That’s what performance feels like in a an SL55 AMG, a car full of drama, style, luxury and complexity. So is it a risky buy? It doesn’t have to be
4 June 2017

If you want a dream car for Ford Mondeo money, look no further than the Mercedes SL55 AMG.

It’s bonkers fast, courtesy of its 5.4-litre supercharged V8 (0-62mph in 4.5sec or 4.4sec, depending on whether it’s the original 469bhp engine or the 493bhp powerplant that quickly followed it and the 510bhp unit of 2006). It’s refined and versatile, thanks to its metal folding vario-roof (it opens or closes in 16sec). And it’s loaded with so much standard and optional tech, including all the ‘-tronics’(Dist, Lingua, Park and Senso), Active Body Control suspension, keyless-go and tyrepressure monitoring that you’ll need a week with the handbook.

New, it cost from £90,000; today, an SL55 can be yours from around £11,000, with prices rising to £30,000 for mint 2007 cars and even earlier, lower-mileage ones. The sweet spot is between £14,000 and £17,000, but experts say £20,000 is safest. Mileage, condition and spec trump registration year, so don’t think that just because it’s on an 03 plate, it’ll be cheaper than an 07. We researched an online valuation for the one we found, a 2003/03 car with 76,000 miles that is described as being in good condition. The valuation, provided by Manheim, an auction company, was £8900. The car’s trade seller is asking £14,950.

Why the £6000 difference? There’s the seller’s margin, of course, but the fact is that an auction, the basis of this valuation, is no place for a specialist vehicle such as an SL55. Down among the workaday Mondeos and in front of steely traders, it just looks like a money pit, and the valuation reflects that. Still, it’s a sobering exercise and shows why, when buying one, you should have your dealing boots firmly laced up.

Deal done, you’re in for a treat. Under that beautifully crafted aluminium body lurks a true supercar. AMG took the V8 from the SL500 and strengthened it in almost all areas to cope with the 55’s extra power, which is sent aft via a robust five-speed auto with paddle shifts. Some of that extra power came from mechanical changes, including an increased capacity, a faster-spinning supercharger and computercontrolled engine mapping.

The Active Body Control (ABC) suspension system serves up a firm but comfortable ride but it can leak and cause the pump to fail, expensively. The vario-roof should have turned the SL55 into a true all-weather express but for the fact that the seals on early models can let water into the boot, where it shorts the motor. Cars from 2006 had better sealing and you can upgrade earlier roofs. Those 2006 cars also got slightly more power courtesy of a faster-spinning supercharger and a larger throttle valve. Emissions fell, too, but road tax is still £535.

When it was launched, demand for the SL55 comfortably outstripped supply. For good examples, the same holds true today. Just remember to haggle – and haggle hard. 

An expert’s view...

PAUL THOMPSON, MERCEDES-BENZ CLUB

“I bought my SL55 new in 2002. It has done 67,000 miles and, apart from needing new front struts, has never put a foot wrong. It’s not leaked at the roof but I know early ones are prone. Allowing the drain holes to get blocked with debris doesn’t help. If you’re looking at an SL55 for under £20,000, be very careful and have it inspected by an expert. Your ‘One we found’ looks interesting but I’d rather it was a private sale so you can gauge the owner.”

Mercedes SL55 AMG problems...

ENGINE

Check the supercharger’s separate cooler isn’t leaking. There’s a lot of plumbing around the engine so ensure everything is fluid-tight and rust-free.

SERVICING

Variable but usually every 12k miles. Brake fluid every two years, coolant every four, transmission oil/filter five.

ELECTRICS

The SL55 is an auto electrician’s nightmare. Known weak spots are the traction control system, by-wire throttle, electric windows and tyre pressure monitoring system.

SUSPENSION

Check the ABC system for rusty pipes and leaky seals, which cause the hydraulic pump to run dry. It can fail at 60k miles, too, if fluid isn’t changed. A new one is around £1500. In 2008, the system was recalled for possible acceleration sensor failure. Suspension struts are a common MOT test fail.

BRAKES

The Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC) was the subject of various recalls so check the car was seen. The system is designed for around 100,000 miles before car goes into limp mode.

BODY

Dents in aluminium body panels can be a devil to put right. Check the boot for damp, which can short the roof motor and the central locking vacuum pump. When roof is raised, listen for creaks that could indicate poor alignment. Look for rust on the rear wheel arches. 

Also worth knowing...

If the vario-roof goes west, contact a roof specialist such as Cayman Auto Services. Faults they encounter include sticking bootlids, seized roofs, noisy roof operation, faulty pumps, poor roof/frame alignment, blocked drain holes, water ingress, sticking windows and more.

Mercedes SL55 AMG prices...

£11,000-£13,995

Early (2002/03) private-sale cars with around 100k miles and partial history.

£14,000-£16,995

Dealer-sale 2002/03 cars with around 70k miles, plus higher-mileage cars.

£17,000-£19,995

Some 2004/05 cars with 70,000 miles, plus low-mileage 2003-2005s with under 50k miles.

£20,000-£25,995

A host of 2003-2007 cars with less than 50k miles.

£26,000-£30,000

More bullishly priced 2003-2007 cars, most with very low mileages and full main dealer histories.

£35,000-PLUS

Rare SL55 with the F1 pack (which includes uprated suspension, larger wheels and revised brakes).

John Evans

Our Verdict

Mercedes-AMG SLK 55

The Mercedes SLK 55 AMG's non-turbo 416bhp V8 makes a hot rod out of the German car firm's junior roadster

Join the debate

Comments
10

4 June 2017
I seem to remember that Mercedes engineers called the 70s/80s SL the panzerwagen because it was so tough , clearly it's later successor certainly couldn't claim that title. If this was a Jag/Aston/Lotus with as many known weak points then the pundits would say walk away, however this car is German so different rules.

4 June 2017
Agreed and whilst it might not be as exciting, the older car has more class, will tend to attract positive comments not aggression and should financially be the wiser buy overall.

4 June 2017
Sweet spot £20K,a list of potential,very expensive to fix things that could go wrong,adds up to a risky purchase private,and that's before we get to insuring it.

Peter Cavellini.

4 June 2017
Yup. Gotta love the optimism of journalists who aren't spending their own money. Budget at least £5k a year on keeping it going, on top of insurance and day-to-day spend.

4 June 2017
Nowhere in the article does it mention servicing costs or schedule?,what kind of money to set aside per year?

Peter Cavellini.

4 June 2017
Too true and in the real world what does it offer that you can use,that the regular

4 June 2017
The Panzerwagen (R107) remained in production for almost two decades, and the last cars with different wheels, colours and minor facelifts looked as fresh as the earliest ones.
Its simple straight powerful shoulder line from front to back makes the R107 (and its predecessor the Pagoda) a classic.
No subsequent SL can claim R107's longevity nor, I suspect, its visual desirability. The tripartite profile - the bonnet that rises to join the A-pillar, the rising wedge from the door backwards, and then the sloping tail - such weak breaking up of lines will never make this a design classic.

5 June 2017
Whatever you do. Don't. A friend of mine has an addiction to these. Heaven only knows why. Maybe he likes spending money. Suspension is a constant nightmare. Both his pre-2008 cars needed new front struts - the cost of which could finance the UK's trade deficit. Failed air suspension pump next. Then the roof - a constant source of leaks and micro switch carnage. Hundreds more. Then the air conditioning...etc etc. £1000's spent each year in keeping thenthing on the road.

Saying that he's just bought a new one.

Nice wagon, but don't think it is a bargain.

Spanner

5 June 2017
The R107 SL is probably my all time favourite car. It may not be the best driving car but it oozes understated class and timeless style which no modern Mercedes can ever, or will ever, be able to replicate. Unfortunately many of the mint, low mileage examples have now fallen into the 'investment' bracket and are financially beyond reach as a second car. I've seen them priced at anything up to 100k. I'm always showing ads of more realistically priced, higher mileage R107s to the wife but she's not biting!

5 June 2017
Not as cheap as suggested then?,would you be better taking a risk on one three,four grand cheaper,and finding a friendly mechanic?

Peter Cavellini.

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