The history of the Mercedes R107 roadster is intimately linked to that of its sister model, the SLC coupé. Just six months after its première the SL was followed in October 1971 by a comfortable four-seater sports coupé, the 350 SLC. This is particularly pertinent in the case of this 350 SL, as it has been thoroughly prepared as a rally car, something its SLC stablemate was very successful as back in the 1970s.
In just a few short seasons and with Mercedes-Benz providing assistance to the UK importers running the team – rather than offering official factory support – the big SLC proved fiercely competitive in international rallying. Driven by rally greats Bjorn Waldegaard, Hannu Mikkola and Ingvar Carlsson these big, but immensely strong coupés chalked up a series of wins and podiums on some of the toughest endurance rallies on earth. The swansong for the SLC was the 1980 Bandama Rally, in which Bjorn Waldegaard took the car’s final victory.
When new, the R107 SL boasted many safety features – crumple zones and a padded steering wheel among them – but it wasn’t the safety aspects that motivated customers around the world to buy the new model. It was the promise of an open-top car that was a successful piece of engineering all round – and it was in fact the only one of its kind offered in the USA over a period of several years.
Its distinctive front end with the dominant SL face, the wide-band headlamps and grooved turn indicator covers had a powerful aura; the lines of the low silhouette were harmonious – soft top open or closed, or with hardtop. And the very slight inward curve of the boot lid, along with the concave hardtop, were reminiscent of Pagoda days.
The new soft top took just 30 seconds to open or close it. Folded, it disappeared underneath a steel cover. Creature comforts were served by an excellent heating system and wind-deflecting mouldings on the A-pillars, which also served to channel off mud-laden water in the rain, and dirt-repelling covers on the exterior mirrors enabled good visibility. They kept the side windows clean even in poor weather.
The inertia-reel seatbelt was developed for the R107. This new design automatically adjusted belt tension for different sized occupants and provided greater safety and comfort. It was so popular that it was quickly adopted by other manufacturers.
Production of the R 107 series ended in August 1989, more than 18 years after the launch of the 350 SL. The car set an internal record that will probably never be broken: in the entire history of Mercedes no other passenger car series has ever been produced over such a long period, with the exception of the G-Class. R 107 sales were still strong even as Mercedes moved to replace it. So there are plenty about to choose from. But not like this one…