Street-Spotted: Mercedes-Benz 380SL

mercedes benz 380sl
Street-Spotted: Mercedes-Benz 380SLAutoweek

Some cars smell like old money even in photos, and this is one of those cars.

In production for an astonishingly long period of time, from 1971 till 1989, the R107-generation Mercedes-Benz SL is one of those cars that is essentially out of time. You could see it inside the ropes at a concours event, but it could also be a daily driver someone could leave in the parking lot without it getting a second look.

The R107 itself is over 50 years old at this point, and while it didn't quite make it into the Internet Age, it also wasn't far from it when it exited production. That's weird to think about.


Picking up the baton from the W113, the R107 roadster opted for a sleeker, more aggressive shape, while setting the look for Mercedes cars for an entire generation. V8 engines underhood also gave it plenty of power, while inline-six options (in Europe and elsewhere) made the roadster make sense even for those looking for a comfortable cruiser with the three-pointed star.

Even though two-thirds of the entire production run went stateside, Europe still got the prettier front fascia, devoid of DOT lights and bumpers.

a car parked on the side of the road
Did you order some extra large bumpers? Well, too bad—you’re getting them anyway.Autoweek

For a time in the 1980s the R107 was also the frequent subject of gray market importation, which sometimes resulted in a mishmash of lights and bumpers, though Euro headlight conversions have become their own genre since.

"The 380SL is part roadster, part sports car, part touring coupe. But it is dominantly a Mercedes Benz," ad copy of the time promised, and we can't disagree.

This particular 380SL did not escape the DOT treatment and appears very "period correct," as they say in the auction world, with the bumpers conveniently doubling as benches.

What did the 380SL have under the hood?

This was still that blessed time when displacement could actually be ascertained from the badge, at least in most cases, so the 380SL did indeed have a 3.8-liter V8 under that long hood, good for 155 hp and 196 lb-ft of torque.

"The 380SL is mounted on a very short wheelbase of just eight feet," Mercedes said in product literature of the time. "Front and rear track reaches to almost five feet. These are the dimensions of an extremely agile car."

the back of a car
The generous overhangs came standard, while giving the R107 a very short wheelbase.Autoweek

You might also recall that the R107 also had a coupe variant codenamed C107 and badged as the SLC, but it was offered for a much shorter period of time, exiting production in 1981 and hence isn't seen all that often today. But at that point the role of the large and plush coupe passed to the C126 badged as the SEC, which was effectively a two-door S-Class.

Ultimately, the R107 is one of those cars that will still be around 30 years from now, perhaps still in seasonal use like today. We're more concerned about being able to find affordable gasoline in 30 years than we are about being able to find an R107.

But the time to find the tidiest examples may have already passed, and the door is closing on its successor as well.

Will the R107 still be readily seen on the road in another 30 years, or will they noticeably fade by then? Let us know what you think in the comments below.