The Best of the Best: R107 & C107, 1971-1989

Tyler Hoover, Richard Simonds, Daniel Stahl

71 Buyers Guide 01.jpgThe R107 and its coupe variant, the C107, form the third generation of the classic Mercedes-Benz SL roadsters. Excellent – and quite affordable – examples can be found with careful shopping.


The Best of the Best: R107 & C107, 1971-1989

Article Tyler Hoover, Specifications Daniel Stahl, Images Daimler Archives


The R107 and its coupe variant, the C107, form the third generation of the classic Mercedes-Benz SL roadsters. Excellent – and quite affordable – examples can be found with careful shopping.  


A time machine has sent you back to 1987 with no chance of return: You decide “greed is good” and exploit your knowledge of Wall Street’s future to become wildly rich. You’ve already ordered watermarked business cards, an 18-karat gold Rolex Presidential and a Motorola portable “brick” phone. Now it’s time to find the perfect car that offers a wind-in-your-hair experience with as many modern features as possible. For 1987, the only car that could possibly fit the bill is the Mercedes-Benz R107-chassis SL.

Attractions of the Model   

Unless you were keen on growing a mullet, it would have been inappropriate to be seen in most American drop-top offerings. The marginally more tasteful options, such as the Chrysler LeBaron and Cadillac Allante, are marred by front-wheel-drive and are pathetically underpowered. The Swedish Saab seems like a decent option, except you don’t want everyone thinking you’re an architect, nor do you want to purchase a BMW and suddenly forget how to use turn signals.

The lack of viable competition made the R107-chassis SL wildly successful. The refinements made during its incredibly long 18-year production run were brought to a marvelous crescendo by the late 1980s. While the 227-horsepower V-8 from the 1986-1989 560SL seems low by today’s standards, in the day it was more than adequate. To put performance in even better perspective, the 560SL was only a few horses away from matching the Ferrari 308 Quattrovalvole. Magnum P.I. wasn’t packing a whole lot either.

Performance is certainly a big reason why the 560SL, produced in the final years of the R107, is currently the most desirable U.S.-spec model. Cosmetic refinements added to minimize the harshness of the oversized U.S.-mandated impact bumpers are another plus. While mint, low-mileage originals can bring very high auction results, higher-mileage cars and less-desirable models from the R107’s long production run can be very affordable, but it’s certainly a minefield.

Reviewing the many year-to-year changes, including details on all eight engines offered in this generation of SLs, is complicated; fortunately there are a variety of good reference books that already cover this. I hope fellow 107 enthusiasts will forgive me for generalizing rather than completely nerding out with information overload on things like ever- changing fuel injection systems. After all, with a buyers guide, the goal is to attract people to understand our sometimes single-minded passion for a particular model.


Unveiled in model year 1972 to replace the iconic W113 SL, this new chassis ushered the Mercedes Sport Light into the modern era. Fully independent rear suspension was a distinct improvement from the earlier chassis, along with the standard V-8 engine.

In 1973, a fixed roof, four-seater version of the SL – the SLC – was introduced on the extended wheelbase C107 chassis, in part to allow Mercedes-Benz to be competitive in long-distance road rallies. Although it was more comfortable and practical than the roadster, the C107 never sold in large numbers. No wind in the hair, I guess.

The 107 evolved with the rapid technological advancements of the 1970s and ’80s, integrating options such as ABS, airbags and a wide range of successively refined power trains as the years rolled by.

The U.S.-bound cars were only offered with the 4.5-liter  V-8 engine, though still badged as SL350s during the first year. The engine would go through extensive year-to-year changes as Mercedes adapted to performance-robbing California and U.S. emissions regulations. It would eventually be replaced by a leaner, cleaner 3.8 V-8 in the 1981 model year. The SLC was also discontinued in 1981 after Mercedes rolled out the larger S-Class Coupe. Despite the step back in engine displacement, the 380SL continued to sell very well until upgraded in 1986 with the far more powerful 5.6-liter 560SL.

With a thriving grey market during most of the 107’s production run, many examples of European spec models were imported to the United States, including a pair of inline 6-cylinder engines with optional manual transmission, as well as an all-aluminum rally-inspired 5.0 V-8. Despite the smaller engine, the Euro-spec 500SL was slightly faster than the 560SL due to a bit more horsepower and weight savings. Compliance with U.S. regulations during importation varied, but most of the European model cars retained the slimmer European-style bumpers, now considered to be more attractive.

Today, the 107 is steadily seeing more appreciation and desirability, especially with earlier SL iterations hitting stratospheric pricing levels. Buying the right 107 example could prove to be a sound investment as this trend seems almost certain to continue.

Reasons to buy a 107

Excellent blend of classic styling with most modern features

Good performance with unparalleled safety features for the era and grand-touring comfort and ride quality

Highly serviceable and generally reliable with excellent parts availability and copious technical resources available online

Nice examples to be found at affordable prices with potential price appreciation possible for well-kept original cars


Reasons not to buy a 107

Handling more suited to boulevard cruising than curve carving

Fuel economy and range poor compared to modern cars

Cosmetically attractive examples can have hidden problems

Inconsistent pricing fueled by widely varying auction results

Top-up headroom is challenging for taller individuals



Myriad possible mechanical issues with the engine, suspension  and climate-control systems make a prepurchase inspection from an experienced mechanic absolutely mandatory

Timing chains, tensioners and guides are weak points for 1980s’ V-8s. The 1981-1983 380SL was originally fitted with a single-row timing chain, which was prone to breaking. These should be upgraded to the dual-row chain, which became standard after 1984. Even with the upgrades, replace the chain tensioners and guides every 10 years or 100,000 miles.

Electronic fuel-injection issues are common for all V-8 models. It can be very costly to sort out fuel systems gummed up from long periods of sitting, and the electronic components are known for being fiddly. Finding a mechanic who understands the arcanities of these systems is important.

Leaks are known to occur in the corners of the head gaskets of both the inline-6 and V-8 models. The V-8s in particular like to mark their territory with leaks from upper oil pan and rear main seal. The transmission-pump seal is known to leak as well.

Valve-stem seals in the engines can wear out, allowing engine oil to enter the combustion chamber. A puff of smoke when starting from a stop and increased oil consumption are telltales.

Play in the steering coupler and steering gearboxes can be a problem, requiring service or replacement.

Rubber parts of the suspension, if original, most likely need to be replaced. The most labor-intensive items to replace are the front- and rear-subframe mounts, which can make a massive difference in the sharpness of the handling.

Body rust can develop in lower areas of front fenders, as well as in rocker panels around jack points. Rust can be found in floors and trunk from water intrusion. Leaking batteries can be very corrosive to battery trays and can spread to nearby areas.

Rear-window delamination is often seen in SLC models; the glass is very expensive to replace.

Interior finishes are prone to cracking and discoloration with age and exposure. Replacement dashboards difficult to find.

Seals around the soft top can age, allowing water intrusion and wind noise. Soft tops are prone to tear around the rear window.

Automatic climate-control systems are vacuum controlled and can be finicky and costly to repair.


Buying tips

Perhaps the biggest challenge when purchasing a 107 is understanding the schizophrenic pricing. If you search at for a 1986-1989 560SL with under 100,000 miles, models are priced anywhere from $12,000 to $60,000. Auction comps are all over the map as well. It’s hard to find a logical pattern to all of this, but there are plenty of great cars to be had at every price point.

A smart buyer with only $15,000 to spend would certainly be better off buying a less desirable, but excellent-condition 450SL or 380SL versus an edgy, but more sought after Euro-spec 500SL or U.S.-spec 560SL. For coupe lovers, the SLC remains the biggest bargain.

Cars bringing the biggest money are completely original, low-mileage examples. Pricing goes off a cliff as odometers get closer to six figures, or as cars lose originality from repaints and/or prior damage. With so many nice examples still available at good prices, there’s no logical reason to settle for less. Restoring a cosmetically challenged car will easily exceed the cost of buying a good one in the first place.



Finances aside, the 107 chassis is very easy to bond with. So few classic droptops are stunningly elegant while being practical and reliable at the same time. You’ll have no problem using this car for a grocery run, but might have a hard time parking it and walking away without turning around for another admiring glance. The 107 certainly belongs in the Mercedes greatest-hits album as an example of “The Best or Nothing.”


R/C107 Model Chronology

1971    April • 350SL introduced

1971    July • 450SL introduced in the U.S. only

1972    February • 350SLC introduced

1972    July • 450SLC introduced

1973    March •  450SL introduced to rest of the world

1974    August • 280SL, 280SLC introduced

1975    November-February 1976 •  o lower European emissions, Bosch mechanical K-Jetronic fuel injection replaced Bosch D-Jetronic electronic  injection in all models. Slight drop in power in Europe. Lower compression in 2.8-  and 3.5-liter engines

1978    April • Compression of 2.8-liter engine raised and power increased to original figure

1978    May •  450SLC 5.0 introduced (3-speed automatic transmission)

1980    March •  350SL, 350SLC, 450SLC 5.0 production ends. 500SLC (4-speed auto) introduced

1980    April • 500SL introduced

1980    May • 380SL, 380SLC, 500SLC introduced

1980    October • 450SLC production ends

1980    November • 450SL production ends

1981    September  •  280SLC, 380SLC, 500SLC production ends. Company’s Energy Concept – lower emissions and better fuel economy – applied to 3.8- and 5-liter engines. Slight power drop.

1985    August • 280SL production ends

1985    September •  300SL, 560SL introduced. Improved front suspension. Electronic-mechanical KE injection. Power increase in 500SL. U.S. model 560SL becomes the most powerful R107 SL ever sold in the United States.

1985    October • 380SL production ends

1985    November • 420SL introduced

1989    March • Next-generation SL, the R129 model, introduced

1989    August • R107 production ceases after a total production of 237,287 cars


U.S.-Market R107 Roadster Specifications

Model  Years          Chassis    Engine        Power           Torque                                                              

                                                          SAE Net hp   SAE Net lb-ft 1     

350SL  1972           107.044   117.982      230 (gross)     279 (gross)                

450SL  1973-1980  107.044   117.982           73: 190            73: 240

                                                                        74: Fed 190     74: Fed 240

                                                                        74: Cal 180      74: Cal 232

                                                 75-79:             75-79: 180       75-79: 220

                                                 117.985           80: 160            80: 230            66,298

Total Production 1972-1980 (worldwide, including U.S.) 66,298


380SL  1981-1985       107.045 81:116.960     155      196     

                                                   82-85: 116.962                                    53,200

560SL  1986-1989       107.048           117.967           227      279      49,347

U.S.-Market C107 Coupe Specifications

450SLC            1973-1980       107.024           117.982           73: 190            73: 240

                                                74: Fed 190    74: Fed 240

                                                74:  Cal 180    74:  Cal 232

                                    76-79: 74: Fed 190    74: Fed 240

                                    117.985           75-79: 180       75-79: 220

                                                             80: 160            80: 230           


380SLC             1981                107.025             116.960                155                  196                                                        

Total production   3,789

1. Power and torque were given in Europe in PS (metric horsepower) and Nm (newton-meter) or kpm (kilopond-meter) using the DIN method of measurement. All DIN torque figures have been converted to lb-ft equivalents. Power and torque in the U.S., starting with the 1973 model year, were given in hp (English-system horsepower) and lb-ft using the SAE Net method of measurement. The DIN and SAE Net methods yield very similar figures, the difference between PS and hp being just 1.4 percent,  thus making European and U.S. figures directly comparable without further conversions. Power and torque figures in the U.S. for the 1972 model year were given in SAE Gross hp and lb-ft, respectively.



Style and substance: Mercedes-Benz R107 350SL Roadster, introduced to the U.S. in 1972.


Extended-wheelbase 450SLC 5.0 Coupe, Untert¸rkheim test track.


Mercedes-Benz R107 roadster in its element.


Cars shared durable, high-quality interior.


450SLC 5.0 Coupe.


380SLC Coupe, 1980-81.