodyshell had been rebuilt it had consumed a pair of new front wings, two rear wheel arch repair panels, a fresh boot lid, replacement boot floor and sill section along with a new floor pan. Predictably a new floor pan was also required and while replacing all of this metalwork was straightforward, it was still a time-consuming process. What made it quicker and easier – but not cheaper – was sticking with genuine panels. Because they’re made from the original tooling they all fit beautifully, significantly reducing labour time.
Alongside the bodywork revival, the SL’s oily bits were also being overhauled, with absolutely everything either replaced or rebuilt. The engine and gearbox were both stripped and completely rebuilt. Despite having 160,000 miles under its belt, the V8 still featured the honing marks on the cylinder walls, put there during the original manufacturing process.
As you’d expect, all of the other mechanicals were also completely overhauled, including the rear axle, suspension and brakes. Bushes, bearings and seals were renewed as a matter of course, along with any pipes, hoses and fittings. It’s only when you go to these lengths that you realise just how many components make up a car as complicated as the 500SL, even though this example is just about three decades old. What’s also striking is the quality of everything; it’s clear that nothing was built down to a price.
THE END IS NIGH
By the end of 2014, more than three years after the project had started, the SL was starting to look special once more. Some of the mechanicals were still to be reunited with the re-panelled and repainted body shell, but the bulk of the work had been done and the end was in sight.
Says Bruce, “The really satisfying part was marrying up the smaller parts, as it’s these that really set off the car. The brightwork for example, along with all of the fittings which were generally plated or powder-coated. Fitting the re-trimmed interior was also a major milestone as it gave the car a finished look even though there was still a lot of setting up to do at this point”.
The attention to detail with the interior is what sets this SL apart from many other restorations, as Bruce went to great lengths for it to be correct in every way. The correct grade of Mercedes carpets is fitted while even the leather grain for the seats had to be spot on, it’s called Pebble 275.
By summer 2015 the car was ready to return to the road, making its debut on the inaugural SL Shop tour. Not even run in before embarking on a 400-mile round trip, there were still a couple of minor details to attend to but Bruce had complete confidence in his car. But would he undertake such a massive project again?
He says, “Since I bought this car, R107 values have risen significantly and we’re getting to the point where a customer might realistically ask us to completely rebuild their similar car. I’ve had several offers for this one and although it’s not for sale, in time I might be tempted if the right offer comes in – but for now I’m very keen to enjoy the car as that’s why it was restored.
“What’s amazing is how readily available most parts are, the inventory is quite astonishing. But what’s also interesting is how the quality of some of the those parts has gone down since this project was started. A high-quality R107 restoration will easily swallow £50,000 or more and with values of the best cars not far above that, I don’t think we’ll be getting many commissions to undertake complete restorations for a little while yet. But when some owners see the condition of my car and what we could do for them, it definitely sets them thinking!”
Phil Garatt and Kieron Brown drove the SLC in the 2016 Classic Persia, but not before bringing the car to The SL Shop to make some modifications and pick up some emergency parts. “It’s great to see an SLC being used for a rally like this. The SLC achieved fame in its own right as a competitive rally machine, so with its competitive heritage for gruelling driving challenges it’s the perfect car for the job” said Sam Bailey.
“We were only too happy to help Phil and Kieron. In 2017 we’ll be doing a lot more with competition cars, both on and off road, so anyone looking to really push the boundaries with their 107 is heartily invited to visit us for advice.”
Cyprus the Great established the first dynasties of the Persian Empire in 550BC in 2016, a 450 SLC stormed across these ancient lands as part of the Persia Classic.
Phil Garnatt and Kieron Brown had this to say about their journey “We have travelled along some stunning roads, traversing mountains and valleys which seemed quite out of this world. Much of our distanced followed the fault like through the cast Zagros mountain range in the west of Iran. The ravines were so deep they appeared to reach the centre of the earth. We drove along endlessly twisting rocky tracks, winding up and down mountains and across hot dusty plains. At points it was hard to imagine we would reach our destination, but the car has been great.
We have an impressively short list of things to do or change on our return, which given what we’ve been through is a testament to the quality of the design and engineering of the 107. We’re really grateful for your support and enthusiasm, and the expertise and advise of the SL Shop team which has helped make the challenging trip an epic and enjoyable journey.