By on February 14, 2013

The Mercedes-Benz R107 is one of those cars that often has a vast difference between the typical perceived value and the typical price you can get when you try to sell one. I’ve seen plenty of these things in running condition for three-figure prices, and I’ve seen them fetch big bucks when they’re extremely nice. Once an R107 gets some blemishes and/or doesn’t run right, its value usually drops down to the scrap range, and that’s why they often show up in wrecking yards and even in 24 Hours of LeMons races. Here’s a Malaise Era 450SL that was an emblem of conspicuous consumption when new and still shows some signs of its former glory as it awaits The Crusher in a Denver wrecking yard.
I might need to go back and disassemble this HVAC control unit, just to see how its analog heart works. Probably a lot to go wrong inside, but odds are that it worked for at least a couple of decades.
Power came from a 180-horsepower, 4.5 liter SOHC V8 engine, which wasn’t bad for the darkest days of the Malaise Era. This car was a bit pokey, given that it scaled in at 3,595 pounds (!), but the luxury was 100% real.

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39 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1980 Mercedes-Benz 450SL...”


  • avatar
    clocker

    Ah, I see an orange “clunkerized” engine…my Denver yard has suddenly sprouted several of those too.
    I thought that program ended a few years ago, where are these coming from all of a sudden?

    • 0 avatar
      Lt.BrunoStachel

      “Ah, I see an orange “clunkerized” engine…my Denver yard has suddenly sprouted several of those too.
      I thought that program ended a few years ago, where are these coming from all of a sudden?”

      He doesn’t say when he took these pictures but looking at the lack of snow and there is a guy wearing short sleeves in the background I’d say last summer. I doubt these were from 3 years ago when C4C was in full effect.

      On the other hand, a self service yard in my neck of the woods still marks engines this way. It seems they have a crew of minimum wage earners that pulls certain engines to sell either as known running examples or to the core rebuilders. Something tells me you wont see this particular engine listed in the FourStar or Jasper catalog. Word for the uninitiated. If it’s painted than dont waste the time pulling parts from it. You cant buy it.

    • 0 avatar
      chas404

      Sorry to jump the thread but as my grandfather used to say “nothing stimulates a woman more than a Mercedes 450SL convertible”.

      old joke must have come into vogue in the 70s.

  • avatar

    Why don’t you scrape out the leather?

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Too bad about the “clunkerization”. With only 124K showing on the odometer, that engine probably had a lot of service left in it. The cracked paint looks like a cheap respray. The interior looks good except for the leather seats. MB Tex would have endured better. I wonder what repair(s) were needed that the owner decided to trade it in under the cash for clunkers program?

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      On the other hand, now it’s ripe for a modern, sensible engine with more power and better economy.

      That 450, in US tuning, was a pig from day 1; the European “equivalent” 280SL got the same power and torque out of a 2.8L straight six, or considerably more power out of the 4.5L 8.

      • 0 avatar
        gottacook

        Keep in mind also that the U.S.-market 1980 450SL (the final year of that motor) was more of a dog than the ’79, as a tradeoff for an improvement in EPA highway fuel economy ratings. On that test cycle, measured at 48 mph in those days, the 1980 model went all the way up to 16 mpg, from 12 mpg in 1979 (see http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/epadata/79guide.txt and …/80guide.txt).

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    SELs used to be pretty popular, and this example doesn’t look too destroyed. I would strip every component that’s in decent condition and put them in my basement/garage. These period Mercedes were built to last, I could see re-builders having a need for some of those components long after supply dries up.

  • avatar
    4LiterLexus

    I want to buy that hard top, and I don’t even own an SL. I love the classy gauge cluster, too.

  • avatar
    west-coaster

    “Probably a lot to go wrong inside” (regarding the HVAC panel)

    Yes, and a lot of these quickly fell into beater status in the 1980s and ’90s, after “hundred dollar millionaires” picked them up used to try and impress people, only to find them pricey to keep in good condition.

    That was actually the case with a lot of S-class cars as well, at least here in SoCal.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      My co-worker who is the old timer that works on these says that that climate control was purchased from Chrysler and was absolutely horrible. You wanted the manual controls in these things.

      • 0 avatar
        BMWnut

        So that’s why those buttons has such an un-Germanic look! I was wondering about it from the moment I saw the pictures. Thanks for giving us the low-down.

        The system was so unreliable that the Wikipedia page on the R107 devotes an entire paragraph to it.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      I wonsder how similar it is to the Cadillac system of the time. The temperature dial looks like it came from the same supplier. If it is like a GM system, the pushbuttons operate switches that feed into a complicated electro-vacuum setup with a black box that, once again, takes a combination of electrical signals from the cabin temp sensor and the temp dial, and vacuum signals from the switchbox behind the control panel, and theoretically opens and closes a variety of air doors, and switches on the A/C compressor (electrical) or heater control valve (vacuum) as appropriate. It sounds and is terribly Rube Goldbergian but usually works if the vacuum hoses and wiring are in good order.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    If the year is right, this car couldn’t have been a cash-for-clunkers victim (at least not the national C.A.R.S program); the earliest model year eligible was 1984. I wonder what the deal is with the painted engine.

  • avatar
    ceipower

    I bought a used 560SL years ago.Smoked Sliver , a real beauty.Loved the car , even though it went thru money like water thru a sive.The German logic in building this car seems to defy common sense. Everything was over complex and worked poorly most of the time. The HVAC on the car was terrible. The trim pieces were flimsy,The factory radio was a clunker, and on and on. Only the uber rich can afford these when new and too often they don’t maintain them properly. After two years the honeymoon was over , sold the car and really don’t miss it much.

  • avatar
    StaysCrunchy

    It’s hard to think of any Malaise Era car as being “timeless” but I really think these cars have a beautiful, classic look that holds up well.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Murilee, if you go back to that yard and its still there, see how much the grille runs and let me know how much your time is worth to remove and send it to me. 28carslater AT gmail.com. Thanks.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The SL model (R107) was produced from 1972 through 1989 making it the longest run for an MB body style. I still prefer it’s classic looks to any of post 1990 SL successors.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    What’s hard for me to understand is that the U.S.-spec bumpers that sprouted on this car in 1974, when nearly all federalized bumpers were incredibly ugly and protrusive, went unchanged by Mercedes for the next 15 years. Of course they didn’t really need to make the bumpers nicer-looking during this period, as they would have sold just as many cars either way to the sorts of people who would have bought them.* But back then Mercedes saw itself, I think, as not paying attention to mere aesthetics – quite unlike today.

    *Including, regrettably, my own father who purchased a new 1980 450SL with leather for his 20-years-younger second wife a few months after she rescued him from widowerhood; she was German by birth and I guess he wanted to impress her by spending more than thirty-five thousand 1980 dollars on it. The marriage lasted 15 more years, but the car was rarely driven and is sitting today under a cover in a garage on a nearby rental property. It’s been properly maintained by a Mercedes specialist, driven a handful of times a year – but what a waste.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Gary woke, and went through his morning ritual. He combed his silver mane, put on a fresh salmon Polo, and strolled to the mailbox with his coffee in hand. His knee was not in a good mood today. He exchanged waves to the neighbor. Bill, bill, junkmail, AARP, bill, letter from the community association…
    “Crap.”

    Gary turned to look at his trusty R107, as if to catch some nosy busybody in the act of scribbling on a clipboard. Nobody was there. He became enraged. First, he stared at the “German Silver” tape he had applied a month prior, now fluttering in the wind. Then his eyes met the cause of his frustration. The Benz had built up a healthy layer of sludge on the tarmac. The coating was thick, and a fresh puddle of crude, both black and red, in the center shined in the morning sun. He opened the letter, already knowing what was within.
    “SECOND NOTICE”
    “It has come to our attention that your vehicle is in violation of the Aspenbreeze Townhome Regulations

    Vehicles parked in the same location in the common areas for longer than 14 days are deemed to be “in storage”. This is not permissible. Additionally, the vehicle is leaking an excessive amount of fluids. Please do your part to help keep our common areas clean.”

    Gary wadded the letter and pitched it at the Mercedes. “S.O.B’s!!!”
    The neighbor stopped watering her plants and sheepishly went inside.

    He went inside and retrieved the keys to the Benz as well as his prescription. The seat let out a squeak as he carefully ducked inside. The door, also let out a groaaaan as it was tugged closed. With a twist of the key, the V8 unleashed the sound of a 1000 wartime ball-bearing factories through it’s rusted out exhaust. Gary gripped the wheel tightly as he sped into town. Squeezing the wheel primarily, out of rage, but also to battle the shaking from the not-quite-round tires. He cussed and damned the whole way. “Nobody has anything better to do but stick their nose in my business!!!” “If only they paid this much attention to my….!” The coupe answered in kind with various squeaks and bangs from a bushing-less shock absorber. As if it was saying “Yeah!”, “You tell ‘em Gary!”

    “What do they expect me to do? Just run out and buy a new car like all these other pinkos on everyone else’s DIME!!?” Gary stared at the busted interior of what was once a very nice car. A broken car for a broken man. It was the only thing left to him in the divorce. None of the memories associated with it were fond. He all-of-a-sudden started entertaining the idea of getting rid of it. He pulled into a KIA dealer and a buzzard approached, as if seeing…no…SMELLING the rotten corpse in the middle of some desert.

    “What’s the cheapest damn car on the lot?”

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I’m surprised the removable hardtop has not been sold off, that’s usually the first thing to go. I see these fairly reasonably priced sometimes from folks who live in an upscale area who bought it 30 odd years ago and don’t want to deal with the repairs that are associated with age, HVAC, electrical maladies, timing chain etc. and want an upgrade.

    Some of these came with the optional rear jump seats for the occasional grandchild visit or when fluffy the poodle needs a ride to the vet.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    In a former job I spent a lot of time in the mansions as well as the garages of the local uber-rich . Often these types would have a garage or two with parking for 5 or 6 cars . More than a few times there would be an elderly SL parked there among the Porsche Cayennes and Range Rovers , usually in immaculate but seldom used condition . Often the lady of the house would tell a story about a mother in law , stepfather or grandfather who was either deceased or no longer athletic enough to maneuver their way into the car . Here in Houston during the Carter malaise era times were good here due to the ” oil crisis”- these were our boom times until oil fell to $9 a barrel , followed by the savings-and-loan collapse of the eighties – and these were actually big sellers among the rich , be they old money or new ,much more so than the later model SLs .

  • avatar
    OAlx

    I am confused by the speedo going only up to 85mph/140kmh. Was the car specifically designe not to overtake trucks?

  • avatar
    Joss

    BI-LEVEL became a luxo prefix after the Camargue debut in 75. Seems like overkill on any convertible or removable hardtop.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Seeing this article, I thought to myself: “God, I wish our current administration would offer Cash for Clunkers again!”

  • avatar
    Maz357t

    Dear Murilee,

    Help finding a Rallycross (Lemons level) car!

    I’m from England and this is my first proper holiday since making it back from a deployment to Afghanistan as a Royal Marine. And I made myself some promises when I was out there…

    One of them was to finally take-part in a Rallycross event. Another was to see Colorado again.

    Well… I’m on a flight to Denver next Thursday 28th February 2013, and a Rallycross event on the Saturday and Sunday, and it’s my birthday!!

    Only remaining challenge – no car!

    So I’m looking to buy something, and any ideas/help/advice would be much appreciated! I think your articles are great – and you’re clearly a bonafide expert! So…

     The following list gives a better steer on the kind of car that I need:

    • Under $200 ideally (could stretch a little for something that would survive until my next visit to the US…)
    • This beauty must run – or it’s condition must give me a fighting chance of getting it running in a day – because I land on Thursday, have only Friday to prep, and race Saturday!
    • A stick-shift would be best
    • Rear-wheel drive 
    • Brakes that work (or again brakes that I can fix in a day)
    • Must be heavily Pre-loved ;)

    Dream buys:
    •Running with brakes 2-door, 4-speed, rear wheel drive Chevette

    •First generation MR2 with body gone to pasture but sound enough mechanicals

    •A Fiero as above

    •Anything running, stick shift, rear wheel drive…?!

    Ok – I’m a fan of your articles, and of Colorado – and I know that you must have the most encyclopaedic knowledge of these kind of cars in that territory than anyone else!… 

    …there’s gotta be a car out there! Any help/advice gratefully received.

    Thanks for reading, and here’s hoping…

    The very Best to you,
    Maz

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    These are known in Germany as the panzer,because they used the running gear from the larger ,heavier sedans . The front end is from the W114 sedan and the rear was used right up to the mid 1980’s in the W126. This means that everything is very much unstressed. The interior looked boring compared with similalry priced Aston Martins etc but how many of those were still running when the SL/SLC were still giving trouble free service? The ideal one to buy is the R107 300SL with the M104 engine. These hold their values and you will still pay a premium for one.
    One of the other posters says his was unreliable and everything broke…mmm, maintenance is cheap maintenance if you do it. And often these cars could have 500,000 on the clock which was not reflected in the condition of the cars. So when owner number 3 or 4 turns up,and no service history is found,the car would let them down so therefore all SL’s were unreliable.
    It’s a story I have heard so often it has hair on it.And it can be applied to almost all the pre 1992 mercedes cars.
    The biggest R107 problem so far is Rust. If buying one,always remove that cover over the air plenum in the engine compartment. if any rust is visible,the body is shot. Once rust is visible here,it means the firewall square section tubes are rusting inside and it’s not economical to repair them.


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