Don't blink for too long or you'll miss the British summer. But it's long overdue arrival gives all of the modest excuse necessary for another Pill debut in the stylish form of this V8-fired Mercedes SL, the first of our offerings to come with a folding hardtop.
While the budget-based choice of an SL500 over the more borkable SL55 AMG might be regarded as lacking some commitment to the cause of automotive risk that Pill celebrates, the SL's magic folding roof still represents a high level of wallet roulette. One capable of throwing up scary-impressive bills when one or more of its many actuators or sensors checks out. Fortunately the vendor of this car has been sure to supply pictures with the hood both raised and lowered, something you'll soon notice that not all putative SL sellers are able to do.
There's plenty else to go wrong, too. The R230 was launched in 2001 as a tech-heavy range topper, but came from an era when Mercedes was keener on debuting snazzy new tech than it was on making sure this delivered the sort of reliability that had previously defined the brand's reputation. By the early 'noughties Merc's build quality was more plastic piggy bank than bank vault.
Our Pill has almost a full set of this tour de farce componentry with the failure prone ABC air suspension - well known for expensive pump check-outs - as well as the electro-hydraulic Sensotronic brakes which were actually lifed to a certain number of cycles and basically commit suicide after this number is exceeded. Other snakes on the board include rust-prone rear arches, most of the electrical system and leaking seals which can flood the boot and lead to the sort of deeper issues that get mechanics sucking through their teeth and thinking of Caribbean holidays. In short, this is definitely not a car to be run on a shoestring. Fortunately, this one doesn't seem to have been.
The R230 also looks like conspicuously good value at the moment, the current bargain of the SL clan. Values of the R107 that was produced between 1971 and 1989 have been accelerating strongly in recent years with genuinely nice ones now well north of £20K. The '89 - '02 R129 has also enjoyed a modest renaissance and prices are now higher than those of comparable R230s. While the R129 is certainly a handsome beast - for my money some of former Merc design boss Bruno Sacco's best work - and is certainly better built, it's nothing like as nice to drive as the R230. An R129 feels bigger and fatter than it actually is, and suffers from noticeable structural wobble. Despite being heavier the R230 feels lighter on its feet, more agile and - oo-er missus - much more rigid over rougher surfaces and in corners.
Not that the R230 is a sportscar; rather a comfortable two-seat tourer with the ability to combine most of the virtues of a coupe with those of a roadster. When it was launched Mercedes admitted that one of the main reasons for the folding roof was the realisation of the number of R129s that were given heavy and cumbersome hardtops for winter use. With the roof raised a R230 is snug and comfortable at proper GT speeds, presuming tired seals aren't starting to whistle too badly. Lowering the top transforms the car's character to that of a relaxed schlepper, a brilliant way to work on a tan while the rest of the world zips past - and our Pill comes with the original clip-in wind deflector that works well to minimise buffeting.
The 500's 'M113' V8 was carried over from the R129 and suits the car's relaxed demeanour, much better than the anaemic V6 of the lesser SL350. While most of the 'eight's simple charm comes from the relatively abundance of low-down torque and the burbling soundtrack when wafting, the V8 can be easily persuaded to turn snarly and serious. A 6.3-second 0-62mph time is hardly a disgrace by modern standards, even if it was nearly two seconds adrift of the one managed by the rocketship SL55. The R230 also got Merc's seven-speed autobox, which is far quicker-reacting and more intuitive than the late R230's five-speeder; a good one should still feel impressively crisp and responsive.
One area this SL will feel old is in its cabin. I drove a similar vintage SL55 for a PH Heroes feature back in 2016 and was surprised to find how low-rent the interior plastics felt by modern standards, but also how worn and creaky the years had turned them. The COMAND satnav system was also seen as a must-have in period, but delivers what is almost certainly heavily outdated guidance with the graphical dexterity of playing Tetris on a black and white Gameboy.
The pertinent question is whether our Pill is the SL to swallow. Summer has brought a flock of R129s to the classifieds and - in what might seem like a break from BP etiquette - this one is not actually the cheapest. But there are several of compelling reasons for its presence here. Firstly what might be the most unblemished MOT history in Pill history, with no advisories for anything other than a predictable appetite for rear tyre wear since 2012 - when the airbag light made a solitary appearance. Secondly the promise of fresh Pirellis, a full service history and recent expenditure including new engine and gearbox mounts. Third, and perhaps most importantly, pictures that suggest the private seller owns both a Hummer H2 and a Range Rover, suggesting they also possess copious experience of more expensive and riskier motoring. Oh, and there's also a gravel drive, which is always guaranteed to get the forum banter flowing.
There is a geographic downside to our Pill's Aberdeenshire location, certainly for PHers who don't live in the north east of Scotland, although it also means ownership could start with the sort of memorable journey the SL should be perfectly suited to. This is the sort of car that puts the 'fun' into 'contingency fund.'
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