Currently reading: Greatest road tests ever: Mercedes-Benz 300SL-24
Back in 1990, we drove this sought-after roadster for the first time

Despite its stratospheric price, the R129-gen Mercedes-Benz SL had a thre-eyear waiting list when we tested the six-cylinder automatic in 1990. But we couldn’t quite understand why.

The 300SL-24 auto used the world’s first five-speed self-shifter. It employed an extra planetary gear set as an overdrive ratio and worked beautifully with the exceptionally smooth 24-valve straight six under full throttle. But while urban slushes were seamless, there was a marked kickdown delay. The brakes were tireless, though.

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Grip was impressive, and lift-off oversteer showed the chassis had a rare agility, but power slides were wrested from the driver by traction control that braked individual rear wheels and subdued the throttle. The steering was direct but lacked the feel and weight to do the chassis justice. The ride was superb, though.

The plush, ergonomically sound cabin wanted for driver leg room and rear-seat space. Only with the hard top in place of the canvas roof did the SL avoid excessive wind noise.

For: Fine ride and handling, ergonomics, hood design

Against: Cramped interior, unexciting performance

What happened next

99 Merc r129

The 300SL was discontinued in 1993, when the ‘SL’ was changed from suffix to prefix, but its innovative five-speed auto ’box lived on in the SL 280 and SL 320 six-pots. The R129-gen SL was replaced by the R230 SL, with its retractable hard top, in 2001, which itself gave way to the R231 (2012-2020). The SL’s brief hiatus was ended by a new R232 version developed entirely by AMG, which made its debut in 2021 and goes on sale this year.


Price £61,580 Engine 6 cyls in line, 2960cc, petrol Power 231bhp at 6300rpm Torque 201lb ft at 4600rpm 0-60mph 8.6sec 0-100mph 22.8sec Standing quarter mile 16.7sec, 87mph Top speed 134mph Economy 19.2mpg

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