This car was a huge success for 17 straight years for two distinct reasons. For one, it’s easily one of the prettiest cars ever. The sensuous lines of the front end flowed back through a luxurious cockpit ending with a trunk lid so level you could play ping-pong on it. It’s a design almost fifty years old that can still shame almost anything for sale today. Timeless, I think they call it.
Two, it had virtually no competition at its price point! For the doctors and lawyers and TV sitcom stars who swore by these, there was really very little to shop it against. Less expensive, and thus less desirable, were things like the SAAB 900 and BMW 325i ragtops. The 900 was one of the coolest cars ever, but it was the kind of vehicle eventual SL purchasers were more likely to buy for their daughter to take to college. The same with the 3 series–it was just not quite prestigious enough, plus it had all the elegance of exactly what it was–a boxy coupe with the top sawed off. Above the Benz, you could spend a lot more money and get a Rolls-Royce or Ferrari, but a Corniche was hardly the most practical way to run around town, and a Mondial Cabriolet was probably a bit too vulgar for the country club besides being an atrocious value considering it possessed one of the most underwhelming powertrains in Ferrari’s history.
The SL’s one close competitor was the Jaguar XJS convertible and while that was a worthy adversary in the looks department for damn sure, it was also a car that was designed and built to properly run for only two or three miles at a time. That sort of unreliability simply wouldn’t do, so the advantage went to Germany, and Mercedes-Benz cranked these things out like Chupa Chups for almost two decades.
This incarnation of the SL bowed out in 1989 and its immediate successor looked like a flabby dowager next to it. And that was only the start of an inexorable downward spiral–SL design has only gotten worse with each subsequent generation. The current model has all the sex appeal of Borat in his singlet.
Fortunately, there are still a lot of these R107 models around and they are still awfully nice to look at. Living in sunny California, I’m not sure how many more years I can conceivably live without a late-eighties Navy Blue 560SL with the Palomino interior. Hemmings.com awaits!