The Mercedes SL first appeared in 1971 but really came in to its own with the new-shape cars which were released in October 1989, known as the 500SL, 300SL-24 and 300SL. The entire range soon sold out the world over and low-mileage cars became more expensive than brand new ones, such was the public's demand. The 500 was a V8 5 litre and the 300 a straight-six-cylinder three litre model. The '24' indicates a more powerful multi-valve engine.
A 2.8 litre version was added to the range in 1993 as well as a 3.2 litre engine, replacing the 300SL and 300SL-24.
In 1993, new six-cylinder engines were released and the range became known as the SL600, SL500, SL320 and SL280.
1998 saw a host of exterior and interior revisions including the introduction of the superior V6 engines from Mercedes' E class range. In late 2000 a Special Edition SL was released and in 2002 the range was replaced with a new generation.
The new range consisted of two powerful V8 cars, the Mercedes SL500 and the SL55 AMG. In 2003, the entry-level V6 SL350 and the SL600 V12 were added. The mighty SL65 AMG followed soon after.
2006 saw a series of changes such as a new front bumper and a smartened-up interior. The SL500 and SL350 were also made more powerful.
The whole range was relaunched again in 2008, now the 5th generation. This range was now made up of the SL 63 AMG, the 670 bhp SL 65 AMG Black and the SL 300.
Bang for your buck
1989-2002 cars are packed full of gadgets with great build quality and crash safety. Its party-trick is its automatic soft-top.
2002-2008 models improved on its predecessor's good looks and the automatic roof now lowers or lifts in just 16 seconds.
2008-2012 cars featured an Intelligent Light System, twin powerdomes and gill-style outlets on each front wing. They also had 310 litres of luggage space which becomes 206 litres with the top down. The build quality is even better than the 2002-2008 car.
What you'll pay
Early used Mercedes 300SL cars for sale are available for as little as £3,000 and around £4,000 for a 300SL-24. An N-plated 1996 600SL will set you back around £11.500 which is a tad cheaper than its original price tag of £102,000.
A 2002 SL500 with around £65,000 miles on the clock will be around £18,300 and a 2008 SL350 of similar mileage about £25,000. An equivalent SL500 will be approximately £32,000. The excellent SL 63 AMG starts at around £45,000.
What to check
With 1989-2008 cars you should check for oil leaks, avoid manual transmissions at all costs and always look for a full service history. Check all of the electronic gadgets such as windows, air con and central locking. Check the condition of the roof as replacements are very expensive.
From 2008 onwards most glitches were ironed out but do check the ESP and the sat nav. Apart from that, there are no real issues.
Replacement parts aren't cheap, if we look at the 2008 SL500 for example, a full exhaust system is around £2,000, an alternator £300 and a starter motor around £220.
How it drives
When the 1989 SL first appeared on the market its handling was a revelation and they still hold up well now. 2002 cars were cleverer, quicker and cleaner that their predecessor and are a fantastic drive. Many drivers prefer this 4th generation to the later 5th. Remember though – always choose an automatic, the manual transmission is slow and clunky. The post 2008 SL 350 had an upgraded 315 bhp engine and can reach 60 miles per hour in just 6 seconds. The flagship SL 65 AMG packs an awesome 612 bhp.
The SL now weighs a mighty 1,800kg and is built more for straight line speed than cornering. The suspension is more than adequate and the Direct Steer system combines cleverly with speed-sensitive power steering. This means that extreme manoeuvres whilst at speed now require only a flick of the wrist.
Overall, the approved used Mercedes SL range for sale is a bit of a classic and the used market holds plenty of bargains. They go forever and are unlikely to have been ragged half to death.