Retro review Mercedes SL R129 by Motor Klassik

Mercedes 500 SL R129 review
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With the standard hardtop, the famous Mercedes SL R129 turned out well as roadster and also as a coupe. Motor Klassik magazine tested the 500 SL with 326 HP.

Mercedes-Benz has a lot of famous roadsters like the 500K and the 300 SL, and the SL R129 has its place in this gallery. With a standard hardtop, the Mercedes SL R129 was highly appreciated, both as a roadster and as a coupe. The 500 SL version is a unique showcar. Launched in the spring of 1989, at the Geneva Motor Show, the SL R129 was a car ahead of its time with a lot of technical premieres like the integral seats, the fully electrically operated softop and the wind deflector. Apart from all the comfort features, the SL R129 featured an automatic activation of the folding roll-bar, is ready to jump from behind the wind deflector in case of a rollover crash.

Mercedes 500 SL R129 (4)

The most impressive is the in-house developed hardtop, delivered as a standard feature, together with the softtop. If you press the magic red button near the gear selector, the 34 kg aluminium roof raises about three centimeters above the body and can be taken off by two people.

Mercedes 500 SL R129 (3)

The same red magic button can be used to close or to open the full automatic softtop. The roof system is intelligent and you cannot move the softtop if the hardtop is in the position.

Mercedes 500 SL with a superb V8 with 326 HP

The 5.0 liter V8 has the same displacement with the R107 predecessor, but it was hardly modified: it has 4 valves per cylinder, operated by 4 overhead camshafts and 81 HP more. The 326 HP are hidden under a nice black plastic cover and the two generous side intake pipes show the enormous power, for that era, of the new M119 engine.

The Mercedes SL R129 is so technically advanced for its time and, by comparison, the SL R107 seemed to be already an oldtimer in 1989. Auto Motor und sport editor Gert Hack ruled once: “The SL R129 is a technology trendsetter and an universal sports car, in one word, a fascinating car”.

Sacco’s masterpiece

The SL R129 is, according to many opinions, the best creation of the famous Mercedes designer Bruno Sacco. The profile designed by Bruno Sacco is really timeless. Surprising for those times, the R129 profile is not distracted by any chrome inserts or plastic panels on the sides.

The sketch drawn by Bruno Sacco R129 is truly timeless. Even after more than a quarter of a century, the car is visually fresh.

With a width of 1.81 meters and electrically operated front seats from the switches placed traditionally on the door, the Mercedes SL R129 offers good comfort in the comfortable seats with integrated seatbelts.

Mercedes 500 SL R129 (8)

With the hardtop mounted, the SL R129 offers the comfort of a Mercedes saloon and the interior is very nicely made like in a handcrafted style. The leather upholstery makes a good combination with the wood inserts and the alcantara used for the bottom part of the dashboard, side sills and carpets. The SL R129 cockpit is like a luxury lounge and perfectly fits the comfortable suspension settings. The steering works smoothly, but it is far from what we would expect from sports car.

But we can appreciate the relatively small turning circle of only 10.6 meters and the impressive power of 326 HP, which allows not only a top speed of 250 km/h, but also a sovereign – still today – driving pleasure.

In the cities, the SL R129 rolls completely relaxed in dense traffic at no more than 2,000 revs. Even for that time, the automatic gearbox was set for maximum fuel economy and switched to highest gear at cruising speeds, but could quickly downshift two gears, if you pushed the pedal. And from 4,000 rpm, the variable distribution for intake closed the intake valves 20 grade later and the engine effortlessly reached 6,000 rpm or even more. Then the gentle giant coupe turns into a genuine muscle car and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in only 6.5 seconds.

Mercedes 500 SL R129 (8)

We now come back to the intelligent roof. In summer, you can use the car with the completely automatic electrohidraulically operated softtop. In only 30 seconds, you can turn the car from a coupe into a cabrio. But unfortunately, the rear windscreen is made of plastic, not of glass. And, in winter, you can put on the hardtop and have the comfort of a saloon.

The SL R129 was a technical milestone and it was not cheap at all. The price was around 150,000 DM. The second hand prices are relatively stable, with 19,000 euros for a car in a good shape, but you can find bargains at around 7,000 euros for cars which need to be revised.

Who understands German, can read the full article on auto-motor-und-sport website.