Technology platform: Mercedes-Benz SL, R 129 series (1989-2001)

  • Numerous innovations, from the automatic roll-over bar to the integral seat
  • Debut of the twelve-cylinder engine in the SL model, R 129 series
  • Official AMG versions available for the first time
At the 1989 Geneva Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz presented an SL that was a new car in every respect. The first models were the 300 SL, 300 SL-24 and 500 SL. Internally the series was designated R 129. Unlike the predecessors, its production did not take place in Sindelfingen, but in Bremen for capacity reasons. The response was immediately extremely positive, and shortly after the presentation it was foreseeable that the planned annual production of 20,000 units would be stretched to capacity for years and delivery periods of several years would have to be accepted.
The SL face captured a permanent place in the Mercedes-Benz model hierarchy over the decades. The new SL re-interpreted the traditional basic shape of the grille: within the radiator grille, organically integrated into the bonnet, the Mercedes star was complemented by horizontal strips made of anodised aluminium. Chief designer Bruno Sacco had done an excellent job. The stylistically assured, no-frills lines of the slightly wedge-shaped body, the flared wheel arches for the wide-base tyres, the half-spoilers forward of the front wheels, its steeply raked windscreen, skilfully modelled rear end and the standard light-alloy wheels produce an exceedingly harmonious overall effect.
The aerodynamic fine touches, including underbody and airflow through the engine compartment, added up to a fuel-saving, speed-increasing cd of 0.32 with the hardtop mounted. A cd figure of 0.40 was measured for the open-top car with closed side windows.
“Car Design Award”
Hardly a year after its launch the SL was awarded the international “Car Design Award”. The SL was the top choice of an eleven-member jury of journalists from ten countries, assisted by a representative of the city of Turin and one from the Piedmont region. The jury stated as reason for the prize: “In the Mercedes-Benz 300 – 500 SL the ensemble of safety innovations, ... exemplary ergonomic solutions, and stringent adherence to the traditional design culture of the manufacturer's brand is convincing. The new SL embodies the most valuable elements of up-to-date industrial design, without losing the flair that distinguishes every sports cabriolet.”
High torsional stiffness
The prerequisite for the proper operation of the fully automatic folding soft top under all conditions is the extremely high torsional rigidity of the body. To reduce the vibration and torsion characteristics typical of open-top cars, additional diagonal struts are fitted in the particularly critical areas of the body. In the front end the front axle carrier is connected with the door sills by two specially-shaped struts. In the rear end two tubular struts between the door sills and the spare wheel recess serve the same function. Owing to these measures it was possible to improve the torsional rigidity by around 30 per cent over that of the previous model, achieving a saloon-like overall rigidity achieved.
This car set new standards in the area of safety, too. The results of Mercedes-Benz’s rigorous frontal and rear-impact crash tests for the open-top vehicle were sensational and a clear proof of the scrupulous precision with which the developers had worked. The resistance to side impact went far beyond what the law required and once again set trends for the sensible design of all details, for instance the overlapping of the doors with the sills, the cross-bracing beneath the seats, including the rigid sides of the transmission tunnel, or the high-strength steel tubes inside the A-pillars, which can withstand a roof impact. This two-shelled structure of the front roof frame in conjunction with the bonding of the windscreen to the body results in very great stability even if a one-sided load is applied to the roof frame.
An integral part of the safety concept is the automatic roll-over bar which was realised in the SL for the first time in an automobile and has the purpose of protecting the occupants’ survival space if the car should overturn. So as not to impair open-top driving pleasure with a permanently installed, rigid rollbar, a flexible solution was implemented by which the roll-over protection was only activated if needed. When not in use the safety bar, consisting of a U-shaped high-strength steel tube foam-padded with polyurethane, was stored in front of the soft-top compartment, closing off the rear compartment towards the back and forming a level surface with the top well lid. If a roll-over threatens, the sensor-controlled roll-over bar is electromagnetically triggered, raised into position by the force of pre-compressed springs within 0.3 seconds and secured by pawls. The high-strength centre pillars, connected over a large area with the rear longitudinal members, serve as basis for mounting and as support. In addition to automatic triggering in an emergency, the driver can raise and lower the bar slowly by means of a switch, with a hydraulic element carrying out the action.
Extremely sturdy integral seats
The most advanced feature of the interior design were the integral seats of the SL, a technical masterpiece of design and an important part of the safety concept. The seat frame and backrest are made of various special magnesium alloys executed in thin-wall casting technique. They incorporate the three-point seat belt with belt tensioner, the belt height adjustment, coupled with the head restraint adjustment, and electric stepper motors for adjusting reach, height and tilt of the seat cushion and backrest. Another important feature is the automatic positive locking of the backrest. The resistance of the seat in a crash is many times higher than the forces that could possibly arise.
Twenty patents for solutions to various details went into this seat; its creator received the Paul Pietsch Prize and high prize money as acknowledgement of his pioneering work in 1989.
Fully automatic folding soft top
The newly designed electrohydraulic fabric top with which the SL is equipped as standard offers especially great operating convenience. Simply by operating a switch, within 30 seconds the soft top can be opened, folded and deposited in the narrow soft-top compartment, or taken out of the compartment and closed. Simultaneously, the side windows and the roll-over bar are lowered and then returned to their starting positions. Up and closed, the top is taut and smooth in all directions – after all, it would be highly undesirable for the vacuum caused above the roof by the car’s movement to cause the top to balloon, and perfect operation of the roll-over bar under the closed soft top must also remain guaranteed.
The energy to operate the soft top is provided by an electrically-driven hydraulic pump located in the spare wheel recess together with the oil reservoir. The microprocessor-controlled motions are monitored with the aid of 17 limit switches, and the hydraulic system has 15 pressure cylinders and eleven solenoid valves.
The exemplary solutions included the draught-stop. Unlike the electro-hydraulic soft top it was not viewed as a high-tech marvel, but its development also involved attention to complex details. The draught-stop consists of a framed, breathable screen which can be quickly attached to the roll-over bar and which, when raised, appreciably enhances ride comfort when the soft top is open by minimising wind noise and draught. With the draught-stop, leather jackets and caps for driver and front passenger are a thing of the past, as is tousled hair for the ladies. Even high speeds no longer cause draught problems, and open-top driving at low temperatures becomes a real show. Today the innovative draught-stop, for which the inventors hold four patents, is practically taken for granted in many convertibles around the world.
The standard hardtop was now made of aluminium, and despite larger windows weighed just 34 kilograms, about ten kilos less than the coupé roof of the previous model. As it was, consistent lightweight design and the extensive use of high-strength sheet steel had enabled the creation of a bodyshell weighing 405 kilograms, only 20 kilograms more than that of the previous model, despite substantial improvements in structural safety.
Electrically-operated windows and the electro-pneumatic central locking system, both standard equipment in all SL models, served comfort and convenience. The basic equipment of the 500 SL also included electric steering column adjustment for optimum adaptation of reach, height and tilt to the driver.
A new suspension
The suspension conformed in principle to the familiar suspension design of the Saloons of the 201 and 124 series. The new SL models thus had a coil-spring shock absorber independent front suspension with anti-dive control and wishbones, gas-filled shock absorbers and stabiliser, and a modified multi-link independent rear suspension with anti-squat and anti-dive control, coil springs, gas-filled shock absorbers and stabiliser. This guaranteed excellent handling characteristics. Many components were adapted to the altered installation conditions, stresses and loads in the SL; the axle geometry, too, was matched to the special demands on the driving characteristics and comfort.
As an optional extra a newly-developed auxiliary system was also available representing the most advanced suspension technology realisable at the time, combining three subsystems. The purpose of this level adjustment and regulation on front and rear axle was to maintain a constant vehicle level with the engine running. The automatic speed-dependent level adjustment function lowered or raised the vehicle level depending on the actual speed; for driving on poor roads the level could be increased by 30 millimetres; at a speed of more than 72 km/h the system adjusted to the normal level, and above a speed of 122 km/h the vehicle was lowered by 15 millimetres. The third component, the ADS Adaptive Damping System, used adjustable shock absorbers and a complex electronic control system to adapt the damping fully automatically, as needed, and within fractions of a second, to the driving state determined by five sensors. The overall sprung mass vibrations were reduced in accordance with vehicle load, road condition and style of driving. This was virtually a preliminary stage of the active suspension that reached production maturity in 1999 in the C 215-series Coupé.
In keeping with their sports credentials, all models of the R 129 series were fitted as standard with 15-hole light-alloy wheels (diameter: 40.64 centimetres) and wide-base tyres size 225/55 ZR 16. The larger wheels compared with the previous models permitted installing large brakes appropriate to the improved performance of the SL. New were the front fixed-calliper disc brakes featuring four pistons, two pairs with different diameters each. This design, used for the first time in a Mercedes-Benz passenger car, ensures even brake pad wear and better utilisation of the pad volume. The front and rear disc brakes are internally ventilated. The ABS Anti-lock Braking System was part of the standard configuration of all three models.
From September 1995 on the Electronic Stability Program ESP® was available for the SL 500 as an optional extra. It was standard equipment for the SL 600. From December 1996 onwards the six-cylinder models could also be equipped with ESP® if they were ordered with the electronically-controlled automatic transmission available from June 1996. Another world first in the interests of active safety also saw use at this time: the BAS Brake Assist, installed as standard from December 1996 in all models of the 129 and 140 series. BAS is able to detect emergency braking and, in case of need, automatically build up the maximum brake boosting effect more rapidly than before. This distinctly reduced the braking distance of the vehicle. In early April 1998, the Electronic Stability Program ESP® was included as standard equipment of the SL 500 and SL 60 AMG; in August 1999 it also became a standard feature in the two six-cylinder models, SL 280 and SL 320.
The first facelift
Visually and technically updated SL models were presented at the Frankfurt International Motor Show in September 1995. The facelifted variants were distinguished by a modified body design, more extensive standard equipment, and more refined engineering. The body design modifications were of a minor nature and ranged from redesigned front and rear bumpers, transparent glass covers for the front turn indicators, and a subtle change in the radiator grille, which now had six slats. The side skirts, like the bumpers, were no longer painted in a contrasting colour, but in the colour of the car, and had modified breathers, a prominent feature serving to identify the facelifted models. Other new items were the bichromatic tail lights with their uniform red appearance, and 12-hole light-alloy wheels, the standard for all SL models. As an optional extra a glass sunroof with sunblind was available; it could be fitted in place of the usual aluminium hardtop. In the interior, the door trim, steering wheel and seat design were modified.
Headlamps with xenon gas discharge lamps, first introduced a few months earlier in the 210-series E-Class, were now also available for the SL. The new xenon lamps were twice as powerful as the conventional halogen headlamps and ensured better, brighter illumination of the roadway. Dynamic headlamp range adjustment prevented dazzling of oncoming traffic.
A world first was introduced simultaneously in the SL-Class and the S-Class. As first carmaker Mercedes-Benz was able to present an improved cruise control which could regulate the speed down to 30 km/h; the facelifted SL models were equipped with this function as standard.
The second facelift
The second facelift took place in 1998, involving only a few modifications to the design of the SL: the purpose of the discreet stylistic touch-ups was to give the sports car an even more dynamic appearance. This was achieved with a slightly modified rear end in which the now monochromatic glass covers of the tail lights presented themselves in a gentler look with only three ribs. New oval tailpipe trim for the exhaust system including adjustments on the bumper emphasised the car’s sporty looks. A round shape was the dominant feature of the new exterior mirrors, adapted to the design of the SLK and the most important external identifier of the facelifted models. The door handles and detachable body parts of the facelifted SL models had a high-gloss finish in the vehicle body colour. The size and design of the wheels were modified, too: the SL models now had newly designed five-hole light-alloy wheels and rode on size 245/45 ZR 17 tyres as standard.
Proven engine technology right from the start
All three engines of the original SL portfolio in the R 129 series feature a closed-loop catalytic emission control system as standard. The entry-level engine was the two-valve-per-cylinder six-cylinder engine (M 103) in the 300 SL (1989 to 1993) with an output of 140 kW (190 bhp). It had already served well in the saloons of the 124- and 126-series, but was revised for use in the SL. The most important improvements were: a redesigned combustion chamber, which reduced the emissions of unburned hydrocarbons, and a modified emission control system. By eliminating the close-coupled primary catalytic converter, which was subjected to high thermal stresses, and enlarging the cross-section of the exhaust pipes and the now two-pipe catalytic converter it was possible to raise the rated output of the engine from 132 kW (179 bhp) to 140 kW (190 bhp). The top speed was 228 km/h; 9.3 seconds was the figure stated for accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h.
From 1989 to 1993 there was also the 300 SL-24 model featuring a newly designed four-valve-per-cylinder six-cylinder engine (M 104). This engine was based on the M 103, and its parts were mostly identical with those of its two-valve counterpart. New were the four-valve cylinder head and map-controlled electronic intake camshaft adjustment, used for the first time at Mercedes-Benz. In conjunction with a higher compression ratio and an electronic ignition system with anti-knock control, the result was a 29 kW (39 bhp) increase in output over the M 103 to 170 kW (231 bhp). The performance of the 300 SL-24 was thus noticeably sportier despite almost identical fuel consumption (top speed: 240 km/h, 0 to 100 km/h: 8.4 seconds), but this had to be bought at an additional cost of almost DM 10,000. The successors to these two models in the years 1993 to 1998 were the SL 280 (2.8 litres displacement, 142 kW/193 bhp) and SL 320 (3.2 litres displacement, 170 kW/231 bhp), both with four-valve-per-cylinder six-cylinder engines from the M 104 series.
The car that attracted particular attention at the 1989 Geneva Motor Show was the 500 SL, which as top-of-the-range model had a 240 kW (326 bhp) 5.0-litre four-valve-per-cylinder V8 engine (M 119), making it the most powerful Mercedes-Benz production car at the time. The design of this engine was based on the 5.0-litre M 117 light-alloy engine, which had stood the test of over ten years’ time. Crankcase, crankshaft, and connecting rods were extensively modified to obtain the higher output figures. The two four-valve cylinder heads were of new design and had adjustable intake camshafts as did the four-valve-per-cylinder six-cylinder engine.
Decisive for the marked increase in output (an increase of 60 kW/82 bhp), along with conversion to the four-valve-per-cylinder technology, were the anti-knock control, a new two-box air filter with reduced suction resistance, and, not least of all, changes in the emission control system: like the two six-cylinder units the four-valve V8 had a two-pipe catalytic converter with a larger cross-section instead of a primary catalytic converter. This power potential gave the 500 SL impressive performance to outclass its predecessor: from a standing start the top-of-the-range model sped from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds; its top speed was electronically limited to 250 km/h.
In autumn 1992, when the 600 SL appeared, the engine of the 500 SL underwent minor changes. The version of the four-valve V8 with Bosch KE-Jetronic used previously was replaced by the “standard-deck engine” which was already in use in the 500 E (W 124) and in the Saloons and Coupés of the S-Class (140 series). Characteristic features of the new engine were its modified crankcase, whose deck height was now identical with that of the 4.2-litre unit, and the Bosch LH-Jetronic electronic injection system with mass airflow sensor. As in the V12 engine, full load enrichment was dispensed with here to reduce the pollutant emissions – a measure affecting not only the SL, but all other car models with V12 and V8 engines, too. In the case of the 5.0-litre engine this meant an output reduction of 4.4 kW (6 bhp) to 235 kW (320 bhp), a loss which for all practical purposes was imperceptible in terms of vehicle performance. From June 1993 onwards the 500 SL was called the SL 500 owing to a reform of the nomenclature; this reversal of the model designations applied as a matter of principle to all Mercedes-Benz models.
Enter the twelve-cylinder engine
In October 1992, the dream of many a friend of the SL came true: three-and-a-half years after the presentation of the R 129 series, now it too became available with the 6.0-litre V12 engine which had already proven itself in the saloons and coupés of the 140-series S-Class. To further reduce pollutant emissions the injection system was modified and full-load mixture enrichment dispensed with. In the 600 SL, June 1993 designated SL 600 and which was available from 1992 until 2001, the most powerful engine in the passenger car sales range delivered 290 kW (394 bhp) and made brilliant performance possible: at 6.1 seconds from a standstill to 100 km/h the acceleration was even better than that of the 500 SL; the top speed was likewise limited at 250 km/h. The twelve-cylinder engine was the epitome of smoothness and turbine-like power delivery. Above all, its imperturbability in high speed regions and the impressive and simultaneously refined manner in which it reached top speed were characteristic of the 600 SL.
The sizeable additional charge of more than DM 60,000 over the 500 SL made its ownership a matter of prestige. But for that the new top model of the series was equipped as standard with a whole range of extras that could only be ordered at an additional charge in the 500 SL. Apart from the ADS Adaptive Damping System with level control on both front and rear axles the basic equipment included, for example, cruise control, automatically dimming interior mirror, headlamp cleaning system, automatic climate control, leather appointments and seat heating. Externally, only the model designation badge and two “V12” badges in the vicinity of the air outlets behind the front wheel arches distinguished the 600 SL from its sister models.
The 1995 facelift brought improvements to the engines and transmissions of the SL 500 and SL 600 models. From September 1995, both featured a five-speed automatic transmission with torque converter lockup clutch, a completely new development that replaced the previous hydraulically-controlled transmission. The heart of this technical wonder was an electronic transmission control that swiftly and automatically adapted shifting behaviour to every driving situation and permanently exchanged data with the electronic engine management. Apart from these forward-looking innovations the automatic transmission was appreciably more compact and lighter than comparable five-speed units.
The engines were reworked once more to cut fuel consumption and pollutant emissions further. For this purpose the 5.0-litre V8 engine was equipped with a modified crankshaft, optimised valve timing, lighter pistons, individual ignition coils for each cylinder as well as an improved electronic engine management system called Motronic ME 1.0. Fewer changes were made to the design of the V12 power plant and merely concerned the configuration of the ignition coils and the electronic engine management system. As a result of the various modifications to the engine and the use of the new automatic transmission, it was possible to reduce the fuel consumption of the SL 500 and SL 600 by ten per cent while maintaining the output unchanged. From June 1996 the new electronically-controlled automatic transmission also became available for the SL 280 and SL 320 six-cylinder models, as an optional extra for the 2.8-litre variant, and as standard equipment for the SL 320.
V-engines instead of in-line engines
The 1998 facelift ushered in the V-engine generation with six and eight cylinders, which replaced – in the SL, too – the six-cylinder in-line engines of the M 104 series and the V8 unit of series M 119. The engines featured three-valve-per-cylinder technology and dual ignition for better emission values. They were also characterised by lower production costs.
Outputs ranged from 150 kW (204 bhp) in the SL 280 (M 112, top speed 232 km/h, 0 to 100 km/h in 9.5 seconds) to 165 kW (224 bhp) in the SL 320 (M 112, 238 km/h, 8.4 seconds) to 225 kW (306 bhp) in the SL 500 (M 113, 250 km/h, 6.5 seconds). The top-of-the-range SL 600 continued to use the tried-and-tested twelve-cylinder engine (M 120) with an output of 290 kW (394 bhp). The SL 280 was now the only model of the series still available with a five-speed manual transmission; all sister models had automatic transmission as standard.
Mercedes-AMG GmbH
Those still unsatisfied with the output and prestige afforded by the eight-and twelve-cylinders could turn to AMG in Affalterbach, not far from Stuttgart. Since 1990 a cooperation agreement existed between AMG and Daimler-Benz AG. From 1 January 1999, AMG became a 51-per cent subsidiary of the then DaimlerChrysler AG and adopted the name Mercedes-AMG GmbH.
AMG offered power-hungry customers several alternatives. When the first vehicles developed on the basis of the cooperation agreement came out on the market in 1993, the first SL model was the SL 60 AMG (M 119, 6.0-litre V8, 280 kW/381 bhp), which was produced until 1998; a purely AMG version with the same engine had existed earlier, from 1991 to 1993, under the name AMG 500 SL 6.0.
Models SL 55 AMG (M 113, 5.5-litre V8, 260 kW/354 bhp, 1999 to 2001) and the top-of-the-range model with twelve-cylinder engine, the SL 73 AMG (M 120, 7.3-litre V12, 386 kW/525 bhp, 1999 to 2001), followed. The latter's maximum torque of enormous 750 newton metres propelled the vehicle from 0 to 100 km/h in just 4.8 seconds. The top speed of both cars was electronically limited to 250 km/h, but the limit could be neutralised on customer request. All power transmission components of the AMG models, from automatic transmission to rear axle, were adapted to the higher loads.
The AMG bodystyling package with fog lamps integrated in the bumper emphasised the terse dynamics of the sports car even more, without altering the clear lines of its design. The large AMG light-alloy wheels (diameter: 45.72 centimetres) added a further dash of unmistakable sportiness to the looks.
The special models of the R 129 series
Special SL models became available for the first time in the R 129 series. Extended and modified appointments distinguished them from the series-produced cars. This made them exclusive, offered a price advantage, and boosted SL sales at the same time. Between 1995 and 2001 there were 17 special series built in differing numbers, from ten to 1515 units.
In 1995 the “Special Edition” debuted with a production run of 630 units. It was available as SL 280, SL 320 and SL 500. Its distinguishing features included an exterior finished in brilliant silver, combined with red soft-top fabric.
The same year the “Mille Miglia” special series was released, with VIP and escort vehicles of the Mille Miglia Storica in Italy. There were a total of ten Mille Miglia units based on the Special Edition, but with further distinctive features such as an unobtrusive black-and-white chequered flag on the ornamental grilles of the front wings.
In 1998, another “Special Edition” arrived, available for all models except the SL 60 AMG; 500 units were built. Obsidian black was chosen as exterior paint finish; the leather seats were in designo red with black topstitching. The SL 280 was equipped with the five-speed automatic transmission as standard.
A further small VIP series was released on the occasion of the 1999 Mille Miglia Storica. It was based on the SL 55 AMG and ten units were built. A year later, the “SL Edition” stimulated the brand’s sports car sales; 708 units were built – the third-highest volume for an R 129 SL special series, and available as SL 320 and SL 500.
The “Final Edition”, dating from 2000 – 674 units were produced (all models with the exception of the SL 55 AMG and SL 73 AMG). They already heralded the approaching discontinuation of the series. Special VIP models were again available that year: the “Formula One Edition” (20 units) based on the SL 500 on the occasion of the Indianapolis Formula One race, and 12 units of the “Mille Miglia” of 2000. In 2001, the last special “Mille Miglia” model in the R 129 series followed, with 13 units based on the SL 600 built this time.
Various special series were created upon the request of individual markets, for instance the “40th Anniversary Roadster Edition” (USA, 1997, 750 units, models SL 320 and SL 500, and 35 models AMG SL 60 Limited Edition), in celebration of the coming of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster in 1957; “designo MB UK” (England, 1998, 150 units), “designo MB Japan” (Japan, 1998, 67 units), “designo Vintage Edition UK” (England, 2000, 49 units, models SL 280 and SL 320), “designo Heritage Edition UK” (England, 2000, 49 units, models SL 280 and SL 320), “Silver Arrow Edition USA” (USA, 2001, 1515 units of model SL 500, 100 units of model SL 600) and “Silver Arrow Edition UK” (England, 2001, 100 vehicles of model 500 SL).
The successor arrives
In July 2001, the Mercedes-Benz SL 500, the first model of the new SL series, the R 230 series, celebrated its world première. In the same month the last of a grand total of 204,940 units of the R 129 series rolled off the assembly line at the Bremen plant. In terms of overall volume the first SL manufactured in Bremen was not quite as successful as its predecessor from the R 107 series (237,287 units); but if average annual production is compared, the R 129 series with some 16,500 units is very clearly in the lead. The most successful model of this series was the five-litre variant equipped with the four-valve V8 engine M 119, of which a total of 79,827 were produced from 1988 to 1998. The rarest variant by far is the SL 280 with V6 engine, which served as entry-level model for the series from 1997 and rolled off the assembly line only 1704 times.
The R 129 series in the press
Shortly after the première of the Mercedes-Benz SL 500 “auto motor und sport”, Germany, No. 16/1989, wrote: “Altogether the new SL cannot be topped for passive safety by any sports car. Apart from its sophisticated body structure and the optionally available driver and front passenger airbags, the automatically extending roll-over bar dispels fear of overturning – though a little concern remains, of course, because ‘auto motor und sport’ did not confront the function with the worst-case scenario.”
The American motor magazine “Road & Track”, No. 3/1993, tested the twelve-cylinder model Mercedes-Benz 600 SL: “Drive the 600 SL, however, and the change is dramatic. Although the 500 SL has everything we expect from a Mercedes (a 0-60 mph time of 6.4 seconds, fine handling and safety), the V12 just adds another dimension to this luxury sports car. Some of that is pure power. Time to 60 mph – by our watch – drops another 0.4 sec., but what impresses most is all that torque lying in wait when you kick the 4-speed down a gear or two. Add the matter of smoothness – the smoothness of power that builds strongly rather than erupts, and the aural smoothness of the engine's hum in the background, even at full throttle.”
In a test report “auto motor und sport”, Germany, No. 16/1998, wrote about the Mercedes-Benz SL 500: “For nine years the Mercedes SL 500 has embodied a highly cultivated blend of performance, safety and comfort. The standard automatic transmission and the perfected coexistence of two roofs are a part of this philosophy.”
Technical highlights of the Mercedes-Benz SL, R 129 series
  • Automatic roll-over bars (deployment in 0.3 seconds)
  • High-strength integral seats
  • Drag coefficient cd = 0.32 (with hard top)
  • Fully-automatic electrohydraulic folding top
  • A world première: the draught-stop
  • ADS Adaptive Damping System (optional)
  • Fixed-calliper disc brakes
  • First twelve-cylinder engine in an SL (1992)
  • ESP® Electronic Stability Program (1995)
  • BAS Brake Assist (1996)
  • Cruise control down to speeds of 30 km/h (1996)
Production figures
Internal designation
Production period: pre-production series to end
Number of units
SL 280
R 129 E 28
SL 280*
R 129 E 28
300 SL
R 129 E 30
300 SL-24
R 129 E 30
SL 320
R 129 E 32
SL 320*
R 129 E 32
500 SL/SL 500
R 129 E 50
500 SL**
R 129 E 50
600 SL/SL 600
R 129 E 60
R 129 E 55
R 129 E 60
R 129 E 73
* With V6 engine.
** With M 113 engine.
*** Not registered separately.
Mercedes-Benz SL (R 129 series, 1989-2001) of 1989.
Mercedes-Benz SL series R 129. Winner of the “Goldener Klassiker 2019” (golden classic) award by “Auto Bild Klassik” specialist magazine in the “Cabriolets and Roadsters” category.
Mercedes-Benz SL of the R 129 model series. The newly developed, electrically adjustable integral seats are premiered in the roadster. The three-point seat belts with seat belt retractor and belt tensioner as well as the seat belt height adjuster and the associated head restraint adjustment were integrated in it.
Mercedes-Benz of the R 129 model series. The automatic roll bar of the roadster is a world premiere. It folds open in critical dynamic driving situations in just 0.3 seconds and ensures the passengers are protected above their heads in the event of a rollover.
Mercedes-Benz 600 SL of the R 129 model series. The top model was premiered in 1992. Photo from 1993.
The Mercedes-Benz SL of the R 129 model series (1989-2001) became the brand’s first series production car for which multi-stage electronic damper adjustment was available.
A fixed star in the SL range for many years: the Mercedes-Benz SL 500, in this case from the R 129 series (1989-2001) after the first major model facelift in 1995.
A fixed star in the SL range for many years: the Mercedes-Benz SL 500, in this case from the R 129 series (1989-2001) after the first major model facelift in 1995.
A fixed star in the SL range for many years: the Mercedes-Benz SL 500, in this case from the R 129 series (1989-2001) after the first major model facelift in 1995.
Mercedes-Benz SL (R 129 series, 1989-2001). The photo shows a vehicle from the first production.
Mercedes-Benz SL (R 129 series, 1989-2001). The photo shows a vehicle from the first production.
Mercedes-Benz SL (R 129 series, 1989-2001). The photo shows a vehicle from the first production.
Mercedes-Benz SL (R 129 series, 1989-2001). The photo shows a vehicle from the first production.
Mercedes-Benz SL (R 129 series, 1989-2001). The photo shows a vehicle from the first production.
After the 1998 facelift: the Mercedes-Benz SL 280 from model series R 129 (1989-2001).
After the 1998 facelift: the Mercedes-Benz SL 280 from model series R 129 (1989-2001).
Innovation: integral seat in the Mercedes-Benz SL (model series R 129, 1989-2001) after the 1998 facelift.
Sports car DNA: the Mercedes-Benz SL (model series R 129, 1989-2001). Photo: SL 280 after the 1998 facelift.
Sophisticated elegance: the interior of the Mercedes-Benz SL (model series R 129, 1989-2001) after the 1998 facelift.
Sports car DNA: the Mercedes-Benz SL (model series R 129, 1989-2001). Photo: SL 280 after the 1998 facelift.
Displacement like no other: the Mercedes-Benz SL 73 AMG (1999-2001) of the R 129 series (1989-2001).
Sports car DNA: the Mercedes-Benz SL 73 AMG (1999-2001) of the R 129 series (1989-2001).
Power pack: four-valve engine on the Mercedes-Benz 500 SL (model series R 129, 1989-2001)
In the limelight: Mercedes-Benz SL (R 129 series, 1989-2001) at the 1989 Geneva Motor Show
Mercedes-Benz SL of the R 129 series (1989-2001) with hard top. The photo shows a vehicle from the first production (1989-1995).
Interieur of the Mercedes-Benz SL of the  R 129 series (1989-2001). The photo shows a vehicle from the first production (1989-1995).