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My 1985 Mercedes SL Has Been Continuously Broken for 15 Years

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author photo by Tyler Hoover November 2017

It's hard to believe that I've been driving my 1985 Mercedes 500SL for 15 years -- and it's also hard to believe that, during that time, it's always been broken. I can't recall a moment when there wasn't something that needed fixing -- like I'm playing a game of automotive repair whack-a-mole into eternity. This might sound like a miserable ownership experience, but not for me.

But before I get to that, I feel the need to address an incendiary article posted a few weeks ago by our editor here at Oversteer, Doug DeMuro, which details the reasons he hates the 107-chassis Mercedes SL -- including his belief that the styling is "terribly ugly." My video posted above shows me getting slightly peeved by Doug's words, as it felt like he was insulting my first-born child. I personally feel the styling is just as elegant and timelessly beautiful as any other vintage Mercedes. Unfortunately, the car has to be -- because there's not much else going for it.

Putting looks aside, one of the other selling points for this generation SL is the mix of classic Mercedes build quality and design, coupled with most modern comforts and features found in modern cars. This would make for a great daily driver -- if it didn't break all the time.

In my case, the problems started shortly I started driving it at age 16. Being completely oblivious to the gauges, I let the engine severely overheat, which prompted a $5,000 rebuild of the top end of the engine. Through high school and college (when I drove the car the most) my car had four other trips on the back of the tow truck, with issues ranging from a failed starter to a blown main vacuum line to failed fuel pumps.

Breakdowns can be frustrating, but so can all of the little issues that tend to come in waves. After replacing my locked up air conditioner compressor, my heater valve stuck open, forcing full heat into the cabin. Shortly after I rebuilt the valve, the blower motor quit. This was over the course of one (very hot) summer.

In all, I'm able to recall 30 separate unscheduled repair trips over 15 years and 20,000 miles. Additionally, there was plenty of age-related maintenance, including a complete rebuild of the front suspension and rotten subframe bushings. Many people are surprised when I tell them how much work it takes to keep one of these R107 SL models going, as their reputation for being invincible cars from the golden era of Mercedes is a more commonly-held belief.

It's obvious these old Mercedes were built very well, but you can't expect reliability out of any 30-year-old car. I do my best to keep on top of the repairs -- but there's always something. The current looming job is the leaking upper oil pan, which requires unbolting the engine to fix. This is probably the last original gasket in my entire drivetrain.

Thankfully, I feel like the car's worth all the trouble -- and the automotive masochist in me enjoys the challenge. The 107-chassis Mercedes really is a great-looking, soul-stirring car, and they wouldn't still be a regular sight on American roadways if plenty of people didn't love them enough to endure the constant repairs. I'll probably end up burying myself in this car, not only because I'm so attached to it -- but also to prevent it from bankrupting my children.

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
My 1985 Mercedes SL Has Been Continuously Broken for 15 Years - Autotrader