One 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.
First, 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.
Before 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.
To 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.
On 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.