Mercedes 450 SLC C107 1973 – 1981 – A Rising Star
Note from author, Dave Tobin: I was asked to write another article for the Mercedes-Benz Club of America’s ‘Star Magazine’ by Editor Jeff Zurschmeide not too long ago. Another installment of the ‘Rising Star’ column I’ve contributed several articles to, adapting the 5 different Mercedes models I highlighted as ‘Rising Stars’ in the Mercedes market for the talk I presented at the first Mercedes Fruede in Hilton Head, SC. This time, the article tackled an often-overlooked model, but one that has been gaining interest among enthusiasts and one that we’ve seen making gains in the market over the past several years… the Mercedes 450 SLC coupe of the 1970s. Pasted below is essentially the article I sent off to Jeff. What’s below is essentially what appeared in January / February issue of the Mercedes Benz Club of America’s magazine ‘The Star’. A few edits were made before it landed in print. Some of the option information and market examples were cut out due to space restrictions in the printed piece, so this is actually a little longer and more complete, as I had intended it to be originally.
RISING STAR – Up & Coming Modern Classics
The 1973 – 1981 C107 SLC is at home on 5th Avenue or on a rally stage
In the world of collectible art and antiques they say “If it was expensive and desirable in period, it will most likely be that way forever.” That’s mostly true when considering the Mercedes-Benz C107 series of SLC coupes, available in the U.S. beginning with the 1972 model year through 1981. Today, these handsome pillarless coupes are desirable, but not all that expensive. They’re steeped in Mercedes racing heritage, they’ve got design style and are capable grand touring cars that gobble up highway miles much to the delight of their occupants. It seems that SLCs are just starting to be appreciated again for their unique charms by Mercedes enthusiasts with a recent uptick in values that have remained largely flat for years. If these cars appeal to you and if you can find a well-preserved original car that’s been well cared for, now is the time to make a move, they won’t remain undiscovered forever.
It’s hard to imagine that the SLC is actually the replacement for the beautiful Mercedes W111 coupe introduced in the early 60s, the ‘top of the line’ S class coupe. By the late 1960s Mercedes product planners had initial drawings of the replacement for the W113 SL, the much more modern R107 SL. When considering a replacement for the W111 it was decided to base the new coupe on the new SL, as design of that car was much further along than the new S class sedan, the W116. By simply stretching the new SL, adding a fixed roof and back seat, Mercedes could introduce a new coupe to the market much faster than if they were to wait for the W116 sedan with which to create the next coupe.
Mercedes-Benz withdrew from international motor racing for more than 30 years after the 1955 Le Mans tragedy when one of the factory 300 SLRs was involved in a crash, launching the car into the stands opposite the racing pits killing over 100 people and seriously injuring just as many. During that time however, they did field cars to compete in various rally events. That’s where the C107 SLC earned its motorsports stripes.
In 1978 Mercedes entered several, only slightly modified, 450 SLCs in a number of FIA Rally events. The 450 SLCs saw success in the FIA’s South America Rally which covered over 15,000 kilometers over a 40 day period by winning the event. Smitten with their success, Mercedes set about homologating a higher performance SLC. The potent 450 SLC 5.0 was the result. Fitted with a 5.0 liter all-aluminum engine, modified suspension, various aluminum body panels and a host of other developments, Mercedes had a real rally car. Mercedes saw international rally success with that car and went on to develop the 500 SLC, an even more potent rally weapon. Mercedes won rally events around the world during the 1978 – 1981 FIA rally seasons with their C107 effort. So, while the performance of the rally developed SLCs is quite different than that of the basic road-going models we’re discussing here, the basic DNA is the same. So, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine yourself crossing the Andes in an FIA rally while tooling up the gravel driveway to the ‘You-Pick’ apple orchard in your 450 SLC.
The decision to base the new SLC on a modified SL chassis is ultimately what gave the SLC its most prominent, if somewhat controversial feature, the ‘window louvers’ (sometimes referred to as ‘window gills’) located just aft the rear window and forward of the C pillar. The 450 SLC is the same as the SL from the front bumper to the windscreen. The wheelbase of the SLC is about 14 inches longer than that of the SL (almost 111 inches vs. 97 inches).
By stretching the car out like this it allowed installation of a reasonably sized rear seat but also created a roofline issue if the coupe was going to remain ‘pillarless.’ It’s the rear louvers that make the visual transition from the rear window to the C pillar. They’re a curios design element and one that’s been much debated at many a Mercedes Club gatherings I’ve attended. Some people love them, others aren’t quite as enamored. Either way, the ¾ view of an SLC is an unmistakable sight thanks to those silver painted plastic louvers sandwiched between two pieces of glass. What this longer wheelbase does for the overall ride quality and driver experience is what makes the SLC such a great long-distance tourer. They’re comfortable and solid feeling with the handling characteristics of a smaller car.
Capable Performer Despite Restrictions
The 1970s were a tough time for automotive performance across the board. Increasingly strict safety and emissions requirements imposed by DOT and EPA officials here in the United States meant changes to the SLC as well. The earliest SLCs delivered to the U.S. market for the 1973 model year were fitted with attractive, slim bumpers. Starting in 1974 and through the end of production, SLCs came with the larger ‘5 mph’ DOT mandated bumpers. U.S. market 450 SLCs were fitted with Mercedes’ capable M117 V8, 1973 and ’74 models cranked out 190 HP. Thanks to increasing emissions requirements, SLCs from 1975 – 1980 produced 180 HP and for the final year of production, 1980, power had been reduced to just 160 HP. 0 – 60 times hovered between 10 and 11 seconds with a top speed of about 124 mph. All U.S. model 450 SLCs were fitted with 3 speed automatic transmissions. As a result, SLCs can feel a bit ‘boaty’ and cumbersome around town, but on the open highway they perform quite well. Nobody said these were performance cars, but a long-distance highway trip turns into a comfortable and ‘sporty’ affair behind the wheel of an SLC.
Equipment and Options
(Author’s note: Visit our ‘”Historic Mercedes Prices” page to see all available options and pricing for Mercedes SLCs and all Mercedes cars through the years). Being the ‘top of the range’ model in the Mercedes-Benz line up, SLCs were very well equipped with few available options. What was optional and standard changed over the years. Things that might have been options early on, often became standard later in the decade. Let’s look at Standard and Optional equipment for the 1978 model year:
- Leather interior (Velour was available for no charge)
- No upcharge for metallic paint
- Air Conditioning
- Automatic antenna
- Center Arm Rest
- Becker Mexico AM/FM w/ Cassette
- Power Windows
- Cruise Control
- Power Sunroof: $702
- Orthopedic seatbacks: $49
- Heated Front Seats: $132
- Alloy wheels (‘Bundt style): No charge. Steel wheels with body painted wheel covers were still standard. By early 1979 ‘Bundt’ alloys were standard.
The SLC Market
The 450 SLC was the most expensive car in the Mercedes-Benz product line from its launch for the 1973 model year until the 450 SEL 6.9 was introduced in mid 1977. In 1976 a new 450 SLC had a base price of $24,131 delivered to a West coast port, a 450 SEL sedan cost $21,877, SL was $19,515. By 1980 base SLC prices had ballooned to $42,848, while a 450 SL cost $36,130. Despite that history of higher SLC prices, by the mid to late 80s SLs demanded a premium over their fixed roof SLC bretheren.
As time went on SLC prices really bottomed out, so much so, that a lot of SLCs fell into the hands of people who might have been able to buy them initially, but couldn’t afford to properly maintain them. As a result, there are a lot of very needy SLCs out there today.
Decent drivers can still be found in the $10,000 range in today’s market. Nicer cars are pushing $15,000 – $25,000. Great cars range anywhere from about $30,000 – $50,000, but those are really top-quality cars with provable, low odometer readings in excellent, original cosmetic condition, investment grade really. There are plenty of very nice, driver quality SLCs for well under $20,000 out there. Interesting, period, colors demand a premium when it comes to SLCs, if you can stomach those ‘seventies shades’. I think they look good in funky metallic oranges and greens. I used to own a ‘Pastel Blue’ (color code 922) 1977 450 SLC with body colored wheel covers, that car had presence!
Choosing Your SLC
I’ve said it before about other vintage Mercedes, but it’s really important with SLCs… find the best car you can, pay up for a good example because you can’t turn a bad one good without many thousands of dollars and months (or years) of effort. Good cars are out there, you just have to find them. What does good mean? Original interiors with dashes that aren’t cracked. Ideally, original paint. Cars with limited ownership, or at least known ownership history. A folder full of paperwork is always important, showing regular maintenance. Even with all of those things, you should budget several thousand dollars worth of retail, mechanical work to bring the car up to a safe standard that you can be comfortable with. Remember, the newest 450 SLC is still a 40 year old car. With time and patience, you can find the right SLC for you, but don’t delay, the word is out and they aren’t depreciating anymore.
1973 450 SLC – Silver Green Metallic (861), Pine Green leather. 65,000 miles, small ’73 only bumpers. Repaint in original color, description mentions various interior ‘refurbishments’ in 2015. Sold for $32,838 on 6/21/21. Color, no doubt, helped the price of this one.
1980 450 SLC – Manganese Brown Metallic w/ Palomino leather. 28,000 miles on odometer, unknown if that’s correct or not, wear to interior looks like probably more miles. European headlights installed. Looks to be a nice driver. Sold for $15,750 on Bringatrailer.com 7/1/21.
1979 450 SLC – Black (040) w/ Black Velour interior. 31,000 miles on odometer, appears original. Chrome ‘Centra’ wheels – a legitimate MB accessory wheel available through dealers in period. Very clean engine bay, nicer that the $32k 1973 above. Chrome fender arch trim didn’t help this one. Bid to $16,000 on Bringatrailer.com 10/14/22 (NOT sold). Velour is very rare on SLCs, while available as a no cost option, few buyers opted for it.