You can hear it coming long before it pulls into view. As the Mercedes-Benz SL approaches on the bend, its rich, throaty sound rumbles along the road, while the car itself blends almost perfectly into the landscape: The sky over Lermoos, Austria, is blue, highlighting every one of the surrounding mountain peaks with razor-sharp clarity. The light-blue bodywork catches the sunlight and seems to be a seamless extension of the cloud-speckled skies overhead. The original standard paint finish is called “Labrador blue,” and that name alone captures the aura of style and romanticism that this vehicle was suffused with from birth.
Beauty might be enough to catch the eye, but to become etched in the mind, it is real character that counts. This SL has both in abundance.
The photo shoot with Swiss actor Marc Benjamin takes place in the Tyrol region, and everything comes together perfectly on this fine day. Benjamin was born in 1986, and the 280 built in 1983, making it three years older. But while the car is currently enjoying a second lease on life, the actor is celebrating his international breakthrough. Most recently, he appeared in the American hit series Homeland.
“Driving is now more than just getting from A to B,” claimed the original SL model series brochure, and that promise has most definitely been fulfilled. Taking a seat in the car feels like coming home: Everything seems instantly familiar. And because you are immediately aware of sitting at the wheel of a piece of automotive history, you’re filled with an uplifting sense of majesty. Perhaps that’s what makes it feel as if the car is floating along, despite the remarkably sporty, taut suspension that keeps it firmly in contact with the road. The vehicle’s original motto is also an apt description of how the fans of such classic cars live their lives. They are part of a technology-savvy generation that chooses its means of transportation carefully. Given the wealth of travel options available these days, motoring has once again become far more than just getting from A to B. It is a conscious decision to travel around in a way that underlines your own individuality. At a time when the functionality cars have to offer is becoming increasingly uniform, this individuality is more desirable than ever and is something that rubs off on the driver.
Built to last forever
“Today, so many cars have a cookie-cutter feel. There’s not much to distinguish them, apart from the brand. But you can recognize an old Mercedes-Benz from a long way off,” enthuses Benjamin. This is no doubt one of the reasons why the generation of cars from the early 1980s is currently enjoying renewed popularity. Hardly any other brand can match the role played by Mercedes-Benz in this regard. The cars are valued not just as design classics: Vehicles from that era were already being built to last. The beautiful styling of the body, the view along the seemingly endless engine hood and the consummate comfort of the car’s interior combine to make the SL model series unique.
It’s no surprise, then, that the R 107-series SL was in production for longer than any other model from Mercedes-Benz aside from the G-Class. And it’s also little wonder that lucky owners would prefer to keep an eye on it at all times: To cater to their needs, the Mohr Life Resort in Lermoos even has a suite with a built-in garage available. “So in the evening, you can admire your classic car through the window while sipping a glass of wine,” grins Benjamin – although the idea doesn’t seem absurd in the least.
In a classic car, you also focus more intently on the task of driving again. There are hardly any technical aids, at least not by today’s standards, even though the SL was a technological pioneer back in its day, boasting air conditioning, power windows, automatic transmission, ABS, airbag and trip computer. Parking assist systems, DISTRONIC, crosswind stabilization and the like were, of course, still a long way off back then. So driving an old SL also means getting back to basics. This is particularly appealing to the generation that got to discover the world from the back seat of a car with Polaroid cameras rather than a flood of digital images, people who taped over cassettes repeatedly instead of hoarding music tracks by the gigabyte. Of course, Polaroid cameras are also making a comeback nowadays despite all these advances – or perhaps because of them.
I like it best when I can savour the full sensory experience of the car journey.”
“I like it best when I can savour the full sensory experience of the car journey,” says Benjamin. For him, this includes treating the vehicle respectfully without being awestruck. The R 107 is easy to drive, and it doesn’t take a great deal of expertise to get it moving along nicely. “Of course, the older someone is, the more respect you should show them – and the more peculiarities they may have, but that’s exactly what makes them so special and endearing,” says the actor. In 2016, he starred in two movies. One of them, a German film whose title translates as Our Time Is Now, is based on the life story of Stuttgart rapper Cro, who also just happens to have Mercedes-Benz ties: Two years ago, he did a highly original paint job on a CLA Coupe.
The older the car is, the more respect you should have for it.”
The expectations for the car have not diminished – their focus has simply shifted. The technical advantages of the SL-Class still pay off today. The 1971 R 107 was the first Mercedes-Benz model to be fitted with exterior mirrors that could be adjusted from the inside. It also came with an inertia reel for the seatbelt, and new taillights that barely picked up dirt thanks to their shape.
As the sun slowly sets in Tyrol, the inviting aroma of herb infusions wafts out of the spa. Now it’s definitely time to park the car in the garage – or rather the hotel room. After all, you should never let the beautiful things in life out of your sight.