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The R129 V-12 SL, A future classic?

Looking at the 1993-2002 12 cylinder SLs

 

April 2007

 

 

The utter silence was really quite eerie as I motored at 95 mph down California's gorgeous Highway One in one of my favorite SLs, the R129 chassis SL600 of 1995. Gently rolling the throttle toward the floor, this SL surged as if pushed by a massive electric motor, issuing not a further sound but simply increasing the blur of redwoods lining this glorious stretch of road.

 

First year of a V-12 SL, the 1993 600SL

 

Effortless only begins to explain this car's ability to consume vast amounts of roadway, combining the opulence and silence of a Bentley with the surefootedness and build quality of Mercedes-Benz. This is the ultimate personal automotive indulgence and today it comes for a comparative pittance, about $19,000.

 

Why then, I ask myself, do I have such a difficult time selling the V-12 SLs? And what does the future have in store for these unique cars?

 

This particular 1995 SL600 sold new for about $131,000 to one of the wealthiest commercial real estate developers in the San Francisco Bay area, an original owner profile common to the V-12 SL. Original owners of V-12s were (and still are) titans of industry, CEOs, and heavyweights that have income and net worth far above the generally high levels of the average Mercedes-Benz owner. Rising above their peers often has been a lifelong ambition of these (overwhelmingly) male owners and in 1993 Mercedes-Benz deftly created a further expression of their feeling of exclusivity and superiority, their V-12 range of cars.

 

1997 SL600 Sport

 

Coinciding with a corporate philosophy to rush up market to escape the encroaching Lexus brand, this era of SLs reflected a cost-no-object mindset that resulted in some of the most lavish, complicated, and infuriating Mercedes-Benz automobiles ever constructed.

 

Let's look at the numbers for 1995.
SL500
SL600
Cost (POE):
$91,675
$123,175

 

It cost about $32,000 to tell the world you were an extraordinarily successful and discriminate individual. And just what did this 32 grand purchase? It purchased a slightly flabbier but significantly more powerful and refined SL.

 

 
SL500
SL600
Weight:
4165
4455
HP/Torque:
315/347
389/420

 

But what is the difference in cost today between the run of the mill SL500 and the oh-so-special SL600 of 1995? About $900. Oh, and by the way, your $900 also buys beautiful full leather interior with elegant hand stitching, adaptive damping system (ADS), additional wood, V-12 gearshift knob, and…well, yes, potentially serious maintenance and reconditioning costs.

 

You see, while the titan of industry had the funds to pay the 123 grand for the new car, he also had the funds to properly service the car. The chain of good care was often broken when the titan sells the car to a well intending enthusiast who just can't or won't address correctly some of the mechanical issues that can crop up with these cars.

 

Due to the tight packaging of the V-12 drivetrain, some service/repair operations are just, plainly speaking, a bitch. Technicians don't like these cars because a V-12 can ruin a techs otherwise placid day of performing “E” services on the ubiquitous E class cars. Comparative costs between the same operations on a V-8 and a V-12 reveal why you can ruin a Mercedes mechanic's day. Time is the issue, the V-12 simply requiring more of it for virtually any under hood operation. This becomes clear if you're ever able to see the V-12's engine/transmission assembly sitting on the floor of a shop. It all seems to be roughly the size of a Ford Focus.

 

Valve cover gasket replacement:
SL500
SL600
1.7 hours
7.6 hours

 

The lesson here is to buy a car with bulletproof maintenance history and recent services by a respected facility. With a generally under stressed drivetrain, a well looked after V-12 should run forever. If you need further fortitude to consider a V-12, consider the other alternatives if you wish to join the rarified club of V-12 automobile owners. Compared to the jaw dropping service and repair costs associated with Ferrari and Lamborghini, the V-12 SL is positively frugal. And this ignores the $200k plus acquisition costs for these cars. It's like joining your area's best country club without having to pay the initial fee. With an early SL600, you're in for a song.

 

2001 SL600 Sport

 

 

Driving a V-12 SL is an attitude changing experience. As you effortlessly whoosh by all but the most exotic hardware the street has to offer, you begin to imagine that, well, perhaps I'm a titan after all. An SL600 is simply the most sophisticated, quick, sexy, and understated convertible for the money. While there is the risk of a headache or two, I feel these cars to be the classic example of an enormous amount of car for the money.

 

Do I see a future collectable here? Perhaps, but certainly some years down the road. I would peg an extremely low mileage 1997-2002 SL600 to be a stable if not gently appreciating SL. If you want to pick the rarest and likely the best bet for some interest in years to come, find one of the 100 Silver Arrow SL600s of 2002, the final year of the R129 chassis. All had panorama roofs, unique interior touches, as well as special wheels and the Ultrametallic Silver paint we see on most of the 2005 SLRs. These Silver Arrows closed an era which saw the SL reach new heights of power and technical sophistication.

 

Roy Spencer, editor www.ourSL.com

 

Ultra rare 2002 SL600 Silver Arrow
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