Run by Graeme Hurst
Owned since August 2015
Total mileage 125,722
Miles since acquisition 2622
Latest costs £826
Expertly fettled R107 Merc is now a regular for jaunts out in the country, here in the West Coast National Park. Inset: wornout parts, including tie-rod.
PANZERWAGEN TOURS THE CAPE
South Africa has long had an affinity for the three-pointed star, mainly because the cars have been made here over the past 60 years in what was, for a long time, the only Mercedes plant outside Stuttgart. The East London facility churned out most models from the 1950s onwards, but hit its heyday with the W123 and W126 series. We also built R107s and SLCs. About 1900 were assembled here and a further 530 were imported from ’1971 to ’1987, so they were rare and pricey, which made them hugely aspirational.
Even more so when the TV series Dallas featured a red 450SL as the everyday wheels for Bobby Ewing (played by Patrick Duffy). By the early ’80s, no golf club car park or five-star hotel forecourt was complete without one.
Fast-forward 30-plus years and, after a dip in values following the success of the R129, the R107 SL is becoming more sought-after. That was the impetus for a late-night trip across Johannesburg by partner Rob to clinch the deal on this Lapis Blue 500SL which, fortuitously, appeared on Gumtree the day that he was up there for work.
Purchasing a car at night is best avoided, but Rob had been sent plenty of high-res photos and was able to view it in a well-lit garage. Just as well because the seller – an older gent who had cherished the Merc for 10 years – was inundated with calls while Rob test-drove the SL and later leafed through the extensive history. A deal was done and the vendor was trusting enough to release the car while the cash was still winging its way via electronic transfer into his bank account. A few weeks later I was in Jo’burg for work and could take stock of the new purchase before transporting it by train down to Cape Town.
Any concerns we may have had about the night-time deal quickly evaporated because the R107 is in lovely condition, having had a full respray and retrim 10 years ago. An original car might have been preferable, but our harsh climate takes its toll on paint and leather, plus this SL was priced keenly – partly because the hardtop wasn’t finished (it’s in primer). There were some niggles, such as doors that didn’t lock because they’d been tampered with, but a local locksmith sorted those before cutting some new keys. I also had to source a second-hand ‘Mexican hat’ 6.5J Mercedes alloy to replace the missing spare.
Where it doesn’t niggle at all is on the road. The 4973cc #V8
boasts plenty of effortless oomph with a turbine-like power delivery that’s rewarding to explore on clear roads. As a 500, our SL is an import – only the earlier ones were made here. Confusingly, the paperwork says it was a CKD model but the speedo is in miles, so it’s likely to have been a UK-bound order that was diverted.
Back home after a 26-hour train ride – which, at R3000 (c£170), cost less than the fuel bill for the 1000- mile journey – the first task was a set of 205/70R14 tyres because the rubber was from 1991! Then it was off for a roadworthiness test, which threw up a few advisories – the most serious of which was a worn out tie-rod end.
Wanting that sorted and the car given a ‘once over’ service, I booked it into JFT Motors. This is my new favourite garage mainly because owner Allan Ketterer is a classic fan but also because he has an oldschool, hands-on approach that includes hand-written invoices.
Allan was complimentary about the car, but did add a few items to the list, including new front brake pads and hoses. He also changed the pinion seal on the diff to cure a small leak and replaced the thermostat, which was opening sluggishly.
More alarming was the need to weld a crack in the front subframe where it connects with the nearside lower control arm. The suspension had to be partially stripped to get access, but it was a chance to confirm that the fault wasn’t down to accident damage, which it wasn’t.
Subframe cracks are apparently common, which Allan says is due to the 500 engine being too heavy for the chassis. The rest of the R11,000 (c£600) bill was for a tune-up and headlight adjustment. That was last May and the SL has been on the button ever since, with regular trips through the winelands to enjoy the performance while pretending that we’ve travelled back in time to an oil-financed Texan lifestyle!
THANKS TO JFT Motors: 0027 21 696 2600; www.jftmotors.co.za
‘The R107 is becoming more sought-after, which was the main impetus for Rob’s latenight trip to clinch the deal’
Offloading 500SL from the rail container. Car was retrimmed for its previous owner. The Merc’s 5-litre V8 is in rudest of health. Lapis Blue paint is a top-quality respray.