Lux­ury and style a heavy­weight hit

Mercedes Benz’s SL 500 was an in­stant hit, writes GRAHAMSMITH

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News -

THE SL is the hero model in the Benz range. It was when it was in­tro­duced in the 1950s and it still holds a spe­cial place in the hearts of Mercedes-Benz afi­ciona­dos.

In the Mercedes-Benz lex­i­con, SL means ‘‘light­weight sports’’.

It was an apt de­scrip­tion of the 300 SL that be­gan the line, but by the time the 500 SL was launched in 1990 it was any­thing but light.

A more apt de­scrip­tion of the 500 SL per­haps might have been ‘‘lux­ury sports’’, but it was still an awe­some two-seater sports car and ranked among the best in the world.


THE 500 SL was the first open-top road­ster re­leased by Mercedes-Benz for 18 years and was an in­stant hit in Europe. The suc­cess was re­peated here and the first four years of sup­ply were quickly spo­ken for as SL fans lined up for a slice of his­tory.

Aus­tralia only got the big-bore quad-cam V8 model, and it came loaded with ev­ery­thing from trac­tion con­trol to an elec­tri­cally ad­justable in­te­rior rear-view mir­ror.

It shared top spot on the Benz totem pole with the S-Class sedan, but the S-Class could never ap­proach the SL’s blend of style, per­for­mance and sta­tus.

Look at its sleek, lithe lines to­day and it’s clear the 500 SL’s de­sign­ers hit their brief per­fectly.

Al­most 20 years af­ter its launch, it still turns heads like few cars can. The 500 SL was a com­plex car.

As the Mercedes-Benz flag­bearer it pushed the bound­aries of con­tem­po­rary au­to­mo­tive en­gi­neer­ing and packed in the lat­est tech­nol­ogy avail­able at the time.

It was equipped with a clever power-fold­ing roof, an au­to­matic rollover bar that sprung into place when it seemed you were about to turn tur­tle, there was trac­tion con­trol to keep the wheels from spin­ning, and the seats had au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just­ing seat belts.

The 500 SL was longer, wider and taller than its pre­de­ces­sor and weighed in at a whop­ping 1770kg.

The sus­pen­sion was fully in­de­pen­dent, with struts at the front and a five-link sys­tem at the rear; the brakes were disc front and rear and anti-skid brakes kept a watch­ful eye on them to pre­vent lock-up. Steer­ing was power-as­sisted.

Un­der the el­e­gant bon­net lay a fu­elin­jected dou­ble-over­head-camshaft 5.0-litre V8 that put out 240kW at 5500 revs and 450Nm at 4000 revs.

The V8 was linked to a four-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion; Mercedes didn’t of­fer the buy­ers of its pre­mium sports car the choice of a man­ual gear­box.

The 500SL had road man­ners to match its elec­tron­i­cally lim­ited 250km/h per­for­mance.

It was sure-footed thanks to big, low-pro­file tyres on 16-inch al­loys, rode com­fort­ably and was finely bal­anced with a damp­ing sys­tem that low­ered it 30mm when it was trav­el­ling at more than 120km/h.


BE­ING a clas­sic car, the 500 SL gen­er­ally trades out­side the everyday mar­ket.

Mercedes-Benz dealers might han­dle them, but you’re more likely to find them at spe­cial­ist clas­sic car dealers, or ad­ver­tised in spe­cial­ist mag­a­zines and web­sites.

The var­i­ous Mercedes-Benz clubs are also a good place to search.

It’s pos­si­ble to find a 500 SL for $50,000-$70,000, but a car that’s been trea­sured by one owner from new could be worth much more. Not bad for a car worth $255,000 when new.


THE 500 SL was a tech­ni­cally ad­vanced car for its time and for that rea­son needs the care of a trained spe­cial­ist with a thor­ough knowl­edge of the tech­nol­ogy.

The 500 SL was well built and this is re­flected in its con­tin­u­ing reli­a­bil­ity, but they are get­ting on in years, if not in kays, so the chances of some­thing go­ing wrong are higher.

Be­fore buy­ing have a com­pre­hen­sive re­port done by an ex­pert on a car’s con­di­tion.

Be wary of im­ports, and there are many, from Europe and Asia that could well have been sub­jected to some pretty tough cli­matic con­di­tions be­fore they landed here.


FEW cars in 1990 had an airbag, but the 500 SL did. There was an airbag for the driver, and the pop-up rollover bar pro­vided pro­tec­tion.

It also had anti-skid brakes, trac­tion con­trol, and the self-low­er­ing sus­pen­sion for an im­pres­sive dy­namic safety pack­age.


A HEAVY car pow­ered by a large ca­pac­ity, highly tuned V8 en­gine is not a recipe for great fuel econ­omy.

It would get 15-18 litres/100km in av­er­age use.


PER­FECT for the Sun­day drive if you pre­fer your sports motoring with lux­ury.

Lots on board: the 1990 Mercedes-Benz 500 SL was deemed a light­weight sportscar, but its ad­vanced fea­tures weighed it down.

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