Reader Submissions: This Pristine Mercedes-Benz 500SL Must Be The Ultimate Survivor

This Pristine Mercedes-Benz 500SL Must Be The Ultimate Survivor

By Michael Banovsky
October 5, 2016

Photography by Paweł Skrzypczyński (Facebook / Flickr)

We’re big fans of any Bruno Sacco-influenced Mercedes-Benz model, a statement that includes pretty much all of them from the mid-1970s until the late-’90s. His approach, given that Mercedes-Benz’s forefathers invented the automobile, was that of both horizontal and vertical affinity, meaning simply that the Mercedes-Benz range should both look similar to one another and appear timeless in the market. Is there a better example of that idea than the ‘R129’ 500 SL?

Polish owner Maciej Majewski recently shared great photos of his 1991 example, which helped us remember just how much timelessness, er, ‘vertical affinity’ the design possesses. But the car’s incredible story? Yeah, this 500 SL will surely be around for quite some time.

“My father is the original and only owner of the 1991 500SL,” Majewski says. “The car one of the first R129s that were bought new in Poland, at one of the first official Mercedes-Benz dealers in the country, and it continues to wear the original black license plates (a rare sight in Poland these days) from 1992, when my dad re-registered it to the Warsaw area.

“The year 1991 was a time of great political and economic transformation in Poland, and it’s really no surprise that many people were able to pick up niches and lacks in the market in order to stabilize their careers for many years. My father had originally been in the aviation industry as I am today, but he decided to take a risk and start his own business in the late 1980s.

“Just as he began to see the beginning of his success, he decided to make the flamboyant (or rather, quite crazy) move of buying an R129, which had then only been around for two years. He continues to run that business to this day, just as he continues to own the R129. I was born in 1988, so you could say that I grew up with the R129. From being dropped off to school on summer days sitting in the tiny optional rear seats, to being old enough to drive it myself, the car has a ton of memories associated with it. In the last years, my dad has seen how passionate I have become about it, and I guess I can say that I am now the primary driver and caretaker. By now, both my dad and I refer to the car as ‘ours’.

“The 1990s were a tough time to own something like an R129 in Poland. Vehicle theft in those days was completely off the scale, and most cars were shipped across the Eastern border to Belarus and then Russia. Our R129 was attempted to be stolen, twice. The first time, my dad’s friend saw it on the flatbed leaving town, called my dad, then followed the flatbed and managed to get it stopped. The second time, the car had an additional hidden rear fuel pump relay switch built in, and the culprits were not successful. The locks were replaced a second time, and luckily, they have stayed in place until today.

“After years of normal operation and care, history took another turn. Two years ago, my dad rear-ended a Volvo XC60 when traffic stopped very suddenly. The collision was strong enough to deploy the airbags, but thankfully, nobody was hurt. However, damage to the car was heavy—the entire impact actually took place above the front bumper line and was taken primarily by the engine accessories. The engine was moved slightly aft, and the left cylinder head had been damaged externally (luckily, there was absolutely no internal damage).”

With a repair shop located (his cousin’s!) and a year-and-a-half procedure to find parts, fix everything, and remove other imperfections from the car that had cropped up over the years, the car was off the road until its renewal was complete. “While searching for parts to help my cousin’s work, I discovered an entire close-knit community of R129 fans in Poland, whose knowledge and passion were immeasurable for achieving the positive outcome of getting the car back on the road,” he writes.

“During the process, I gained technical knowledge about the R129 that I would not have gained otherwise. And in the end, I guess that it’s the troubled history of the car and the things it has endured, combined with all the childhood memories of top-down drives, that I love the most.”

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6 years ago

With the polish old registration plates sweeet car

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
7 years ago

Its a beautiful car as well as an interesting story … but calling it an ‘ ultimate ‘ survivor is the very epitome of overstatement as well as Hype & Hyperbole taken to the max .

The most telling part of the tale though is how long it took to fix what were pretty basic repairs over in Poland … which says all you need to know about life is currently in the land of mine and no doubt your [ Banovsky ] forefathers . Suffice it to say … things are obviously still quite rough back there .. even today .

Maciek Majewski
Maciek Majewski
7 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

Guitar Slinger, careful with the stereotypes. Truth be told, you don’t even know half of the story on the basis of what you have read here. The repairs were definitely not basic, and given the fact that the M119.960 (the only version with KE-Jetronic injection and sharing no common parts with other M119s) was used exclusively in the R129 between 1989 and 1992, finding many parts was incredibly difficult. Regardless of what a certain car means to you, there are (sadly) limits to the costs that you can cover, and in order to get the car back on the road with the knowledge we posessed at the start of the repairs, trusting a family business and their dedication to the issue was the best course of action. We realized that the shop, which employs only 4 individuals full-time, would not cease their normal day-to-day operation and focus solely on one project. Sure, there were other options available, but the budget difference, limited possibility of oversight of the project on our behalf, and various other factors meant that we accepted the longer time and stuck with the family option till the end. It had absolutely nothing to do with the issues of the country I live in. You should visit sometime, I dare say many things would surprise you, and positively at that.

And… overstatement… yes, you’re probably correct. But it’s a hell of a nice touch to celebrate 25 years of having the car in the family.

Best regards to you!

7 years ago

remains one of the best looking, elegant designs to come out of the 90’s, or really, any decade. As clean a design as an E39 5 series IMHO

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