Nostalgia. Mercedes-Benz SL, the latest great classic from the star brand – Le Dauphiné Libéré

The development of the R 129 began in the mid-1970s. But at that time, the German manufacturer, absorbed in the development of the W124 and W201 sedans, decided to put the new SL project on hold.

The project was not restarted until 1982. The current SL has already been in use for 11 years, we have to act quickly. But Mercedes-Benz doesn’t want to rush into designing this model; on the contrary, it takes its time.

A perfect design?

In order to get all the odds on its side, Mercedes will entrust the design of its future roadster to designer Bruno Sacco. He is then responsible for the design of the brand. We owe him the W123 sedan, but also the revolutionary Mercedes C111 concept.

The designer’s motto is simple: “A Mercedes should always look like a Mercedes.” The design was completed in 1984 and a patent was filed on October 2, 1986. Not only was the R129 a true Mercedes, the design team immediately felt that it had “that little something extra” that could make it a classic brand.

Bruno Sacco, who is otherwise very critical of his own work, later explained: “The R129 simply has the perfect profile and is overall the perfect car of my career.”

Full of technology

For Mercedes to return successfully, the new SL must also set new technical standards. For the first time, a “super light” is equipped with brake assistant, active suspension, stability control, rain detector and even a sensor that detects the presence of a passenger and activates the airbag.

Solutions that are largely democratized today, but did not yet exist back then. The seats alone are the subject of around twenty patents, including an integrated seat belt that automatically adjusts to the height of the headrest.

A revolutionary tire

To be a Mercedes worthy of the name, the SL also has to offer a little more in terms of safety. The SL’s structure is made of an alloy that is much more torsion-resistant, but the public won’t remember that.

When developing a convertible, engineers always face the same dilemma: Should we equip the car with an unsightly but effective roll cage? The brand’s engineers will answer this question in the most beautiful way thanks to hydraulics.

If there is an impending risk of a rollover, sensors detect the risk of a rollover, the hydraulic pressure activates springs and releases the roll bar behind the occupants’ heads in three tenths of a second. The SL is the first convertible where you don’t have to choose between style and safety.

A remarkable presentation

At the 1989 Geneva Motor Show, the excitement of the big days reigned on the Mercedes stand. The presentation of the new SL series R129 is on everyone’s lips. From the first press day, journalists from all over the world line up to try out the new integrated seat or operate the folding roll bar demonstrated at the stand.

The engines are six-, eight- and twelve-cylinder engines, depending on the 300SL, 500SL or 600SL version. With its 322 hp, the 500 SL became the most powerful Mercedes of its time and was an instant success.

The Mercedes SL remains a great classic of the brand.  Photo MBThe Mercedes SL remains a great classic of the brand. Photo MB

She caused problems for Diana

Among the customers, a certain Diana will stand out despite herself. The Princess of Wales was in the middle of a media uproar at the time. Revelations about her relationship with Prince Charles make tabloid headlines every day.

At the same time, perhaps tired of the near-reliability of her English coach, the Princess fell in love with the latest SL. Diana decides to trade in her Jaguar XJS for the latest German 500 SL version.

The newspapers picked up the matter and accused the Princess of failing to defend the British automobile industry, which was then in poor condition. The public gets involved and Diana’s Mercedes becomes a state affair.

Facing the pressure, the royal family agreed to drive English cars. The order is passed on to Diana, who has to part with her Mercedes. The princess’ failed love story with Mercedes would come to a tragic end a few years later.