Mercedes-Benz 560 1986 sl
Owner Review

1986 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL review

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The Mercedes R107 was produced from 1971 to 1989 in the same body style but with various engine types. Big Red is a 1986 300SL convertible, which sports the M103 3.0-litre straight 6-cylinder. This engine was used in Australia in many Mercs, such as the 300SE, 300E, 300CE, and 300TE. This engine has proven over time to be very durable, and capable of very high mileage. In 2016, I bought the car in the UK (as the 300SL was never sold in Australia) from the leading SL restorer and seller, the ‘SL Shop’. The final update for the R107 was from 1986-1989 with these cars receiving improved steering, suspension, revised alloy wheels (15 inch!) and a fully galvanized body (wow, rust proofing - I guess it was 1986 though).

Big Red is from a time when we wore big hair and shoulder pads (and that was just the men). The R107 convertible was the quintessential convertible of the 70’s and 80’s (think Hart to Hart, Dallas and Dynasty), when Mercedes-Benz built cars up to a standard, rather than down to a price. Despite its high price it was very popular, with over 235,000 produced over its 18-year run. Australia received the 350SL, 450SL, 380SL and 560SL, though there were variants sold in Europe such as the 280SL, 300SL, 420SL and 500SL.

After importing Big red (a relatively simple process), she had some minor modifications needed for compliance, and I have been enjoying driving her ever since. When I bought her, she had 57,000 miles (verifiable from an extensive history file of maintenance logs and annual M.O.T. certificates), and she now has 62,000 miles (100,000km). Apart from annual servicing, the car has been trouble free. A replaced radiator fan viscous clutch was needed as she was running a little hot. I have sourced a period Becker Grand Prix radio cassette for it, but apart from that the car is standard.

She has no air-con (I don’t miss it) and no airbag, but it does have ABS though. A lot of the UK cars did not have air-con as it was an option (expensive too) back in the day. She has a small back seat with 3-point seat belts, but it is not really usable for anyone older than my 10-year-old daughter

The car drives well for a 34-year-old car. The engine produces 188bhp (140kW). The engine note is great too. The gearing is lower than that of the V8’s, so the engine is always ready to respond. It cruises at 100km/h at 3000rpm. The gearbox is a 4-speed auto, but typical of the Mercs of the day, it starts in second gear, unless you floor it. It has a ‘Sport’ and ‘Economy’ mode - I leave it in Sport, but can’t see any discernible difference. Sport mode does mean it will kick down to first gear.

It is not that heavy (1500kg), the lightness largely due to the lack of electrical tech found in the modern cars. The central locking even runs under air pressure. The steering wheel is massive (no airbag as mentioned, and no radio controls), the seats (houndstooth check cloth) are very springy, yet supportive, and there is lashings of woodgrain as well. The steering is direct, but the ride can be a bit floaty. It is a boulevard cruiser. I thought I would lament not buying a V8 (I test drove a 420SL and a 500SL also), but the more I drive the car, the more I am glad that I chose the 300. Those Merc V8’s of the day were a bit lazy and thirsty, and I prefer the sound of the straight 6. The engine is also lighter than the V8’s, so there's less weight over the front wheels.

The fuel economy is not bad, probably 10 litres per 100 kilometres on the freeway, and 14L/100km city cycle (but I don’t track the consumption). It takes RON95 though. The Brits have had premium fuel in the UK for a long time before we did here. I put a few tanks of RON91 in when I first registered it here, before noticing in the operation manual that it calls for RON95. Ooops. Inside the cabin does feel a bit claustrophobic, though. The windscreen is quite upright, and due to the protruding rear bulkhead, the seats don’t recline. I don’t think it would suit anyone over 190cm tall. I also have to watch parking lots, as the bonnet is quite long. The doors are also really long, so you need room to swing them open wide.

The original soft top is in good condition, and it comes with a removable hardtop. Removal of the hardtop is a two-person job, as it probably weighs about 40kg. I have a stand for the top, and usually remove it in September, and then re-install in April. The soft top is manually operated, and only single ply, so can be a tad noisy at 110km/h. A tool un-latches the windscreen locks and it soon tucks away completely out of sight. The car also has a very generous boot. It is one of those convertibles that I think looks good with the top down, soft top up, or hard top on.

I love the car and enjoy driving it (it is not my daily driver). It puts a smile on my face and gets a lot of compliments. A sports car, it is not. It is not even a Grand Tourer - it is a boulevard cruiser. As there are so few good examples left on the road, the value will steadily increase, especially for rust-free, low-mileage examples. Their value will never reach the dizzy heights of the Gullwing SL or the W113 late 1960’s SL, but that’s okay. The car is on historic plates, and I enjoy the occasional drive with the Mercedes club. I recommend enthusiast car clubs to anyone with hobby car, as the members are a source of invaluable information.