- All original and unmodified
- Lower-maintenance suspension system
- Cherished by successive owners
The arrival of the new millennium felt like we had arrived into the future, and new-era technology was accordingly all the rage. With that in mind, the ‘R230’ generation of Mercedes-Benz SL being designed using an industry-first 3D modelling ‘CAVE’ supercomputer feels wholly appropriate for the first 21st Century evolution of the venerable upmarket roadster.
The design it helped create was a complete departure from the handsome but blocky ‘R129’ predecessor, much more sculpted with more complex compound curvatures from any angle. In suitably Y2K style, the headlights look like something you’d see in a lava lamp, as if two cells are midway through separating – a more adventurous approach than the four-circles headlight designs on other Mercedes at the end of the 1990s.
The new SL also scaled-up the folding metal roof mechanism of the junior SLK model to give a full-size luxury performance drop-top that could be used all year without storing a big clip-on hardtop somewhere in the corner of the garage during summer. Other tech highlights include braking-by-wire and a ‘TELEAID’ system that automatically contacts the emergency services after a crash.
The example you see here is a 2003 SL350, an early example of the most affordable and economical model. But don’t take “affordable” as damning with faint praise; even this version has heated electric seats with memory function, an electrically adjustable steering column, adaptive cruise control, COMAND infotainment with sat-nav and a six-disc CD autochanger, plus an inbuilt telephone system.
What it doesn’t have is the SL500’s Active Body Control (ABC) computerised self-adjusting air suspension, which from a used car buying point of view is actually a blessing in disguise as here you will swerve the risk of having to replace ABC’s flaky hydraulics hardware at around £2000 per corner…
The History and Paperwork
- V5 present, MOT until June 2024
- Acquired by the seller in July 2018, garage stored
- Accumulated most of its mileage under original owner
- Has averaged ~1000 miles/year or less for the past decade
- Original service book; mostly main dealer, but later specialist stamps
- All known maintenance invoices included
- Full MOT history
- Original dealer book set stored behind the driver’s seat
- Black/Anthracite leather interior with Ash Tree Black veneer
- Original infotainment system intact
- Spare wheel with OE electric tyre pump in boot
Inside, there are very few signs to indicate that this interior is now 20 years old. Sure, there are some shoe scuffs on the door-side front corner of each seat’s plastic bumpers (which flank a secret central storage cubby), the door-side driver’s seat bolster has some marks on its extremity and the texture of the leather steering wheel has worn smooth around the rim.
But look anywhere else around this cabin, and you would be hard pressed to guess the age of the materials. The seats obediently bow down and slide forwards when you tap them on the shoulder (read: hold the arrowed button down) to allow access to a storage cubby behind each of them – one of which currently holds the car’s user manual and vehicle info book set in a leather-bound file, the other housing the six-disc CD autochanger.
Look upwards and you will see that the original owner specified the very expensive option of a full-size glass panel in the roof centre, complete with pull-out sunblind, meaning that even when it’s raining or too cold outside you can still let the light in as if the roof was down – or block out the sun if the weather’s gone too far the other way.
- Obsidian Black Metallic
- Xenon headlights
- 16-second folding hardtop works correctly
This SL350 sets a classy first impression in metallic black with blade-like silver-painted trim pieces adding just enough visual ornamentation to keep you interested as you look across it. The 17-inch, seven-spoke alloy wheels fill the arches just well enough whilst still providing a comfort-friendly amount of tyre sidewall. The wheels themselves are immaculate on the driver’s side, but the two left-side wheels have a long, thin contact mark along a section of the outermost edge where it meets the tyre, in each case.
As you inspect the rest of the exterior, though, it becomes clear that this looks to be the sum total of wear or tear to be found on the car. One previous owner had this SL350 as part of a larger collection and it was treated suitably well in that time, whilst the current owner has treated it with equal respect and kept it covered up in a garage whenever it’s not in use. Such care has paid dividends, it seems.
- 3.7 V6 (245hp, 258lb-ft)
- 5G-TRONIC automatic
- Full service history
Whilst the rest of the SL range featured fiendishly complex active air suspension, the SL350 came standard with conventional springs and dampers, immediately eliminating one of the biggest reliability hot spots on used R230s in general. In fact, there is very little to report regarding any work this car has required.
Other than routine fluid and filter replacements, the maintenance invoices paint a clear picture of a car that hasn’t needed any serious attention. One shock absorber was replaced in April 2019, a full set of 24 spark plugs was fitted in June 2019 and it’s had a few new batteries along the way.
That is all there is to find in this SL350’s history. The car started up easily and without smoke or error lights during photography, the folding metal-and-glass roof worked effortlessly every time it was activated and the seller reports that it drives just the way it should.
Noteworthy cars from the 2000s are graduating from being merely old to achieve ‘modern classic’ status, and the R230 SL is surely one of those modern classics. That will surely mean that both collector interest and market value will steadily creep up and up over the coming years.
Whether you remember the R230 as a former F1 Safety Car or as one of Jeremy Clarkson’s favoured chariots in its day (in SL55 AMG form), this very 21st century SL deserves its place in the Sport Licht lineage and, if you desire modern style and technology without serious cost or reliability risk, this SL350 here deserves its place on your driveway too.
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