The danger with buyer’s guides such as this is that problems get blown out of proportion – but not on this occasion. In the interests of research, I risked being confronted by an angry owner to check the front wings of his 'immaculate' SLK. There it was: rust bubbling at the bottom rear corners of each front wheel arch.
So why spend money and time on the model? Because the Mk1 SLK, codenamed R170, is, with its electric folding roof, still a stylish car and a wonderful tool for browsing the back lanes, as long as you don’t mind pulling over to allow a sportier BMW Z3 or Porsche Boxster of the same era to zip past. And huge numbers of used examples mean there’s no excuse for not actually finding a good one.
Standard kit included ABS, alloys and traction control. A facelift in 2000 included new front and rear bumpers and body-coloured side skirts (pre-facelift models have unattractive black sills).
A future classic? That’ll be a cherished, rust-free, low-mileage one, for which you should pay around £8000. Prices for the rest start at £1500. Classics they are not – unless you spend a considerable sum on overhauling and rust-proofing. Mileages are high at these prices, which says much about the car’s usability and the tightness of that Varioroof (it should open or close in about 25sec).
The supercharged and V6 engines are strong and powerful, which makes up for the car’s slightly wooden chassis. A full history is common, but most cars dropped out of the franchised and specialist dealer network long ago, so problems can be lurking. These include the electronics (water leaks wreak havoc in the boot) and automatic gearbox and ignition systems, where oil can make its way along wires to control systems. A specialist will know these problems and save you pounds on wasted diagnosis time and new parts.
An expert’s view...
TONY LEACH, MERCEDES-BENZ CLUB
“I’m the club’s specialist on the SLK and have owned three: a 1996 2.3 Kompressor, a 2000 2.0 K and my present car, a ’99 2.3 K, which I have rebuilt to the tune of £8000. The ride is firm and you notice bumps but it’s fun to drive, even at 176,000 miles.
“I love the looks of the first-generation SLK, and the electric folding roof is so convenient. It still looks the part: Mercedes called it a mini-SL at launch. You can get them for £800 but it’s not a car you should buy on the cheap.”
Mercedes SLK problems