Home » The R129 Mercedes-Benz SL Launched With One Of The Craziest Powered Features Of All Time

The R129 Mercedes-Benz SL Launched With One Of The Craziest Powered Features Of All Time

R129 Mercedes-Benz Sl Motorized Topshot
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When you think of power-operated features on cars, what springs to mind? Seats and door locks, sure, but perhaps also motorized steering columns, electronic latches, and motorized console lids. However, I reckon the R129 Mercedes-Benz SL has them all beat, for it introduced a power-operated feature rarely seen in the motor kingdom. Can you guess what it is?

R129 Mercedes-Benz Sl Wind Tunnel

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The R129 Mercedes-Benz SL was nothing short of a masterpiece. It was one of the first cars Bruno Sacco penned under Mercedes’ then-new aero-look styling direction, yet due to being a low-volume product, was one of the last to be released. This means Sacco had years to refine the design and man, does it ever show. Despite being a heavy, solid grand touring cabriolet, the SL for the ‘90s was achingly pretty, a svelte minimalist interpretation of the classic roadster form. Plus, like any high-end Mercedes-Benz, it was a technological tour de force.

R129 Mercedes-Benz Sl Roll Bar

The R129 SL was the first car to have its upper seat belt reels integrated into the seats themselves, mounted to giant magnesium frames and power-adjustable in time with the headrests. It had a hydraulically-actuated automatic roll bar that would deploy if sensors detected a rollover to be imminent, deploying in three tenths of a second. Its electro-hydraulic fully-automated soft top was a revelation, not requiring owners to fiddle with any pesky latches but simply erecting refuge from the weather in around 20 seconds or so. However, none of those even come close to the R129’s most excessive feature.

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R129 Mercedes Benz Sl Interior

As in many cars, the power mirror selection switch in the R129 SL has three positions — left, right, and middle. In most cars, moving the joystick around with the switch in the middle position doesn’t do anything, but most cars aren’t R129 SLs. See, this car was developed when Mercedes-Benz really did build some of the best cars in the world, and the engineers in Stuttgart must’ve thought adjusting your own mirror manually wasn’t just vulgar, but also not safety-optimized.

R129 Power Interior Mirror

Yes, the interior rear view mirror in early R129 SL models is motorized, power-adjustable at the touch of a finger. Not only was this feature awfully convenient and superbly luxurious, it also meant that the driver’s upper body could stay planted to the seat during the adjustment process, ensuring a perfectly-adjusted rearview mirror suiting the driver’s position that could be tied to the seat memory. Is this obsessive? Absolutely, but that’s part of what made the R129 SL great. Besides, given the power under the hood, that rearview mirror would be the only way owners would see most cars.

R129 Mercedes-Benz Sl Rear

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In America, the base model was the 300SL featuring an astounding three-liter M104 twin-cam inline-six. Available in Europe on 300SL-24 models, this 24-valve marvel came with variable valve timing, a 10:1 compression ratio, and stout peak output of 217 horsepower. Even better? You could get it with a five-speed dog-leg manual gearbox in America, although examples so equipped are rarer than rocking horse droppings.

R129 Mercedes-Benz Sl Profile

However, the SL you really want is the 500SL, the chest-thumping V8 model with a belter of an engine. The M119 quad-cam V8 may have originally launched with somewhat antiquated Bosch KE-Jetronic, but it also made 322 horsepower. In 1989, that was 26 more horsepower than a Ferrari 348, 31 more horsepower than a V12-powered Jaguar XJS, and 82 more horsepower than a standard Chevrolet Corvette. The 500SL is still a quick car today, with a Motorweek-clocked zero-to-60 time of 5.9 seconds and a triple-digit trap speed in the quarter.

R129 Mercedes Benz Sl Rear 2

Sadly, the quad-cam V8 and the powered interior rear-view mirror both fell victim to cost-cutting later in the 1990s, but not before spreading to the W140 S-Class. If luxury is nothing more than craftsmanship and excess, the powered interior rearview mirror in the R129 Mercedes-Benz SL might just be the zenith of 1990s luxury. Hell, it might just be the pinnacle of Mercedes-Benz itself.

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(Photo credits: Mercedes-Benz)

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SMACFE
SMACFE
9 months ago

I can’t let a discussion of MB from this era go without reminding folks of just what garbage the interior appointments and the transmissions were on this era of Benzes. My ’89 320 SEL was so bad that from the day it was delivered, there would be a pile of buttons on the floor mats every night I got home. When I went to get my 20,000 mile service, the service manager (a friend) told me that I needed to start thinking about selling the car ASAP as the transmission was already bad, and that they rarely lasted beyond 30K miles. After paying almost $75K for the car new, I got $12K for it only 4 years later, and I was happy to get it. The guy that bought it already had a transmission out of a wreck lined up for it. These were definately the dark days for Mercedes Benz.

Black Peter
Black Peter
9 months ago

ensuring a perfectly-adjusted rearview mirror suiting the driver’s position that could be tied to the seat memory.

Sold!!! As a 5-9ish (used to be 5-11, whomp whomp..) married to a 5-0 wife this would be amazing

Nolan Orr
Nolan Orr
9 months ago

I loved both of my v8 R129s. Excellent cars to eat up highway miles.
The acrobatics of the hydraulicly operated top always draws attention. Unfortunately the youngest of the R129s are now 21 years old, and the hydraulic seals perish with age… hydraulic oil stains are really hard to wash out of your clothes when the seals burst.

Anoos
Anoos
9 months ago

Weren’t these also available with a V12? I’m pretty sure a neighbor has one and he seems too old for badge swaps.

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
9 months ago
Reply to  Anoos

The V12 was introduced later in 92, the early V8 is the one to get though

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
9 months ago

Why so?

I’ve never owned a 12 and I feel this is a real shortcoming in my auto enthusiast career.

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sexton

The original DOHC V8 sounds amazing and is supposedly more reliable than the SOHC V8 that replaced it. The SOHC is torquier down low but doesn’t rev as high. The V12 is cool but it isn’t much faster and is significantly less reliable. We also didn’t get the 7.3L V12 monster version here in the states.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sexton

’92-’95 V8s had a tad less power than ’89-’91 V8s (322hp). ’98+ V8s had the least amount of power for the V8 (302hp).

The V12 didn’t get you that much more power (390hp) and comes with a lot of extra expenses (reliability and maintenance).

My personal rankings:

’89-91 500SL’96-98 SL500’92-95 (SL)500(SL)’98+ SL500Any Inline-6 modelAny V6 modelAny V12 model
If I had deep ass pockets, the pre ’98 V12 would be at the top of the list. I also far prefer the older (pre ’98) interior. It just looks more “Mercedes” to me.

Last edited 9 months ago by BolognaBurrito
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
9 months ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

Yup, I want a 91 real bad but I don’t have the budget for a 30 year old Mercedes currently lol

Throw J
Throw J
9 months ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

I’d have to respectfully disagree. The V12 has mountains of torque for highway missile cruising (always the fun part of owning big cruisers from MB and BMW) and the suspension is eons better than the standard springs. Having owned both a 500 and the 600 the smooth firmness of the hydraulic suspension on the 600 makes the standard one feel like you’re riding on a skateboard. The M120 V12 is also one of the most reliable engines in Mercedes history.

I can’t imagine how weak the six-cylinder models feel. Rowing your own gears is awesome but the car weighs more than a modern day Kia Sorento. You don’t want the C-class engine in this. You want the V12.

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
9 months ago
Reply to  Throw J

Counterpoint much appreciated, maybe I’ll have a V12 someday after all…

Throw J
Throw J
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sexton

It’s probably the cheapest practical V12 car you can buy right now. Of course it isn’t all a dream, the hydraulic top will eventually need servicing/replacement of cylinders (to the point that there is a go-to company that does the reconditioning lol), and hydraulic suspension and occasional Mercedes niggles are always trouble spots. But they’re far cheaper cheaper than later-gen ABC suspensions and convertible hardtops to deal with, and definitely more dependable than, say, a Jaguar XJ or 8-series from those years.

Last edited 9 months ago by Throw J
Bob Josephson
Bob Josephson
9 months ago
Reply to  Throw J

Late to the party, but must agree, the V12 is something special indeed! Have never owned any other 12 cylinder vehicle so had no clue how the exhaust sounds and feels so different. Car feels like a black panther ready to pounce at any moment. I’ve had the car (it’s a 1999) for 12 years now, zero expensive repairs (though even an oil change hurts the budget).

I also own a 1999 Mustang GT rag. Night and day. To be somewhat crude, the SL is like dating the prom queen and the GT is like the trailer trash at bar closing – both fun in their own ways.

DadBod
DadBod
9 months ago

That dude’s Shaun Cassidy hair OMG

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
9 months ago

Well, the hydraulic system for raising and lowering the convertible roof and roll bar as well as for locking and unlocking the anchor latches has well-known reputation of squirting oil all over if the tubes, seals, and such break. Very expensive fix because you have to remove many components to access the broken or damaged part. Then, cleaning bill…

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago

Counterpoint: Sacco was to MB was Bangle was to BMW. Other than the model here and the 190/300 near-twins, his designs were uniformly terrible. Especially considering he was following the greatest car designer of all time, Friedrich Geiger.

Why Geiger thought Sacco was any good is a mystery.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
9 months ago

Well this is wrong on so many levels.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
9 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

On Sacco and Bangle.

Citrus
Citrus
9 months ago

This is absurd for multiple reasons, but probably the best one is that you just have to scroll up for a counter-argument.

Frankly the only actually bad design of the Sacco era was the W210, though it did fit with the general trends of the era and was still pretty influential.

Last edited 9 months ago by Citrus
LuzifersLicht
LuzifersLicht
9 months ago

I was so hoping it would be a motorized cupholder.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
9 months ago
Reply to  LuzifersLicht

My 3rd gen CTS had a motorized cupholder lid. You nudged it in the direction you wanted it to go, and it did the rest.

LuzifersLicht
LuzifersLicht
9 months ago

That does sound about the right amount of unneccessary and convoluted to be in a Benz

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
9 months ago
Reply to  LuzifersLicht

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YImOovSISEU

Sadly, I didn’t own the car long enough to see it fail.

LuzifersLicht
LuzifersLicht
9 months ago

Reminds me of pushing a disc drive closed. Or maybe putting a VHS into the player back in the day.
I predict those things would last *at best* until the car is loaned to that one friend. You know the guy, nice dude but a bit … overenthusiastic. And then he SLAMS the thing open because he thinks it just takes that much effort to open and by the time he hears the dying whine of the motor it’s way,way too late

ᵈᵒⁿ’ᵗ ᵗᵉˡˡ ᵃⁿʸᵇᵒᵈʸ, ᵇᵘᵗ ⁱ’ᵐ ᵗʰᵃᵗ ᵍᵘʸ

Last edited 9 months ago by LuzifersLicht
EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
9 months ago

“Yeah the Mercedes is in the shop again, the rear view mirror failed. I had to turn my head, it was terrible Jerry! Think I might of pulled something in my neck.”

Methane generator
Methane generator
9 months ago

Yeah Ricky, that’s the only thing you’ll pull driving that heap.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
9 months ago

I guessed right! I do love me an R129, even if I don’t generally care for convertibles. I remember seeing the power rearview mirror when I was a teenager and thought “Wow that’s cool…and unnecessary…but cool!”

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
9 months ago

I have read somewhere that the rear end styling was intentionally intimidating so as to discourage drivers of lesser automobiles from overtaking.

Methane generator
Methane generator
9 months ago
Reply to  Nic Periton

Huh. It looks exactly like the taxi/saloon version. They were going for intimidating? lol just attach an image of the driver’s own intimidating rear end.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
9 months ago

Very cool. Seriously, with all the wiring running to the center rear view mirror supporting all manner of cameras and other electronic wizardry, there’s absolutely no reason that a powered center mirror shouldn’t be available in all cars these days.

Methane generator
Methane generator
9 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

There’s no reason to adjust them either but you do you

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
9 months ago

Idk, my wife is a few inches taller than me. Our cars store everything in the memory except the rear view, of course. I sure would like that to be automatic.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
9 months ago

So you’ve never shared a car with a spouse/partner who is taller or shorter than you? I have to adjust that mirror every damn time I drive the car. The side mirrors and seats obligingly move to the right positions, but that center mirror just sits there and all I can see is the back seat until I reach up and adjust it with my grubby paws like some kind of animal.

Throw J
Throw J
9 months ago

You adjust the rearview mirror for the same reason you adjust side mirrors… and seats…

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
9 months ago

Does an electronically released glove compartment count? Because the Mondial has that.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
9 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

That’s nothing unless it can only be opened through a menu on a touchscreen.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rusty S Trusty
Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
9 months ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

It took me a similar amount of time to figure out how to open the blessed thing.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
9 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Finding and using the switch was probably 3rd or 4th on the list of priorities for deciding it’s location on a Ferrari from those days.
1.Does it look good?
2. Does it fit?
3. What wine should I have with lunch?
4. Can a person find and use it?

Last edited 9 months ago by Rusty S Trusty
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Ironically it’s probably the only reliable part in the Mondial.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
9 months ago

I think that the W140 S-Class debuted with the motorized interior rearview mirror as well?

The true a “holy grail” of this SL series is the rare straight six + 5 speed manual that was available in the U.S. in the early 1990s. The Jag XJS had this config as well at the same time, also super rare in the U.S.

Last edited 9 months ago by Bizness Comma Nunya
Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
9 months ago

The W140 also debuted double glazing and those retractable parking wands.

Goose
Goose
9 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

You could also get a dog leg 5 speed in the W140. Super rare.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
9 months ago
Reply to  Goose

The five-speed manual gearbox is exclusive to W140 with straight six petrol engines (300 SE 2.8, 300 SE, S 280, and S 320).

W140 is the last S-Class to offer the manual gearboxes, by the way.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
9 months ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

Interesting! Doubt they offered the manual on the W140 stateside, but cool to know.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
9 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

And the weird 4-way hazard flashing lights in the taillamps (1992–1994 model years).

The turn signal indicators have two bulbs on each side. When using the turn signal or hazard flashes, both bulbs are illuminated. When the hazard flashes are used and the driver wanted to use the turn signal at the same time, the two bulbs on same side alternate in illumination.

I don’t know if this feature was fitted to every W140 sold all over the world or exclusive to certain markets.

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
9 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

I remember those! I saw those in use once and thought that was the most glorious thing.

Jim Oldham
Jim Oldham
9 months ago

I thought the power deploy roll bar would be the subject. As a 107 owner the more “advanced” the SL became the more unreliable they became, and therefore there was more stuff to fix or just “do without”.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jim Oldham
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Oldham

The hardtop on the r107 is a pita because it’s so heavy, but on the other hand it will never ever fail.

Bizness Comma Nunya
Bizness Comma Nunya
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Oldham

What has been your experience with the supposedly dreaded biodegradable wiring harnesses? Is it really that big of an issue on 1990s MB products or is the fear overblown?

Throw J
Throw J
9 months ago

It’s just a wear part that shouldn’t be a wear part and is a pain in the ass (i.e. very expensive) to fix. Electrical shit is no joke and since there are models without the issue, you can simply shop around it so it’s a notorious sticking point

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
9 months ago

All I can say is that motorized console covers are the dumbest thing ever. I was shocked to find one in a rental Caddy CTS, didn’t even know it was a thing. As far as I’m concerned it’s just another thing to break and I’m perfectly capable of sliding a lid by myself.

The mirror adjustment feature on the SL is kind of cool, though. It’s out there but oddly useful.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
9 months ago
Reply to  OrigamiSensei

You’re not supposed to keep them long enough for that stuff to break, just turn it in at the end of the lease period and get a new one, the electric motors are the third owner’s problem (because the second will buy it with a CPO warranty)

Philip Dunlop
Philip Dunlop
9 months ago

If it’s tied to the memory adjustment for the seat, then it’s a great thing. As someone who shares a car with my wife, having memory seats would be amazing as it can take AGES to get my ass groove just right after she’s been driving it. But she also moves the rear view mirror which I often have to adjust while in motion. As it is, our car has an electrically operated driver’s seat back and lumbar but everything else is manual, so no memory setting. It always seemed so frivolous to me before, but now makes so much sense.

Cautionary Tail-Light
Cautionary Tail-Light
9 months ago
Reply to  Philip Dunlop

Yep this.

I share a car with my wife who is normally-proportioned, while I have a long torso and short legs. The driver’s seat stays in the same position but we have to adjust ALL the mirrors after the other person has driven.

A memory driver’s seat would be less useful than memory mirrors for us. Unless of course the seat had enough vertical range of motion to compensate for my weirdly long body.

Philip Dunlop
Philip Dunlop
9 months ago

Meet your awkwardly-proportioned brother.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
9 months ago

I was half expecting it to be the ashtray.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rusty S Trusty
Chronometric
Chronometric
9 months ago
Reply to  Rusty S Trusty

Only if it automatically trims and relights a cigar. (or other large wrapped smoker)

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