About the 1985 Mercedes 380Slby Rob Wagner
Forget "Black" or "AMG" -- the most storied letters in Mercedes history are "SL." Mercedes SL -- Sport Leicht -- models have been setting the benchmark for Silver Arrow performance for decades, and SL models continue to form the basis for the company's most awe-inspiring sports cars today. The 1985 380 might not have been the blisteringly fastest of the breed, but there's no denying that it held the torch for rear-drive, open-air, V-8 roadsters during an era largely devoid of such.
The Mercedes SL sports car can trace its origins to 1954, with the famed Gullwing 300 SL. It was named the Gullwing for its doors that opened upward similar to a bird spreading its wings. The 1985 380 SL was part of the third of five generations of SL-series sports cars produced from 1972 to 1989. SL-series engine displacements ranged from 3 liters in 1954 to 6 liters in 2010.
The 380 SL was a smart-looking, two-seater convertible that could be equipped with a soft top or hardtop. The 380 SL’s handling on curves was sharp, although it was sluggish from a dead stop. The 380 SL was larger and squarer than the previous 1963-to-1971 generation SL-Series models, and perhaps hung on to its styling too long over 17 years. It sat on 14-inch alloy wheels and featured four-wheel disc brakes. It was marketed to compete against the BMW 6 Series and the Jaguar. A companion 380 SEC was the coupe version.
The 380 SL featured a 96.9-inch wheelbase and measured 172.8 inches long. It stood 51.2 inches tall and 70.5 inches wide. Its curb weight was listed as 3,638 pounds without a driver. Its fuel tank capacity was 19.8 gallons. It was also about as aerodynamic as a Hummer H2, with a hilarious 0.44 coefficient of drag. The turning circle was a "don't try this on a two-lane" 33.9 feet, but the driver's position was very comfortable for 1980s NBA players, with a very impressive 42.2 inches of legroom.
The 380 SL’s 16-valve fuel-injected V-8 engine displaced 3,839 cc, or 233 cubic inches -- with a 3.62-inch bore and 2.83-inch stroke. The compression ratio was a relatively high 9.0-to-1, and it made 155 horsepower at 4,750 rpm and 196 foot-pounds of torque at 2,750 rpm. Even by 1980s standards, the 380 SL, was regarded as underpowered -- a 5.0-liter Chevrolet Camaro would have trounced it. the engine's reputation for timing chain failure didn't endear it much either.
Performance was relatively lackluster in straightaway acceleration, but solid over distance traveling. The 380 SL could achieve 0 to 62 mph in 9.8 to 10.2 seconds with an overall top speed of 134 with the manual transmission; automatic transmission cars were limited to 127 mph. Its SL-Series siblings were equipped with the 5-liter V-8 and achieved superior 0-to-62 mph timings under 7.5 seconds.
In all, 53,200 380 SLs were produced between 1980 and 1985. Production peaked in 1983 with 11,198 units sold, but by 1985 sales dropped to just 8,144 cars. Still, the 380 SL was the second-best-selling, third-generation model. The 450 SL numbered 66,300 over a nine-year period.
Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.