Mercedes SL55 AMG (R230) | The Brave Pill

Back in the days when automotive journalism was printed exclusively on dead trees, you didn’t have to see the date on a cover to know that spring was in the air. Early April would bring an inevitable crop of ‘is it time to buy a roadster?’ features, its shirt-sleeved drivers and frozen smiles in the cover photo – the photo shoot had inevitably taken place in the depths of winter

Even the most optimistic weather watcher is unlikely to see this as an obvious time to buy a summer-friendly toy with a pop-up roof. That is exactly why this could be the time given the pendulum of supply and demand for such things. So meet this week’s exceptionally brave offer: an R230 Mercedes SL55 AMG.

While regular readers may feel that Pill has already presented an example of this high-water mark of enticing danger, Enzo the hamster emerges from the database clutching punch cards to assure us that this is indeed the first example. We have previously pill’d the SL500, SL600 Y SL65 AMG, so this is completing the set. But while our previous R230s have been tempting, none have managed to look as tidy as this one, while it’s offered at an attractive asking price of Β£12,995.

That’s right, only 13 grand for this, with enough change for half a shandy in a London pub. While the values ​​of other sports cars from the ’90s and 2000s are rising, and some skyrocketing, the R230 continues to stumble on the bottom of what’s becoming a decade-long plateau. They also tend to take a long time to sell out, even at bargain prices – this is clearly a club that not many people are eager to get into.

On a boring, rational level, that’s completely understandable. Even a lovingly treasured SL 55 AMG can always turn into a financial minefield, with one misstep potentially leading to a bill worth a substantial percentage of the car’s value. The ’55 often went horribly wrong when it was new and covered by a warranty, but now the most recent examples of the R230 are at least 11 years old, so the risk has grown exponentially. Let’s be honest here, any SL 55 AMG is going to have problems, and very few of those problems are going to be cheap to fix.

I was once commissioned to write a buyer’s guide for the SL 55 AMG and approached a reputable specialist for some advice. When asked what was wrong with them, he sucked his teeth and replied, “It would probably be easier to list what isn’t.” The good news is that the engine is considered to be one of the tougher components, with the 476-hp 5.5-liter supercharged V8 a solid thing if you take good care of it. With the body made substantially from aluminum, they don’t seem to rust either, which removes another frequent killer of old Mercs from the list of concerns. But the electrical and electronic systems more than redress the balance of danger, from the retractable hardtop to the many failure-prone control boxes that handle the R230’s long list of complicated and expensive systems.

The most feared of these are the ABC Active Body Control and the SBC Sensotronic Braking System, both famous for causing terrifying bills when they go off. But there are plenty of other things that can go wrong too, and putting a neglected SL55 AMG back in order will be a slow, frustrating and, no doubt, very expensive process.

However, there are many things that we like about our pill beyond its attractive price. It’s one of the first cars with a striking purplish-blue finish, which contrasts nicely with a buttoned-up gray interior. The dealer selling it uses the word ‘awesome’ in the ad, which I’d normally put down to the common hyperbole of wanting to download stuff, but it really does look good on pictures. You could buy this car for full price, put an everlasting registration on it, and I think at least 90 percent of people would consider it to be at least twice as expensive as it was.

The 88,000 miles on our pill certainly isn’t scary for a car entering its third decade, and neither is the MOT history. Granted, there have been a few bad years, with a couple of failures that were apparently caused by electrical issues of various sorts. (No duchess has swooned over this revelation.) The most recent of these was an SRS fault light indicating an air bag failure in March of this year, though the SL got a clean pass the following week. Further back in 2018 there were some flashing lights and an β€œexposed starter battery positive connector”. But almost everything else is the kind of warnings about tires, brakes, and suspension components that I’d be more surprised not to see listed.

More concern is likely to be caused by the spec panel’s revelation that this SL has managed to sign eight former goalkeepers. Again, not an outrageous number when divided by the number of years it’s been around. But still, it suggests that some of its owners might have been trying to change it as soon as possible. Turning on the positive, the ad promises nine services with the last three performed by major Merc dealers. The presence of what is claimed to be a matching set of new Pirelli P-Zero tires is also a big sign; This is definitely not the kind of car you want to find with a set of Ditchfinder Supremes.

While this isn’t likely to be peak SL shopping season, the R230’s folding hardtop makes it almost a coupe during the cold months, and the use of the clip-on air deflector actually makes it quite comfortable even when it’s cold. It’s not like the huge engine is going to have little ability to generate heat. Yes, it’s a relatively cheap car with what are bound to be disproportionate running costs. But it’s hard to imagine that it will be worth much less in the future; the total cost of ownership of a half-decent SL 55 should still be less than financing the depreciation of something newer.

Or you could buy an SL65 AMG now, run it through the winter, and then sell it to someone looking for gritty roadster thrills six months from now.

Leave a Comment