Mercedes-Benz 380 SL – 1980

This is one of the all-time great roadsters, part of the celebrated Mercedes-Benz R107 series produced from 1971 to 1989. Like all Mercedes series, models and versions came and went. The 380 SL was introduced in 1980 as a two-seater convertible with a standard soft and hard top. It gave rise to a stretched version, the fixed roof 380 SLC with which it has been confused, and which was popular in its own right —but only the 380 SL could give you that through Paris, with the wind in your hair’ feeling of glamour and sophistication.

In 1981, the 380 SL found its feet with an engine retuned for efficiency and better fuel consumption compatible with the US market. It lost some power in the process, but its already slightly underpowered magic wasn’t about speed — it was about style. And the 380 SL had loads of it. Its production run came at the end of the longest uninterrupted run in Mercedes history, and it benefited from all the minor changes and technological advances of its predecessors. That it still looked so similar to earlier roadsters was a tribute to Mercedes-Benz design. Spoiled for choice, people continued to choose to spend a lot of money on the 380 SL as a statement.

It conferred membership of an international club as distinctively as a kilt identified a Scot — and owners gained the extra kudos of association with the great Mercedes SL models of history, including the 1950s Gullwing itself. If it was a status symbol, the 380 SL was more affordable than most. By the end of its production, its profile was so familiar it almost seemed conventional. With the advantage of hindsight, it’s obvious that it never was. The Mercedes-Benz 380 SL purred to its own tune.


FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1980 (until 1986)

ENGINE: 3,818 cc V8

PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 110 mph (177 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 11.5 secs

YOU SHOULD KNOW: For a long time after the introduction of R107 models they were referred to as der Panzerwagen (‘the armoured car’) because of their great solidity and weight compared to their 1960s sporting predecessors. But the series sold over a quarter of a million cars, very many of which are still on the roads today.


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