A look back at the 230 SL Pagoda, Mercedes’ best SL model

The word itself evokes a sense of adventure: “pagoda” refers to the Far East, with an exotic Asian flavor and a much warmer ambiance. Many people in Central Europe were left longing for the sun during the seemingly endless “winter of the century” in 1962/63. The Mercedes-Benz 230 SL caused quite a stir when it was revealed at the Geneva International Motor Show in March 1963.

The two-seater roadster, known internally as the W113, combines enhanced power delivery with attractive elegance, while also boasting outstanding comfort, excellent driving performance and exemplary driving safety. The 230 SL is the world’s first sports car with a solid passenger cell and front and rear shock zones. Following this strategy, safety-conscious Mercedes-Benz designers used Béla Barényi’s knowledge of passive safety in automobile bodies for the first time in a sports car.

The distinctive shape of the coupe’s removable roof, with its inward curvature, also improves passive safety: the concave shape ensures greater stability at less weight. Since the roof of the coupe, designed by Paul Bracq, is reminiscent of the curved roofs of the temples of the Far East, the new SL soon earned the nickname “Pagoda”.

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The Mercedes-Benz 230SL Pagoda offers advanced performance

The technical basis for the Roadster was the luxury 220 SE Saloon, also known as the “Tailfin”. As the predecessor to the S, Class gave the sports car its own shortened and reinforced frame floor assembly, as well as its front and rear suspension. Its engine also served as the basis for the development of the M 127 150 hp six-cylinder, which powered the new SL series when it debuted in 1963.

The Mercedes-Benz 230 SL Pagoda was quickly replaced by a larger-capacity successor: the 250 SL replaced the 230 SL at the end of 1966, followed by the 280 SL in 1968, the third and final W113 variant to be released on the market. It was powered by the M 130 engine. All three SL models were offered as a roadster with a soft-top convertible or as a sports car with a removable coupe-top.

Production of the W113 ended in March 1971. The completely redesigned new R107 replaced the technologically and stylistically pioneering “Pagoda” and set new standards, such as having the first eight-cylinder engine in the SL. For the masses, however, the “pagoda” remained the norm—especially in the eyes of owners of 48,912 models that rolled off the assembly line between 1963 and 1971.

RELATED: Rad Roadster: The Mercedes-Benz W113 was one of the most elegant cars of the 1960s

The Mercedes-Benz 230 SL Pagoda features exotic and elegant 60’s styling


The 230 SL was built as a bridge between the racy but overpriced “gullwing” 300 SL and the attractive but underpowered 190 SL. The 230 SL was a more refined car than the 300SL, which was a street racer. It had everything a sports car should have: a six-cylinder fuel-injected engine, two seats, four-wheel independent suspension, and a removable top. However, these items have been encased in one of the most delicate objects to date. Sounds right, like Scotch in a good tumbler.

The ‘Pagoda’ roof is the defining design feature of the SL. Mercedes engineers have created a unique concave curve in the removable roof (which is surprisingly heavy); Most surfaces are convex when seen from the front or the back. One of the reasons for this was the addition of rigidity to the structure, which would protect the occupants in the event of a rollover accident; Another reason is that the upturned roof edges allowed for taller windows and better visibility, giving the car a very light and almost delicate appearance.

The 230SL’s design was far ahead of its time, and the driving experience is surprisingly modern. Because of the fuel injection, it starts and decelerates like a new car—none of the usual carbon reluctance when starting one of these. It runs smoother than the recently introduced 1965 Sunbeam Tiger and is less quiet on the highway than the excellent Citroën SM.

A sports car that only takes a few thousand dollars to drive home

Those looking to purchase one of these stylish convertibles would be wise to do so. Unlike most cars, the SL’s fenders and body panels are all spot-welded to increase stiffness and reduce rattles. Unfortunately, this means that repairing rust and dents can be very expensive and time consuming. The first step in repairing the SL’s front fenders is to cry into the fetal position. It will not be cheap.

When it was new, the SL wasn’t a cheap car. Its $7,000 price tag was comparable to that of Porsche and Maseratis at the time. Today, values ​​are still high, with a fully restored car priced at $100,000. The SL-generation “R107” is an option for those who want a nice look for an early start for a fraction of the price.

Sources: Mercedes-Benz, DrivingAutoNews


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