Date registered: Feb 2008
Vehicle: 2004 W220 (S430) ; 2001 R129 (SL500) Sport
Location: Alabama Gulf Coast--formerly Charlottesville, VA
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You're looking at an R129. And I believe it's SL500 rather than 500SL. Somewhere early in the model run (the R129 was made from 1990-2002) the nomenclature was changed. I have an '01 SL500 that is a wonderful touring car. While it will do 0-60 in 6 seconds and is limited to 155 mph (Z rated tires) it is not a sports car in the same way your Miata is. It isn't a Corvette either. Of course your Miata didn't have an MSRP of $80-90k either. A '96 will have the M119 twin-cam motor which some say is "better" than the M113 in later models, but there is no performance difference between them. The hydraulic cylinders that move the hardtop are an issue (there are 13 of them), and there are some wiring harness problems in earlier models, but I don't think the '96 is one. I suggest you go to the R129 forum and ask the guys there what they think. The hardtop is a definite asset if your car has one--the car becomes a coupe; quiet and solid with the hardtop in place. The R129 is a relatively simple car for a MRZ; a lot of routine stuff can be done yourself, and it can be done by a competent mechanic rather than the dealer. If you run the VIN you can find out whether it has the sport package, xenon lights, and some other attractive options.
Good luck. You'll have a blast if you know what you're buying.
"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he'll just kill you."--John Steinbeck