1995 Mercedes-Benz SL500: Are You Feeling Lucky?

Yes, folks, the blog has been quiet for a while. Truth be told, our day jobs have been taking it out of us lately, and we haven’t even been scanning the classifieds lately, much less blogging about interesting finds! That is, until this weekend when I was doing some catch-up writing for one of my other automotive outlets, and I managed to revitalize my dormant car hunting gene. I’ve actually stumbled across a few interesting things over the past few days, but this one really asks the question that we are all about: are you totally that stupid? The car in question is the 1995 Mercedes-Benz R129 SL500 roadster you see here, available here on Craigslist in my hometown of Fairfax, VA for just $3,900. Seriously, beat Miata money for a V8-powered Mercedes Sports Leicht two-seater!


The SL500 is powered by Mercedes’ 326hp M119 V8 – which it shares with the W124 500E sedan engineered in collaboration with Porsche – that can propel the car from 0-60 in just six seconds. It succeeded the R107 560SL (wearing its 500SL nomenclature) as the top of the line Mercedes two-seat sports car, until it was supplanted in 1992 by the V12 600SL, although the V12 cost about $30,000 more than the V8’s $85,000 and therefore sold in far fewer numbers. The R129 introduced power tops to the world of Mercedes convertibles, and it was the first car to have a standard rollover protection system that could deploy a hidden roll bar within a fraction of a second if the car started to flip. Both of these features would find their way to future Mercedes droptops including the four place 124-chassis convertible.

Since the R107 had been a staple of the Mercedes lineup for so long, the R129’s modern styling, inside and out, were a dramatic change to the SL lineup. Mechanically, despite substantially more power than the old 5.6 liter, the new car was far more efficient, able to top 20 mpg if driven gently. But really, who was going to do that?? Another technological marvel that found its way onto the R129 V8 was the Mercedes traction control – a system quite adept at preventing unwanted wheelspin, but also the source of frustration for drivers who like to get a little spin on once in a while.

And so it begs the question: this is a pretty car in its silver on (very nice) black leather, it has the V8 instead of the smaller six or the gremlin-plagued V12, and it’s not all banged-up or looking as if it was driven through Afghanistan on a bad day – so why is it so cheap? The car has three basic problems: 1) both the ASR and ABS lights are on (combined with a non-functioning speedometer). Second, the radiator is cracked up top and will need to be replaced. Third, the air conditioning apparently doesn’t.

In order of ease of repair, first the radiator. A radiator replacement in a 5.0 liter R129 takes about an hour, and the part can be had for about $350. The warning lights could be more sinister, but the most likely causes are either a faulty brake switch or a dirty wheel sensor, neither of which would cost more than $100 in repair and could potentially be free. The air conditioner issue, at least what is known, is that the blower doesn’t blow. That means that the state of the system as a whole is unknown. The AC head units on these cars do fail over time, and repair could be as simple as replacing that with a rebuilt unit. Beyond that the repair could end-up costing close to half or more of the asking price.

The only other negative with the car on the surface is that it does not come with the hardtop, just the soft top, although that is reportedly in good condition. So you have to ask yourself: do you feel lucky? 1990s Mercedes-Benzes were arguably the best-engineered and built cars the company ever produced, but some age better than others and this car represents a roll of the dice on some pretty significant issues. The potential is there to spend less than $1,000 making this car nearly perfect. Then again you could end-up doubling the purchase price or selling it on to the next sucker enthusiast to take care of.

~Reed

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4 responses to “1995 Mercedes-Benz SL500: Are You Feeling Lucky?

  • Dan Stratton

    The real problem here is NOT what you see, but the warning lights and AC tell you. These cars had faulty wiring harness from the beginning (’93-’96 models). So unless it has already been replaced, expect to do it – the parts cost about $900. + $3K in shop labor. so this bargain will likely cost about $9K by the time you are done. Look for a early 90-91, or a later 97-98. for a car with less troubles, and you will be much happier.

    • Michael

      Dan,
      Thanks for the info. I am tracking a ’95 SL500 with 70K miles. Price is within limits and negotiable. Beautiful car red/tan.
      I have read about high maintenance costs, like $4K for an AC unit to $300 for the servos that secure the soft top to the windscreen. If the top units leak oil, they leak on the seats.
      Still, it is an intriguing proposition. Roll the dice, or buy gold and stare at my safe in the basement.

  • Terry wray

    You can have top actuators repaired for $50 with new seals. The wiring harness is an easy DIY replacement for anyone with average skill. I have a 1993 with 127000 miles on it and love it. Hood opens way up making it very easy to work on. You can make a diagnostic tester for $20 and reset all faults which resets lights and frequently fixes problem.

  • Tony Pickering

    I was looking for a nineties sl500, low miles and excellent shape with records, red with parchment interior. Found a nice one in Las Vegas at $14,000US. Just before flying (I live in Vancouver) I checked Kijiji and found one 10 minutes away for $3,000CDN (at that time about $2,200US). A 1995. Ran fine but 100,000 miles, no air, engine warn light, top worked but tremendous TWANG sound fastening/unfastening, rad leaking, dark green. To the great amusement of my friends & family I bought it after a ten minute test drive. I took it to a MB dealer and they quoted $6,000 to $7,000. Myself and a corner garage tackled the work.
    No air – replaced hose from compressor & charged it up – works fine
    Engine light – wire to secondary air compressor off. Attached it and no light
    Top – Adjusted alignment and works fine.
    Rad – This cost about $500. Record rad and replaced all hoses.
    Green – I have come to like it
    That was a year ago. I kept a lookout and found a nice wiring harness for $350 (made in early 2000) since mine was crunchy I drive it all the time and love it.

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