Mercedes Benz isn't known for unleashing their untamed offspring on the public, however in 1979, they did just that. Today's Nice Price or Crack Pipe450 SLC lightens its load by adding aluminum, but is it worth lightening your wallet?
Mercedes Benz has had a long and fruitful racing history, and some of their most rare and desirable cars are derived from those track stars. Today's 1979 450 SLC might look unassuming, maybe a little plebeian even by Mercedes' standards, but as a tramp stamp is potentially indicative of wild times ahead, so is the 5.0 badge on the ass-end of this SLC. When you are the subject of someone issuing the instruction to book ‘em, Danno, that person's possession of a five-oh badge can be a bad thing. Affixed here, like on so many Ford Mustangs, it's a good thing, and indicates the only thing arresting will be the car's performance.
When Mercedes introduced the R107-based C107 in 1973, many felt that stylistically it wasn't the equal of competitors from Jaguar, BMW or even the baroque behemoths from Cadillac and Lincoln. Perhaps because of its somewhat uninspiring appearance, it never sold in the kind of numbers its pagoda-roofed sister enjoyed. Despite the lackluster sales, the SLC carried on, and carried the same mix of engines as the two seater, including Benz's straight six and a pair of iron block OHC V8s in 3.5- and 4.5-litre displacements.
That was the case until 1979 when the mad scientists at Mercedes discovered a little something called aluminum. Out of that magical metal they created a monster V8 that proved to be both lighter and more hairier-chested than its cast iron progenitors. Because it was so much lighter, they could make it bigger, and at 4,973ccs, the two-cam eight managed 240-DIN horsepower and 296 lb-ft of torque. Needing a place to homologate the monster so it could run in WRC they chose to drop it in the stiffer coupe over its two-top sibling, and matched the alloy motor with alloy panels replacing the hood and trunk lid for the lightest and most aluminumiest SLC ever.
The resultant 450 SLC 5.0 existed only for 1979 and in the miniscule quantity of only 1,470 - just enough to qualify for FIA rules. Of those, only 40 are reported to have officially been shipped stateside. This 113,000-mile example is probably not one of those 40, despite the fact it carries the bigger bumpers you'd expect of a U.S. car. The seller says it a former owner imported it from Germany through the gray market, and had it made kosher with the Feds. The car currently carries CA plates, so licensing pretty much anywhere shouldn't be a problem. Another indicator of it being an immigrant is what looks like a velour interior, which is uncommon in U.S. Cars, most of which got warm leatherette instead. Whatever its provenance, it's still rarer than bratwurst tartare, in fact, if the seller is being truthful about he VIN number, this was but the 220th 450 SLC 5.0 built.
This 5.0 has the aluminum panels, half-inch wider alloy wheels and rubber ducky aero-aides front and back that set it apart from its lessor siblings. Unlike the hardcore rally cars, this SLC does sport a sunroof and those massive battering ram bumpers. They wrap around the body like a the last stripper of the night around the pole, and awkwardly frame the Mercedes-appropriate silver paint and dachshund-like proportions. That topcoat is shiny and gives the car the appearance, in the pictures at least, as though it just drove off the production line. Inside, the velour upholstery looks to have faded on the back seat tops, but that my be just a trick of the light and to our dismay the seller doesn't give us any interior shots to confirm.
You may also be dismayed to find that the 5.0 is mated to Mercedes' robust but fully automatic three-speed gearbox. Before you claim that to be a deal breaker, keep in mind that this is how they all came from the factory as Benz didn't have a manual transmission at the time that would handle the torque of the 450 V8, much less the big aluminum block's twist.
Modern Benz's may outperform the 5.0 today, and those cars have enough technology on board to keep you out of trouble when you do go to grab some of that gusto. The 450 SLC lacks any kind of ABS, traction control, stability control or airbags, so instead of looking to it to help you through those kind of situations you'll more likely find it laughing manically and trying to push you over whatever razor's edge you are straddling. That's what we like to call, fun.
That Mercedes would use the 1,470 homologation cars as test beds for the new aluminum engine speaks to their bravado and confidence in the motor. Its success led to the development of the modern alloy V8s that the company employs today. It also ranks up there with the 300 SL as one of the top performing Mercedes cars of its era. That's a lot of relevance and history wrapped up in a package that maintains a modest level of decorum and gravitas. When new, everyone knew it was special and because of that, the 450 SLC 5.0 was one of the costliest ways to get behind a wheel with a three-pointed star on it. Today however, it'll take $10,000. There aren't that many 5.0s on the market right now in the U.S., and it's questionable how many of those are the real thing. There's lots of badge-switched 350s pretending to be 450s out there, and the price premium the 5.0 should carry makes it a prime candidate for such tomfoolery.
But if this one is the real deal, and if it's mechanically as sound as it appears in the pictures, what's your take on that $10,000 asking price? Is that fair for a Benz so rare? Or, does that price make this SLC, DOA?
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