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1985 Mercedes-Benz 380SL R107
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Discussion Starter #1
OK guys, I think I need a shot in the arm at this point. I’m no newbie to classic car collecting, having owned classic Studebakers, Packards and Dodges for a lot of years.

After a VERY frustrating several days attempting to tackle relatively minor issues that SHOULD have been correctable with minor adjustments etc., I spent a very hot and humid day at a car show attempting to explain to some of my friends (who drive American classics) just why my 380SL is a classic.

And I had a very difficult time proving my point – starting with in my own mind.

Since I’ve owned this Teutonic wonder, I have been confronting some of the strangest engineering expedients I have encountered, and some very shoddy construction and raw materials quality issues. Just today, the A/C blower motor failed because the lubricaion on the thrust bushings in the motor dried out and needed lubrication. Simple and predictable problem. Of course, you can’t actually open the motor to service them: they are a nice, sealed little unit. You don’t fix em’ - you throw em’ away. (Every Studebaker and Packard I have owned have had easily reachable and serviceable blower motors, not to mention other component parts which by common sense should be easily reachable and servicable……) On the way home from the show and with the A/C blower motor squealing in my ears, the Becker 612 radio blew out. Of course THEY are not serviceable by anyone but Becker – and sometimes not even them. No problem, I’ll just swap out the unit with a rebuilt and be on my way. Just a bit of salt on an open mental wound.

But of course, it isn’t just the blower motor or the radio. It’s the obvious and inescapable lack of quality in everything else you go thru just to get to the components that need servicing…..

The steering coupling needs to be replaced. Of course that is a Significant project that in my opinion shouldn’t even be necessary had the coupling itself been properly designed in the first place. What should have been a one-piece solid cast part is in fact a two part arrangement riveted together. I’ve seen better design basics in a Kia. And that ain’t saying much.

The climate control system (apart from the blower motor) also operates pretty much when it feels like it. This car has the pushbutton automatic system. Setting the temperature means nothing. The blower motor operates (when it operates at all) at whatever speed it feels like and when you first turn it on, it sorta follows the set temperature for a short while then goes all over the place, blowing hot air when A/C is selected or conversely will blow cold air when it’s 30 degrees outside and the control unit is set at 22 Celsius. Replaced the control unit; that one worked for a short while then started doing it’s own weird stuff and is no better than the one I pulled out of there. I have inquired about opening up and repairing the control unit and was told “nope, no can do. It’s a sealed little unit”.

Then there’s all the thin chintzy plastic – all over the place. That crummy, ill fitting instrument board could have been built by General Motors (and I hate GM…..) That nice vinyl covering is starting to wear at the edges as if it were designed for a Chevette.

Then there’s all the crappy quality wood panels – mounted on cheap near-balsa wood quality backboard that warps in sunlight. Oh, and don’t think for a moment that warping won’t show - - - that balsa wood panel isn’t actually held in place by screws, oh no! It’s clipped in place by a tiny piece of (now cracked) plastic that no longer meets with the balsa-wood. Nice touch. Real statement of quality.

Finally there is what “passes” for performance. My car has the 3.8L V8. At 156 HP that pathetic engine has no place anywhere near a 3800 pound automobile. And it idles like crap. It’s always idled like crap. I’ve rebuilt the ENTIRE fuel management system with no effect. Completely re-did the ignition system. Nothing. When you are driving on the open road, that torque-less engine screams when you slam the pedal to the floorboard, but the car accelerates tepidly (and ‘I’m being polite here). From a handling standpoint, it is mediocre. And that’s being polite too. My 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk out accelerates, out maneuvers and generally outperforms this little cream-puff wannabe with ease. My wife’s Lincoln out accelerates this Mercedes sports classic – it really does, we compared it one night recently.

Aside from the obvious fact that these R107’s are drop dead sexy, what if anything, makes them a worthwhile classic? If this car is a classic, then can the same be said of a GEO Metro? Somebody help me out on this one. Are these cars among Europe’s best kept lies? I’m beginning to feel like a complete fool for buying this thing.

And this is not my first Mercedes, either. Back in 2003 I bought a brand new “E” class which absolutely fell apart within two years of conservative driving. (I palmed it off on my ex-wife in the divorce settlement – revenge can be very, very sweet……..) But I always believed the 107’s were in a class by themselves, so my new wife and I took the plunge and bought this one which came with low mileage and impeccable and verified provenance.

Truth be told, these “legendary” Mercedes-Benzes are really no better than a stock Chevrolet, aren’t they? Aside from the fact that Mercedes-Benz automobiles are obnoxiously expensive new, and Adolf Hitler owned one, what REALLY makes them stand out in the automotive world? The ones I’ve owned and driven (including this 107) have been disappointingly pedestrian cars with overall shitty construction and tepid, mediocre road performance. C’mon guys – anyone out there secretly in their hearts feeling my comments quietly resonating in their souls????????? A car needs to be a classic for some legitimate reason beyond a price tag…….

Daimler AG does however, seem to truly excel when it comes to their marketing department.

I’ll admit I’m tired, frustrated and feeling disgusted right now, and I’ll likely feel better after a martini and a good nights sleep. But somebody who knows more than I do please fill me in on what I’m missing here. Why do car enthusiasts like us buy these? Am I alone in my observations, or do others of us out there quietly feel the same way about these classics? Are others as disappointed and disenchanted as I’m really beginning to feel?

When we are out with friends and they glow enviously about our “baby” we smile and put on the show. But alas, with me, it’s really beginning to feel like just an empty show…………

-George-
 

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1985 Mercedes-Benz 380SL R107
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536 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Oh, OK. Cool. Its just me then. Wow! I was getting nervous there! :)

Martinis can do real wonders.

Still would like to know what makes these so special, aside from the looks?
 

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1993 600SL, 1973 450 SL,1982 380SL,1998 SLK 230, 1968 Firebird, 2001 Dodge Ram 4x4,2005 Ford Escape
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5,247 Posts
Having owned mine since the early 80's, I can't argue a single point you make. I love these cars and will never sell either of the ones I own, and am looking for another ! But you'd think for the cash these things cost they would have better materials. Ive seen better sun visors on a Hyundai. The cheap heat welded door panels are another sorry point. As my restoration continues I'm thinking about causing the untimely demise of a couple of cows and converting everything to leather. The Bosch electrical including the Mickey Mouse wiring and fuse boxes is garbage and don't even get me started on the crumbling insulation in my 93 600 SL. You'd think for $129,000.00 1992 dollars it would be gold plated. All that being said, I love these cars and put up with all the crap just to spend the sunny days driving with the top down. Really nothing else like a gorgeous SL !
 

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One of the BW Old Guard/R129, W204 Moderator
1997 SL500- 40th Anniversary
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7,166 Posts
Just today, the A/C blower motor failed because the lubricaion on the thrust bushings in the motor dried out and needed lubrication. Simple and predictable problem. Of course, you can’t actually open the motor to service them: they are a nice, sealed little unit. You don’t fix em’ - you throw em’ away.
I've had mine out, disassembled it and lubricated it... No problems...

On the way home from the show and with the A/C blower motor squealing in my ears, the Becker 612 radio blew out. Of course THEY are not serviceable by anyone but Becker – and sometimes not even them. No problem, I’ll just swap out the unit with a rebuilt and be on my way. Just a bit of salt on an open mental wound.
Yep, If you want a becker. Other options do exist, of course...

It’s the obvious and inescapable lack of quality in everything else you go thru just to get to the components that need servicing…..
Hmmm.....

The steering coupling needs to be replaced. Of course that is a Significant project that in my opinion shouldn’t even be necessary had the coupling itself been properly designed in the first place. What should have been a one-piece solid cast part is in fact a two part arrangement riveted together. I’ve seen better design basics in a Kia. And that ain’t saying much.
Local gargae changed one on a 450 for 50 bucks... Owner supplied the part.

The climate control system (apart from the blower motor) also operates pretty much when it feels like it. This car has the pushbutton automatic system. Setting the temperature means nothing. The blower motor operates (when it operates at all) at whatever speed it feels like and when you first turn it on, it sorta follows the set temperature for a short while then goes all over the place, blowing hot air when A/C is selected or conversely will blow cold air when it’s 30 degrees outside and the control unit is set at 22 Celsius. Replaced the control unit; that one worked for a short while then started doing it’s own weird stuff and is no better than the one I pulled out of there. I have inquired about opening up and repairing the control unit and was told “nope, no can do. It’s a sealed little unit”.
Souonds like a thorough going over is in order... this can be a sticky wicket for DIY, and costly if farmed out. Plenty of posts here on this... Reference Egv107.

Then there’s all the thin chintzy plastic – all over the place. That crummy, ill fitting instrument board could have been built by General Motors (and I hate GM…..) That nice vinyl covering is starting to wear at the edges as if it were designed for a Chevette.

Then there’s all the crappy quality wood panels – mounted on cheap near-balsa wood quality backboard that warps in sunlight. Oh, and don’t think for a moment that warping won’t show - - - that balsa wood panel isn’t actually held in place by screws, oh no! It’s clipped in place by a tiny piece of (now cracked) plastic that no longer meets with the balsa-wood. Nice touch. Real statement of quality.
I'm at a loss for words...

Finally there is what “passes” for performance. My car has the 3.8L V8. At 156 HP that pathetic engine has no place anywhere near a 3800 pound automobile. And it idles like crap. It’s always idled like crap. I’ve rebuilt the ENTIRE fuel management system with no effect. Completely re-did the ignition system. Nothing. When you are driving on the open road, that torque-less engine screams when you slam the pedal to the floorboard, but the car accelerates tepidly (and ‘I’m being polite here). From a handling standpoint, it is mediocre. And that’s being polite too. My 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk out accelerates, out maneuvers and generally outperforms this little cream-puff wannabe with ease. My wife’s Lincoln out accelerates this Mercedes sports classic – it really does, we compared it one night recently.
having not owned or driven a 380, I can't comment.

I’m beginning to feel like a complete fool for buying this thing....
Can't help your feelings. Nothing like a Dog to sour one...

When we are out with friends and they glow enviously about our “baby” we smile and put on the show. But alas, with me, it’s really beginning to feel like just an empty show…………

-George-
Maybe a 107 is not for you, or at least this particular 107. Similar stories have been recounted here. No shame... get shed of it and try a newer, PPI-approved 500 or 560. You won't be disappointed in the performance, but you will be 10-15K$ lighter in the pocket :)

Best of luck to you...
 

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Previous: 1989 190E 2.6, 1997 E420, 1985 380SL, 1975 450SLC
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747 Posts
You have the same car I do. Imho, its control systems were overly complex in an analog age, so 25+ years later we get to enjoy all manner of failures in electrical, vacuum, and fuel systems that defy simple diagnosis and repair. Surely your 1950/1960's era cars were more straightforward in their design. Apart from the looks and beater-cachet of my car, I do enjoy its solidity and feel that it's worlds ahead of many mid-1980's cars, most of which have been pushing up daisies for years.
 

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'71 250, '78 450SLC 5.0, '78 450SL, '81 380SLC 5.6, '89 260E, '15 Kia Sorento
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I can't speak to what a 380SL performs like, but I can give you feedback on my experience as a Mercedes owner. After 5+ years of ownership, my 1989 260E still drives like a new car. The only issues I have had, that were not normal maintainance items, were a driver's seat motor that wouldn't move forward and my A/C blower motor quit working recently. That is pretty good for a 23 year old car I think. The 260E is a bit slow taking off, but has tons of power after about 30 mph and cruises at 80 like it was 55.
As for 107's, I have only owned them since last fall. I bought a 1974 450SLC that was too far gone rust wise to restore, but the engine and transmission still perform great and the a/c blows cold. My newest addition is a 1978 450SLC 5.0 and I can tell you it is a blast to drive. This car was obviously not well maintained by the previous owner, but after just an oil change and some fresh 93 octane fuel I can feel a marked difference in it's performance.
The 380SL maybe be an underpowered car, I can't speak to that, but I would hardly use it as an example to say that all 107's are duds. That would be like buying a 6 cylinder Mustang or Camaro and then using that experience to assume that a Mustang GT or Camaro Z28 turds as well.
As far as build quality, I am a bit concerned about the rust issues on these cars, but I also know that the Big 3 put out some pretty awful crap in the 70's and 80's. When you compare the hundreds of thousands of cars, of each model, made by Detroit to the relatively small number of 107's made, and then consider the percentage of survivors, I think you will have a different opinion of the design/ build quality. How many 70's and 80's US or Japanese made cars do you see running around in a given week? I see 107's frequently.
Just my two cents.
 

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500SLC #2624. Black on Black.
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Some history of the car would help to determine if it was poorly made, or poorly (or not at all) maintained.

Most of the time I've seen M-B's in a bad way, it's because people haven't serviced, maintained, and used them.

Yes, a pushbike would be simpler to fix, and cheaper, but, it's still a pushbike.

No better than a stock GM? Hmmm. No... I don't think I'll respond to that.
 

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500SLC #2624. Black on Black.
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Oh.. and as for performance... you can thank the US government for that... The cars that were made for the rest of the world, without having to please "the Nanny State" perform incredibly well.

You might be best to compare your car to US cars made to the same regulations.

Also, accelaration and top speed aren't everything, it's nice to be able to go around a corner, too.
 

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'71 250, '78 450SLC 5.0, '78 450SL, '81 380SLC 5.6, '89 260E, '15 Kia Sorento
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Oh.. and as for performance... you can thank the US government for that... The cars that were made for the rest of the world, without having to please "the Nanny State" perform incredibly well.

You might be best to compare your car to US cars made to the same regulations.

Also, accelaration and top speed aren't everything, it's nice to be able to go around a corner, too.
According to specs I have read online, my 1978 450SLC 5.0 will do 0-60 in about the same time as a Z28 or Corvette of the same vintage and neither of those will do 140 MPH in stock form. Also, which domestic manufacturer won the 30,000 kilometer South American Rally in 1978? Oh, wait!!!!! That was a Mercedes 450SLC.
 

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1987 Mercedes-Benz 560 SL
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Still would like to know what makes these so special, aside from the looks?
My 107.048 represents the near-final expression of the 18-year run of the R107 series. As far as I know it was crafted with little (if any) reliance on CAD, or CAM, or Lean Six Sigma techniques, but instead with conventional drawings, traditional German craftsmanship, and typical Mercedes attention to detail in countless areas, most of which the owners who possessed mine before me never knew of. Only because I've explored many of these areas while maintaining my SL did I discover them.

Some of the springs that are a part of the seat adjusting mechanism are filled with sponges so that they operate in silence.

The inner door panels and other out-of-sight interior and exterior cavities are lined with a thick, semi-liquid, waxy coating that has endured to this day.

Thick tar mats cover the floors, a white felt fleece lines the under-dash areas, and rust proofing is obvious everywhere--from the grey painted underbody, to coated fasteners, to the epoxy-armored (?) rear skirt, virtually no exposed, bare, ferrous metal is obvious.

An airbag, self-tightening seat belts, and knee bar protect the driver, added long before they were common. Ditto the Anti-lock brakes.

Wiring harnesses are neatly wrapped in black fabric tape, routed, and secured with care.

Virtually every feature of the large Mercedes sedans of the same era was shoehorned into the SL with little apparent compromise (other than serviceability ease, obviously). To do this successfully without 3D computer modeling, like that we use at my company to design military vehicles, must have been extremely difficult. (The blower motor is, however, very easy to access to replace the motor. Here's how I repaired mine.)

The 5.6 liter engine and 4-speed automatic transmission are extremely durable, built not to extract the last watt of power or fuel mileage, but to deliver decades of reliable, conservative performance.

The roadwheels are forged aluminum, painted and clear coated. Not cast, not pressed steel, not chromed.

The paint is impeccible. The trim is flawless. The leather and leatherette surfaces are of high quality materials, and the fit and finish of all the trim I have seen is impeccable.

And it's a Mercedes. And as much as I like my Volvo's superior horsepower, fuel efficiency, its precise computer-assisted design and assembly, its quiet, its digitally-networked components, and its amazing computerized controls of virtually every system and sub-system, it was, at the end of the day, snapped together like a clever piece of IKEA furniture. Rather than carved, dovetailed, assembled, sanded, varnished, and polished like a German oaken schrank that is my Benzedrine.

Good road,
 

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One of the BW Old Guard/R129, W204 Moderator
1997 SL500- 40th Anniversary
Joined
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7,166 Posts
My 107.048 represents the near-final expression of the 18-year run of the R107 series. As far as I know it was crafted with little (if any) reliance on CAD, or CAM, or Lean Six Sigma techniques, but instead with conventional drawings, traditional German craftsmanship, and typical Mercedes attention to detail in countless areas, most of which the owners who possessed mine before me never knew of. Only because I've explored many of these areas while maintaining my SL did I discover them.

Some of the springs that are a part of the seat adjusting mechanism are filled with sponges so that they operate in silence.

The inner door panels and other out-of-sight interior and exterior cavities are lined with a thick, semi-liquid, waxy coating that has endured to this day.

Thick tar mats cover the floors, a white felt fleece lines the under-dash areas, and rust proofing is obvious everywhere--from the grey painted underbody, to coated fasteners, to the epoxy-armored (?) rear skirt, virtually no exposed, bare, ferrous metal is obvious.

An airbag, self-tightening seat belts, and knee bar protect the driver, added long before they were common. Ditto the Anti-lock brakes.

Wiring harnesses are neatly wrapped in black fabric tape, routed, and secured with care.

Virtually every feature of the large Mercedes sedans of the same era was shoehorned into the SL with little apparent compromise (other than serviceability ease, obviously). To do this successfully without 3D computer modeling, like that we use at my company to design military vehicles, must have been extremely difficult. (The blower motor is, however, very easy to access to replace the motor. Here's how I repaired mine.)

The 5.6 liter engine and 4-speed automatic transmission are extremely durable, built not to extract the last watt of power or fuel mileage, but to deliver decades of reliable, conservative performance.

The roadwheels are forged aluminum, painted and clear coated. Not cast, not pressed steel, not chromed.

The paint is impeccible. The trim is flawless. The leather and leatherette surfaces are of high quality materials, and the fit and finish of all the trim I have seen is impeccable.

And it's a Mercedes. And as much as I like my Volvo's superior horsepower, fuel efficiency, its precise computer-assisted design and assembly, its quiet, its digitally-networked components, and its amazing computerized controls of virtually every system and sub-system, it was, at the end of the day, snapped together like a clever piece of IKEA furniture. Rather than carved, dovetailed, assembled, sanded, varnished, and polished like a German oaken schrank that is my Benzedrine.

Good road,
Well said... !
 

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Mercedes 380SL
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Sounds like you really had a bad day , I wondered why you guys in the USA have a downer on the 380sl yank versions only have 155 Bhp UK cars 218bhp !
Can you not convert to UK spec , replace cats etc ?
Mine has plenty of power .

As for quality listen to the door shut, look how well the seats last, mine look like new


All cars have some bad design/ weak components !

In the UK most motoring magazines , recommend just a few classics to be considered tough enough for daily drivers and the R107 always included often with the Volvo Amazon and jag XJS

Carl
 

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Now: 14 E350 Coupe; 86 560SL Then: 73 280SEL 4.5; 80 300SD; 82 300SD; 98 E350; 08 GL320; 11 E350
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How many 1985 vintage vehicles of any other manufacturer have you observed on the road lately?

Cheers,
 

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1975 450sl 9200 La Dolce Vita. 2009 e350 gone, 2019 e400 coupe
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119 Posts
1. Money can't buy happiness, but its more comfortable to cry in a Mercedes than on a bicycle


John Wayne
 

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1985 Mercedes-Benz 380SL R107
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Discussion Starter #17
Revenge for 1945

Yes yesterday was pretty crummy. And yes this car does ride and handle very splendidly. However my observation I think still stands that alot of the raw materials were surprisingly typical in quality and fit / finish with other cars of much lower cost. Ad for the weakie engine perhaps Mercedes simply should have skipped the 3.8 for the USA and stuck with the 5.6. I enjoy working on my cars most times but it does get a tad frustrating looking the other way with some of the q/c issues and the tepid acceleration. I guess next time its the 5.6 for me!
 

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'85 380SL (155Kmiles), '82 240D stick, '80 300SD, '77 240D, '89 BMW 535i, 3 VW Diesels, 2 Triumphs
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As for the tepid acceleration, you need to think about the history of the times.

I remember gas lines and pushing my Totota up to the pump in 1980 so I wouldn't have to waste gas. The 380 was MB's response to that era. Remember all the fuel efficient cars of the early 80s (many of which haven't been improved on economy-wise)? How about those Cadillacs that ran on 4 cylinders at speed?

I strongly disagree with your comments wrt poor materials. You really need to spend more time in junkyards looking at contemporaneous cars.

I will say it's a bear to work on, in many ways. I wish I had found a decent 280SL for my wife, but c'est la vie.
 

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1985 Mercedes-Benz 380SL R107
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Discussion Starter #20
I remember those Caddy V8-6-4's you hit the gas and many would cut down to 4 cylinders! Lotsa lawsuits over that one. Still in the day if you could afford a 107 you wouldn't be worrying too much about gas prices and I doubt if there was much difference in mpg between the two engines....
 
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