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Old 09-25-2009, 01:09 AM
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Newbie thinking of buying an early 80s SL - Advice appreciated

Greetings - I am considering buying an 81-85 380 SL. if it is still there, I should be looking at an 81 this weekend, it has 139k and the owner claims no issues besides a tear in the roof. It also has the Hardtop.

I'm not famiilar with the eighties SL models besides liking the looks and the idea of a Mercedes that isn't stuffed with electronics like today's models ( At least so I think ).

Are there specific more notorious known flaws that I should be looking for when checking the car out?

Additionally, any other info is most welcome and appreciated. I also like the 450Sls, but I thought a 380 should provide enough power and get a better mileage to boot. I seem excel at getting tickets, so that is another reason.

Also about how long to the engines and trannys last with proper maintenance?


Last edited by romavo; 09-25-2009 at 01:30 AM.
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Old 09-25-2009, 10:08 AM
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Location: NE Oklahoma
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The '81-'83 had a single row timing chain. Unless it has been converted to double row then pass. The '84-'85 had the double row but there is no guarantee on that either.

Search this and other forums
Here's one

Here is some history
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Old 09-25-2009, 02:00 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Falls Church, VA
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Worst possible year for a 380 ...

... single row timing chain and climate control servo and first year for electronic idle control.
Chuck Taylor
Falls Church VA
'66 200, '66 230SL, '96 SL500. Sold: '81 380SL, '86 300E, '72 250C, '95 C220, 3 '84 280SL's '90 420SEL, '72 280SE, '73 280C, '78 280SE, '70 280SL, '77 450SL, '85 380SL, '87 560SL, '85 380SL, '72 350SL, '96 S500 Coupe
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Old 09-25-2009, 03:02 PM
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Location: West Hills, CA Northwest San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles
Posts: 171
Hi, Buy in haste repent in leisure.

I would suggest you do a lot more reading of this forum and chatting with owners.

The initial cost can sometimes be insignificant compared to repairs. Rust is the real killer of most cars. Look at the service records if you can. These cars have stood the test of time and there are many available. never any guarantee but most will agree the newer the better.

Unless you really have a bug for a particular year? Then you could seek out a 190 0r a 220 for something special.

Best of luck J
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Old 09-25-2009, 03:20 PM
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Location: NE Oklahoma
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On the Northern Resource link there is an R107 buyers guide somewhere. Or just google "Mercedes R107 buyers guide" Good information.

The 380SL was not covered by the subframe recall. This is a big problem as the subframes on the 380 are just as prone to cracking as the models that are covered.
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Old 09-25-2009, 07:19 PM
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Thanks - I'm no rush and appreciate the info, I'll do some more research. Of that SL body style, are there prefered years and engines in regards to reliability?
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Old 09-25-2009, 09:33 PM
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I have a fondness for the 280 and 300 SLs. Both have the DOHC inline six and are euros. The 300 is pretty rare in the US. It depends on where you are. If you have to pass emission testing then I would go with the nicest 560 you can afford.

For fuel mileage I think the 280 and the 380 are probably rated the best. My 86 560 gets 17-18 hwy. I don't do much city driving.

Each model has it's pros and cons. A favorite expression here is the most expensive SL you can own is a cheap one.
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Old 09-26-2009, 10:08 AM
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lol, agree Rowdie, but you have the main points , avoid the 81-83, then decide if you want power , looks or reliability, .......on a rare occasion when the gravitational pull of all the planets align, you may find it all in one SL
2011 Porsche Cayman - Bond,James Bond
99 E320 THE Queen Mary
62 220b - Dolly - Finally my Finny!
72 450SL, Pearl-SOLD
16 F350 6.7 Diesel -THOR
07 Lexus RX 350 - Lexi
14 38HP John Deere 3038E Tractor -Mean Green
84 300SD, Benjamin -SOLD
71 220 - W115-Libby ( my first love) -SOLD
73 280 - W114 "Organspende" Rest in Peace
81 380 SL - Rest in Peace
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Old 09-30-2009, 03:56 PM
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Location: New Jersey
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luck with 84

I 've had an 84 SL for a number of years.
Parts are easy to get on-line and not a big deal to install.
When looking, check the canvas top. ($1000 +)
I have retro my AC, so figure that in even if it works.
Check Cruise control.
I do not have a garage but have been using car covers (california car cover) and protects car really well.
Just noticed rust by door moulding, so removed and filled and painted for a clean side look.
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Old 10-01-2009, 10:17 AM
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Location: Convent Station, NJ
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As mentioned this has been covered often. The search feature is your friend.
Here are thoughts from a while back...

The 380 had a single row timing chain up until 1984 (perhaps late ’83). It was then updated to a double row. Doing this update to an earlier car is quite costly. Appox $3k. That aside, there is still maintenance with the dual row as guides and tensioners should be maintained....not nearly as costly though.

Here's a list common replacement items:

- Since these cars are far from lightweight all suspension pieces suffer after so many years. Especially if sitting unused. So if not replaced RECENTLY figure on Shocks (Bilstein), Subframe bushings, ball joints, springs...etc.

- Fuel injection system on 81 and's the wonderful Bosch CIS system. Not unlike the 911 you will have cold/warm/hot start problems. Many throw thousands chasing idle, start and missing problems.

- Climate control - This has to be the most unnecessarily complicated system I've ever seen in my life. And they will all develop problems. It is absolutely unintuitive as well. To make it more fun it's all vacuum operated with vacuum actuators buried behind the dash. They can be rebuilt inexpensively but getting to them and getting to the right one is the challenge. No heat all of a sudden? One of the first places to look is the Monovalve. A heating system component prone to failure. Luckily it's inexpensive and quickly replaced.

- Rust - Not the worst cars but the older you get the more prone you are to suffering. Look around the headlight buckets and bottom of doors.
Remember the rust formula: What you see x 10 = what you’ll need to deal with.

- Convertible top...Very simple mechanical setup. I like it. Hard top same thing...well done. A homemade winch can be used to remove, store and reinstall the hardtop.

- Interior....Dash cracks can be a problem. Seems blue cracks the most.

- Radiators also have issues, especially with a plastic filler neck. Once they break it's almost impossible to repair and not cheap to replace.

- Becker. I'll say no more.

Like any other car the better it's been maintained by the PO the better for you.

Overall I really enjoy the car...for what it is. It's not a fast car. Rather a convertible cruiser that retains that old world roadster feel. The Euro car that seems to be very desirable is the 500SL as well as the Euro 280, especially with a manual trans.

If you're searching for a more collectible model then go with a 113 chassis SL. From ‘63 through ‘71 here in the US. We had the 230, 250 and 280 SL.

Last but not least, if you're unfamiliar with any prospective auto get a PPI from a knowledgeable, independent tech. Have them go through the electrical, mechanical, fuel systems and body. It'll be well worth the investment.

'85 380 SL (sold)
'85 Carrera Flatnose
'71 280 SL Signal Red/Cognac

Last edited by RickM; 10-01-2009 at 10:23 AM.
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Old 10-01-2009, 11:10 AM
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Location: Dallas, TX
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I bought an 81 380sl for a friend of mine recently. The car had some issues but we got it at an excellent price. Before he arrived, we agreed to take care of things and replaced the oil, transmission fluid, hoses, belts, diff oil , fan clutch and flushed the coolant.

The car would not run right at speeds which turned out to be a bad coil. Lastly, we set the timing and replaced the rear sway bar link which was completely missing. After this, the car ran really well and the owner was able to drive it from Dallas, TX to Racine WI without any problems.

He reported great mileage on the way home and the work was not expensive. All in all, I think he got a great deal with car.
With best regards


Check out the W114, W115 enthusiast website.

Join the Mercedes W108 group

My 280SL restoration
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Old 10-01-2009, 04:59 PM
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Location: Gulf Breeze, Fl
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Ask a pro

Submitting your request here was smart. I've gotten loads of help from these guys over the years.

I was lucky in that my local dealer had a tech with 30 years of experience. It cost me $93 bucks for him to give a car a lookover. He spent about an hour on each car and even took me into the shop to check out the underside. When he said buy I did. Turned out good. I've only had minor problems except for some major vadalism - another story.
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Old 10-12-2009, 03:57 PM
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Ha... I have an '81 380SL and I have to say it's one of the most unreliable Mercedes I've had. Watch out for the automatic transmissions on all these older Mercs as well... 2 of my old Mercs don't go past 2nd gear. Try driving on the freeway in 2nd gear. Rebuild, installed trannys on old SL's are around $2500 as well.

Surprisingly, my single-row timing chain has held up for 150K miles so far (with no maintenance). I'd say that the engines/injection on these old SL's are solid.. but it's everything else (lots of control boxes, relays that blow, etc. that cause problems) every month or so, it seems. Very hard to diagnose problems with 30 different control boxes.

Also.. 380SL's are slugs that still only get about 12 miles to the gallon. Biggest positive of the car is that it looks good.

Last edited by Chris_Ginsburg; 10-12-2009 at 04:06 PM.
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Old 10-12-2009, 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Chris_Ginsburg View Post
Also.. 380SL's are slugs that still only get about 12 miles to the gallon. Biggest positive of the car is that it looks good.
There is clearly something wrong. A 380SL with an good engine in good tune with good tires should get 16-19 MPG.
86 560SL
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Old 10-13-2009, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Strife View Post
There is clearly something wrong. A 380SL with an good engine in good tune with good tires should get 16-19 MPG.
And that's around town. You should be getting in the low twenties on the highway.
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