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So after I bought my Accord, my wife told me to buy a project car. Huh, OK. I've been sifting through the usual Miatas, Wranglers, etc. I've always liked the R129 though, and the prices aren't terrible. The problem is that I know absolutely nothing about owning or maintaining one. So, any experiences here? Run over to an NC PRHT instead?

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So after I bought my Accord, my wife told me to buy a project car. Huh, OK. I've been sifting through the usual Miatas, Wranglers, etc. I've always liked the R129 though, and the prices aren't terrible. The problem is that I know absolutely nothing about owning or maintaining one. So, any experiences here? Run over to an NC PRHT instead?

View attachment 197225
My first thought and not related to maintence or reliability is that other than being a convertible its the exact opposite of Miata. A big heavy car that will eat up large distances in comfort compared to the wee Miata and its more focused approach to things. Also I would imagine parts prices and availabilty are close to the opposite as well but have no first had 129 experience
 

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In to learn. I've been kicking around the idea of trading the E38 for a nice silver R129 on Monoblocks. Something like this, hard top on, since I'm a pasty white guy who has learned his lesson with drop tops.

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Prices are on the rise for those, but there are still a lot of good ones out there. The 500 is a wonderfully rounded car, but don't discount the 300s either - they are surprisingly good even with the smaller 6-cyl. Avoid the V12s, maintenance costs will drain the blood from your face. As far as buying one for a project car, if that means a high mileage example with needs that you will be fixing, don't do that. Get the best one you can and spend the money necessary to do so. Cheap Mercedes are expensive Mercedes.

Good article from the SL Shop here.

Personally I'd qualify the R129 as turning genuinely collectable as time goes on. This would be a good time to jump in.
 

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I have no first hand experience with ownership but have driven an early 2000s SL500 with the M113 5.0 V8 engine more than a few times. Great cruiser and has a great look even all these years later. I prefer it over the R230 that followed.

I've heard that the M113 is a pretty reliable engine. Only thing I can think of in terms of potential problems would be the roof but you can always put a hardtop on it.

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Found a decent buyers guide: The Mercedes-Benz R129 SL (1990 - 2002) (clifton.io)
 

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Ex Miata owner here, nothing to add except that I LOVE these things. It’s the complete opposite of a Miata but so much style and build quality. I’d own one.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
My first thought and not related to maintence or reliability is that other than being a convertible its the exact opposite of Miata. A big heavy car that will eat up large distances in comfort compared to the wee Miata and its more focused approach to things. Also I would imagine parts prices and availabilty are close to the opposite as well but have no first had 129 experience
Yeah, I've never driven one. Maybe I'll hate it... who knows. But I like the idea of it more than a Miata. I think.

In to learn. I've been kicking around the idea of trading the E38 for a nice silver R129 on Monoblocks.
I agree on the Monoblocks.

As far as buying one for a project car, if that means a high mileage example with needs that you will be fixing, don't do that. Get the best one you can and spend the money necessary to do so. Cheap Mercedes are expensive Mercedes.

Good article from the SL Shop here.
Thanks for the link. I'll have a read. Maybe 'project' is the wrong term. More like a car that I don't need everyday and that I can screw with on weekends. Something interesting. Good to great condition - cosmetically and mechanically - would be a requirement.
 

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I absolutely love these. Prices are on a bit of a rise, though they haven’t gone nuts yet. I listened to a recent Carmudgeon where they were discussing how the 500E price had gone way up, but the SL which is basically a 500E roadster is steady and costs about 20% 500E money.
 

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My mom had two when I was in high school. Not particularly fun, fast or roomy. Emphasis on roomy. I'm 6'2" and more comfortable in an NA Miata than the R129. She had an R107 560SL before these things, it was a much more entertaining car, still a MB, so not exactly fun, but so much more of a car, less of a statement. There are a few cars I look back on with nostalgia, this isn't one of them. I love Miatas though, so I might be biased. If it helps, I like it more than the R230 or any of the more recent ones. I also think the SLR is the ugliest, dumbest car this side of a Gelandewagen though, so know that I don't particularly like MB.
 

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I absolutely love these. Prices are on a bit of a rise, though they haven’t gone nuts yet. I listened to a recent Carmudgeon where they were discussing how the 500E price had gone way up, but the SL which is basically a 500E roadster is steady and costs about 20% 500E money.
Ha, no. It is in absolutely no way a 500E. They may share an engine, but one was hand built by Porsche with unique body work and suspension, one was just churned out of the regular MB plant. The SL is much heavier (450-500 pounds), plodding and dull. The 500E, for the time, was truly special. I got to drive one for a few hours at the time that my mom had an R129 and it was excellent. One of a very few MB that I truly like.
 

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Maybe 'project' is the wrong term. More like a car that I don't need everyday and that I can screw with on weekends. Something interesting. Good to great condition - cosmetically and mechanically - would be a requirement.
Excellent. Proceed with great enthusiasm.
 

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Ha, no. It is in absolutely no way a 500E. They may share an engine, but one was hand built by Porsche with unique body work and suspension, one was just churned out of the regular MB plant. The SL is much heavier, plodding and dull. The 500E, for the time, was truly special.
Their words, not mine.

Plus, while I am well aware of the whole hand built by Porsche thing, while cool, it’s sort of just frippery. And the SL only weighs about 300lbs more, in a 4K lb vehicle.
 

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Their words, not mine.

Plus, while I am well aware of the whole hand built by Porsche thing, while cool, it’s sort of just frippery. And the SL only weighs about 300lbs more, in a 4K lb vehicle.
True true.
Camissa's video on the 500E dispels a lot of the myth.
Porsche was contracted to build the 500E, mainly because MB couldn't fit the widened car down the assembly line - AFAIK, NOT because it had porsche spooge all over it.
Chassis modifications, I don't know much about that.
 

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As with any aging MB, buy on maintenance history over anything else.

In no particular order:
  • If looking at 93-95 models, I would check if the wiring harness has been replaced. They were made out of a biodegradable material that..de-graded
  • 1996 onward lost the two tone cladding + gained side airbags + 5 speed autos on the 8/12 models
  • 1994 was the name change, i.e. SL320 instead of 300SL
  • Project implies some DIY, if so then the V12s are off the list
  • I'd say the easiest to work on is either the 300SL or SL320. I've the same straight six in my E as the 94+SL320s. It's supremely smooth with a surprisingly nice snarl at upper RPMs
  • If you're really feeling your oats, you can try and find one of the (under 500 IIRC) 300SL's sold with a manual.
  • These aren't fun in the tossable or sporty, but are "fun" if you appreciate a well built, substantial feeling car that devours miles
  • I believe 1999 was a changeover year for the new V8. Gone was the M119 V8 (that MB fans adore) and in their replacement, the M113 V8. Less pedigree than the previous motor, but I'd argue more reliable
  • There are 11-12 hydraulic units in the power top + many switches and feedback loops involved for each stage. It should close and open quite quickly, and finding one with any of those hydraulics recently serviced is a bonus. There are folks that can rebuild said hydraulics for $600ish last I checked
  • Most MB'ers consider 96 - 98s SL500s the "best" for the combo of older V8, but updated 5 speed transmission and interior/exterior
 

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No love for the older ones? This is one of my favorites. They're just so... Mercedes. :)

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Ex Miata owner here, nothing to add except that I LOVE these things. It’s the complete opposite of a Miata but so much style and build quality. I’d own one.
There's a wide delta between this and a Miata, but both being 2-seater drop-tops means they're not "complete opposites". 🍺
 

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No love for the older ones? This is one of my favorites. They're just so... Mercedes. :)

View attachment 197247
Love for sure, but only if it says '560' on the back. The 450s are pretty sedate, and the 380s were almost diabolically slow. When I worked at a MB dealership in college I delivered a 380 from service back to a customer and acceleration was so slow I went to the dispatcher afterwards and asked if there was something wrong with it. No, he said.....that's how they all are.
 
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