Secondhand Saint: Mercedes-Benz R129 (SL-Class, 1990-2002)

Mercedes SL500 (Front). Not as swoopy as the newer ones but still very nice in its own right.

For years, Mercedes-Benz has been one of the most highly respected brands in the luxury car market.  The SL, their flagship, has consistently been ahead of its time, no matter which generation, in the amount of technology offered.  Expensive when new, these cars have always taken a seat at the top of the automotive table.  But, thanks to depreciation (the used car buyer’s friend), all this technology can sit in your driveway for less than the cost of a new Kia Forte.

SL500 (Rear), with a gorgeous lake for a background.

The R129, introduced for 1990, catapulted the SL-Class into the modern era, with new engines, bodies, and interiors, and ended up being a very successful model for Mercedes-Benz.  Both the SL500 and SL600 have been quite popular on the used market, offering niceties such as stability control, rollover protection, advanced traction control, and other driver aids that did not show up on competing cars for a number of years.  The base model, the 300SL (later the SL320 and such) used the tried and tested inline six, with 190hp at launch, while the later SL320 has 220 hp; these aren’t the ones to buy if you want plenty of power, but they were the only versions offered with a manual transmission.  The SL500 started out with a 322hp, 5.0L V8, which was changed to a 302hp unit in 1999 (likely due to emissions reasons).  The flagship SL600, introduced for 1993, used a 6.0L V12, churning out 389hp.  AMG versions were made available over the course of the model run, but very few were built and are therefore not included in this article.

Very well-appointed interior.

The interiors of most, if not all of these cars come equipped heavily.  Leather is standard fare, along with a high-end audio system, navigation, power everything, and build quality that would shame a perfectionist.  Repair costs are likely on the high side (do not forget: this is still a Mercedes), but since they’re premium cars, most have been  maintained to a T.   Expect to see a lot of these going for anywhere from $10K to around $20K for one in good condition.  I wouldn’t pay more than about 15K for an Sl500, but if you want to go all-out on the engine front, the SL600 is surprisingly not much more–I would probably part with about 17K for the V12 models.  Overall, this generation of SL represents a classy, relaxed way to cruise the highways in style, without spending a huge amount.

-Al

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