By on July 6, 2021

1996 Mercedes-Benz SL320 R129 in California junkyard, RH front view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsMercedes-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.

1996 Mercedes-Benz SL320 R129 in California junkyard, engine - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn 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?

1996 Mercedes-Benz SL320 R129 in California junkyard, decklid badge - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe ’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.

1996 Mercedes-Benz SL320 R129 in California junkyard, interior - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsEuropeans could get a new 1996 280 SL with a five-speed manual transmission, but all the American-market R129s had mandatory slushboxes by then.

1996 Mercedes-Benz SL320 R129 in California junkyard, steering wheel - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsDepreciation 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).

1996 Mercedes-Benz SL320 R129 in California junkyard, wheel - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSomeone 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!

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27 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1996 Mercedes-Benz SL 320...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    It seems odd to see such an expensive car ending up like this. There must be some bits and pieces on this worth some money, but by this point I would imagine all the good stuff is gone

    • 0 avatar

      Generally (from my recent research) the 93-95 cars have the disintegrating wiring harness, and all of them have complex and expensive hydraulic power top problems eventually.

      And if they’re not maintained they’ll just fail generally. Which judging by the wheels on this one, it’s been a while since it’s had regular maintenance type owner.

      Each time they updated it they also cheapened it a bit, and there were two updates. This is after first update example.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        In other words even @ $78,300 most of the “value” was in the name Mercedes-Benz, which I guess we already knew

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        My dad bought his first Mercedes from this era (1998 C-class), and can vouch for what Corey wrote. For the first 60,000 miles, flawless. They were mainly easy highway miles, garaged at home, and babied. Didn’t matter. Once it crossed that mile threshold, yikes. I remember that sunroof would probably give Corey’s Niagara Falls one a run for its money. Electronic gremlins really started creeping in, and diagnosis and repairs are eye-watering expensive. The warning lights would like to turn on and off.
        I think this was the last generation of C-class designed before the Daimler-Chrysler merger because I recall the next gen (the blob C-class) had quality scores that resembled a Lada. And this was probably the last good SL-class before the market changed to high dollar SUVs and CUVs and left these expensive coupes in the dust.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Tell us more about these updates.

        • 0 avatar

          Things like the steering wheel got modernized, odometer from analog to digital. The door panels were simplified, believe the seats were as well. Gauges eventually got chrome rings around them.

          The first update brought HiD lamps, revised lower cladding. Easy to notice because the three rectangular fender slats became two rounded ones. At the same time it lost the original Sacco styling, two-tone was phased out.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      “Eventually they’re all worth 500 bucks”
      -ColdWarMotors

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I’m kind of surprised to see the hardtop still there but I think far more buyers of the R129 went for them versus its predecessor the R107 where you see plenty around with soft tops, usually the high end Haartz canvas.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I am too, from what I just read all the R129s are convertibles and the hard top roof is detachable to be fitted over the closed canvas roof.

        • 0 avatar

          R129 had standard fiberglass hard top throughout its run. Sucks down over the closed canvas top via hydraulics and the push of a button – no bolts required.

          Along the way there was a very expensive ($12k) glass panel roof option, seldom selected.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Oh it wasn’t a removable piece like on the R107?

            I think this guy has that option, but it seems pointless on a convertible.

            https://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/pts/d/pittsburgh-1999-mercedes-500-sl/7325807189.html

          • 0 avatar

            Yep removable, sat on a stand. I assume you pressed the button to pop it loose, then needed two people to lift it.

            I’m sure the glass roof version was WAY heavier. That’s it there in the ad. They have very janky looking pull roller shades. It’s a neat idea but maybe cool to use only in winter when you’re not getting cooked.

          • 0 avatar
            MRF 95 T-Bird

            Tony Sopranos romantic interest played by Annabella Scoria was a Mercedes Benz sales manager. In those episodes she frequently drove one of these with the optional panoramic roof. You could tell it was the panoramic roof because it also had larger quarter windows.

          • 0 avatar

            She was a lady with some issues.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Thinking back on it, two-seaters were sure popular when I was young. How did people manage with them? Even before I had kids I used the back seats of my cars on a very regular basis.

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      Third cars. I have family members who were able to afford such luxuries – they had a Lexus sedan for the nice haul people around car, an F-150 for work duties, and a 2 seater to blast around the rural Ohio farm roads on a nice Sunday afternoon.

      I don’t use my back seat on a regular basis except to haul large, bulky computer/network/server boxes, and yet I’m still drawn to the new MX-5 like moths to fire. I’ve tried to justify the purchase over and over again, but I keep telling myself that there will be those times where there will be extra luggage, or the third friend of family member, or the Dell/HP boxes that won’t fit in an MX-5 trunk… And one of these days, I’ll probably break down and lease an MX-5 to get it out of my system.

      • 0 avatar
        Tele Vision

        Can confirm on the Miata love. I’ve been Jonseing for one for 20 years. Last time I seriously shopped for one the local NBs were the same price as a 2007 CTS-V. So I bought the Caddy.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      The predecessor R107 offered a rear jump seat option that was fitted over the carpeted area. I take it that enough people ordered them for their kids or poodle.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Awesome writeup, Murilee! (You are the maestro.)

    That ‘cannonball’ ad is the best piece of marketing I have ever seen. Ever. [Not currently interested in a Mercedes (nor a Mercury), but I am *definitely* going to be shopping for a nice petasos.]

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    a 65′ Primer Grey Chev. Impala is worth more than any R-129. A R-129 in good condition would look good in a static condition in your garage, however, CaddyDaddy recommends removing the battery and keeping D-CON in the engine compartment as the wiring is more desirable to rodents than cheese.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “keeping D-CON in the engine compartment as the wiring is more desirable to rodents than cheese.”

      The biodegrading variety or all Mercedes wiring of the period?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      Did you pick a primer-grey ’65 Impala at random, or was this a reference to Murilee’s excellent and entertaining series of articles he wrote about the primer-grey ’65 Impala he used to have?

  • avatar
    Manic

    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.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    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.

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