Junkyard Find: 1996 Mercedes-Benz SL 320

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1996 mercedes benz sl 320
Mercedes-Benz built the R107 SL-class, in all its stodgy-yet-sporty glory, from the 1971 through 1989 model years. I have documented quite a few of those iconic SLs and SLCs in car graveyards over the years, but have not paid much attention to their successor: the R129, built from 1989 through 2001. Today, we fill in some junkyard-history blanks with a mid-production R129, found in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard last month.
In 1996, the US-market SL-Class hierarchy had three ranks: SL 320, SL 500, and SL 600, allowing buyers to choose between a straight-six engine (228 hp), a V8 engine (315 hp), and a V12 engine (389 hp). Today’s car is the sprightly six-cylinder machine, scaling in at a flyweight 4,010 pounds (versus 4,165 and 4,455 pounds for the V8 and V12 cars, respectively). Are there depleted-uranium ballast plates hidden somewhere in these cars?
The ’96 SL 320 listed at $78,300, or about $136,500 in 2021 dollars; its V8 and V12 brethren started at $89,900 and $120,100 ($156,740 and $209,390), respectively. At that time, my only car was a primer-gray 1965 Chevy Impala sedan, and I’m sure any R129 owner would have taken care to park all the way across any lot from my hooptie.
Europeans could get a new 1996 280 SL with a five-speed manual transmission, but all the American-market R129s had mandatory slushboxes by then.
Depreciation hits cars like this hard, particularly when they reach their third or fourth owners and don’t get the maintenance they demand. It appears that clean 500s and 600s go for decent money these days, but a six-cylinder R129 already has one wheel in the junkyard when it develops some expensive mechanical problem (i.e., any mechanical problem).
Someone with wrench-turning skills could put together a nice R129 by harvesting good trim and interior parts from discarded cars like this one and transplanting them into a semi-rough runner. There are no weak points in this plan, obviously.
Here we’ve got fleet Mercury (no, not this kind of fleet Mercury) chasing a cannonball fired by the Lord Humungus through a mashup of ancient Greece and the Bonneville Salt Flats and pursued by an SL with an Instamatic-wielding passenger. Such is the life of an R129 owner.
Such a futuristic machine!For links to more than 2,100 additional Junkyard Finds, visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.
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  • Manic Manic on Jul 06, 2021

    That hard-top definitely is easy to remove and is worth something. I've been thinking about getting R129 as a project car, 320 would be enough for lazy driving. These were known as last proper MB-s during the dark period, 90's and beginning of 00's when all other MB models were complete crap and these still had proper old-school stone heavy glove box door. Not sure if 129 had low quality wiring just for couple of years like mentioned above, seems kinda strange.

  • Felix Hoenikker Felix Hoenikker on Jul 07, 2021

    I still favor the R107 over the R129 even though the R129 is more technically advanced. There is just something timeless in the R107 styling. Build quality is top notch too. I have a 74 450SL that has been under rolling restoration for 20 years now. Runs almost as good as new now after extensive engine work (mostly by me). When I drive around town in it, it gets a lot of attention from the younger crowd. For instance I drove to the local Honda dealer to buy a part for my Accord. When I came out, there were three young service guys giving it an inspection. Another time I was stopped at a light when a 30s something Hispanic guy offered to trade my his car and wife for it. She did not look very pleased with his offer. I just smiled and drove away when the light changed, Late run R107s are getting serious money now. Some have sold on BAT for over $100K. Mind you these are almost museum quality, but the trend is upward. I may just make a few bucks when I'm too old and decrepit to drive anymore and have to sell it.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?