This 1982 Mercedes SL is a bonkers blend of Euro luxury and American road racer
We’re pretty sure that every ’80s car looks better with box flares and a pair of Holley Dominators, and this 1982 Mercedes SL that’s hitting the auction block at Mecum’s Kissimmee sale next year is just more evidence for our argument. This car, built by Neil DeAtley, owner of a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Lewiston, Idaho, was campaigned in the SCCA Trans-Am series in 1982 with driver Loren St. Lawrence. It takes the stately SL design and turns it on its ear, in the best way possible.
If you wanted a V-8-powered Mercedes grand tourer in 1982, the Mercedes 380 SL was the most powerful version available in the United States. Its 155hp 3.8-liter V-8 was hamstrung by U.S. emissions, but the Euro-spec SL was available with 237 hp and considerably more torque thanks to a 5.0-liter V-8. It was that powerplant that was the basis for this racing machine. While its pushrod competitors in Trans Am were famous for their 5.0-liter engines, the overhead-cam Mercedes would have to make do with 4.5 liters, so the engine was de-stroked to 4.5 liters, convenient since European 450 SL emblems could go right on the decklid and advertise the proper displacement. SCCA rules also mandated that its race cars be carbureted, so the Bosch mechanical fuel injection system was removed in favor of a pair of Holley carbs topped with velocity stacks for each primary bore. Despite the reduction in displacement, the added airflow from the twin carbs, as well as some tubular headers, no doubt made the 4.5-liter V-8 considerably more powerful than its production 5.0-liter counterpart.
The rest of the car followed the engine’s lead and ditched civility for a much more raucous persona. The interior is devoid of creature comforts and is instead finished in what looks like anodized aluminum panels. Racy, sure, but it probably sounds like driving inside a cowbell. At least the V-8 soundtrack would be invigorating.
The new tube chassis and fiberglass body panels mean there’s not much actual SL left intact, but the flared body still has much of the elegant design of the German original—just with a whole lot more attitude.
Despite its snorting engine and gorgeous bodywork, the DeAtley Motorsport 450 SL’s best finish in the 1982 Trans-Am series was sixth place. Elliott Forbes-Robinson took the series championship for 1982, winning five of the series’ 10 events in his Pontiac Trans Am. Nonetheless, this beautiful race car got to go wheel-to-wheel with Elliott Forbes-Robinson along with Paul Newman, who gave the Datsun brand its final race win in the 1982 season before moving to the Nissan brand. The novelty of owning the only Mercedes to compete in Trans-Am, plus the fact that it’s been recently renovated to be track-ready yet again, makes this an interesting collector proposition.
Will we be seeing this on the hallowed turns of Laguna Seca yet again, vying for position with Datsun 280ZXs and third-gen Camaros and Firebirds as it did 40 years ago? We can only hope.