Cars & Bids Bargain of the Week: C107 1981 Mercedes 380 SLC

With how special and expensive something like the 300 SL Gullwing is, it might seem like a classic Mercedes is out of reach for most enthusiasts. However, vintage Mercedes-Benz cars aren’t necessarily pricey. Plus, while some, like the 600 ‘Grosser,’ might have complicated components, many are decidedly simpler, if no less durable. And this week’s Cars & Bids bargain car, a C107 1981 Mercedes 380 SLC, is a solid example of both concepts.

The C107 Mercedes SLC attempted to give the beloved R107 SL roadster some extra practicality

A beige R107 Mercedes 350 SL with its top down
R107 Mercedes 350 SL | Mercedes-Benz

With a production run spanning four decades, the last-gen G-Class, aka the G-Wagon, is the longest-running model in Mercedes-Benz’s history. The second-place car’s 18-year run might seem short in comparison. However, although the R107 Mercedes SL convertible is a very different vehicle than a G-Wagon, it’s no less important, MotorTrend says. And in a way, so is its overlooked showroom sibling, the shorter-lived C107 Mercedes SLC.

To understand why the C107 Mercedes SLC isn’t quite as beloved as the R107 SL requires diving into their histories. Although the Mercedes SL started as a genuine sports car, the R107 moved it towards luxury GT territory. But since the outgoing SL was based on the precursor to the S-Class anyway, the transition wasn’t exactly sacrilegious. And with features like automatic climate control, V8 powertrains, and electronic fuel injection, the R107 was a true “technological tour de force,” MT reports.

However, while the C107 Mercedes SLC offered the same kinds of luxuries, there was one thing it didn’t have—the same roofline. Normally, Hemmings explains, Mercedes-Benz based its two-seater convertibles on its four-door sedans. But the R107 SL debuted as its predecessor, the W113, and the W111 it was based on were leaving production. So, when Mercedes decided to make the C107 hardtop coupe, it used the R107 as a base, not the mechanically related W114.

That wouldn’t be a problem, except that Mercedes wanted the coupe to have four real seats. That required not just stretching the wheelbase, but also changing the roofline and window layout. Compared to the R107, many thought the C107 Mercedes SLC looked, um, odd. So, while the R107 SL’s run lasted from 1971-1989, the C107 SLC dropped out after 1981.

It’s not an official S-Class, but the C107 Mercedes SLC is just as luxurious

A liveried white-and-black C107 Mercedes 450 SLC drives through the sand at the 2005 East-Africa Rally
C107 Mercedes 450 SLC at the 2005 East-Africa Rally | SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images
Spec1972-1981 C107 Mercedes SLC
Engine380 SLC: 3.8-liter V8
350/450 SLC: 4.5-liter V8
Power (SAE net)380 SLC: 155 hp
350/450 SLC: 190 hp (pre-1975), 180 hp (1975-1979), 160 hp (1980-1981)
Torque380 SLC: 180 lb-ft
350/450 SLC: 240 lb-ft (pre-1975), 220 lb-ft (1975-1979), 230 lb-ft (1980-1981)
TransmissionThree-speed automatic (pre-1981)
Four-speed automatic
Curb weight3585-3715 lbs (Hemmings)

While the C107 Mercedes SLC wasn’t as successful as its convertible sibling, it still left a mark on the brand. Its immediate successor was the C126 SEC, the coupe version of the first official S-Class, the W126. And while the W140 S-Class has more tech, the W126 is arguably held in better regard in terms of overall build quality.

Plus, while it doesn’t have quite the same look as the R107, the C107 is still a solid luxury GT coupe. It has fully-independent suspension, four-wheel power-assisted disc brakes, power-assisted steering, and, as noted earlier, enough room for four adults. The C107 Mercedes SLC also came standard with features like leather upholstery, A/C, and power windows. Later options included things like a power sunroof, alloy wheels, and ABS.

Also, while it’s more luxurious than its predecessor, the C107 Mercedes SLC is still technically a sports car. For one, its options list included a limited-slip differential, Hemmings notes. And secondly, in 1978 a 450 SLC became the first V8-powered car to win a WRC race. That feat is even more impressive given that it was an automatic car.

The 1981 380 SLC on Cars & Bids is a rare one-year wonder

A gray 1981 C107 Mercedes 380 SLC parked on a city street
1981 C107 Mercedes 380 SLC | Cars & Bids

As noted in the table above, the C107 Mercedes SLC got a four-speed automatic in its last year of production. But that wasn’t the only one-year-only feature. At least in the US, Mercedes only offered the 380 SLC for 1981. That makes the 1981 example currently listed on Cars & Bids a true rarity.

Being essentially an S-Class coupe, this 1981 Mercedes 380 SLC comes well-equipped. Besides the leather upholstery and automatic A/C, it also has wood trim, power windows, fog lights, and cruise control. It has a power sunroof, too, as well as power locks. The factory Becker radio has been removed, though. In its place are an Alpine cassette player and a trunk-mounted CD changer. And while this car had an aftermarket alarm system at one point, it’s been disconnected.

The tan-leather-upholstered front seats and wood-trimmed black dashboard of a 1981 C107 Mercedes 380 SLC
1981 C107 Mercedes 380 SLC front interior | Cars & Bids

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This 1981 Mercedes 380 SLC’s odometer stopped working after 149,800 miles, so its true mileage is unknown. But it’s been with the same family since 1988. And apart from some interior cracks and creases, a few paint chips, some bubbling around the LCD instrument panel, and old tires, it’s in solid condition. It was involved in a minor accident in 1994, but there appears to be no lasting damage.

Besides its one-family ownership history, this C107 Mercedes 380 SLC also has a well-kept service history. The transmission was replaced in 2013. And the battery, engine oil and filter, and driver-side window switch were replaced earlier this year.

With a few changes—and careful maintenance—a C107 Mercedes SLC can be a classic luxury bargain

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As of this writing, this 1981 Mercedes 380 SLC is listed at $4450 with three days left in the auction. That’s about half of what a good-condition C107 usually costs, Hagerty says. And it’s noticeably cheaper than the more common 350/450 models.

While durability and reliability aren’t synonymous, the C107 and R107 Mercedes models are fairly robust overall. Apart from age-related issues, the only major potential problem spots are the valvetrain and timing chain. The V8s’ valve guides are known to wear, though modern replacement parts don’t have this issue, Hagerty says. And the 3.8-liter V8 in particular is known for timing chain stretch and failure, which often causes severe valvetrain damage.

However, there are two solutions to the chain problem. One is to change the chain tensioners religiously. And the other is to convert the single-roller chain to a double-roller one. It’s worth noting that Mercedes-Benz converted a few engines in-period to double-roller timing chains. This 380 SLC’s seller claims that their car received some engine work in the 1980s, possibly for this very reason.

In short, this 1981 C107 Mercedes 380 SLC is a rare opportunity to get a bargain-priced well-built classic luxury car.

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