Luxury and style a heavyweight hit
Mercedes Benz’s SL 500 was an instant hit, writes GRAHAMSMITH
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.
ON THE LOT
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.
IN THE SHOP
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.
IN A CRUNCH
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.
AT THE PUMP
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.
THE BOTTOM LINE
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.