Is the R129 one of the classiest cars ever built? With a silky M120 V12, it's certainly vying for that honour…
By John Howell / Thursday, 8 September 2022 / Loading comments
Here’s a fact for you: in 1990 the Mercedes R129 finished second to the Citroën XM in the European Car of the Year awards. Now, I do love an XM, but…I mean, really? The R129 is a very special car, and it gets even more special when it comes with a naturally aspirated V12 squeezed in under the bonnet. It is, after all, the same engine that powers the Pagani Zonda, which gives it some pedigree.
This SL is from 1993, the year the SL600 was launched. Back then it cost around £100,000, which is still a lot of cash today, but in ‘93 it was an absolute fortune. Just to put it in context, an SL500, which wasn’t exactly a budget car, would cost you £22,000 less. And like most of the really high-end stuff with a huge engine, the depreciation was mega. There was a time when you could pick these things up for around £5,000, but not anymore. This one is over £40,000, but it does come with a lowly 37,000 miles, a back catalogue of MOTs and an extensive service history to give that provenance. It’s also immaculate, judging by the pictures. The wood veneers aren’t the least bit sun-bleached or cracked, and the black leather looks supple and unmarked.
It also comes with its hardtop and many features, some of which were standard on the SL600, and some that were extras. According to the advert, the options that were ordered with this one include the 18-inch AMG flat-face alloys, AMG body kit, electric memory seats and steering column, and items that were considered cutting edge at the time, like traction control (ASR) and adaptive damping (ADS) – although the latter can be expensive to fix if it goes wrong. It’s astounding to think that Mercedes still charged extra for cruise control and metallic paint, though.
Can anyone come up with a car that has more buttons than this SL600? I counted over 50 on the centre console, and it makes you wonder whether you should really move beyond a simple owner’s manual and have something akin to a commercial airline type rating to pilot an SL600.
Of course, the main thing about the SL600 is that engine. Here, the M120 produces a consummate 389hp and 420lb ft of torque, which was enough to see this two-tonne drop-top hitting sixty in six seconds (ish). Yet it’s the smoothness of the V12, rather than its performance, that is the SL600’s primary appeal. I can remember marvelling at how steady they were at idle whenever I came across one in period. It’s an engine that passes the classic fifty-pence-piece balancing trick with flying colours. It’s also more dependable than a well-trained German Shepherd. The M120 is known to need very little attention between services, which is amazing when you consider this is complicated, high-power 48-valve, twelve-cylinder motor. Apparently, it’s the most reliable engine Mercedes ever built, if you judge that by the ratio warranty claims per unit.
It wasn’t just the engine that was lavished with Mercedes-Benz’s once-legendary attention to detail. The R129 is full of neat touches that mark it out as an exquisite product. For example, when you lock the car all the cubbies inside, including the glovebox and door pockets, are locked as well. This means you can leave the car with the roof down and know your valuables are safe to an extent – I’m not recommending you leave your wallet in there or a Rolex. And these days we’re used to electric cars being able to heat up the cabin via an app, but the R129 has the 90s equivalent. There’s a button called ‘Rest’ that circulates warm air around the interior for about 30 minutes after the engine’s been switched off. So you can go off and do your shopping in the depths of winter and the car will still be warm and toasty when you return. Also the soft top is completely automatic. There are no manual latches or pop-on tonneau covers to worry about here. You just hit the button and it takes care of everything, which was another niche thing in the 90s. Even the headrests and the rear-view mirror are electrically operated. Is there any point to having an electric rear-view mirror? No, of course not. It’s completely pointless, but also very cool.
And that’s what the SL600 is: a very, very cool car. It has everything going for it. Classy looks, which in my eyes keep getting better with age, lots of classy features to wow your passengers with, and old-school, classy Mercedes’ reliability and build. On top of that, it’s an SL600, so you also get one classiest V12s ever built. This is a genuinely special car.
Specification | Mercedes SL600
Engine: 5,987cc, V12, naturally aspirated
Transmission: five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 389 @ 5,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 420lb ft @ 3,800rpm
MPG: 20 (maybe)
Recorded mileage: 37,000
Year registered: 1993
Price new: £96,000
Yours for: £42,850
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