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When Greed Was Good. The Mercedes 560SL

There is something reassuring about the forgotten 80’s generation. A time when I lived in oblivion. Ronnie Regan was rockin’ it and New Wave was still new. It’s only been in the last few years the 80’s got some respect. I mean, the 1960’s were cool for 30 years. The 1970’s the last twenty. But those same people who made fun of the 80’s seem to embrace the fashion, the hairstyles, the pop art and of course the music. IMG_3526.jpgNothing symbolizes the “Greed is Good” era better than the Mercedes-Benz 560sl. The r107 model first appeared in the US in 1973 as the 450sl, later the 380sl. It was immensely popular. Offered from 1986 until the end of the production in 1989 the 560sl was the ultimate incarnation of the r107. If you came of age as I did in the 80’s you saw 560sl’s wherever trendies gathered. A roadster for the wealthy. The players. The yuppies it was the ultimate symbol of 80’s excess.

Perhaps the greatest article written on the impact of the r107 was in Los Angeles Magazine in 2014 under the auspicious Flashback Friday column titled: “The Ultimate 80’s Car.”

No matter where I strode in the 80’s—be it 3rd Ave in Naples, Florida, Old Woodward in Birmingham, Michigan, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or Arlington Street in London there was a Mercedes sl to be found parked up or cruising the boulevard, empty bottle of champagne rolling around a backseat fit for a child, the remnants of suspicious white powder on the centre armrest, Phil Collins “Sussudio” blasting on the Becker Grand Prix. Every 80’s player had one.

Be they celebrity or Miami Vice drug dealer. Richard Gere—in an Armani suit and listing to Blondie’s “Call Me”—cruised Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu in a black Mercedes sl. Eddie Murphy posed on the hood of a red one in Beverly Hills Cop. Detectives Hart to Hart solved cases in one. The Six Million Dollar Man owned one. Donna Summer cruised Naples, Florida in hers. I saw David Bowie’s wife Iman driving her emerald green 560sl on Sunset Blvd. George Michael offered a thumbs up in his and Madonna drove the King of Pop to the Grammy’s in hers. My own blessed mum owned a white ‘80 450sl. She sold it after 14 years with just 29,000 miles on it. A little bit of me died the day it went for a pathetically low $10,000 USD.

For years I thought about owning one. Whilst the r107 never well and truly fell out of fashion, its values plummeted in the 90’s. But then again nothing good came out of the 90’s. I lived in Los Angeles from 1989 until 2009 and in those years looked at them several times. Mostly they were neglected. In 2002 my neighbor bought himself a nice black 560sl with a tan interior.  Often I looked out my home office window as he went cruising down the street with the top down looking like a master of the universe. In fact he was an accountant. 

Each June I travel to my family’s old summer residence in Michigan. I was in need of a little run about to keep in the garage. Something with a bit of style. But not a big price. I heard from a friend of mine living in Miami. They were going through a divorce and did I know anyone who wanted to buy a Mercedes. I asked which one? 

“A 560sl,” he replied. My interest piqued. An ’89 model year it was the last of the r107 line he bought it for his wife. Triple black, he invested all manner of time and money into it. New carpets. New leather replaced leatherette on the seats. The car even had the rear jump seat to replace the parcel shelf. A nice feature at an extra cost back in the day. He even recovered the leatherette trim strip around the cover housing the convertible top. A beautiful Nardi wood steering wheel and matching wood shifter was added. New floor mats finished off the interior. 

On the exterior he did a total respray of the original black. The original wheels were chromed by LA wheels—including the full spare—and a new canvas top put on. 

Apparently his wife didn’t want an “old” car. Nor did she want him. He was desperate to sell. Was I interested?

Oh yeah. 

I flew to Miami to have a look at it. I didn’t know much technically about an r107 except from experience I’d learnt it required two guys to remove the hard top at risk of scratching the hell out of the boot. A quick look round benzworld.org’s 107 roadster forum and I learnt plastic chain guides perished destroying the engine and should be sorted right quick and sloppy steering was often down to a tuckered out steering coupler. 

When I lay eyes upon the 560sl I immediately wanted it. Patience. The owner had a load of records going back six years but not beyond that. He claimed it was a Florida car since new and by the look of the underbody it had never seen snow nor salted roads. Much to my delight the owner had sorted the chain guides and the air con blew ice-cold. There were only two weak spots—one the chrome fender trim he added. I am not a fan. Fortunately, they are easily removed after unscrewing two small screws. The second issue was the steering. A test drive along Brickell shown the steering was quite sloppy to the point of dangerous. A quick PPI with a local Mercedes specialist reveled it indeed needed a replacement steering coupler. The owner agreed to have it sorted. After a bit of negotiating we agreed to $19,000 cash deal. Boom. Done. 

I flew back north to Michigan happy to escape the scorching hot summer heat of Miami. Three days later the Mercedes arrived by transporter, the steering coupler having been replaced. I hand washed it on the driveway, removed

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Cruising on a perfect June day in 2014

the chrome wheel arch bits and replaced the faded hood badge and centre caps. From the trunk I removed the disassembled convertible top stand the previous owner threw in for free and assembled it. With the help of a friend we removed the hardtop and set it on the stand. 

As a balmy Michigan summer evening set in I went for a first drive with the top down. Is there really any other way to enjoy a 560sl? It was a beautiful evening, the warm muggy summer evening when it doesn’t get dark until nearly ten at night.  A little bit of Genesis 3-Side Live “No Reply at All” on the bluetooth stereo along the windy beautiful tree lined roads of Bloomfield Hills, down round Cranbrook and into Birmingham receiving endless waves and thumbs up and even a lady asking to take a picture of me looking far too happy. I knew then the decision to purchase the r107 was the right one. 

That was 2012. Over the years I have done normal services to the car. Nothing special. Change the fluids. Plugs. That sort of thing. I had some items that drove me nuts though and sorted. I had a non-original windscreen. I was able to replace it with a factory windscreen. The other item that drove me to madness was the wood veneers. The previous owner had resealed them with two part resin and it just didn’t match the finish of the rest of the Mercedes. I was able to score replacement wood veneers and install them. I repaired a power steering leak, colour sanded the entire car, buffed all the brightwork and aluminum filter cover in the engine bay. The results were almost like chrome. Very pleased.

A memorable experience for both the Mercedes and me was Woodward Dream Cruise. It takes place in August, but I was able to participate in 2013. Although a one day Saturday event the cruising culture begins in May and goes all summer long. Many I night I would lay in bed with the windows open listening to the distant sound of engines screaming up and down Woodward Avenue all night long. I went out many an evening in the r107—down Woodward Avenue from 18  to 12 mile—joining Detroit muscle and Italian stallions. Always stopping for an ice cream in the hot August evenings, I’d sit with my old school friend talking to other enthusiasts outs for an evening cruise. 

Dream Cruise ‘13 came bright and early and very, very hot. I met up with my brother and stopped in Birmingham where street after street was filled with gorgeous cars on display of every imaginable marquis. And then the cruising. Down Woodward Avenue to 12 mile and back again. Unbelievable cars. 30,000 of the them. The streets lined with a waving folks in their aluminum chairs and coolers of beer. A million of them. People not beer. What a party. The best moveable auto show in the world. 

The party hasn’t ended. My attitude is the party never ends. Each summer and for years to come I’ll enjoy my 560. It’s not the most expensive classic around. In fact quite a bargain, especially when you consider the r107 still gets preferential parking out front of most restaurants thanks to adoring valets. I see loads of top rides in the summer months—Lamborghini Gallardos, Ferrari Californias, Bentley GTC’s and Porsches of all manner.

Bloomfield Hills Country Club
Parked up next to a friend’s ’88

Still, I find the r107 the prettiest motorcar on the road. And on any given evening in the summer I’ll find four to six other r107’s out and about. Mostly its someone like me. Someone who adored them in the 80’s when they were out of reach at $65,000 USD ($130,000 in 2019 dollars). On rare occasions I’ll see and elderly gal driving her pristine sl and realize I’m looking at the original owner. They seem as happy driving theirs as I am mine.

It’s 2019. I’ve enjoyed seven wonderful summers with the Benz and I look forward to many, many more. Sadly, the r107 hibernates under a car cover in the garage eleven months the year.

But, when June roles round I arrive in Michigan, disconnect the battery tender, take off the cover and put the top down, ready to enjoying a month of pleasurable drive—both errands and evening jaunts to dinners or just a cruise down Woodward Avenue—never tiring of it. Not ever. Every moment in the 560sl elicits smiles from me. It takes me back. Back to those lazy summers in the 80’s when all I cared about was making the perfect mix tape and *rolling. In my 560sl I hear strains of “In the Air Tonight,” stealing glimpses of my salad days when American Gigolos cruised PCH, Yuppies were Masters of the Universe, and “Greed was good.”

As always—may the road rise with you. 

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80’s Valley Girls on their mum’s 380sl in Encino, CA.

*Rolling had a very different connotation in the 80’s than it does now. Back then it was something you did with a pretty girl. Rolling around on the sofa. Or in the car. Or in a meadow on a warm summers night. Nowadays rolling is something only done when high on ecstasy or some other odd drug.

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