MERCEDES 450 SL (R 107) versus Chevy Camaro, Morgan Plus 8: Classic roadsters for the summer

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Three convertibles with engines from 157 to 304 hp: Chevrolet Camaro, Mercedes 450 SL and Morgan Plus 8. All have a V8 under the hood, are fun and yet have a completely independent character. COMPARISSON TEST.

Let’s face it – the familiar and often described advantages of a convertible classic are already known inside and out: the blue sky above us, the balmy summer breeze in the hair, the closeness to the landscape and nature, the big show in front of the ice cream parlor and finally the happy co-driver. But one aspect is almost always missing: Speeeeeed! Only in an open car – best in a roadster – you can enjoy fast corners and superior engine power with all your senses: the noise of the greedy high-revving engine, the occasional whistle of the tires and especially the powerful acceleration, if only a few seconds after launch, a hurricane blows through the cockpit. Highway cruising with 80 km / h is as annoying traffic obstacle? No thanks!

That you need some power under the hood, is obvious. A compact American-style V8 engine. And here are the three candidates with something like that: Chevrolet Camaro SS 350 with 304 SAE-PS, Mercedes 450 SL with 217 hp and the British flyweight Morgan Plus 8 with 157 hp. Three convertibles, which are extremely different in character and claim and yet have an important common fun factor: a V8 – and thus also relatively large displacement.

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5.7 liters in the Super Sport
We start with the 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible with the rare SS option – “SS” for “Super Sport”. These include the standard 5.7-liter V8 (350 Cubic Inch), a slightly harder tuned suspension with front disc brakes and wider tires, additional instruments on the center console and functionless air inlets mounted laterally in front of the rear wheels and on the hood.

The front and rear spoilers of our photo vehicle also come from the catalog of factory options. However, the distinctive headlamps featured on some of the 69 Camaro’s are part of the RS package, which could be combined with the SS option. Finally, there was the rare Camaro Z28 with high-density five-liter V8, four-speed manual and much more for the then hotly contested Trans-Am racing series. There, the Camaro met its direct competitors AMC Javelin, Ford Mustang and Pontiac Firebird – and won the 1969 season.

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In fact, our Camaro SS in the bright original hue Hugger Orange looks very racy and sporty. It is already the second, heavily revised body after the Camaro debut in 1967 – exactly 50 years ago. Incidentally, we owe the glamorous sports outfit of our ’69 model to the then Chevrolet boss John Z. DeLorean, who also appreciated the big performance. But the Camaro can also keep what his “super sports” look and the promise of the 304 SAE-PS strong V8 make?

As a jet pilot in the Camaro
For this, we take a seat on the soft and low-grip driver’s seat. We notice first the thin steering wheel rim and beside it the powerful automatic switch in the style of a jet thrust lever. In front of it four lovely, rectangular additional instruments, which look like taken from the mixing desk of a recording studio. Unfortunately, above the dashboard resides much black plastic as a questionable impact protection, because there are only lap belts ex factory. Anyway, the roaring V8 in combination with the spontaneously and powerfully acting three-speed automatic pulls it out in the truest sense of the word: hard to believe that the Camaro should weigh over 1.5 tons.

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Every little tick with the gas pedal sets the 2 + 2 Cabriolet spontaneously and always with a small nodding or swaying of the body in motion. The open Camaro rushes so mighty and initially somewhat uncontrolled with slightly spinning rear wheels, that one does not get enough of it. But after a few seconds, the loud wind blows over the hammering of the V8 and reminds us not to overdo the fun.

Of course, the Camaro also allows cruising with the left arm on the driver’s door. Then the V8 chugs as calm as a fishing boat, and the automatic gearbox controls almost everything in third gear. Curves are plowed through by the Camaro quite neatly, better even than its cousin with the much heavier 396-cubic inch V8 (6.5 liters) on the front axle. The steering and the rear axle could act in conjunction with the strong V8 somewhat more disciplined. Nevertheless, the shrill Camaro is an honest guy, but needs a prudent and self-confident driver who can deal with so much racing glamor in bright orange sovereign and without shyness.

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450 SL – the V8 sovereign

Very different is the Mercedes 450 SL. The sophisticated technology and superior workmanship of this top German product automatically gives every R 107 owner the sovereignty of a heart surgeon. Actually, this 450 SL of 1978 with its powerful V8 and powerful appearance and its strict renouncement of any sports add-on parts is the opposite of the frivolous Camaro: Beethoven’s ninth meets the musical “Hair”, Nana Mouskouri meets Freddie Mercury. But, is this really the truth?

On the one hand there is the common V8 engine and on the other the need for passive safety, which connects the Chevrolet with the Mercedes. But even in this, the differences are great. The Daimler-V8 has one overhead camshaft, light alloy cylinder heads and a mechanical fuel injection of the Bosch K-Jetronic type. What the bumper V8 of the Chevy Daimler has ahead of engine capacity, the Mercedes-V8 makes up at higher speeds.

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In terms of safety, the 450 SL could break through walls like an armored infantry fighting vehicle. You can tell that already when you open the heavy driver’s door and when entering the paneled with real wood cockpit, if you push through the legs under the large baffle steering wheel. The door closes like a bank vault, and in front of the driver’s forehead is the massive, chrome-shielded windshield frame designed to withstand a rollover.

German security
Introduced in 1971 the Pagoda successor 450 SL was created in the late 60s at a time when in the US for safety reasons, the end of convertibles was up for debate. As part of the active safety considered the large headlights and turn signals and the huge taillights with edged groove profile, which is to prevent complete pollution. Whether the strange washboard-like grooves between sill and rubber-reinforced trim have the same effect, is not known.

The solidly built seats with large, perfectly adjustable headrests are just as reassuring as the instrument scales in the sober design. Is the engine already running? We give a little gas, the front of the V8 rushes up briefly, the needle of the tachometer raises and lowers sluggishly. All right, automatic selector lever on level “D” and off we go. However, it takes a little bit after the first acceleration, until the R 107, which weighs just over 1.5 tons, moves from the spot and inconspicuously picks up speed.

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For a nearly 40-year-old car today, the big Mercedes roadster drives amazingly easy. His old age can only be felt by a certain, then so wanted basic gravity, which was probably synonymous with solidity and security. Modern V8 convertibles respond to driving commands simply nimble and a bit more precise. But please, where are we, the R 107 is finally a classic! Then he may take this unfair comparison as a compliment.

A lot of driving pleasure from 3,500 / min
But does the 450 SL also have real cabriolet driving fun beyond its splendid solidity and dignity? Yes, it does exist – it starts at around 3,500 / min. During a brisk overtaking maneuver, the 450 SL suddenly shows off its V8 muscles, growls grimly, presses the surprised driver into the executive chair and lets his exhaust pipe roar from behind. Well, go! However, the Daimler misses that spontaneous, light-footed reaction of the Chevy Pony- Cars, but he can catch faster and with dry hands again.

In the pure open-air feeling, there are hardly any differences between Chevy and Daimler. With the side windows lowered, the wind blows powerfully into the cockpit at as low as 60 km / h, and from 100 km / h on, a wool cap should protect your hair and your health. If you are looking for a significant increase in feel, you should try a Morgan Plus 8.

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The descent into the Morgan
However, you can not get in the conceptually from the 30s coming Plus 8 easy. Instead, you put on the car like a skintight runner pants. Yes, there is a driver’s door, which does not require any brakes and therefore has to be kept open during the descent to the driver’s seat with constant knocking. At some point, the driver lands on the narrow seat, and his feet hit the small, invisible pedals in the dark footwell shaft. We are now more or less welded with the V8 Roadster and even look forward to the low cut driver’s door, because it allows the left arm to ride relatively relaxed – outside in the fresh air.

The extremely low and with 850 kilograms compared to Camaro and 450 SL, half the weight of a car is only enough for the shoulder blades. But there’s a windshield, full lights, three wipers, a front bumper and a V8! The 3.5-liter alloy engine actually comes from Buick from the US, then came to Rover to England and makes in the Plus 8 157 hp. But that is deceptive. With a power-to-weight ratio of just 5.3 kilograms per horsepower, the Morgan is at about the same level as the Camaro, which is almost twice as strong, and clearly undercuts the 450 SL (7.3 kilograms per horsepower). The best thing about the Morgan, however, is the five-speed manual transmission. That means harsh V8-pleasure without performance-inhibiting automatic.

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Gorgeous sounds from the Plus 8
With slim sneakers on the feet we drive without problems, without tangling in the dark leg shaft with the pedals. And it’s damned important to hit the brake pedal safely, because the Morgan goes off like a squirrel. The V8 engine seems unleashed, because he does its job without noticeable effort and with a sonorous soundtrack. Thanks to the rigid connection to the road, the Rover V8 spontaneously turns any gas command into propulsion and spices up the engine sound with superb switching pauses: “Roooar”, “Roaaaaar” and once again “Roooaaaar”. Automatic cars can not do that well. And because we sit almost outdoors, the bodywork sustainably supports this sound effect. The Morgan is the number one V8 soundmaster. And lack of proper body and the undisputed windmaster. Another nice feature of the Morgan is the clear view to the front hood, fenders and headlights, which point the way the driver sitting further back. When driving briskly, they bob up and down in unison with the front end. Hot air with sweet-tasting gas  aroma flows out of the side slits of the hood and threatens to completely anesthetize the enthusiastic driver.

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For a classic from the 30s with almost unchanged chassis, the road-holding of the Morgan is amazingly good and the performance of the V8 has grown in every situation. The rigid rear axle can be perfectly controlled, because you sit directly on it. The brakes have with the Plus 8, the body is partly supported by a wooden scaffolding made of ash wood, an easy life.

The compact V8 brought little more weight on the front axle than the previously used four-cylinder – but twice as much power. Which one of the three V8 convertibles one should choose now, depends strongly on the own desires and conceptions. Most classic car fans will therefore very unerringly discover the favorite object of their desire for themselves. What unites all three, however, are the powerful V8 engines, with which you can swim in the front even in modern road traffic.

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The encounter with the three open V8 musketeers was a lot of fun and revealed in a direct comparison their very specific characters: the extrovert 70s late hippie Camaro, the ultra-luxurious luxury liner 450 SL and finally the V8-doped retro roadster Morgan Plus 8. All three in a garage is heaven on earth.