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1990-2002 Mercedes-Benz SL

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On: Wed, Sep 7, 2011 at 12:15PM | By: Peter C Sessler

1990-2002 Mercedes-Benz SL

By the time Mercedes-Benz finally brought the successor to the 1972-1989 SLs, it must have surprised some people how complicated, heavy, and expensive the new car was. Mercedes-Benz took almost every electronic option that was available and made it standard on the 1990 500SL Class. At the same time, the new car was beautifully finished—it just oozed with luxury. It was a combination of strong performance and the latest in German engineering.

The new SLs were a more contemporary and handsome than the outgoing R107—yet it was an evolution of what started in the 1950s. Perhaps fewer people remembered what that reason was, yet they knew what the SL Class was—a powerful, luxurious two-seat roadster. In the scheme of things, the SL was still “sporty” car, but it was more than that. It was a car for the well-to-do. For example, the 500SL had an MSRP around $95,000.00 while the V-12 version went for $125,000.00!

Introduced in Europe in 1989 and in the early 1990s in North America, the SL quickly showed what it was about. Pushing a single button was all that was required to raise or lower the convertible top, but more striking was the roll bar. It would automatically raise itself in .03 seconds in case of an accident, or it could be raised or lowered manually by pushing another button. The last time a roll bar was used in a convertible was in the Shelby GT350/500 Mustang in 1968-1970. The Mercedes-Benz roll bar is still used in today’s SLs.

Prior to 1994, the car was known as the 500SL; after 1994, the car was renamed with the SL preceding the numerals—thus they are known as SL500.

To push the added weight of all the standard equipment, the SL was equipped with the most powerful Mercedes- Benz V-8 at the time. The new all-aluminum 32-valve, 5.0-liter, DOHC V-8 was rated at 322 hp @ 5500 rpm and 332 ft.-lb. torque @ 4000 rpm and was mated to a four-speed automatic. Despite the added weight, the SL was the fastest SL at the time.

In the Consumer Guide® Road-Test evaluation, they said “above 3000 rpm or so, the V-8 engine feels virtually like a runaway freight train. Just a touch on the gas pedal is answered by a gush of power, as the V-8-powered SL moves away from a stop with no sense of strain.” It’s true!

Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts should know that the DOHC 5.0-liter engine was almost a race engine as installed. A forged crankshaft and forged rods were standard equipment; the valves used in the cylinder heads were sodium-filled stainless steel; the crankshaft was held in place with four main bearing caps along with side cross-bolt main caps. The intake cams were designed with Variable Valve Timing which lets the engine breath at higher rpms; the oil capacity is 8.5 quarts and the system also uses an engine oil cooler.

If the 5.0 wasn’t enough, in 1992 the 600SL was introduced. This was a DOHC V-12 rated at 389 hp @ 5,200 with 420 ft.-lb. torque at 3,800 rpm. Mercedes-Benz rated the V-12 at only 0.1 seconds less than 500 SL to 60 mph. In actuality, the V-12 probably does 0-60 mph in about 5.4 seconds.

Clearly, the new SL was considerably faster than the previous SLs. And today, you’ll find that many Mercedes-Benz cars are now even faster than the 1990-2002. But not by much. There’re only so many seconds before you hit 60 mph or the quarter-mile. The SL is just beyond the edge of what speed is all about. And that makes it fun!

There were six cylinder, V-8 and V-12 engines on the 1990-2002 SLs, with the most popular being the V-8. Most cars were also fitted with 4- or 5-speed automatics.

The front suspension was an independent strut with gas-pressurized shocks and separate coil springs. It also used lower control arms and was fitted with an anti-sway bar. The independent rear suspension used a five-arm multilink setup with separate single-tube gas-pressurized shock absorbers and coil springs. An anti-sway bar was also used, and this rear end was the best one used yet.

Wheels were 16 x 8” aluminum alloy and standard tires were 225/55 ZR 16 steel-belted radials. In 1999, the standard wheels went to a 17 x 8” alloy with 245/45/ZR 17.

The brakes were four-wheel discs, with ventilated front and solid rear brake discs. The standard setup used an ABS.

There were many details changes throughout its twelve year span, but, essentially, the car remained the same. There were also many Special models as well. Total production was 204,940 units.

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