Mercdes Benz SLís 1972 - 1989

W 107 Body Style

The 107 chassis was the longest running body style for SL roadsters.  Introduced to the US in 1972 (1971 in Europe), MBZ used this body until 1989 when it was replaced with the 129 chassis.

The US introduction of the first 107 based roadster, the 350 SL, caused confusion.  In the past, MBZ had named cars for their engine size.  Accordingly, the 350 SL was introduced in Europe the year before with a 3.5 liter V 8 engine.  But when MBZ brought the car to the US in 1972, it was equipped with a larger  4.5 liter engine and named 350 SL 4.5.  To end the confusion, MBZ renamed the roadster to 450 SL in 1973.

In addition to the three US models (450 SL, 380 SL and 560 SL), the American market is flooded with  imports from Europe.  Particularly during the mid 1980's, thousands of European 500 SL's were imported. In addition, many 280 SL's and European 350 SL's (3.5 liter engine) with the 107 body can be found in North America. Most of the imports have been retrofitted to American safety standards (for example larger bumpers) and emission regulations.

There is a popular Road and Track article on 107 SL's on the the web, several people have it on their sites.  I copied the article from Greg Frank's Mercedes 107 Roadster Home page (check his pages out - great SL info), but left out the tables.  If you are looking to buy a 560 SL, you may also want to look at my list of dealerships in the SF Bay area and my checklist for evaluating 560 SLís.

Mercedes Benz 450 SL     (first generation 10/1971  - 1974)

The 450 SL (and the 350 SL 4.5) was the first SL with the 107 body type introduced to the US.  After 8 years of SL's with the W113 body, the newly designed model got significant press coverage.   "Mercedes Benz SLs & SLCs" from Brooklands Books (ISBN 1855200104) is a collection of  reprints of the initial road tests.  Interesting reading, even though many of these road tests are from European magazines and review the European models.  The 66,298 450 SL's built between 1971 and 1980 significantly differed according to the model year

The picture below is of one of the rare 350 SL 4.5 that were the first 107's to reach the American market.  Like the very early 450 SL's, this 350 4.5 has the more decorative small bumpers. 

1974     450 SL

he 1972 - 1974  450 SL's could take leaded or unleaded gasoline as they were lacking catalytic converters.  Early 450 SL models (before 1977) also have manual climate controls, allowing the driver and passenger to adjust heating or cooling separately.  Like the Pagoda  SL's, the 1972 - 1974  450 SL had steel wheels with hub caps painted in the color of the hardtop.

Engine Type

cast-iron ohc V 8

Engine Size

4,520 cc

Engine Prefix

107.044

Chassis Prefix

117.982

Transmission

three speed automatic

Horsepower

195 @ 5,000 rpm (72 - 73)

190 @ 5,000 rpm ( 1974 )

Torque, lb-ft

279 @ 3200 rpm

0 - 60 mph

10.5

Top speed

124 mph

Fuel consumption

15 mpg

Weight

3,670 lb

Mercedes Benz 450 SL     (second generation 1975  - 1976)

The 450 SL's horsepower continued to decline, in 1975 it dropped down to 180 hp. In  1976, CIS fuel injection replaced the earlier electronic injection. MBZ also introduced standard cruise control in 1976.  But the big change in 1975 was the addition of catalytic converters.  SL's could no longer take leaded gasoline.  The converters in the 1975 - 1976 models tend to cause vapor lock because they generated heat in the engine compartment where airflow is restricted.  The heat generated by the converters also tends to fry wiring and vacuum lines. Many experts suggest to avoid 1975 - 1976 SL's.

1976   450 SL

Engine Type

cast-iron ohc V 8

Engine Size

4,520 cc

Engine Prefix

107.044

Chassis Prefix

117.985

Transmission

three speed automatic

Horsepower

180 @ 5000 rpm

Torque, lb-ft

279 @ 3200 rpm

0 - 60 mph

11

Top speed

112 mph

Fuel consumption

16.5 mpg

Weight

3,780 lb

Mercedes Benz 450 SL     (third generation 1977  - 1980)

The most significant change in 1977 was that MBZ finally moved the catalytic converters back beneath the floor to help preventing the vapor lock problem and to reduce the heat in the engine compartment.  In addition, the 1980 model is using the air-conditioning to cool fuel fed to the engine.

In 1977 the 450 SL got the more complex Automatic Climate Control (ACC Type 1) systems, which tends to be broken in most used 450 SL's today.  The climate control system was not replaced until 1982.    Another change in 1977 was that the battery moved into the trunk. In 1980, the last year of the 450 SL, horsepower declined to 160

Engine Type

cast-iron ohc V 8

Engine Size

4,520 cc

Engine Prefix

107.044

Chassis Prefix

117.985

Transmission

three speed automatic

Horsepower

180 @ 4,750 rpm ( 77 - 78)

160 @ 4,200 rpm (1980)

Torque, lb-ft

279 @ 3,200 rpm (77 - 78)

230 @ 2,500 rpm (1980)

0 - 60 mph

11

Top speed

112 mph

Fuel consumption

16.5 mpg

Weight

3,780 lb

1979   450 SL  (wheels not standard)

One automotive reviewer described these last 450 SLís as the pinnacle of the old, trusty iron engines.  Among all 66,298 SL's produced between 1972 and 1980, the 1978 and 1979 models are probably the best buy. The engines last almost forever and the 1978 - 1979 models have 20 horses more under the hood  than the 1980 model.

Mercedes Benz 380 SL     (1981  - 1985)

10 years after the first W107 was introduced, MBZ replaced the aging 450 SL with a new, updated 380 SL.  The aluminum block M 116 - 3.8 l - V8 engine made the car 110 lb lighter than the 450SL.  Another 90 lb were shed off through the alluminum hood and smaller changes.  Overall, the car put about 180 lb less on the weight scale than the 450 SL.  In addition to the new engine and reducing the SL's weight, the four-speed automatic of the 380 SL replaced the 450's old three-speed transmission.

1982 380 SL (wheels not standard)

Changes in the 380 SL

1981: Introduction of the 380SL with 3.8 liter, 155 bhp, all-alloy V-8 and 4-speed automatic introduced to U.S. market. Electric window lifts are standard.

1983: Recalibrated engine and transmission for improved performance and fuel economy.

1984: Switch from single-row to twin-row timing chain.

1985: ABS became standard; driver-side airbag was optional.

Engine Type

sohc V 8

Engine Size

3,839 cc

Engine Prefix

107.045

Chassis Prefix

116.960  (1981)                  116.962  (1982 - 1985)

Transmission

four speed automatic

Horsepower

155 @ 4,750 rpm

Torque, lb-ft

196 @ 2,750 rpm

0 - 60 mph

11.5

Top speed

110 mph

Fuel consumption

16 - 22 mpg

Weight

3,495 lb

Mercedes Benz 560 SL     (1986  - 1989)

When MBZ released the 380 SL, a lot of automotive writers criticized that the  chassis was not updated and called for a new model.  Everybody was expecting a newly designed SL to be only a year away.  But when MBZ released the 560 SL in 1986, it was still based on the 107 chassis.   Designing a new SL chassis was just not on the top of MBZ agenda.

The old 107 was visually updated through an airdam in the front and new alloy  wheels, most of them chrome finished.  New US safety regulations forced MBZ to place a third brake light on the trunk lid.  The 1986 - 1987 560 SL's have the brake light mounted in the middle of the trunk, the 1988 -  1989 SL's on the edge. The brake light of the later 560 SL's is about 50% smaller compared to the '86 and '87 models. 

But MBZ won critiques over with technical updates on the 560 SL.  First of all,  as the name indicates, the car came with a 5.6 liter V 8 engine, putting an end to the under powered performance of the 380 SL.  The 560 SL has 227 hp and accelerates from 0-60 mph in just 7.5 seconds (compared to about 11.5 seconds for the 380 SL). 

To improve handling, MBZ added a new double wishbone rear suspension and anti-squad  torque compensation ("Koppelachse"). These improvements and the larger wheels (from 6.5X14 to 7X15) keep the car as steady as a rock, even when taken into a sharp curve at high speed.  Because of these improvements,  560 SL's also don't "hang" in the back as so many older 450 SL's.

On the 560 SL, leather upholstery, ABS (introduced in 1985 on the 380 SL), alarm and a driver side airbag were standard.  MBZ tried to throw as many things into the car as it possibly could, trying to cover over the fact that the 107 chassis was already 15 years old.  The 560 SL is probably the most  desirable 107 SL.  The increased power and the superior handling make it the best daily driver among the 107 SL's.  The 560 SL is the pinnacle of 107 development.  One automotive writer wrote in 1986 that the 560  SL is an example of the German obsession to get things right - it took them 15 years, but they got there.

Engine Type

all-alloy SOHC V 8 (M117)

Engine Size

5,547 cc

Engine Prefix

117.967

Chassis Prefix

107.048

Transmission

four speed automatic

Horsepower

227 hp

Torque, lb-ft

279 @ 3,250

0 - 60 mph

 7.5

Top speed

137 mph

Fuel consumption

16 - 22 mpg

Weight

3,780 lb

Buying a 560 SL 

There is a large number of used 560 SL's available in North America, most of them in rather good condition. I have been monitoring offers in Silicon Valley newspapers and on the web from Fall 1998 to Spring 1999.  Whenever I found a 560 SL I was interested in, I could go back to my price list and compare if the offer was a good deal.  

 I also composed a list of dealerships in the SF Bay area which offered used SL's and called them on a weekly basis to see if they had new inventory.  I ended up purchasing my SL from Veracom in San Mateo.  My experience with this dealership was very good.

Finally, I put together a checklist for 560 SL's.  This is just a starting point, but even if the SL you are looking at passes this list, you should still have it inspected by an authorized MB dealer. An inspection costs only a few hundred dollars and is well worth the money.

H o m e