1981 500SL Rally Car
320hp SL was to replace SLCs
Mercedes never ceases to surprise us. A few months ago the media center casually released images and comments relating to the long rumored 6.3 liter V8 Pagoda that was briefly evaluated in 1968 before being crushed. And now we have received information on what is perhaps the only 107 series SL ever seriously prepared by the factory for racing.
However, marketing priorities changed in the boardroom and all rally plans for 1981 were terminated.
The success of the 5 liter SLC rally program is well known: The factory team of lightweight SLCs finished a credible 4th in the 1980 World Rally Championship. With its rather long wheelbase, the SLC was an unlikely candidate for rallying where the ability to quickly rotate the car during during tighter stages was essential.
The SLCs high ‘polar moment’ was not lost on the engineering team headed by Erich Waxenberger and plans were initiated to replace the SLCs with the far shorter and more agile SLs in 1981.
Four rally SLs constructed
After 1980’s fourth place finish in the World Rally Championship, Mercedes prepared four 500SLs for the 1981 season for a driver lineup headed by then top international rally star, Walter Rohrl. The SLs were prepared in a similar fashion to the earlier SLCs receiving the 320hp M117 engine, a very short final drive ratio fitted to a limited slip differential and the other modifications essential to rally success.
Removing any unnecessary items from the standard SL resulted in a vehicle weight of just under 3,000 lbs despite the addition of an alloy roll cage and massive night driving lamps. Rohrl carried out extensive testing with the new rally contender from Stuttgart. However, marketing priorities changed in the boardroom and all rally plans for 1981 were terminated.
107s in competition
Aside from the 1979-1980 SLC rally program and the stillborn 500SL project of 1981, factory racing projects focusing on the 107 cars were virtually non existent. However, dedicated privateers pressed on with some interesting 107 projects both in period and currently.
roy spencer/editor mercedesheritage