Classic Mercedes SL roadster turns 50
The model heralded the first time use of a V8 for the brand’s roadsters and it became a household name
Fifty years ago, in April 1971, one of the most iconic Mercedes-Benz cars was launched. The 350 SL was a well-liked model which went on to become a TV star in the hit TV series Dallas as Bobby Ewing’s (a character played by American actor Patrick Duffy) choice wheels. In fact, it gained the “Bobby Ewing” nickname thereafter.
The R107 SL also heralded an important milestone for the range that began in 1952 with the legendary 300 SL, affectionately known as the Gullwing. The R107 became the first SL model to brandish a V8 engine, and the first model with the “R” abbreviation for “roadster.”
It was designed as an open two-seater with a fully retractable fabric top and removable hardtop. Some of the technical highlights outside a 147kW 3,399cc V8 engine included the installation of the fuel tank above the rear axle to protect it in the event of a collision, a new four-spoke safety steering wheel, padded surfaces and deformable elements as a contribution to passive safety.
Its chronological advancements saw the range expand in 1973 with the more powerful 450 SL equipped with a 165kW V8, and a year later in 1974 the six-cylinder 280 SL with 136kW debuted.
In 1980 it received a facelift which saw ABS anti-lock brakes and the 160kW 380 SL replace the 350 SL, and the introduction of the bad-boy 500 SL nameplate with 177kW on tap.
The 500 SL was also fitted with the well-liked black plastic rear spoiler from the SLC Coupé which then wielded a 5L V8 engine. Two years earlier, in 1978, the hit soap opera Dallas made its screen debut on April 2.
January 1982 saw the range get a driver’s airbag and seat belt tensioners as optional extras.
The next buzz happened in 1985 when Mercedes-Benz presented a completely revised model range with improved front suspension, and the entry of the 300 SL with a 138kW 3L six-cylinder engine invoking the ghost of the range’s 300 SL pioneer.
The 420 SL with 160kW also arrived while the 500 SL received a small bump in power to 180kW thanks to a redesigned engine with an electronic ignition system and the Bosch KE-Jetronic electronically controlled mechanical fuel injection system.
Hardly known here in SA, the top model of the R 107 series was the 560 SL with a 5.6L V8 engine. It was reserved for the North America, Japan and Australia markets. The R107 was built between 1971 and 1989. A total of 237,287 units were produced of the model which has become a sought-after classic.