x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

The SL Roadster: Eighties glamour and German geometry

The Mercedes SL roadster was as much a symbol of 1980s style as permed hair and shoulder pads. It was what the woman who wanted for nothing really wanted.

Mercedes-Benz's stylish SL Roadster remained in production for 18 years, until 1989.
Mercedes-Benz's stylish SL Roadster remained in production for 18 years, until 1989.

The Mercedes SL roadster was as much a symbol of 1980s style as permed hair and shoulder pads. It was what the woman who wanted for nothing really wanted. With the roof down, big hair streaming in the wind and a manicured poodle panting dotingly on the rear bench seat, ladies who lunch could cruise the promenade, gently rebuke wolf whistles from builders and whisk a friend to the tennis club in comfort.

Whether in Miami, Manhattan or Margate the SL had a certain cachet; it spoke of a beautiful fusion of comfort and capital. It was an aspirational car for the upwardly mobile. Its typical driver wasn't a career woman but rather the leggy girlfriend of a rich businessman. While he made his fortune in a gleaming office block she would squander it in boutiques and bistros. The SL was never as curvaceous as its typical owner. It didn't have the swoops of a Ferrari, or the sleek, sporty lines of an Alfa Romeo Spider.

But in a way its Germanic geometry and its solidity better reflected the 1980s hallmarks of prosperity and materialism than its Italian counterparts. Of course that isn't to say that the Mercedes lacked pedigree, far from it in fact. The SL was a descendant of the original 1950s Mercedes 300SL Gullwing, one of the most visually arresting and sought after cars in the world. The quintessential SL convertible is still a common sight on roads, especially when the sun is shining. Indeed, despite its age, it remains a popular choice even in comparison with newer, faster and better equipped models. As the little black dress has proved, style rarely goes out of fashion.

It was fitting that the SL's 18-year lifespan ended in 1989 when it was superseded by a new series of SLs and SELs that lasted until 1995. It will forever remain one of the enduring symbols of the Eighties, along with the New Romantics, Sony Walkmans and the yuppie. In total over 235,000 were built and a surprising number have endured. This is partly due to their quality and robustness but also testament to the fact that the SL was never a workhorse.

Seldom was one seen stuck loaded with flat-pack furniture. Instead, the SL was usually seen cruising down palm-lined, sun drenched rivieras and enjoying a similarly laid-back lifestyle to its owners. tbrooks@thenational.ae