Classic Mercedes Experience for a Pittance – Making a case for the SLC

April 29th, 2013

Most interesting US model: smog exempt, small bumper, non-alloy wheel 1973.

Most interesting US model: smog exempt, small bumper, non-alloy wheel 1973.

The 450SLC: Worth a look

Here’s the puzzle: You want some sort of collectible Mercedes but it needs to fit a seemingly impossible set of parameters – room for four, connected with the classic era of Mercedes (1973 or earlier), sleek, two doors, comfortable, and fun to drive. Some racing heritage would be nice too and it needs to be $10k or less, preferably much less. Impossible? Not really.

I nominate the generally maligned SLC for this seemingly impossible mission. Anyone who has followed my writing over the years knows I’ve always been a fan of the SLC or, I should say, healthy unmolested pre-1974 and post 1978 SLCs. The middle ’70s examples suffered lower power outputs and were fitted with the crude thermal reactors in lieu of proper catalytic converters. Yes, most of the 31,739 US models constructed from 1972-1980 are throwaways due to abject neglect, but there are some gems to be found with patience.

All US models featured leather. Interior quality was superb from Mercedes.

All US models featured leather. Interior quality was superb from Mercedes.

Surprisingly roomy rear seats with  shoulder belts expand SLC's usefulness.

Surprisingly roomy rear seats with shoulder belts expand SLC's usefulness.

US models grew 5 mph bumpers in 1974. Alloys were optional. This is a 1978 in Silver Blue metallic. Wheels have been polished.

 

Stretching the SL

Essentially an SL from the rear edge of the door forward, the SLC acquired an additional 13.9 inches in wheelbase to accommodate a perfectly usable rear seat. Entering the rear seats is slightly awkward – requiring you to step under the front seat belts – but once seated you find plenty of headroom and adequate leg room with an average size driver at the wheel. Kids are no problem and fit perfectly. I borrowed a few to check this out.

“The SLC was raced more than the SL by the factory and AMG. Mercedes campaigned full rally prepared 500SLCs in the International Rally Championship in 1979 and 1980, finishing 4th in the 1980 season.”

The SLC is no heavier than the SL and with a 14% longer wheelbase behaves so much nicer on the highway, exhibiting none of the SLs short wheelbase choppiness. With healthy engine/subframe mounts, a properly adjusted steering box and taut steering linkage, an SLC is a superb, precise, long distance cruiser. Every US model was trimmed in leather and sadly most SLCs today feature serious leather deterioration, a deal breaker on these cars due to the expense of interior restoration. The fit and finish of the interiors and overall build quality of these cars was fabulous.

The design is a matter of personal taste and I feel it’s aging well. No, there is no top to remove but with all the windows down and sunroof open, the cabin is light and airy. I’m not quite sure of the rationale behind the often flaking silver painted slotted vents occupying the rearmost corner of the each rear window area. Adding some bulk to the rear pillars may have been the goal.

2,769 240hp, five liter SLC 5.0s were constructed for Europeans during 1977-1981

2,769 240hp, five liter SLC 5.0s were constructed for Europeans during 1977-1981.

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Factory prepared SLC during South African rally.

Factory prepared SLC during South African rally.

On the Track

Did I mention racing heritage? The SLC was raced more than the SL by the factory and AMG. Mercedes campaigned full rally prepared 500SLCs in the International Rally Championship in 1979 and 1980, finishing 4th in the 1980 season. AMG compaigned a full road race prepared SLC in Europe in the late ’70s. The rally/race cars were based on the rare (2,769 constructed) 5.0 liter alloy engined 450SLC 5.0/500SLC production models. With alloy hood and deck lid, these European delivery only SLCs are rare in the US and generally overpriced.

Brutal AMG prepared SLC campaigned in Europe during 1978.

Brutal AMG prepared SLC campaigned in Europe during 1978.

Here are some suggestions if you want to look at SLCs:

  • Focus on early small bumper smog exempt cars (1973) or 1978-1980 models.
  • If you’re in a smog state, have a potential candidate smogged BEFORE you buy.
  • Euro 5.0 liter cars are cool but rare and often overpriced.
  • Scrutinize any Euro car carefully for rust.
  • All issues relevant to SLs apply – educate yourself via our Research Database
  • Immaculate interiors a must as leather/dash replacement is prohibitive.
  • Flaking plastic side window vents very tedious to correct.
  • Ignore cars with massive needs, even if they are close to free!

Roy Spencer, editor MercedesHeritage.com

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