RAC Cars News


Farewell To The SL

By raccars Published

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After more than 60 years in production, Mercedes is to replace the iconic SL grand tourer and roadster with the new S-Class Cabriolet. After a career spent carrying celebrities, including Hollywood and real life royalty, the SL has become a casualty of Mercedes-Benz's rationalisation of its product line up, which includes simplifying its naming structure. It's unlikely the SL's replacement will ever live up to the glamour of the original.

The first 300SL hit forecourts in 1954, a curvy coupe with gullwing doors. After the Second World War, Mercedes effectively had to start from scratch, and did so in spectacular style by including the 300SL in its line up. By 1957, there was also a 300SL roadster. It borrowed heavily from the brand's W194 racer, using lightweight construction techniques and the most modern technology available at the time. If your budget couldn't stretch to the sublime but expensive 300SL, Mercedes also offered a slower 190SL entry level model.

In 1963, Mercedes rationalised the SL range and reduced the line up to convertibles only. Enter the 230SL with a 2.3 litre engine, the 250SL with a 2.5 litre engine and a 280SL with, believe it or not, a 2.8 litre. This generation of SL, codenamed W113, ran from 1963 to 1971 and featured a more angular design than the original car and was available with a removable hardtop.

Mercedes followed a similar formula when updating the model range for the Seventies with the R107 generation. This time the engine range was based around a series of V8s, with the model designations 350SL for a 3.5 litre unit, 450SL for a 4.5 litre unit and so on for the 280SL (the only straight six in the bunch) and the later 380SL and 500SL. These SLs remain elegant and smooth performers and are very desirable classics today. They are also one of Mercedes-Benz's longest running model ranges, second only to the G-Wagen.

However in 1989, it was eventually replaced by the R129 generation SL. Mercedes sensibly went for evolution over revolution, modernising the appearance slightly to keep up with automotive fashions and adding lots of new comfort and convenience features and a modernised engine range. This generation saw the introduction of the automatic roll bar but also, most notably, the first Mercedes to wear an AMG badge. The SL73 AMG was brutally powerful, with a 525bhp V12 that later on saw service in the Pagani Zonda. With a production run of only 85 models, the SL73 AMG is now a rare beast indeed. There were also SL55 AMG, SL60 AMG and SL70 AMG variants, all built in small numbers.

The next update came in 2001, with the fifth or R230 generation. This time a retractable hard top was employed and once again, spectacular AMG versions enlivened what was this time a rather limited model range. This time the cosmetics updates were significant but with auto trends moving so fast, by 2008 the SL line up was ready for revision. Mercedes stopped short of a complete replacement but the styling was changed, to follow the brand's design language of the time as seen on other models. At the same time, the AMG model SLs were getting more and more outrageous, culminating in the Black Series.

2012 saw the arrival of the last of the SLs, this time built in aluminium and in a larger but sleeker form and more powerful but more efficient than ever.

The S-Class Cabriolet doesn't have an easy task ahead of it. It's good looking enough but more elegant and dignified than its rather aggressively styled predecessor. As a proper four seater, it's bigger than the SL and the focus is on luxury rather than performance - nonetheless, there will be AMG versions. It's a rather wonderful car, but it's not really an SL...

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