After last week's atypical choice of a triple-turbocharged BMW X5 the decision has been taken to set the controls for the heart of the Brave Pill sun this week. It doesn't get any more courageous than this: an attractively priced V12-powered Mercedes from the era when the brand's build quality was more often associated with rank faults than bank vaults.
Yet even knowing our Pill is the equivalent of an automotive egg salad sitting in the sun, it still looks compellingly attractive, doesn't it? The fact this SL600 is being sold in Alderley Edge, the delightful corner of Cheshire long associated with professional footballers (and their showy spouses) makes it entirely possible it has had at least one player in its ownership history and five former keepers. But whoever specced it up back in 2004 did so tastefully, with Obsidian black outside and the combination of charcoal and dark wood within. The wheels seem to have been repainted since to match the bodywork, but beyond that the rest of the car looks almost showroom fresh. Only slight wear to the driver's seat bolster and a stained seat carpet gives any visual clues that the mileage has just rolled into six figures. This is a car that cost £98,000 new before options, and which is now being offered for just £16,995.
Not that the SL600 was ever a particularly rational choice, even within its want-not-need model family. It dates from the odd period when Merc's engineers seemed to have too much time on their hands when it came to creating top-end powertrains, although not enough to sort out some fairly egregious quality faults. The upper reaches of the R230 SL clan had an embarrassment of riches when the car was launched. Above the SL500, and based on it, the AMG-tuned SL55 used a supercharged version of the M113 V8, displacing 5.5-litres and making peaks of 493hp and 516lb-ft. But buyers could also pay slightly more to get the numerically superior SL600, which used a twin-turbocharged version of the M275 V12 which also had 5.5-litres of swept capacity and an identical 493hp. The only substantial difference, beyond soundtrack and spark plug bills, was the 600's slightly higher 590lb-ft of torque. But in effect Mercedes had created two answers to the same question: "how do I get a naffing fast SL?"
Bigger is normally better when it comes to engines within a model range, but the R230 actually reversed this long-established rule. The cheaper SL55 sounded better, revved harder and felt generally keener. Both cars posted identical 0-62mph times and top speeds - thanks to 155mph limiters - but the AMG's lighter motor and more dynamic suspension settings made it a far sharper steer. The V8 model quickly proved itself something of a star, one capable of humbling supercars in comparison tests and reintroducing the long-dormant idea of a sporty SL. There was much less love for the torquier-but-porkier SL600, which seemed to be a chunky boulevardier next to its more agile sister, and which found itself outflanked on the other side once the 604hp V12 powered SL65 AMG was launched the following year. Sales of the S600 were modest in the UK, with fewer than 150 registered throughout the R230's life.
Yet while it lacks the zing of the SL55, the 600 was pretty much unbeatable when it came to the business of ultra-relaxed high speed progress. The twin-turbo M275 delivered relentless urge with minimal effort, barely raising its voice under everyday use and staying subdued even when accelerating at a rate that left pretty much everything else in its wake. When new a U.S. magazine recorded a 3.6-second 0-60mph in a 2004 SL600, two tenths quicker than a contemporary 996-gen 911 GT2 which had previously been its high watermark. The Merc was a car that spoke softly but carried a lead-filled baseball bat. It's tunable, too -capable of taking significant power increases without complaint and rortier exhausts can also spice the soundtrack up nicely.
You don't need to be Sir Mix-a-Lot to spot some big buts when it comes to considering R230 SL600 ownership. The V12 engine is generally accepted to be pretty tough if it has been properly looked after, but the rest of the SL was a product of Merc's era of Cadburys build quality - one where the models looked appetising but lasted about as well as a Christmas assortment box. As an early range-topper our SL600 is packed with potential peril with likely troublesome components including the ABC air suspension, with a well documented tendency to blow its pump, and also the electro-hydraulic Sensotronic brakes which are nearly as good at throwing up bills as stopping the car. The SL's elaborate folding hardtop is also prone to expensive failure, water often leaks into the boots and the car's various ECUs often suffer from pricey borkage.
The dealer selling our Pill hasn't given full details on the care and maintenance that has clearly been lavished on it, although the ad promises at least some Mercedes history. But the selection of images has given reassuring answers to various of the most pressing questions. The roof's continued operation is proved by the fact it is photographed both raised and lowered, something a surprising number of R230s are no longer capable of. There is also a clear image of the dashboard with the engine running with no warning lights in evidence, another feat that many of its siblings struggle with. Functioning sat nav is a small bonus, too - although the system will obviously be short on smarts compared to more modern alternatives. The ability to report on latitude and longitude position will be useful if the car ever gets carried out to sea.
Basic SL600 spec was generous, our Pill seems to have pretty much every available feature: radar cruise control, heated and cooled seats and a panoramic centre panel in its power operated hood. The MOT history is unalarming. It failed last year with knackered front tyres, and back in 2017 with a fluid leak from the nearside front suspension (which has recently returned as an advisory) but there is nothing else worthy of note. Not the sort of details to give pause to anyone possessing the chromium cojones necessary to consider such a car.
We all know that expensive, complicated cars keep their thoroughbred running costs even as values dip. The R230 SL600 is one of the best examples of this disparity; it wouldn't take much for a poorly chosen example to run into bills equal to most if not all of its value. Accept that and this is supercar performance for hot hatch money.
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