The Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC 5.0 isn’t a dream car, because it’s obscurity and touring car blueprint is a relative buzzkill. But this Bauhaus-worthy super coupe is a homologated racer much like it’s 300 SL forefather. I’ll skip the basics to focus on unit #1576: a grey market import from a USAF officer stationed in Germany. The current owner, Leif Skare, let me drive this meticulously kept, nearly stock (period correct 15” wheels and AMG front spoiler aside) SLC 5.0 before it heads back to Europe. Perhaps the SLC 5.0 is a dream car, when viewed in the right light. In the right place.
I absorbed the scene, like a moment stolen from another decade, a different generation…
The SLC takes flight against the Menil Museum, a landmark of Houston’s thriving art scene. The prodigious C-pillar louvers match the Menil’s roof, providing visual distraction from the bulk of a freakishly long body. So long that the A-pillar rests disturbingly close to the chassis’ centerline. Which is stunning, even if the trim dimensions, pillarless hardtop, non-Federalized bumpers/headlights and charcoal gray ribbed lower trim fly under the radar. Add the 5.0 badging and durable rubber decklid spoiler and the package is right, but few onlookers fall for this coupe’s siren song.
TTAC’s Yankee readership may never see an SLC 5.0, but they already have: Ford ripped off the SLC’s rooftop louvers for their entry-level sports coupe. Which puts this car in context: an average guy in a Mustang 5.0 coupe, meeting someone far less attainable in an SLC 5.0.
It was 1980. I was a wanna-be artist exiting my Mustang, walking to the Menil. I saw her once again, a hot-to-trot socialite, with a vehicle only seen in magazines: how did she get an SLC 5.0 in America? That made her more interesting than other women in this crowd. But I sat alone, on one of the few benches in the museum, admiring the art through a crowd of nameless, faceless people. Then she walks up, looked me square in the eyes and coarsely said, “Scoot over.”
I did. Unique car aside, she’s far from an average socialite. I had to strike a conversation, albeit labored and awkward. Mercifully, she let the discussion veer to her car. Shockingly, she took me for a spin.
All the “car guy” chatter expected at this point was repackaged in a self-aware, stunningly beautiful creature: she knew the SLC 5.0’s weight reduction happens via aluminum hood, doors and engine. More surprising, she claims the lighter portals shut with a solidity found in a normal S-class, Cadillac or Jaguar. Judging from the haute couture draped over her body, she’d know better than I.
We hit the freeway discussing travel, as I admired the useless roof-mounted grab handles. As I enjoyed the German leather’s distinct fragrance and rich carpeting (even on the parcel shelf), she spoke of a restaurant in LA’s Little Tokyo district: sampling a new creation called the California Roll. Avocados in rice are a delicacy I can overlook, but the SLC 5.0’s abundant wood trim and “silver-lining” chrome accents have mass appeal. Yet her high-brow talk isn’t bragging, it’s enrichment: the same way the SLC 5.0’s interior feels more purposeful, less frivolous than the same bits in a fashionista’s SL roadster.
We spoke of music, Donna Summer and Saturday Night Fever 8-tracks resting in my 5.0 Mustang. Her Becker “Monza” compact-cassette deck retorted with esoteric Giorgio Moroder and Manu Dibango. So she mystified me, much like the SLC’s exotic seat heaters paired with power front and crank rear windows. Then we stopped. She nonchalantly told me to switch places.
I slipped behind the oversize tiller. The steering has more heft than anything I’ve driven (this is 1980!) with power steering, with more cornering poise and flexibility: swing axles and stabilizer bars keeping the rear planted and easy to rotate with a heavy right foot. While the 3-speed automatic was no sweetheart, the 5.0 had tremendous torque, a flat powerband and revved hard past 5000 rpm: unheard of in the Age of Disco. This ain’t an E-type Jag, so the SLC 5.0 is a barge in the Yank Tank tradition. I left the driver’s seat pining for an “SLC” version of my 5.0 Mustang. That arrived in 1988 via Lincoln’s Mark VII “LSC” and its 225hp 5.0-liter V8: derivative name aside, the parallels are still disturbing. Take my word for it…or not.
But please believe that dreams never last: my time with the lady and her SLC 5.0 ended as quickly as it began. I didn’t see a wedding ring, yet I’d never have her. She’s a self-made, fiercely independent bombshell that fights off men’s advances with a proverbial stick. I’ll never take a shot at her like that, even if she wanted more from our encounter. We parted in the parking lot; I followed her in my be-louvered 5.0 Mustang. No matter how I tried, her SLC 5.0 was one step ahead: I lacked the grip, thrust and brakes to match her pace. Thank goodness for dreaming of pretty women in pretty Mercedes coupes…
Big thanks to Lief Skare for the test drive, Dan Wallach for the photos and you-know-who-you-are for your time