azimuth - 6/15/2005 11:14 AM
It sounds like you know the SL's pretty well. If you don't mind, maybe you could council me a little as to a good choice for my project. Are the 560's worth considering? Is the model you have a satisfactory choice?
Ok, well, I'll give you a short incomplete history:
One thing most people don't realize about 107's is that they are specifically engineered for the targetted market segment. The 280SL was designed to be a "business man's coupe", for European white collar types who had to do a lot of driving. It is designed to be good on gas, with a minimum of luxury features, and with performance within a particular range. In the days before the Internet, if you were in the computer business, you had to travel all the time. My gig was the big Texas cities, which are essentially long flat roads with a commute of around 600 miles round trip from Houston for DFW and Austin, up to as much as a two day drive to El Paso, and over the 20 years I did this I became absolutely enamored of the 280 line. The worst thing that can happen to you in Texas before the day of cell phones was to break down in the middle of nowhere. You got raped by the local tow truck guy, the local mechanic, the local cop who would try to figure out how to give you a ticket for something, and you could become a pleasing diversion to a carload of Mexican Mafia guys who just got out of the joint. Around 1984 I just gave up on the Pontiacs and Cadillacs that had left me stranded, and decided to spend a little extra for a Mercedes. My dad had owned a 72 280SE (which is actually a totally different car, but I didn't know that, but that is a different story), so I bought a 280E. My 77 280E was absolutely dependable. I loved it like a women. I felt about it the way a Texan feels about his horse. I had no problem in getting into and driving a 600 mile round trip, even when it had over 250,000 miles on it after I had driven it for seven years. There is nothing like having a car that will do 125 like it was going to the grocery store, and gets over 20 MPG, that has over 200k on the clock. Didn't even burn oil.
I've owned two sedans, and always wanted a 280 sports car, which are hard to find, so when I found a nice one I bought it. I am content to simply open the trunk, and gaze upon the most finely designed and engineered power plant Mercedes ever made for us poor white collar smucks, the migrant farm worker of the information age. Mercedes made this car just for us.
The Euro 350 (and Euro 450 SL, which is essentially an identical car) and Euro 500SL are the true sports cars, designed for the testosterone set. With 4 and 5 speed manuals and big V-8s, these are true European sports cars. Ones in low milage condition are really sought after.
The weakness of these cars is they are overweight, mostly due to all kinds of inner body material put in there to make the car crumple properly in an accident. This heavy weight has to be borne by the suspension, and as a result suspension parts on these cars wear out faster than would seem normal. Earlier models also had a problem with rust, as road salt would build up in areas that are hard to wash out at a carwash. Many SL fanatics I have talked to say that any model made before 84 should not be driven in the northern states.
Otherwise, they are indestructable.
American SL cars are, like the Euros, specifically designed for particular markets. The 380SL was meant to be the "business mans coupe" for the US market. The 280SL does not produce torque in the correct ranges to satisfy American driver's taste - we want great performance off the line while running a ton of power equipment at the same time, and our government at the time required safety bumpers that made the car heavier and smog equipment that would have made the 280 engine perform poorly in the low ranges when equiped with an automatic transmission, and for some reason, a boneheaded decision if you ask me, they simply did not want to market manual transmission cars in the US, so they equipped their "business man's coupe" with the 3.8 liter V-8, an anemic engine, but an engine that could support the driving range the customers desired in the US. Unfortunately, this is not one of the best motors Mercedes ever made - it had a single row timing chain, while all other motors at that time had a dual row, meaning of one broke, the motor would make a hell of a racket telling you it needed to be fixed, but the other chain would keep the motor operating until you got to the garage. On the 380, when the single broke, and it did a lot more than it should have, the valve train would start to make monkey love to the pistons. The other two models marketed to the Americans were the 450 and 560 SLs. These were both high end cars. The 560 is for rich old Big Daddy, and the 450 is for Big Daddy's old lady, mistress, or his snotty little kids. If you are going to buy an American and not a Euro SL, I myself would stick with those two models, I really like 450s, because a lot of them have been owned by only females, who don't drive the cars so hard and keep them nice and clean, and they always come in interesting color combos because women are just so good at picking out those things.
The 560s always seem to be either red or black. They simply have every gadget and luxury one can imagine, every advanced mechanical feature one can imagine, and a huge motor. The are superbly designed for American men. Their owners are a special breed of SL fanatics. They cost a lot to buy and a lot to maintain.
The dirty little secret is all SLs cost a lot to maintain. I spend about 3 grand a year on mine just to keep it in nice shape. Whatever model you buy, keep that in mind.