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  • MilesDriven

The Mercedes SL. A hallmark.

From inception to execution, the SL always gave a special feeling.

Stepping into the cream interior of a 2003 SL500 was a strange experience. The vehicle had just been eased from a transporter and needed moving to the holding pen to be assessed. The drive was all of fifty feet but the placement of the driver and the slopping windscreen left me intrigued. A few hours later with a clean bill of health from the workshop, I hopped back in and went to the fuel station. Finding a description for the car was the first challenge, was it a sports car, a luxury coupe, or a convertible barge. With over half a tank I decided to go and find out on the long route reserved for intriguing cars.

Cruising along through some of the nearby villages crossed the sports car off my list, it felt too comfortable and luxury-focused for that. A burst of bright sunshine tempted some top-down cruising but with a blast of cold air from the arctic keeping the mercury just a touch above freezing the option was soon dismissed. Instead heated everything was deployed as the first exploratory run along a sweeping open country road. Something lingers with an SL. There's a feeling that you drive one solely because you want to. The competition may be better but it wouldn't matter, there's a particular feeling to the Mercedes that isn't replicated in other cars. The question of competition brings me back to deciding what this car is. Luxury cruiser feels like the best fit but a hybrid between luxury and sport that I'm going to call Luxosport is a better silo. When you want to press on and drive to hunt for apexes it obliges but doesn't strain at the leash when you ask nothing more than a soft steady cruise on the inside lane.

The Mercedes SL is a bit like New Zealand, tucked away, happy with its lot and not wanting too much attention for fear of spoiling it

This generation may have been a one-off, I thought, but would soon have that thought shaken out. The arrival of a much newer SL and a customer wanting to trade in a 93' soon showed the DNA of the SL as a long lineage. The 93' actually felt even more special than the newer one despite having fewer options and a worn set of bushes. This was more an appreciation that such a car was built over a decade before and still made the owner feel like they were on their way to a private airstrip with a plane waiting.

A trip out in an SL55, sadly a 63, or the incredibly rare 65 never passed through the dealer, was easy to under-appreciate. The AMG models build on the existing car, instead of attempting to resculpt it. The tender from the engine was enough to silence any concern that you should be looking at the more established sports car on offer for the money. Urgency isn't an SL trait, instead, it's an unshakeable progress whether you are in a base model designed for California cruising, or a 63 for autobahn dominance, or the 65 for chasing the Italian mob.

Going back to the 93' the owner was swapping for the 4th time, the last decade of his life having no need for rear seats meaning the SL gave him and his wife all they needed. On the flip side of the trade, after fitting new bushes, the buyer was a much younger woman. She had seen her boss drive one and didn't know what it was. We shook on a deal that was fair and she took it away. Something about selling those SL's stuck with me, similar to driving one. The Mercedes SL is a bit like New Zealand, tucked away, happy with its lot and not wanting too much attention for fear of spoiling it. Kudos to the engineers for managing to get sign off on the car over the years for what is a niche product that gives an air of confidence rarely found in cars today. Most are anxious about competitors, yapping at you like a dog desperate for attention, trying to show off their latest trick. The SL does none of this, you could prove to many SL buyers that the car is worse in every way than a BMW, and more expensive to buy and maintain, but they wouldn't care. There's a feeling that harks back fifty years to before each manufacturer stripped down the competition to every nut and bolt. Instead, Mercedes build the best they've got, if you like it, you'll need to hand over a large chunk of cash, if you don't, they're plenty of other cars for sale. Hats off to it, if you've never driven one, see if you can get behind the wheel, but be warned, you may just find yourself never quite able to shake the feeling that your car is paranoid from that day forward.


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