Mercedes' R107 proved safe doesn't have to be ugly, says Charles Morgan
9:06

Mercedes' R107 proved safe doesn't have to be ugly, says Charles Morgan

Cars
[MUSIC] This This is the Mercedes SL500, R107. [NOISE] It replaced the famous Pagoda off Mercedes SL, which was, of course, a design icon of 1960s. Now the R107 kept that car's understated style and simple good looks. Look. But it updated everything else when it was launched in 1971. The team in fact nicknamed the car the panda during development. And the model proved it's strength when it was entered into the World Rally Championship. In 1979 it won The [UNKNOWN] rally and it was on the podium of these African safari rally. So perhaps it was one of the last Mercedes to be over engineered for quality endurability. This is what makes the R17 {UNKNOWN] a trillion bet as a second hand car. Even after many miles on the role, I just think it's a classic car to be respected. [MUSIC] To find out more about the R107, I paid a visit to the SL shop in Worcestershire. Now this is a marvelous place, dedicated to the continual improvements and preservation of the R107. They purchase these machines from all around the world. And they bring them back to perfect condition. They can make an SL, with the perfect spec. And of course, they can sort out any problems you have with your own car. I spoke to the owner, Sam Bailey, about the 0107 and what makes it so special to so many people. [MUSIC] I think its appeal is very broad. People seem to love the shape, love the look of it, whether they're young or old. They've got an appeal to people that use them as everyday cars, as well as Couples that perhaps are now want to build a tour car for Sundays, as well as those people who want to go touring Europe and further journeys like that. Tell me what you can do at SL Workshop to slightly change the character of the car. Yeah, there's three things that we work on for customers. The first is turning them to a manual gear box, either the five- or six-speed. As you know they nearly all came as automatic And some people just like that driving feel of holding on to the gears or you know changing the gears that they want for the big up and coming bends. The second thing we're doing is we work on the ignition system so we're putting a much more modern coil pack based ignition system in that we can turn up the ecu a little bit and just add a few more horsepower, and then the third thing we're doing is we're changing the suspension. So we're changing the shock absorbers, the springs, and the bushing, and even the anti-roll bar to a certain degree, just to firm up the ride a little bit, which is what some drivers are looking for. Most people are preferring the sort of way that it left the factory, which is quite a floaty type of cruiser. But some people just want a bit of firmness to the ride, so we can do that as well. I'm a lucky man. Sam Bailey's kindly lent me his beautiful 1987, Mercedes SL 500, in Nautic Blue, cream leather. This car has a 5 liter aluminum V8, and an automatic, 4 speed gear box. Now naturally, to give this car a good test, I'm gonna head for the hills and valleys of Wales. Well, where else would a Morgan go? [MUSIC] I want to give you a feel of what this cars like to drive, because I think, looking at the car you know you think it was actually not very much fun to drive, but in fact it's the opposite. I think Mercedes engineers really got it right because of course, their first priority was to make the car comfortable. It's a cruiser, not a hardcore performance car. But in spite of that, the shock absorbers, the springs, the car and the chasse is very well controlled, so when you do go. Whether it's switchback or humpback or a series of bends the car recovers itself remarkably quickly, unlike of course the equivalent American car of the time. So actually, this is a really [UNKNOWN] some cars to drive. I love the way it glides across the landscape. [BLANK_AUDIO] The Mercedes SL codename R107 was one of the most successful Mercedes of all time. That is if you count the number of years it was produced. From 1971 to 1989 But of course it was designed in the 1960's and that was a time when the NHTSA and Ralph Nado in America was really trying to make the car an awful lot safer. And in fact, convertibles were thought to be one of the targets of the American Legislation. And Mercedes knew that to make a success of this car, they had to sell an awful lot in America. So people were scratching their heads, trying to come up with solutions, to the convertible problem. But Rudolph, Galisindoffer, and Fredric Geiger, in Germany, came up with a typically Teutonic, and very successful solution, indeed. They decided to make the windscreen, a rollover hoop. And inside this elegant pillar of course, is a Steel tube, which Mercedes say will take well over the wake of the car when it turns over. And of course that made them confident enough to produce a convertible that was just as elegant as the ones of old. In fact, even more elegant. Because of course the roof disappears entirely into the boot, frameless windows, And you have this wonderful, wonderful windscreen which acts as a perfect window or perfect picture frame. In order to see the world around you and beautiful valleys like this in Wales. [MUSIC] Coming hand in hand in designing Cars are, I know the battle to meet regulations and yet engineer cars that still remain attractive. I'm very aware of the compromises that sometimes have to be made. I admire them [UNKNOWN] clearly meets the rules and in a very safe car. Yet, it's a very elegant sports car. The contour line that encircles the car speeds up the shape. The crisp, flowing lines have hardly dated at all since 1971 and it actually looks a lot less old than the models that followed it. The R107 combination of chrome and well-surfaced body panels work so much better the more modern cars that you Big, black rubber bumpers. Also, compared to current cars, the R107 is quite light, it weighs around 1,600 kilos. This is one of the strongest and safest cars on the road, yet it still has great performance. Clearly the design's influenced by safety regulations, but it's not spoiled by. There are some lovely details that combine form and function, with elegance. For example the front and rear indicators are ribbed to increase airflow, keep them clean, but they also look sleek and are aerodynamically efficient. The all around visibility from the cockpit is fantastic, as the top sides of the car is so low, and the roof disappears completely flat into the booth. So often in some modern luxury cars, you have a feeling of not really being able to see out, with thick A pillars, and very high dash boards. But that's not the feeling in this car. This car has a simplicity, which gives it a lot of class. And that makes it exciting for me. [MUSIC] With the engine in this car it's a case of what might have been. When Mercedes were developing the R107, they were experimenting with Wang's collection. Felis Wankles revolutionary new engine, but anyway at the same time there was the pressure from California For smog level [UNKNOWN] in Los Angeles. So there was the pressure to reduce emission. And the board of Mercedes in fact decided that the [UNKNOWN] engine was going to be very very difficult to reduce emission so they went with the V8. The big [UNKNOWN] five meter V8 which is in most of these SL. And in a way That's not a shag because this car has an absolutely unique character. It's like being on a magic carpet, but carries you across the landscape. [MUSIC] Up in the Cambrian Mountains, where we were testing this car, they found a gold disk. It was 4000 years old. It's called the Banc Tynddol. And on it, 4000 years ago, somebody drew the sun. It represented the life-giving powers of the sun. Well I think this Mercedes SL is the same. I think what this car does is it celebrates the star. It celebrates the landscape and I really want one. [MUSIC]

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