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Rising Star: The Mercedes-Benz R129 SL

At Turtle Garage, we are longtime fans of the R129 SL—our love affair with this groundbreaking car dates back to 1990. A dealer poster of it hung above my bed at Boston College. Sightings of the then-new SL were rare in Boston, but I remember being at Jimmy’s Harborside for my 20th birthday and seeing a brand-new 300SL parked out front. Seeing the car in person for the first time was a classic “a-ha” moment. Back then, the car looked like no other sports car. The hood went on forever, the back was angular, and the windshield was extremely raked. The car was stunning with the top down, the top up, or with the hardtop installed. The price was stratospheric. The vehicle introduced a lot of firsts, but at the top of the list was the pop-up roll bar that would instantly deploy if the SL sensed a rollover situation.

Over the years, Turtle Garage has owned three R129s. The first was a 1995 SL500. We put over 50,000 miles on this car and enjoyed every minute of it. The next SL was a V12 600. This car was like driving a turbine jet. Currently, we own an investment-grade 128-mile final-year SL600 V12.

The R129 SL production spanned between 1989 and 2001. It ushered in a new era at Mercedes and replaced the aging R107 SL, which was in continuous production since the early 1970s. The R129 represents the zenith of Bruno Sacco’s design influence at Mercedes. Sacco’s reign produced some of the most attractive Mercedes-Benz vehicles of the modern era. Other Bruno Sacco designs from that era that are garnering collector respect include the C126 coupe (500/560 SEC), the W124 (300E/500E), and the W201 (190E and 16V).

The Turtle Garage R129 SL

Philip and Dean Laumbach with the Turtle Garage R129 SL V12

Recently, Bloomberg has run a few articles featuring the highlights and appeal of the R129. Most recently, last week, Bloomberg accurately and eloquently quantifies the many benefits of this remarkable and increasingly collectible Mercedes.

The Mercedes Sports Car Loved by Princess Diana Is Having a Renaissance

SL-Class models from the 1990s are set for a propitious rise in price.

By Hannah Elliott

January 26, 2024

Be careful about asking someone who owns a 1990s-era Mercedes-Benz SL-Class auto what they like about the car. You might not be able to get them to stop talking.

“Everyone’s too busy fetishizing Porsches to notice anything else, but it’s such a perfect design,” says Matt Morris, a photographer who splits time in California between Napa and Los Angeles. He paid $17,000 in 2018 for his 1998 Mercedes SL 600. “I laugh every time I pull up to a hotel in Bel Air and they park me right out front, alongside cars people dropped $300,000 on.”

This SL that Princess Diana took delivery of in 1991; is now in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.This SL that Princess Diana took delivery of in 1991; is now in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.Photographer: Ken Lennox/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Tony King, co-founder of marketing agency King & Partners, paid $30,000 for his 2000 Mercedes SL 600 last year. “It has a smooth engine and a comfortable cabin,” he says. He drives it to his Madison Avenue office in New York. “I wanted something comfortable and stylish, and it’s so easy to use. I think the design looks better and better.”

Produced from 1989 to 2001 and known internally at Mercedes as R129, this two-door, two-seat sports car has developed a cult following of fans who are scooping up the model while it’s still underappreciated—and relatively affordable.

Designed by Bruno Sacco, an Italian-German engineer who headed Mercedes-Benz Design, the R129 is characterized by it long, flat hood, sharply slanted windshield and short back end. It sports almost no chrome—a distinct departure from its shiny-angled predecessor, the R107 of the 1970s and ’80s that’s been popular for years. With sophisticated performance and advanced technologies for the time, the brawnier R129 felt like a quantum leap forward.

Read more: How’d You Get That Car, Atif Kazmi? The Story of a 2000 Mercedes-Benz SL 500

PURSUITS_ Mercedes-Benz R129 featurePHOTOS BY ALEX NIBYT.The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a touring car made by Mercedes since 1954. The name “SL” comes from the German word Sport-Leicht, or Sport Light in English.Photographer: Alex Nibyt

Diana, Princess of Wales, was an early fan. When she got hers in 1991, it caused an uproar: She was the first member of the royal family to publicly use a foreign-made car. Buckingham Palace clarified that she’d leased the metallic-red V-8, worth $130,000, for personal use. She still drove a Jaguar for official duties.

The R129 made its debut in 1989 as the six-cylinder 300 SL and the V-8 500 SL; customers of the 300 SL could choose between a five-speed automatic or manual transmission. For model year 1993, Mercedes offered a 12-cylinder 600 SL option; 1997 came with an optional panoramic glass hardtop and optional sport package with 18-inch AMG monoblock wheels, sculpted rocker panels and xenon-gas-discharge headlamps. By 2001 the sport package had become standard, and for model year 2002 a Silver Arrow trim available on both the SL 500 and SL 600 became a fully loaded special edition.

Listen to more: Bloomberg Hot Pursuit!: Mercedes SL Class (Podcast)

Read more: How’d You Get That Car, Atif Kazmi? The Story of a 2000 Mercedes-Benz SL 500

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