1996 Mercedes-Benz SL320 - Review

Words: Rob Scorah

With low miles and a good history, this may prove a neat investment as well as a capable GT. Rob Scorah drives it.

The fortunes of Mercedes’ Nineties R129 SL are starting to turn.

They’re holding their value better and their chiselled angularity is beginning to look classic rather than just older. It helps too if the colour scheme is as spot-on as this one’s Tourmaline Green over almond leather with walnut inlays.

In 20 years it’s done just 34,957 miles and, luckily for the mechanicals, that mileage has been pretty evenly distributed throughout the car’s life, as the main dealer and specialist-stamped history shows.

Shut lines are as far from the factory and blue-green paintwork is in excellent condition,with a polishing-swirl-free, high-gloss finish. Indicator lenses are clear (post-’94 US style) and the eight-hole alloys are virtually spotless. All four wear thick-treaded Michelin Pilot HXs.

Blemishes are trivial – very tiny chips on the corners of the detached roof and a scuff to the drivers’ door edge. That’s it.

If anything, the interior is better than the outside – which is some achievement. Even though the leather and carpets are of a light colour, they’re virtually spotless and show no discolouration or fading. The walnut too has a deep gloss and the lacquer is chip – and scratch - free. Usefully, the car comes with a set of Mercedes over-carpets and a wind deflector. It’s also fitted with the twin rear seats.

Predictably, and very pleasingly, the convertible drives as well as it looks. After cleaning the textbook engine bay and finding clean, correct-level fluids in all departments, it’s no surprise that the straight-six fires up immediately and runs without any rattles or whines.

The transmission is obviously also in good order, coupling smoothly and pulling the car away cleanly. Shifts are prompt and seamless in Sport mode, holding the gears a little longer under acceleration, and suitably laissez-faire in ‘E’ mode.

The SL320 lacks the low-down muscle of the V8 but offers almost every other aspect of a fine touring machine. A notable attribute of this example is that SL characteristic of tank-like unburstability. Occupants are shielded from bumps and potholes, and nothing in the suspension or interior squeaks or groans. There may be slightly more wind noise on the driver’s side (with the hardtop on), but you have to be concentrating to notice it. The only real criticism I could muster over a long drive was that, on occasions when I wanted the top down, the sky went cloudy.

If you’re really looking for a push-on grunt or are determined to get into fights with Porsche 928s, buy one of the V-engined models. If you want all of the other SL virtues in a good-looking, well-sorted car, this one really is the canny choice.

Choose your R129 SL

  • Styled by Bruno Sacco, the R129 takes over from the R107 in 1989. The new wedge shape offers far better aerodynamics, while the car is packed with electronics and innovations. Multi-link rear suspension replaces the previous swing-axle set-up. Safety is greatly enhanced; a pop-up roll bar would deploy in the event of the car turning over.
  • Initially three engines are offered: 3.0 12v and 3.0 24v sixes, and 5.0 litre V8. In 1993 the range is augmented by the 394bhp V12 SL600 and a six-pot 2.8-litre, SL320 replaces the 3.0-litre.
  • R129’s first main facelift came in 1995. There are subtle modifications to vents and mouldings, the V8 and V12 are given a five-speed autobox and a panoramic glass roof is offered.
  • 1998 sees the introduction of electronic stability control and new engines (thoigh in the same capacities). Softer Nappa leather replaces the perforated seat covering.
  • In July 2001 the R129 is replaced by the R230 after more than 204,000 examples are built.

Specification

  • 1996 Mercedes-Benz SL320
  • Price £14,900
  • Engine 3199cc, in-line six-cylinder dohc
  • Power 231bhp @ 5600rpm
  • Torque 232lb ft @ 3750rpm
  • Performance top speed 149mph, 0-60mph 8.2sec
  • Fuel consumption 25mpg
  • Length 4500mm
  • Width 1812mm