Once upon a time, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class was something of a living legend. When it first launched in the 1950s, the SL was Mercedes’ flagship sports car, a sleek speed machine that came in both droptop and gullwing coupe forms and sucked in gazes wherever it went. Subsequent generations saw it evolve into more of a gran turismo and boulevardier — a more relaxed car made for cruising, not corner-carving. Still, its stylishness, luxury and price made it an icon of the ‘70s,‘80s and ‘90s.
By the 21st Century, however, the SL-Class had lost the plot a little. Mercedes hoisted a retractable hard top upon it (they were in vogue at the time), which added weight and complexity to an already weighty and complex car. Manic versions like the SL65 AMG Black Series only made things more confusing by drawing attention to the delta between the regular SL and true performance machines, and intramural competition only winnowed the SL’s appeal; buyers who wanted a sporty roadster also had the SLK below and the SLS / AMG GT above to choose from, while those who wanted a more relaxed drive had the CL / S-Class coupe (and later, convertible) to choose from. The SL-Class was left meandering and mission-less.
That all seems set to change starting next year, however. Because Mercedes is hard at work creating an all-new SL that harkens back to its roots as a sports car — and they’ve sent us the spy photos to prove it. Granted, manufacturer-sourced “spy photos” stretch the definition of the term to its limits, but considering that these are far more vivid and illustrative than most of the long-lens snaps taken by true spy shooters, we’re more than happy to gaze at them and try to peel back their secrets.
The biggest change seems to be the roof; the shots suggest that the folding hard top has been banished after two decades, replaced with a more compact soft top. The cabin sits well back in the wheelbase, creating classically appealing long hood / short trunk proportions similar to the Mercedes-AMG GT of today. (In fact, AMG is reportedly taking the lead on the development of the next-generation SL, which will likely only be sold as a Mercedes-AMG; rumor has it the new SL and the next GT will actually be somewhat closely related beneath the skin.)
The shot of the two SLs from astern also provides a potential hint as to what will lie beneath that long hood. In the current AMG lineup, quad round tailpipes are a signature of the six-cylinder 43 / 53 models, while a quartet of squared-off exhaust ports signify the V8-powered 63s; the two models seen here show both of those layouts, suggesting the new SL will offer both six- and eight-cylinder models.
Given how far along these cars look, we're guessing a production-version debut won't be too far away. Mercedes already has its hands full for 2020 with the launch of the new S-Class, so we're guessing we'll see the new SL-Class revealed next year.