History of the 1990-2002 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class
In one form or another, Mercedes-Benz has been producing a two-seat sporty convertible since 1954 under the SL-Class moniker (SL standing for “Sport Leicht,” or “Sport Lightweight” in English). The cars have always been popular standard bearers, and have combined sporty touring qualities with comfort and quality. The R129 version of the Mercedes-Benz SL is no exception.
For the 1990 model year, Mercedes had prepared a replacement for the R107 design that had served the SL-Class since 1972. The new R129 design received a state-of-the-art adjustable sport-luxury suspension and an all-new chassis. Twin A-arm front and fully independent multi-link rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and a complete unibody chassis defined the new SL. Safety features included an automatic roll bar that was designed to extend in the event of a rollover accident. All SL-Class cars in this era were delivered with a cloth convertible top and a removable aluminum hardtop.
To mark the start of the R129, Mercedes brought back the venerable 300SL designation with a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder single overhead cam engine at 190 hp, or double overhead cam at 228 hp. The 300SL was offered with a five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic transmission.
Buyers could also opt for the 500SL, with a 5.0-liter overhead cam V-8 engine at 322 hp, with a four-speed automatic transmission. These options remained essentially unchanged until 1993, when the 600SL was added, featuring a 6.0-liter 48-valve double overhead cam V-12 engine at 389 hp and four-speed automatic transmission.
For 1994, Mercedes changed the nomenclature, placing the class designation before the displacement in the car’s official name. The 500SL became the SL500 at the same horsepower, while the 300SL was discontinued and replaced by the SL320 with a 3.2-liter double overhead cam inline six-cylinder at 220 hp. The top-of-the-line SL600 was still delivered with the V-12. In 1996, both the SL500 and SL600 were upgraded to a five-speed electronic automatic transmission.
These model designations were maintained through 1998, when the SL320 was dropped. The SL500 and SL600 continued to the end of the R129 chassis in the 2002 model year. However, the SL500 dropped to 302 hp from 1998 through 2002. The SL600 V-12 remained unchanged through the end of this era.
The R129 Mercedes SL-Class is one of the finest engineered cars of its era, and all represent fun and fantastic experiences. The V-8 and V-12 models obviously offer more power and performance, but driving enthusiasts may prefer the manual transmissions of the six-cylinder models. The 300SL is the value choice while the SL320 offers better responsiveness. Starting in 1995 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the legendary Mercedes victory at the Mille Miglia, the company offered a Mille Miglia special edition with racing-inspired touches. Mille Miglia editions were offered again for the 1999-2001 model years. A 1997 40th anniversary roadster edition was available, and in 2002 a Silver Arrow special edition was offered.