Like so much of the automotive world, Trans-Am was not quite what it once was by the early 80s. The rise of IMSA GT made what was once the racing home of America’s greatest performance road cars into a secondary player in the sports car racing market in one short decade. It meant the series was not quite as prestigious as it once was, but it also meant there was room on the grid for tube-framed oddities built by small teams in the image of strange cars that were never designed to race. This 450 SL, built in the shape of an R107-generation 500 SL, was one of the most unique.
The R107 was never designed to race, and, thanks to the steel tube construction of this particular car, never really raced in Trans-Am, either. Instead, a purpose-built chassis was designed from the ground-up for the 1982 season was given an SL body highlighted by a low beltline, a high greenhouse, and some of the most aggressive simple racing aerodynamics imaginable.
The car was not actually good, per se. The 450 SL racer’s best finish was sixth, accomplished one time by team driver Loren St. Lawrence in the 1982 season. The DeAtley Motorsports team behind the car moved onto Camaros for 1983, winning a championship with driver David Hobbs and leaving the memories of their ill-fated R107 program behind.
The look, however, is unforgettable. Unlike the road-going R107, a car criticized over its long production run for being softer and less performance-oriented than its predecessors, DeAtley’s racing variant was viscerally aggressive. The racer was designed with a focus on lightness, but the road car’s more luxurious proportions were not ignored; instead, DeAtley’s team built something that appears as long and as wide as the grand tourer while still channeling all of the anger necessary in a racing design of the era.
The racer is based on the 5.0-liter version of the SL sold internationally, but the engine is de-stroked to a 4.5-liter spec to fit Trans-Am specifications. The modern-for-the-era fuel injection systems are abandoned, too, in favor of a more traditional dual carburetor setup.
While the racing car was quickly cast aside, team owner Neil DeAtley did not give up on the vision. DeAtley produced two ultra-expensive takes on a performance R107 SL for private owners, his attempt to demonstrate the potential of a platform that had been seen more for its luxury reality than its performance pedigree. That project did not go particularly far, either, but it shows the sort of passion for the R107 platform that went into this racer.
This particular car, from the second year of the program’s two-season run, is listed at Mecum’s upcoming Kissimmee auction. It will sell in mid-January.
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