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50 years of the Mercedes-Benz R107 SL

The Mercedes-Benz R107 SL celebrates its 50th birthday.
The Mercedes-Benz R107 SL celebrates its 50th birthday.

Andrew Martin joins the coolest convoy in town as the Mercedes-Benz R107 SL celebrates 50 years.

I’ve spent a bit of time in my working life on interview panels. It’s not easy when presented with a battery of psychometric tests, cognitive ability tests, in-tray exercise results, personality tests and an hour-long discussion to really work out if there’s a fit between the candidate and your organisation. All too often candidates that do well in interview don’t then work out in the workplace, which may of course be their own kitchen table in 2021.

The convey of  Mercedes-Benz R107 SLs sets off.

So, human resource (HR) professionals, here’s my killer question for you to ask; what make of car do you drive? I was never allowed to ask this question by my HR. But think about it, the answer saves a lot of time and is 100% reliable. Looking for a creative soul? The candidate will drive a Tesla. Air traffic controller? Yes, the successful candidate will drive a 1990’s Land Rover product. Need to fill administration posts? Appoint those driving Vauxhalls. Simple.

What you drive tells a lot about who you are. My theory falls down on self-analysis. though, as a car history of Alfa Romeo and Fiat juxtaposed with BMW and numerous Mercedes-Benz products implies a bipolar disorder. Since passing my driving test I’ve tried to drive a car that said I’m cool. And failed.

An all-star line-up.

In all honesty, throughout my life I’ve been more geek than cool. So when Sam Bailey of the SL SHOP invited me to the 50th anniversary gig I immediately said yes, as I was promised a 1985 R107 Mercedes-Benz SL to drive. And that meant I could hang out with the cool people.

Artist David Hockney owned a gold R107 SL, and Quentin Willson, the knowledgeable motoring journalist and worst ever Strictly Come Dancing contestant, told him he had the coolest car on the planet. So, it’s agreed that this era of SL is the coolest of cars. That’s a fact; look it up on Wikipedia.

With Sam Bailey of the SLSHOP.

The excuse – sorry, “business rationale” – for the event was to celebrate 50 years of the R107 Mercedes-Benz SL, by 50 cars driving from Stratford-on-Avon to Brooklands (with 75 vehicles in the end). This third generation “Super-Leicht” model was launched in 1971, although you might know it as the Hart to Hart car or Bobby Ewing’s wheels from Dallas.

So, on a hot, hot day in late July an eclectic mix of Mercedes-Benz SL cars and owners arrived at the grounds around the SLSHOP just outside Stratford-on-Avon for a meet and greet. The cars ranged from concours examples (beautifully expensive) to daily drivers (beautifully lived in). The owners ranged from immaculately turned-out ladies, to people in groovy fancy dress, or was that their everyday clothes? Look out for Mick with his guitar.

An eclectic array of styles from the SL owners.

After some good-natured banter and a family photo it was time to get the motors running and head out on the highway. If you were heading east on the A46 through Stratford-upon-Avon to the M40 that day you were treated to the visual spectacle of the 75-car convoy snaking through town, with SLSHOP bosses Sam and Bruce leading the pack in their multi-coloured car.

Once through Stratford-on-Avon it was everyone for themselves – but just be at Brooklands for 4.00pm! As Bruce sped off into motorway services for petrol and a Cornetto, we were at the front. I opened up “my” 500 SL and moved to the outside lane to clear Friday traffic.

The 75-car spectacle.

This car was going well. Very well. In fact, as we were now so far out in front, I decided to treat Alice to a pub lunch in Banbury (she had a half beer shandy and I a pint of orange and lemonade).

Now, I don’t regret our leisurely lunch in the Cotswolds for a minute. Except it was 60 minutes and I hadn’t factored in that we had to re-join the M40, then get round the M25 to Brooklands in Surrey… on a Friday afternoon. That said Alice-Nav never puts a tyre wrong, and as she was equipped with my 1990 road atlas what could go wrong?

Ah yes, about three separate non-moving traffic jams, on one of the hottest days of the year, with no air conditioning and the car running out of octane. The car kept it’s cool, although we were tested. On reflection I think the car brought us closer together.

The SL model for the day.

As we rolled into Mercedes-Benz World at maybe the wrong side of 5pm, Sam greeted me with kind words and hand gestures which I think would translate into a slight concern that we were a little tardy and might miss the drivers briefing. We didn’t.

And soon I was enjoying driving three laps of the Brooklands circuit. We were out on track in small groups, and once everyone had been round we formed up for another family photo. In the summer evening sharing the Brooklands track with some 70+ cars and cool people was a treat. The day out had a real sense of community. And for me that’s what having a classic car is all about.

Bruce and Sam and SLSHOP lead the pack.

A little later we were heading north in the early evening, and once again were stationary on the M25 for a while. A red SL drove along side, and I had a chat with the driver.

“Having fun?” the cool dude asked of me.

“Of course”, I replied. “OK, we’re in a traffic jam and effectively parked up on hot tarmac, but it’s a warm summer evening, my girl’s with me and I’m driving a 500 SL.”

Do you have to be cool to drive an R107 SL or does the R107 SL make you cool? Sorry, you’ll have to drive one for yourself to answer that question.

  • Thanks to Sam and Bruce at SLSHOP for the use of the 500 SL.

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