Going Topless: Removing the Hard Top on a Mercedes 380SL

Topless-FromSideOne issue EVERY owner of a Mercedes R107 car (which is basically any 280SL, 380SL, 450SL, or 560SL) has is the strong desire to drive the car without the top. In Richmond I’m lucky enough to have the hardtop off about 7 months out of the year, depending on early or late warm weather. One wonderful thing about this car is that it can be driven with the hardtop on during colder weather or to keep it secure, with a soft top up, or with no top. To use the soft top or go topless, the hard top has to come off and every owner of one of these cars is eager for that first day when you can remove the hardtop and drive topless, using the soft top only when it gets cold for a day or two, or when it rains. The trick is in how to remove the hard top.

Softtop-SideView RoofToolFirst, I have to apologize for not having a picture of every part of the process. In some cases I have pictures of the hard top that will serve for both the hard and soft top. Overall, though, I think there are enough photos to make sure it’s easy to follow how to take off the hard top as well as putting up the soft top. Dropping the soft top and replacing the hard top are both just a reversal of what I show here. Also, before you start, make sure you have a roof tool (I don’t know the official name Mercedes uses for these). A photo of an actual roof tool is on the right at the top of this paragraph. I’ve seen them sell on the web for about $40. If you don’t have one, a flat blade screwdriver will work just as well and cost a lot less. And, lastly, I am firm that before I raise or lower the soft top or put the hardtop on or take it off, I roll the windows down. I doubt I’d break them, but with a car like this, I’m averse to risk.
RoofDefrosterPlug RoofTangBefore doing anything else to remove the hard top, unplug the rear window defroster/defogger. It’s easy to forget about this and to start raising your top, then tear the wires from the plug. The plug is behind a leather flap on the side wall behind the door on the passenger side. (See photo on the left.) The next step is to release the rear tang on the roof. From discussions on web forums, I’ve found not all hardtops have the rear tang, but soft tops need them. You can see the tang in the photo on the right. This photo shows the soft top, but it’s the same kind of tang on the hard top.

RoofReleaseHandleTo release either the soft or hard top, turn the roof release handle, which is behind the driver’s side door (photo on left). I’ve seen these handles set for different positions and, if I understand how it fits to the axis properly, it could either be almost upright like this, or 180 degrees in the other direction. I’m not sure, but I think in my in my 1973 450SL the handle actually moved in the opposite direction. Either way, you should be able to tell by feel what is going on as you rotate the handle. On mine, as you rotate it counter-clockwise until you meet resistance, it will release the roof tang at the rear. If you push it past the point of resistance, it will release the cover of the soft top boot, where the soft top is stored. At this point, you do not want to do that. Just turn it counter-clockwise until you meet resistance.

RoofBackReleaseTurning FrontRoofCatchOn the hard top there are four roof catches or bolts or whatever you want to call them and all four have to be released. There is a slot in each catch. Put the roof tool in the slot and turn the catch until you either feel it release or you’ve turned it as far as you can in the other direction. I don’t remember which direction you need to turn the ones in the back (which are just behind the doors, one on each side), but it isn’t hard to figure it out. (See photo on left.) There are two catches on the front, above the windshield and above the visors (see photo at right. From what I’ve seen, some SLs seem to come with 2 roof tools. My best guess is because it can be easier to release both front catches at the same time, depending on how your car and roof have aged. On the front catches, if the roof tool, when inserted, is pointing toward the center of the car, they are tight. Turn them so they point toward the doors to loosen them.

At this point the hard top is ready to remove. You’ve unplugged the defroster, released the rear tang, and released all four catches. There is nothing but the hard top’s own weight keeping the top on. While I have read of one person removing the top on his own, I would not recommend it. It’s not that the top is heavy, but it’s awkward. There is only one time I have ever heard of anyone removing the top on their own without help or a hoist of some type. If you have someone that can help you, now is the time to lift the top off and move it somewhere for storage. There are storage racks that store the roof in a vertical position. I have heard some people in a web forum say they have used a hoist, lifted their roof up to the garage ceiling, and left it there until they put it back in place late in the fall. They claim this is not only safe, but have not experienced any warping or change in the hard top’s fit. I do not have that experience, so I can only relay it. If you want to try it, fine, but please don’t think I’m suggesting it. I’m not about to take responsibility for anyone’s roof. Me? I’m paranoid. I was lucky enough to find an SL in excellent condition and I’m going to do every last little detail to keep my car in that kind of condition.

Since this entry is getting longer than I expected, I’ll post how I made my hoist in the next entry. Don’t worry! This won’t be a “continued next week” thing. I’ll post it later tonight as soon as I finish it.

There is only one more point to working with the tops on a R107 type Mercedes: Putting the soft top up. When I first got my 450SL and took the hard top off, I was stumped. I couldn’t find a thing to indicate where the soft top was, much less how to put it up. It’s quite simple. So simple, I’m not using any more pictures. Remember when I said to turn the roof release crank until you felt resistance? Now push it and you’ll feel a catch as the soft top boot cover is released. You’ll see it as the section that was underneath the hard top. Now open it up all the way by hand. You’ll see the soft top. Pull it up and fasten down the catches on the front, above the windshield first. Now pull the back up enough to keep the soft top above the boot cover. Close the boot, which may take pressure on both sides to close both catches. Next, slide the tang on the back of the soft top into the hole in the back, which is the same hole for the hard top tang. Then rotate the roof release crank all the way clockwise (and remember, from what I’ve seen, it is possible some cranks go the other direction). It’ll grab the tang and pull it down and fasten it. You’re soft top is up and in place.

To drop the soft top or put the hard top back on, just reverse what you’ve read here. It’s quite simple. For a convertible top designed in the early ’70s, these tops are amazingly easy to put in place and remove.

This entry was posted in 1973 Mercedes 450SL, 1985 Mercedes 380SL, Classic Cars. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Going Topless: Removing the Hard Top on a Mercedes 380SL

  1. des says:

    Your talk about how to open and close my 1980 euro sl 450

    was and is amazing i read you directiond and boom there lied

    my coco brown canvas roof for the first time.

    the car was givin to me as a tip and the exploration has been a joy thanks to you!!!! thank you des

  2. Gurps says:

    Thanks for that…good info….olive green 380SL in London UK

  3. Don Mack says:

    Oct. 1, ’08

    I want to thank you for your directions re. removing the top from my 1984 380SL. Very informative. Now my son and I can do it correctly.

    I would like to see your follow-up article on building a hoist for hard-top removal. Could you please direct me to the site?

    Thank you.

  4. Therese says:

    Thank-you so very much. I got if off for the first time a month ago and went to remove it yesterday with out any luck and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. You answered all my questions.
    Signed,
    Now Taking the Heat in Sunny Florida!

  5. Pete says:

    Hi
    Thanks for the info.
    I still have one question though, the bolt in the front is always screw in when we fold the softtop ,upon opening the softtop again and try to clamp it we need to unscrew the bolt a bit to leave a space on above and below as to clamp the bolt . A bit complicate , I’ll try to show some pict about that.But if you get it , anyone have a tips to share,please do.
    Thank you.

  6. Burt Burstrom says:

    Thanks.

    Can you let me know where your article is on making a hoist.

    Burt

  7. hal says:

    Pete,

    I would suggest going to this link:

    http://www.benzworld.org/forums/r-c107-sl-slc-class/

    It’s the section in the Benzworld forum specifically for this type of car. The people there are quite intelligent and knowledgeable about this kind of car. I’m not quite clear what you’re asking, but they know MUCH more than I do. (They’re where I’ve learned a lot, too.) Yeah, they do have an odd sense of humor, but they’re good people and mostly harmless!

    Burt,

    On the right of the main page of this blog is a list of categories. Click on the ones either for the 450SL, the 380SL, or the one for Classic Cars (your best bet) and you get all the stories I’ve written on these cars or anything to do with them.

    The shortcut for the particular article you want is http://halblog.com/wordpress/?p=86.

  8. fred says:

    hello

    thanks for those information

    any tip when the unlock system of the hardtop is locked ? possible cable broken …

    • hal says:

      Sorry for the delay — I stopped getting notices when people posted here and have been so busy I haven’t gotten back here.

      I really don’t have an idea what to do if the locking system for the top is busted. I don’t remember there being a cable issue with the hard top, only with a catch on the soft top, but I could be wrong. I’d suggest asking the other guys in the benzworld.com forum – go to that website and find the R/C107 forum and ask them. If they don’t know the answer, hardly anyone will.

  9. neil says:

    can you tell me i have a 350sl i cant get the hard top off the cable is either siezed or snapped how do you get it off

    • hal says:

      I would suggest going to this link:

      http://www.benzworld.org/forums/r-c107-sl-slc-class/

      It’s the section in the Benzworld forum specifically for this type of car. The people there are quite intelligent and knowledgeable about this kind of car. I’m not quite clear what you’re asking, but they know MUCH more than I do. (They’re where I’ve learned a lot, too.) Yeah, they do have an odd sense of humor, but they’re good people and mostly harmless!

  10. al says:

    what tool or handle is used to turn the 2 chrome tighteners at the front lip of the top of a 1982 mercedes 380SL soft top? Where can i puchase or find the tool or handle?

    • hal says:

      I’m sorry for the delay — it turns out I stopped getting notified of postings to this blog.

      You can use just a flat blade screwdriver to do that. And if you want an official tool, I’d check eBay. While Mercedes is usually not as far out on prices as most people say, that one piece of metal is something like $30-$40 or more.

  11. John Reszka says:

    I just purchased this 1985 380SL; I’m having trouble removing the hardtop; The front & side catches are released; I can lift the top about an inch but it seems to be caught on the rear tang and won’t release. I can not turn the safety lever as far as instructions show. Any suggestions?

    Thanks

    • hal says:

      Sorry for the delay, since I stopped getting notices about postings here, I lost track of things. I can’t answer that directly, but I’ll give you my stock answer to lead you to helpful people:

      I would suggest going to this link:

      http://www.benzworld.org/forums/r-c107-sl-slc-class/

      It’s the section in the Benzworld forum specifically for this type of car. The people there are quite intelligent and knowledgeable about this kind of car. I’m not quite clear what you’re asking, but they know MUCH more than I do. (They’re where I’ve learned a lot, too.) Yeah, they do have an odd sense of humor, but they’re good people and mostly harmless!

  12. Claus G Wagner-Bartak says:

    Thanks so much. I am still searching for the two little handles some car repairman liked.

  13. Steve Hopkins says:

    Hal –

    Recently bought a grey market 1984 500SL for my trophy wife. Your entries on dealing with the top(s) are most helpful. I’m sure I’ll revisit your site as I stumble along the learning curve for this car.

    Thanks and regards –

    Steve Hopkins
    Oxford, MD

    I still drive my ’88 Comanche daily.

  14. I just puchased my 1895 380sl and was having trouble removing the hardtop. And if you read the above it very hard to explain what I’m trying to ask. There is a cable and I had the new cable in the 380 when I purchased it But HOW DO I GET TO IT??? We tried for days I read every blog on the net. Finaly my son and I got serious about it and,, you need to make a tool “mine” was out of 1/8 aluminum tig rod I found at the local Airgas store take and hammer one end about 1 1/2 inches from the end about haft the , just mash it small enougth to fit in beside of the problem hook. With my son lifting slightly and me in the back I was able to slide in beside and relise the hook. Then after replaceing the cable I noticed nothing wrong with the old cable it just needed adjusted the same as the brakes on a kids bicycle. The very next day my son had to take it to collage and show off.

  15. Christopher Collrin says:

    Hi, I am having the same problem as John Reszka above. My levers go where they should, but the back of the top will not lift off the rear tang…it goes up about 2 inches then gets “caught”. Do I use the flat head screw driver here to release the tang? And if so, how do I maneuver the flat head to release the rear tang?

    Thanks. Christopher

    • Hugues Vanhool says:

      Hello,
      I just bought a 380SL model (1984) and got the same issue, did you get it unlocked with a flat screw driver and pushing on the rear tang? In which direction do I need to push the screw driver?
      Many thanks for your support.
      Hugues (Belgium)

    • Christopher, I’m sorry I didn’t respond when you posted this. I don’t even remember seeing your post (but I know I had to approve it!). I apologize, I just lost track of things. (Back in 2012, I was dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s, so I tended to miss a lot of what was going on.)

      If you mean the round rod or “tang,” or “post,” I remember the first time I had trouble with it I used a screwdriver and slid it in and it released the catch. That can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing. There is a notch in the tang or rod that faces the back of the car. Basicly if the part that catches on this rod is pushed back, it’ll come out – most of the time. A screwdriver will work, but there’s another method I’ve used that works all the time. Also, in my case, I found it almost impossible to get a screwdriver in there with a hard top on.

      I do have to caution that this is more likely to scratch the car, so putting a towel in place over the surface is an important precaution. When the top is pulled up as far as it can go (with the rod still stuck in place), you’ll have, maybe, a 3/4″ section of the rod exposed. After a few years of ownership, last spring, I was removing the hard top. I had the winch attached and it was holding the top up, but that one rod would not come out.

      I put an old and thicker tablecloth down to cover the area around the rod (it was a thick tablecloth, but not as thick as a towel, so it gave me more working room), and took a needle nosed pliers and held them tight in the rod, then I rotated it. I believe I found it works better clockwise, but I could be wrong. But after turning it about 1/4 of a turn (again, this is memory) it turned the notch enough that the mechanism latched into it let go. It may take pliers or a small vice grip to grab the rod, depending on the angle of the roof and more. It’s a frustrating operation because it really takes 2 people to hold the roof securely (if you don’t have some kind of winch) while you’re trying to get in there and turn that rod.

      From there I was able to remove the top, then get into the boot area to fix the latch.

  16. Fred Muranyi says:

    Just bought a 72 350SL, and with help of this article I was able to figure out the hard/soft top operation, the car did not have a manual. This my first MB convertible and I plan on getting a lot of use out of it living SoCal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s