Mercedes Benz SL500 (R129)

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Words by, Enzo Teodoro, Photos by, Vincent Garrucho

INTRODUCTION

There are two ways to fall in love. The first is pre-meditated, wherein expectations and standards are set and then met; and other one, which is left up to chance and is purely accidental. There are also two ways to view beauty; one wherein you are completely mesmerized the first time you see her, and the other when she grows on you and gets more beautiful each time you lay your eyes on her. One man was lucky enough to experience and find one that made him feel both simultaneously… Only this time not with a woman, but with something equally as beautiful, captivating, and desirable in the form of a Mercedes Benz SL500 (R129). This is the story of love, passion, and dedication; absolute proof that those three things can build a relationship that’s secure, exciting, and rewarding. A love story between man and machine that’s sure to last a lifetime.

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HISTORY

The R129 series SL was produced from 1989 to 2001. All throughout it’s production life, changes and updates to the car were made here and there. The lights and front end were mildly face-lifted, the interior became more and more luxurious, more technologically advanced driving aids were added, sport packages became an irresistible option to tick, and a lot of other bells and whistles were available in addition to the rapid changing times in the world of automobiles.

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By history, the SL series is one of Mercedes Benz’s most special products. It has undeniable pedigree. No matter what year model the car is, for as long as it’s an SL there’s always presence and respect commanded from the drivers all the way to the bystanders. It is the defacto two-door high speed cruiser of Mercedes Benz. However, the SL wasn’t always known as a high-speed cruiser. In fact, the reputation of the SL line would constantly change since its introduction in 1954. When Mercedes Benz released the 300SL Gullwing, it was the fastest production automobile of its day. It was practically a supercar with a 3.0 litre straight six engine. In fact, the SL moniker stands for “Sport Leicht”, which directly translates to ‘Sport Light’. Mercedes however, also released the 190SL which just had a smaller engine. The production model SL that followed after was the W113, which was produced from 1963-1971. Contrary to the supercar nature of its predecessor, this SL was more of a coupe or roadster for cruising. Its performance figures were nowhere near its predecessor. This was known as the “Pagoda” SL of ‘Mr. Slim’ fame. This production series is succeeded by the R107 series SL which is the second longest production series of Mercedes Benz after the G-class (which is still in production today). This one carried bigger engines ranging from 6 cylinder ones to hairy chested V8s. It was far more technologically advanced than its predecessor as well. In fact, this model even had a run at rallying! The SL-series’ sporty roots we’re back in fashion, but they weren’t ‘light’ anymore!

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FINDING THE SL

This lands us with the SL that we’re featuring, which is the successor to the R107 production line. This is a 1991 SL500 (R129). This particular SL-series of Mercedes Benz is what made me fall in love with the brand as a young child. With a mind filled with Ferrari, Porsche, and Lamborghini; this car planted Mercedes Benz in my brain the first time I saw it pull up in a café in San Francisco, California when I was on vacation with family. At least for my generation, this was the original swagger mobile. It had stellar performance matched with debonair looks. It stood equally as pretty regardless if a man or a woman was behind the wheel. It was miles more luxurious and sporty than the series it succeeds. This car was oozing with personality… and two decades after, it still is.

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The intensely meticulous but equally lucky owner of this vehicle found this car by a matter of chance. He is a Mercedes Benz aficionado (having owned a 190E and a C220 in the past both in Lorinser form.) and European Ford collector and enthusiast who was very busy restoring Ford RS2000s, Mexicos, and Capris when one day he saw an advertisement of the entire production SL-series in a magazine that boasted about the impeccable pedigree of the cars. He cut out the ad, and hooked it on a pegboard to remind him everyday of his new goal. Almost immediately, the owner sold all of his European Fords simultaneously and decided he would go on the hunt for an R129 SL. After a few months of declaring his pursuit for an SL, his friend saw a Pearl Blue Metallic SL backing up and out of a container, and called him right away. He asked if he could see the car and the car was taken to him… He took it for a spin, fell in love, and never gave it back.

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Why an R129, you ask? “It’s a modern classic,” he says. It’s difficult to argue with that statement because you only need to look at this car once and hear its V8 engine roar to understand where he’s coming from. It has the timeless beauty from its era of sports cars, but it also has the modern day features and technology that we demand from the cars we drive today. However this particular SL was nowhere near as beautiful as it stands today.

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RESTORATION & PRINCIPLES

This SL was purchased in 2006. It was Pearl Blue Metallic when it was acquired and was in standard 1991 trim. He parked this car in his garage and only put 3000kms in the next two years of its life with him. He left it virtually untouched. He knew that this was going to be the beginning of a very demanding relationship… Although during these two years, the owner was busy chatting with fellow R129 owners in Internet forums and was ordering all of the parts for the car from all over the World as he knew what he wanted to do with it.

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The owner doesn’t believe in restoring a Mercedes Benz piece by piece. “Save your car, your money, and your time. Get all the parts needed and have it done all at once,” he says. “By doing it all at once, you avoid damaging the car and the parts that come along with it,” says the owner. Eventually he was able to acquire all the parts needed for the restoration, and after two years of waiting it was time to bring in the SL to the shop where it would stay for a good 6 months.

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In those 6 months all mechanical and electrical essentials were replaced with original new ones. The body panels were dismantled from the chassis, and the paint was scraped off and sanded. There came a point wherein almost all that was left of the car was the chassis itself. The car was repainted and the seats, which were half leather-half cloth, were reupholstered into full leather. The wood grain trim was removed in exchange for a custom interior-matched blue carbon fiber trim (pictures don’t do it justice). The lights in front and at the rear were changed to match the 2001 Euro-spec SL, and so was the instrument panel with its white face gauges and chrome rings. Even the center shift gate was updated with a chrome frame. The owner is so meticulous, that even all of the original factory stickers were replaced with new ones! Including the ones by the engine bay and fuel filler cap (the small octane rating sticker)! He would constantly visit the car to check on the work progress and to talk with the people that we’re working on his prized possession. “I would tell the workers not to work on it if they didn’t feel like they were in the mood to do so,” the owner fondly remembers. He would instruct them to do other things that they felt they were more efficient in for the day. They worked on whatever they wanted to for as long as they didn’t have to rush. “With my car, time was not of the essence,” says the owner. “What matters is that it is done with love and passion because that’s the only way we’ll achieve perfection.”

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END RESULT

As this car stands today (after it’s extreme makeover), it has to be one of, if not the finest example of a fully restored R129 SL in the Philippines. Exterior-wise, with its refreshed looks, new paint job, and new original AMG wheels it has to be one of the most ‘suplado’ and narcissistic automobiles that roam around the Metro. One look at the end product, and you can sense that everything major and essential has been well spent for. The washer fluid on the car is as original as the Brilliant Silver paint used on the sleek body of the SL. The oil and other fluids for the car are even shipped in from the Middle East, and are purchased by bulk. When you hear the engine roar and idle at start-up it makes your hair stand. It doesn’t have the impatient chunter of an Italian supercar, but the stainless steel exhaust and headers with those steel 200 cell catalytic converters by Freemuff adds even more bass to the already deep V8 exhaust backdrop. All of that bumps up the horsepower from 326 to 340, while the Zimmerman rotors and stainless steel brake lines help shed off the speed without breaking a sweat. The H&R lowering springs and Bilstein HD shocks give it a more aggressive stance, but it isn’t low enough to constantly scrape the bumper or underpinnings of the car. All of these modifications help the already brilliantly built SL effortlessly cruise at 250kph… For as long as you wish.

This then is a perfect example of a relationship that has been worked for, with perfect results that have been rightfully earned. “No matter how difficult the situation may be, for as long as you want it bad enough and you have the passion for it, it will always turn in your favor because you put your heart into it, and you did it because you love it,” says the owner. As for his next project, he’s looking into purchasing an R230 SL55 AMG, which he will upgrade with a stage-3 performance package… A car that when he acquires, will surely grace the pages of this magazine.

Model & Variant: 1991 Mercedes Benz SL500 (R129)
Engine: V8, 4973 cc, dohc 32V, 4AT
Max power: 326 bhp @ 5500 rpm
Max torque: 332 lb ft @ 4400 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 6.4 sec.
Top Speed: 250 km/h (157 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 6.2 km/L overall
Price as tested: N/A
+ : Mercedes Benz Build Quality, Power, and a lot of Style!
– : A bit on the heavy side and we need more roads to enjoy this high speed cruiser.
C! Rating: 9.0/10