In 1989 a new SL generation superseded the previous models of the R 107 series. It offered a combination of dynamic sportiness, even greater comfort and particularly harmonious design. At its unveiling at the 1989 Geneva Motor Show, the SL from the new R 129 series immediately became one of the main attractions. The new model generation featured a number of world premieres: motorsport-inspired seats with integrated safety belts, a fully automatic folding soft top and wind deflector for draught-free convertible driving.
The car’s exciting lines were not compromised by a visible roll bar, but it was there all the same – ready to be deployed automatically in just 0.3 seconds if required. Weighing just 34 kilograms, the aluminium hardtop contributed to the car’s outstanding drag coefficient (Cd = 0.32). The R 129 took the SL to a new performance dimension: the top-of-the-range 500 SL was equipped with a 5.0-litre four-valve V8 unit, which developed 326 hp (240 kW) and made for exceptionally dynamic handling.
Mercedes-Benz went a step further in 1992 with the introduction of the 600 SL. This was the first 12-cylinder to join the SL family, and with 394 hp (290 kW) and six-litre displacement it fulfilled the dreams of many a car enthusiast.
Like all Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, the SL models were given new model designations in June 1993. The letters representing the vehicle class were now placed first, so the 600 SL became the SL 600. The revolutionary innovation of 1995 was the Electronic Stability Program ESP®. This pioneering driving safety system, which reduced the risk of skidding in critical handing situations, was available as standard equipment in the SL 600 and as an option in the SL 500.
A sensor linked to this device took just milliseconds to detect a potential rollover. It then automatically triggered the release of the safety roll bar in under 0.3 seconds. With the danger over, the roll bar was easily stowed to restore the vehicle’s harmonious lines. This innovative technology permitted a combination of optimum safety and uncompromised aesthetics.
The fabric soft top could be opened or closed in 20 seconds at the touch of a button. Even though drivers of earlier SL generations had grown accustomed to operating user-friendly mechanical soft tops, this system represented an enormous advance in control comfort.
The Electronic Stability Programme ESP® supported the driver in critical handling situations. Sensors detected and compared steering angle and yaw rate. Failure of such movements to correspond resulted in automatic activation of the system. Brake pressure was applied to individual wheels, thereby helping the driver to control the vehicle’s directional stability.