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  #1  
Old 09-09-2003, 11:24 AM
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Newbie wanting advice on purchase...

Hi all! I'm a vintage Bimmer owner but have always loved the MB roadsters (W107). I'm looking at an '81 380SL with 64K orig. miles. Supposedly. It looks to be in pristine shape but haven't driven it yet. I've done a little research and have read that that particular engine could be prone to timing chain problems, etc., and isn't the first choice in W107's. Should I forget about that one and look for a better year? If not, what types of common problems should I be looking for on that particular model? Thanks for the help!

Howard
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  #2  
Old 09-09-2003, 03:22 PM
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Funny, a friend asked me this question just last night. A search on the board will give you lots of excellent info on this subject. I'm not an expert but I can give you a list of some of the problems that are common for most 107s.

- Single row Timing chain as you mentioned. (Up till 84?)

- Climate Control system. Do the center vents work? If not can be as simple a vacuum leak or as involved a vacuum actuator replacement. Do all functions/buttons perform as intended?
Does it have working A/C?...This could be very costly to repair or upgrade to R134.

- What shape is the interior in? Recovering or replacing a seat or dash is very expensive. Condition of the soft top and plastic windows? Not a typical DIY job to replace and not cheap to have done.

- Rust, rust, rust!!! Wherever you see rust multiply times three (at least) and that's what waits for you underneath. Use a magnet with a thin piece of cloth over it to identify bondoed areas.

- Suspension is likely to be an issue when a car is this age, whatever the mileage. Shocks, springs, subframe mounts etc...all parts rubber.

- Steering....If you can feel excessive play when steering it could be Steering coupler, steering damper (shock), steering gear box or (maybe, hopefully) an adjustment.

- Fuel Injection: CIS is always a load of laughs when a car is 20 plus years old. Cold start, warm start, hot start and no start issues. Poor idle, unexpected RPM increase/decrease, binding throttle cable etc. Typically hard to trace and relatively expensive to fix. Some play the Replace and Pray game...gets expensive real quick and many times leaves one with the same problem.

As always have an experienced MB mechanic and Body shop (preferably experienced in resorations) do a PPI on the car if you're tempted to pull the trigger....cheap insurance.

Repair records are always good, a Cardex from MBNA is helpful and a CarFax is of some (sometimes little) value.

My typical advice on buying a car is buy the newest one you can afford. Exceptions are first year of production and known years with major problems.

I'm sure others will chime in.....Hmmm, about the transmission....
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'85 380 SL (sold)
'85 Carrera Flatnose
'71 280 SL Signal Red/Cognac
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  #3  
Old 09-09-2003, 05:52 PM
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The single-row timing chain issue is only with the 380 engine from '81 to (I think) mid-year '84.

The climate control from '82 on is the best one. Make sure the A/C works. Don't believe the "it just needs freon" tactic. If it doesn't work, adjust your price down by $1500-$2000 just in case. BTW, actuator replacement is not that difficult.

If you want airbags, the 560SL is your only option (in U.S. models).

At least $1,000 to redo the seats in leather, more if you have someone else do it.

A "good" paint job should cost AT LEAST $2,000. An excellent one will be much more.

The rear window on the hardtop is going to cost ~$900 to replace.

Budget $1000 to replace the soft top. If your handy, you can do it yourself, but it is not easy.

The labor alone to replace the dash would buy a much nicer specimen.

Have a Mercedes mechanic check out the engine and transmission.

No offense to 380SL owners, but they're at the bottom of my 107 list, along with the '75 and '76 450 (catalytic converter in the engine compartment).

I believe that CIS started in '76. There appear to be more people who know how to deal with it than the EFI that preceded it. Not that there's anything wrong with it.

I believe the 450s had a front suspension problem (A-arm?). Don't know if this progressed to the 380s. The 560SL has a completely redone front suspension.

Unlike other car makes, I don't really know anyone that thinks that low-mileage Mercedes are worth a premium over others. Oh, except for the owners of low-mileage Mercedes. Condition is the key. Service records DO make the car more valuable than one without service records (assuming that they indicate the car was well maintained).
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1988 560SL Black/Palomino
1988 300SEL Black Pearl/Burgandy
1984 500SEC Anthracite Grey/Palomino
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  #4  
Old 09-09-2003, 07:29 PM
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The one issue that's unique to the 380SL is the timing chain; it's not that the single-row is the Kiss of Death, but it does need more regular inspection and service.
The AC system you're looking for is the one with the horizontal row of pushbuttons. The earlier system, with vertically oriented buttons, is even quirkier and more taxing to keep going, though neither will win a HVAC Design of the Decade award.
All the above points about buying a 107 apply to the 380SL, as to all models of the 107.
The 380 is the least powerful of the 107 models, but I note owners tend to find it quite adequate for most driving, and it's also the least thirsty; should be able to average 18-19mpg or so as I recall.
The second most important aspect of a low-mileage car is how well it's been stored, as reflected in the results of a detailed inspection for rust and the state of the interior and paint. The MOST important aspect is how well the POs have kept up with all the bits that deteriorate: suspension bushings, window/door/top seals, brake lines, belts, etc. etc., and how well POs have kept all the systems including AC and cruise control operating. If your priority is trouble-free motoring, a well-maintained example at 200,000 miles can sometimes be a better bet than a cosmetically pristine example at 50,000 that's been stored to mechanical death.
Having said all that--Drive the car and check ALL the stuff that's supposed to work, down to things like the glovebox light, seat adjustments, door lock system, wiper blades, and radio antenna. You're looking for evidence of an owner who's obsessive about keeping everything going even if he doesn't drive it much. If it passes that level, then get an MB pro shop to go over it and tell you everything it needs with price tags and urgency ratings. Then add $2K in your thinking to cover whatever got missed. If at that point you're ready to do it--welcome to the club!
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'97 SL500, 40th anniversary edition

'04 Olds Bravada (SWMBO's)
'06 Lexus ES330
'89 560SL (sold)


SL--Anything else is just a Mercedes.
(Kudos to whoever said it first)
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  #5  
Old 09-10-2003, 10:03 AM
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Quote: "If you want airbags, the 560SL is your only option (in U.S. models)."

Mike,

My '85 has a drivers' side airbag. Do mean for both sides on the 560?

Regarding the 380's power: I like a car with b@lls and this is not the car to drag race with. However, I have to say I find it to be quite adequate for cruising....isn't what this car is designed for? Funny enough I find that sometimes I attempt to get on it and it just wont go. Other times I'm surprised at how quick it appears.....??????

BTW, the "kick-down" switch on my car takes quite a bit (OK, Alot) of leg pressure to engage. This is the switch that typically throws your trans into a lower gear when you floor the gas pedal. Anyone else experience this?
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'85 380 SL (sold)
'85 Carrera Flatnose
'71 280 SL Signal Red/Cognac
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  #6  
Old 09-10-2003, 12:32 PM
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Quote:
My '85 has a drivers' side airbag. Do mean for both sides on the 560?
Now that you mention it, I believe the airbag was an option in the '85 380SL. I'll have to check that out.

The 560s only have driver's side airbag.
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1988 560SL Black/Palomino
1988 300SEL Black Pearl/Burgandy
1984 500SEC Anthracite Grey/Palomino
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  #7  
Old 09-10-2003, 01:24 PM
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I also have ABS...not sure if that was standard.
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Rick

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