1983 Mercedes-Benz 280SL 5-speed: Classic and Rare Beater Bargain

1983 Mercedes 280SL - 1

Having been produced from 1971 through 1989 in no less than eight engine configurations, Mercedes-Benz R107 roadsters are hardly rare. In fact, for many of us children of the 1960s, 1970s, and even 1980s, when someone references “Mercedes SL” these are the cars that come to mind. Here in the US, however, we only really got three “official” versions of the R107: the 450SL (and 350SL 4.5 which was the same car) from 1972 through 1980, the 380SL from 1981 through 1985, and the 560SL from 1986 through the end of production. That leaves a lot of SLs that never made it to our shores, including anything across the range that came with a manual transmission. That’s what makes this Euro-spec car on CraigsList in Fort Lauderdale, Florida a rarity. That, and its low $4,400 asking price.


1983 Mercedes 280SL - 2

We’ve discussed the throaty dual overhead cam M110 inline-six cylinder motor several times before, as recently as last week when it appeared in this nice 280SE sedan of the same vintage. In any case, in the R107 which is hardly sporty nor light despite the “SL” moniker, this 185hp powerplant is somewhat sprightlier than it is in the big W126 S-class body. The M110 will propel the roadster to nearly 130mph, with 0-60 in the neighborhood of a period-reasonable 9 seconds, which is actually as quick or quicker than both the 450SL and the 380SL in emissions-choked US-specification.

1983 Mercedes 280SL - 3

Interestingly, the 280SL really isn’t much lighter than the V8 versions of the R107s, due to the V8’s light alloy construction versus the iron block of the M110. Still, with the exception of a handful of earlier 350SLs, it is only the six cylinders that let you row your own gears, and if you’re anything like us, you like rowing your own gears. We also like blipping the throttle on downshifts and winding the car up to maximum rpms – especially with the top down. The seller of this car indicates that it “runs and drives well” but “needs some TLC” – although neither of these qualifications is explained. A small amount of leaking oil is to be expected – most M110s do – but beyond that we’d hope for a positive take-up on the clutch and straight tracking. Rust can be an issue with R107s as well, and we’d want to look close, but there are no overt signs of it in the modest pictures presented here.

1983 Mercedes 280SL - 4

Based on the pictures presented, it would appear that some of the TLC required here – if not all of it – is cosmetic. The top appears to have either some staining or tearing, and it appears that the back window on the hardtop is completely absent. Dash covers always make us expect the worst, and odds favor an R107 in a sunny clime having a cracked dash. The wood on the console has also seen better days. Still, if it’s a good runner, and the AC works as well as the seller says it does, we do like Orient Red on these cars, and all the parts to make it perfect are available directly from Mercedes or any number of SL specialty shops. Prices are Mercedes-high but not unreasonable by German car standards. We’d lose the tacky chrome wheelarch trims, add European headlights (which it should have anyway), drive and enjoy and maybe restore it along the way.

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2 responses to “1983 Mercedes-Benz 280SL 5-speed: Classic and Rare Beater Bargain

  • Louie

    How can I see this car??? Location and contact info??? thank you, Lou

    • Reed Hitchcock

      Lou – We don’t sell them, we find them and talk about them. I found this car on CraigsList, but am guessing that chances are it is sold by now. There is a 5-speed 280SL on eBay right now in Hew Hampshire that doesn’t look too bad….

      -Reed

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