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Woman Maths: R129 Mercedes-Benz SL

1 month ago

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My infatuation with the R129 Mercedes-Benz SL began in 2019 in, of all places, a Ferrari showroom. I remember the exact moment as if it were yesterday.

It was late, and I was standing in a crowd listening to my then-boss introduce the new F8 Tributo. I was ready to film the big reveal when, out of the corner of my eye through dark glass windows, I noticed a glossy green 500 SL glide into view. It bumped up the pavement and came to a stop. Body-painted AMG Aero 3s split rims with bright polished lips flashed under the street lights, looking magnificent. All thoughts of the video I needed to capture vanished.  As I looked around, I saw that the old SL awkwardly straddling the pavement had stolen the attention of the entire room.

Cut to the chase: my partner and I now own four R129 SLs. I can’t tell you why; it is madness. Let me be clear: one SL is the perfect amount of SL. Never let them outnumber you, not least because they like to be driven and complain if they aren’t. For four months, I commuted between Fulham and Park Royal in my 33-year-old 500 SL, through some of Britain’s worst traffic, and it never skipped a beat. I then left it for four months over winter, and it was a pig for weeks.

The SL was facelifted in 1998, but Helen prefers the older model with two-tone paint

However, I have never owned or driven a car that lifts the heart like an SL can. It should be prescribed by the doctor. There is something magical about the thrum of that big old V8 and the unparalleled waft once on the open road. I turn the volume up and sing into the wind, one arm on the windowsill (Instagram’s oracle on this subject, @fanchracing, gives it an 8/10 elbow test score), right foot pushing the old girl on. It’s sheer joy.

Justifying an R129 SL is easy because they are obscenely good value. Back in 1990, my Nautic Blue 500 SL would have cost around £55,000 new (£175,000 adjusted for inflation), but I bought it in 2020 for a little over £6000. Looking at today’s market, it seems that number might have doubled, and the really rare AMG models have gone to the moon. But none of this matters because I’ll never sell it.

V12 examples are desirable, but the V8 is more than adequate

There is a saying that applies to R129s: ‘buy cheap, buy twice’, and you might need a second car if the first is problematic. Some 213,089 R129s were made, but it can still be difficult to find parts and they can be expensive. Not prohibitively so, but enough to annoy our favourite technician so much he suggested running all four over with a Unimog.

My advice would be to buy the best car you can for your money, and in today’s market, that is around £15,000 for a very nice V8. There are more expensive cars, but they tend to be low-mileage examples, and I’ve learnt that low mileage doesn’t automatically equate to a good car. You can get a running car for less than £3000, but I really wouldn’t.

I am not technical, but if you’re interested I do know this: listen very carefully. Always check the soft-top roof works; this is the best indicator that the car has been looked after. It doesn’t take much to fry the roof electronics (a single jump start will do it), and they are complicated to fix once broken. I adore the early pre-facelift V8s with those wonderful orange indicators and the two-tone paint which is so of its time, but there is an SL for everyone.

Helen owns three SL 500s and one 300

So, I’d like you all to stop what you are doing and take a look at how much Mercedes SL you can buy for your money, starting with this 1999 V8 listed for £18,995 on PistonHeads. After all, the man who designed Mercedes’ golden era and cars such as the timeless C111, Bruno Sacco, said that the R129 SL was his ‘most perfect car’. It’s mine too, but you probably guessed that already.

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