Maple Yellow Mercedes-Benz R107 Is A Retired Hollywood Star Living In Germany
Photography by Robb Pritchard
I grew up in the early ’80s so many of my weekend evenings were spent watching American TV shows like the Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider, so if I ever saw a bright orange General Lee 1970 Dodge Charger or a black Pontiac Firebird with one of those cool lights in the grill I would be pretty excited. My German friend Jorg Sand is both a bit older and perhaps a little less impressed with airborne muscle cars than I am, and his favorite series was a little more sedate: Hart to Hart. If you’ve never heard of it, imagine CSI (without the “science”), meets Dallas, made by the same people who did the A-Team.
All the classic TV shows needed a car as the co-star though, and Hart to Hart had a lemon yellow 450SL. In the episodes I watched (for research purposes), I didn’t see the car jump any rivers or talk to the occupants through a computer, but still, it’s a Mercedes-Benz SL that was in a TV series, and there are precious few of them with such a status; only two, in fact. The only other was the cherry red that Bobby Ewing drove for many years in Dallas.
Jorg also owns the official replica 1983 Dakar-winning G-Wagen, but wasn’t looking to add another piece of Mercedes memorabilia to his collection, just a classic car to enjoy some weekend cruising in. “I always liked the R107, as apart from it being one of the most iconic Mercedes-Benz models I remember reading rally reports in magazines when the SLC was winning events in South America and Africa. And also when you compare the price of an SL to a Porsche from the same era, it’s a very, very cheap car…. but the value is also increasing quickly, so I wanted to make an investment.”
But while clicking through online adverts one evening he came across one advertised as the original car from Hart to Hart. At first he just assumed it was just the same color because a famous car should be worth a lot more than what the seller was asking, but when Jorg called the next day the owner assured him it was actually one of the three originals, the one from the first two seasons was for sale because his wife hated having to physically lift off the roof and wanted a “real cabriolet.” Jorg’s better half was a little more enthusiastic about it though. “I showed her the advert, she recognized the car immediately and liked the idea of owning it so much she wanted to go and see it straight away!”
For the pilot episode where a couple of rich folk engaged in some nasty road rage on a mountain road producers borrowed the personal car of the guy whose job it was to find locations to shoot the scenes outside the studio. Maybe he didn’t know that they were going to rag it around twisty roads while sparring with a Ferrari Dino, but when they got the green light to make the full series the producers had to buy another car, one in the matching color. This car was in the first two episode runs before Mercedes-Benz, keen for the exposure the show was generating, gave them a 380—if you take the badge off the back, there’s no visual way to tell the difference between that and a 450.
The location scout’s 450 was sold off to a private buyer not connected to the show and was used as a normal car for 30 years… until a company in London specializing in importing TV cars from Hollywood to Europe came across it and shipped it over. “When we were buying it the seller showed us the name on the old title deed and then showed us the same name on the credits at the end of the show, which is proof enough.”
It had spent its life in California which is a great dry climate for cars, and apart from changing the oils, filters, and belts, Jorg hasn’t had to do any work on the car at all. It’s a gorgeous classic in an unusual color, at least for European eyes, so it gets a lot of looks wherever it goes but it’s when Jorg takes it to shows that it gets the recognition it deserves. He doesn’t just go to classic car meets in a field, but to the Essen Motorshow right next to the main Mercedes-Benz display. “I’m in a club called Mercedes-Benz Fans, and the factory allows them to run an owner’s section at the side of the main stand. Hart to Hart was a popular show in Germany and its often on in the form of reruns still today, so when I put a post on the forum to see if there would be any interest they called me the next day!”
Jorg often gets people coming up to him that recognize it and tell him about the scenes from the show they remember. Jorg’s favorite is the last episode the car stared in before it was swapped for the 380; “The Blue Chip Murders.” It’s the only proper car chase it was in, and it was a pretty good one too.
The main character Jonathan Hart was behind the wheel chasing a nice Lancia Beta through the streets of Downtown LA until they end up in a storm culvert. The Lancia smashes clumsily onto the ramp while the suspension capabilities of the Mercedes are demonstrated as the springs keep the wheels away from the inside of the arches. Then it does a graceful pirouette in the water before performing quite a good impression of Mikkola or Waldegård on the Safari Rally powering through about six inches of water at full tilt. But the best part is when it gets driven sideways up the 40-degree incline of the concrete banking and is then parked nonchalantly at the top. That’s actually quite impressive.
Not surprisingly, for the history lesson of exactly what his car did nearly 40 years ago, Jorg bought the show’s box set. “If you look closely there are a few small differences on the car now, compared to how it was in the show. In the third season there was no badge on the back of the new 380SL, so it was only the first and second ones that I watched. I knew that the radio it came with was a newer one, so I looked through the DVDs for a few episodes until I found a scene where I could see the dashboard properly, pressed pause and then found the correct one on eBay. Now the dash looks original again.”
But it’s not just the show I want to see the car in, I want to take it for a test drive, and as Jorg opens the garage door the first thing I notice is the color. Somehow it looks even more garish in real life than it does in the photos. Maple Yellow is the official name. Sick Custard is what I think. Why the TV show producers chose a car this color for the stars I’m not sure. Red or silver is what an SL should be. Maybe deep gloss black to show off all the chrome trim… although there is a lot less of that on this car than ones made for the European market.
The huge plastic bumpers make it look like it was made to play bumper cars, but it was the only way that Mercedes could get it to comply with the “5MPH” laws in the United States. Jorg doesn’t like them either, but they are staying where they are as he is keeping the car totally original.
“Sometimes I feel a bit guilty about putting miles on it, as usually cars like this sit in a museum or on display and are not driven around at all. But we only drive it for special events, going out with SL clubs and with the family along the Rhine, but only on special occasions and only in good weather.” It had 72,000 miles on the clock when Jorg bought it, and a year later it reads just 75,000.
Opening the huge, heavy door and slipping into the luxury couch of a front seat I notice the position is sports car low. Surprisingly, after telling me how much he likes looking after such a venerable and famous classic Jorg, guns it at the first opportunity and the gorgeous and lazy 4.5L V8 thinks about coming to life. There is 160BHP under that long bonnet. It sounds like it, but the sound is not really matched by any noteworthy increase in velocity. Over the uneven country road the 40-year-old suspension makes it feel as though we are gliding. It doesn’t do corners too well though, there’s a worrying amount of body roll, but I suppose if the shocks and springs had been replaced since before the end of the ‘70s the ride would be a little more assured. This was a car made for cruising in though, not for tearing up mountain roads in pursuit of Ferraris.
The SL had the second longest production run in Mercedes-Benz history behind only the G-Wagen, with over 300,000 units sold between 1971 and 1989 until it was finally succeeded by the R129. But with its history, the one we are in is absolutely unique.