Hello, Carl here, founder and CEO of The R129 Co. You’ve decided to take the plunge then…Excellent news. So, which version of the Mercedes R129 SL should you buy? Allow me to wade in...
Most R129ers respect and back their own cars to the hilt; singling out the best is of course a highly subjective exercise. Every R129 is a superb flagship of automotive engineering, the standard of which we will never see again.
Nevertheless, here are my own ramblings based on the countless R129 SLs I have owned over the years and how they stack up against one another.
1998 SL 500 Special Edition
It's powerful, and has proven itself to be a great road and track day car. Tougher electronically and mechanically than pre-1996 cars and with good diagnostic feedback; especially useful for reading values directly from the engine and hydraulic roof system. This makes fault-finding pretty straightforward compared with older cars.
Keep the timing chain tensioner maintained as for some reason the chain is more likely to jump than on the earlier 119972 engine.
1994 SL 500
It's got a purist interior with a more classic feel… styling wise, it's a tough-looking rugged car and looks great with period AMG wheel options. The throttle body cable and engine wiring harness will need renewing if they haven’t been done already.
The air mass sensor performance is critical, and you must keep the ignition system tip top.
1991 500 SL
Motor Car Studio
A monster of an engine brimming with character. This was a significant departure from the old M117 found in the previous generation SL; the M119 marked the start of a hugely important decade for Mercedes, kicking the R107 into the ditch along with the other tractors and hitting the 90s with a bang, and huge grunt.
But, and it’s a big but - this car must be tuned well - and that’s the tricky bit. There aren’t many specialists on the KE Jetronic fuel injection system out there and the engine vacuum systems need a care package comprising one full time carer and a state registered nurse on call.
300 SL & 300 SL-24V
Classic Auto Mall
These are torquey and gutsy cars. Fun to drive like a reasonable person as you don’t feel like squeezing the trigger every time you hit the straight! My pick would be the 300-24V - a little extra oomph never goes amiss.
SL 320 Straight 6
Ideal Classic Cars
It does it all. A plenty fast tourer with on the button reliability.
SL 320 V6 & SL 500 V8
The last generation. Slightly annoying colour schemes on these cars, and they often have floppy and grubby door cards. But, no doubt, it still presents as a modern car.
The M113 and M112 engines are superb - unbreakable! - and the parts are cheaper. These are the most usable R129s for daily use but the engine doesn’t quite seem to match the chassis in its noise and character.
1995 SL 600
Phew… A piece of history - but unnecessary! Harder to keep running than the Zambezi.
1998 SL 600
A superior choice for the SL 600 in every way, with the best part of a decades' refinements.
I hope that's useful for some of you. Once you've made your mind up, remember to come to The R129 Co for all your parts…
Good luck, Carl.
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