By the 1970s, any car-maker seeking success in the prestige arena had to focus on the massive United States market. For Mercedes-Benz that involved building a sporty model with a V8 engine and that car – or sequence of cars – was the W107 Series.
W107s came initially with 3.5 and 4.5-litre V8 engines, in short or long-wheelbase versions and with a look of determined opulence. This was a more conservative design than most M-B shapes but that attribute would help W107 derivatives age slowly and remain in production for longer than other Mercedes-Benz series.
The 350SL Roadster made its Australian appearance in 1971.At $15,400 it was slightly cheaper than the four-door 350SE sedan and a whopping $5000 less than the long-wheelbase 350SLC version.
Cars for Australian sale were delivered with factory air-conditioning and power steering but Roadster owners missed out on the SLC’s electric windows. A hefty addition to the options list was the SL hardtop which came with a pulley system and special storage frame.
Buyers who chose the bigger-engined 450SL would have struggled to notice any performance advantage. Early cars were rated at 167kW but almost immediately the bigger engine’s potential for more power was sapped by various emission-control measures, leaving it with similar output to the 3.5 but slightly more torque.
Massive price increases saw the cost of an SL treble between 1973 and 1980, yet there seemed no lack of customers as each new version came along. Late in 1980 arrived an SL that has remained popular and is now gaining significantly in value. The 3.8-litre 380SL produced less power than the 450, however when hooked to a new four-speed automatic transmission the engine delivered faster response and better fuel economy.
Performance, considering the weight an SL typically carries, was fair enough with 0-100km/h from two-seaters coming in under nine seconds and the heavier SLCs 1.5 seconds slower.
Last of the 107 Series cars was the 560SL. It arrived in 1986 and output was rated at a conservative 182kW, however there was a significant 30 per cent gain in torque over the 3.8-litre.
Some people love the durability of MB-Tex upholstery, while others describe SL seats as resembling an expensive cafeteria chair. Maybe M-B didn’t want its drivers dozing off on long journeys but do give yourself enough time during the test-drive to make an informed judgement.
While prices for 1980s SLs look unlikely to reach original levels (new in 1989 a 560SL cost $183,600), 107 Series values have been climbing steadily and top-quality cars are nudging past $100,000.
The ancient saying; ‘If you need to ask about fuel consumption you can’t afford the car’ certainly rings true for big-engined Benzes. However fuel cost is less relevant now than when these cars were new. 107 Series cars also qualify throughout Australia for Historic or Concessional registration.
Once you decide on a possible car to buy, engage a specialist Mercedes-Benz technician to provide a pre-purchase report. Problems that are might be trivial in other brands can cost significant sums to rectify.
(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)
SMART BUYER’S TROUBLESHOOTING
Cars that have survived 40 years will most likely have been treated to some body repairs along the way and at least one respray. Expert inspection will identify structural problems, but before spending any money, check sills and wheel-arches, panels adjacent to the headlights, the boot lip and windscreen surrounds. Rust in these areas or obvious repairs indicate a car to avoid. Lift the doors to check for hinge wear and look at headlight lenses for cracks. When inspecting a car with a hardtop, insist that the vendor removes and refits it. This ensures it hasn’t been sealed to the car to prevent water entry. While the top is off, erect the soft-top – if there is one – to check for damage to the fabric or frame.
Cylinder head cracks and warping were common to the V8s and often due to poor maintenance and overheating. Those issues will be less prevalent now that cars aren’t exposed to the grind of commuter traffic. Still look for contaminated ‘milky’ oil under the filler cap and oily scum in coolant. Neglected fuel injection systems can cause problems including fires so be wary of a car that blows black smoke, is hard to start from warm or smells of petrol. Virtually all of the 107 Series in the market will be automatics and may feel sluggish when asked to kick-down. If there is noise or shuddering, be wary as repairs can be expensive and replacement transmissions aren’t cheap either.
MERCEDES BENZ 107 SERIES SL
W107 steering isn’t especially sharp but if it feels disconnected or notchy look for power steering rack wear and leaks. The springs work hard and should have been replaced a couple of times in the lifetime of an older car. Worn bushings aren’t costly but replacing collapsed sub-frame mountings (front and rear) entails dismantling and big bills. 380SL versions were the first of the series to offer ABS brakes and these systems are now getting a bit ancient. Where safe to do so, brake sharply to see if the ABS is still operational.
Aged electrics need to be individually checked even before sending a car for professional pre-purchase inspection. Noisy, sluggish window lifts cost a lot to rectify and air-conditioning which blows warm air or none at all is expensive as well. Failed electrics won’t necessarily stop a sale but certainly should shave several thousand dollars off the price. There are trimmers which specialise in Mercedes-Benz and other prestige brands but it is better to spend more on a car with good trim than add thousands to the cost by having what’s there replaced.
NUMBER BUILT: 45,664 (350/450SLC) 184,149 (350/450/380/560SL)
BODY: steel, integrated body/ chassis two-door coupe and convertible
ENGINE: 3499, 3818, 4520, 5547cc V8 with overhead camshaft and fuel injection
POWER & TORQUE: 147kW @ 5800rpm, 323Nm @ 3000rpm (350SL)
PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h 9.3 seconds, 0-400m 17.4 seconds (350SL auto)
TRANSMISSION: five-speed manual, three or four-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Front: Independent with wishbones, coil springs, concentric shock absorbers & anti-roll bar. Rear: Independent with diagonal control arms, coil springs, concentric shock absorbers and anti-roll bar.
BRAKES: disc (f) disc (r) power assisted, some with ABS
TYRES: 185HR/14 radial