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1989 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

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1989 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class 4.5 2
$ 1,682-47,470
June 11, 1989
Want to travel incognito?

Then grab a $55,000 Cadillac Allante. You`ll blend into the scenery as if you were wearing a disguise or were behind the wheel of a Yugo. It`s as if the whole car was tinted, not just the windows.

If recognition and having the common folk gawk enviably as you pass are high on your list of priorities, then get thee into a Mercedes-Benz 560SL.

The SL has been around a couple of decades. It always was an SL, but the numerical designation changed based on the engine used. There`s been a 450SL to signify a 4.5-liter engine and a 380SL to denote a 3.8-liter. The 560 designation has been in effect since 1986, when a 227-horsepower, 5.6-liter V- 8 was offered.

We drove the 560SL to bid the designation farewell.

This fall-late November-a pair of new SLs appears, the 300 and the 500, the first time an SL duo has been marketed. The 300SL will be powered by a 3- liter, 24-valve, 6-cylinder engine that boasts 231 horsepower. The engine will be teamed with a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission. The 500SL will offer a 5-liter, 32-valve V-8 that claims 326 horsepower and will be teamed with a 4-speed automatic only.

Though the engine has been changed several times, the SL has remained basically the same two-seater, luxury machine from Day 1. The SL has been a rather remarkable survivor, considering the plainness of the sheet metal.

Mercedes has resisted the current styling trends-sloping hoods, hidden headlamps and absence of a grille. Instead, the bulgy hood arcs to a massive horizontal grille housing the Mercedes crest, flanked by an old-fashioned set of dual exposed headlamps. You can tell a 560SL is coming a mile away.

Inside, while Cadillac inundated the Allante with power push-button controls, the SL keeps it simple. My goodness, the clock has hands that turn, not digits that flash. You don`t need a degree to work any of the buttons or dials.

Why such staying power despite running counter to all the trends? Quality helps. There are no squeaks or rattles. Everything fits. Rather than 20-way power seats with 20 buttons but little comfort, the big, well-padded seats in the 560SL need only a pull on the fore or aft handle to allow you to relax while cruising.

Behind driver and passenger there`s a compartment large enough to throw a couple small suitcases or a few grocery bags. Because the trunk is so small, you may need that extra room.

The hardtop is removable, and a convertible top can be pulled up to take its place, giving you a 2-in-1 machine.

The 5.6-liter V-8 is powerful, but the SL has put on a few pounds over the years. You feel the weight in the wheel when you travel in other than a straight line. Power steering helps in such maneuvers as lane changes or parking, but nimble and limber the 560SL is not.

Power brakes help bring the weight under control and antilock brakes ensure that you`ll stop in a straight line regardless of pavement surface or conditions. But allow a foot or two more than normal in applying the binders. The 560SL is a bit bulky; the 3,700-pound machine gets a mere 14 m.p.g. in city driving and 17 on the highway. That EPA rating means the 560SL carries a $1,300 gas guzzler tax on top of its $64,230 starting price. That the dollar has fallen in value against the West German mark has more to do with that stiff sticker price than all the technology, engineering and innovation that have been thrown in.

A truly fine, if dated machine. A simplistic but opulent vehicle that Screams image and prestige. Overpriced? To be sure. Would you really like to own one? You bet.

Cadillac thought two seats and a $50,000 price tag would put its Allante in the same league as the Mercedes SL. But, then, Cadillac thought people would buy diesel engines, too.

Standard equipment on the 560SL includes the antilock brakes, drive r-side air bag, leather upholstery, antitheft alarm system, central power locking, power windows, electric rear-window defroster, heated windshield washer nozzles, heated outside mirrors, AM-FM stereo cassette, cruise control, automatic climate control and power brakes and steering.

>> 1989 Mercedes-Benz 560SL Wheelbase: 104.9 inches Length: 175.1 inches Engine: 5.6 liter, 227 h.p. V-8 Transmission: 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 14/17 m.p.g. Base price: $64,230, plus $1,300 guzzler tax Weak point: Price >>

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