Buyers Guide - 1963-1971 W113 Pagodas

Michael Salemi

BuyersGuidePic_0_0.jpgThe Pagoda was first introduced to the world in the form of the 230SL, and was the first modern production SL in the Mercedes lineup. The clean lines of the car are classic in their proportions. The W113, nicknamed Pagoda; because of the concave hard top, features an attractive, timeless look that, 40 years after production ceased, still looks fresh with alluring appeal. One of the hallmarks is they have withstood the test of time and you can consider this example his most beautiful.The image suggests a romantic fantasy penned in Hollywood and filmed in Europe. Even without the hard top in place, you know its the Mercedes-Benz known as the Pagoda. "I will own that car someday", is the silent response in your mind.


1963-1971 W113 Pagodas
The Sweetest SL Comes into Its Own
A brief buyers guide to the 230SL, 250SL, and 280SL.

by Michael Salemi

The Star May-June 2011
A beautiful woman speeds by, driving a two-seat Mercedes-Benz convertible; the distinctive engine note is music to your ears. The clean lines of the car are classic in their proportions. The image suggests a romantic fantasy penned in Hollywood and filmed in Europe. However, variations of this scenario have occurred repeatedly over the years, all with similar results. Even without the hard top in place, you know it’s the Mercedes-Benz known as the “Pagoda.” “I will own that car someday” is the silent response in your mind.

The W113, nicknamed “Pagoda” because of the concave hard top, features an attractive, timeless look that, 40 years after production ceased, still looks fresh with alluring appeal. One of the hallmarks of most of Paul Bracq’s stylings is they have withstood the test of time – and you can consider this example his most beautiful.

The Pagoda was first introduced to the world in the form of the 230SL, and was the first modern production SL in the Mercedes lineup. Whereas the 300SL, in either coupe or roadster form, was an extravagant hand-built car with racing heritage, and the 190SL popular and a good looker but underpowered and looking much like the 1950s from whence it came, the W113 brought the Mercedes SL line into the modern and practical era. Despite development begun in 1960, Mercedes implemented modern and innovative concepts including fuel injection, disc brakes, and specially designed semi-radial tires to work with a suspension tuned for them.


In 1960, the 300SL was aging and expensive, with worthy competition coming. Even the more affordable 190SL cost more and performed less well than MGs, Triumphs, and Austin-Healeys.

Still, Mercedes-Benz management needed a strong case to authorize a replacement. Rudi Uhlenhaut did the convincing and led a team with Fritz Nallinger, Karl Wilfert, Friedrich Geiger, Béla Barényi, Bruno Sacco, and Bracq. This talented group was responsible for most of the notable Mercedes-Benz projects of the 1960s. The new SL (W113) replaced both the 190SL and the 300SL. The design criteria took characteristics of both prior SLs, incorporating them into the new.

Management and finances required the use of as many existing parts as possible from the bin. The M127 engine from the 220SE sedans was bored to 2.3 liters. Many suspension and mechanical parts came from the W111. The unitized structure featured a “safety body” with crumple zones and other passive-safety schemes devised by Barényi, the first two-seater so equipped. Front and rear subframes hold the engine and suspension. Barényi and Bracq patented the concave roof of the hard top that allowed easier access and provided an exceptionally strong top for rollover protection. Junior engineers immediately noticed the resemblance to Japanese temple architecture and nicknamed the car the “Pagoda.”

Uhlenhaut required exceptional and modern road manners and ride comfort. He continued with the low-pivot swing axle of previous SLs, but required stiff-sidewall radial tires that did not exist. He convinced Firestone-Phoenix and Continental to develop them, and the new P110 and RA60 185-HR14 tires contained both bias and radial plies, with stiff sidewalls. For the time, this gave the car a wide, sure-footed stance when compared with other roadsters.

The mechanical fuel injection is a six-plunger Bosch unit driven at half-engine speed, injecting into the head behind the intake valves. Even today, this pump is a reliable, technical marvel. Brakes were power-assist and dual-circuit Girling front discs and rear drums on the 230SL, changing to four-wheel ATE discs in the 250 and 280SL.

While “SL” means “Sport Leicht,” the Pagoda is hardly light at 2,900 pounds, and not precisely sporting. Lavish uses of chrome trim in and out, and veneered wood trim were used to delight the owner. The result was a well-mannered, upscale touring car for two that envelops its occupants in period luxury. Most cars were fitted with both soft and hard tops, ensuring year-round motoring comfort.

The new 230SL debuted at the Geneva Auto Show in March 1963. Production continued through early 1967. In late 1966, the 2.5L M129 engine was added along with rear disk brakes, creating the 250SL. Additional updates including the M130 engine in early 1968 heralded the final version, the 280SL. Production continued through the 1971 model year.

Reasons to Buy

  • Timeless design. A head-turner no matter where you go, appreciated by many famous owners known for their good taste. Arguably, this design may be considered Bracq’s finest.
  • Availability of parts. Most OEM parts are available from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, and aftermarket parts from numerous sources. Many parts are cheaper to replace than repair.
  • Modern amenities. Many Pagodas feature power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmissions, providing a modern ride and feel.
  • Active clubs. Clubs and forums such as MBCA,, and others have friendly owners who share their knowledge and provide a centralized source of information.
  • Expert restorers. A robust group of expert restorers ensures survivability and correctness.
  • Sweet spot of production. The 300SL is rare and costly, and the 190SL noticeably older in design and engineering. The Pagoda today is in a sweet spot between the rare and the plentiful.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • Parts prices. The cost of some Pagoda-specific parts has skyrocketed in recent years, making achieving completeness and correctness frightfully expensive.
  • Parts availability. Some parts are “NLA” (no longer available). Once you find an NLA part in acceptable condition, you often have to repair or restore it.
  • Sorting it out. The time and cost of sorting out a previous owner’s mistakes, intentional or otherwise, can be daunting.
  • Drivetrain. The automatic transmission was an early design with abrupt shifting. The engine turns a loud 4,000 rpm at highway cruising speed.


  • Rust. Rust is a major problem. Extensive rust may render the unit-body chassis unrepairable. The novice looking to buy a Pagoda will wisely seek expert advice and inspection prior to purchase.
  • Engine. A leakdown and compression test will provide a basis for evaluating the engine health.
  • Other mechanicals. Evaluate all the mechanical systems, as rebuilding the brakes, suspension, engine, fuel system, and other mechanicals will be costly –making a little rust look not so bad.
  • Drive train.  Owner fixes to the characteristic high rpm at crusing speeds can include overdrives, non-original transmissions, and differentials from other Mercedes cars. As the model becomes more valuable, these non-original changes may negatively affect resale value.


The Pagoda features aluminum door skins, tonneau (soft-top cover) hood, and trunk deck. Detecting body filler with a magnet will not help you here. Visible rust can be in found around the headlamps and wheel arches, top of the fenders, inside the engine compartment along the inner fender panels, front floors under the carpet, underneath the rear parcel shelf, and inside the trunk under the mat. Many cars of the era rust in the same places; skilled restorers know where to look and which tools to employ for assessment. Worse than visible rust, is hidden rust covered with undercoating, paint or plastic body filler prior to proper repair of the metal’s integrity.

A well-sorted engine will start easily, idle smoothly at approximately 750 rpm when warm, and accelerate briskly. It will not smoke when running. Rough starting, poor idle, and hesitation can be symptoms of ignition, electrical, or fuel problems – or worse, all three. When the cold-start injector is engaged (cold engine), expect idle to be a little high, rough, or both. Look for bad engine work; shortcuts such as a “valve job” only, when a full rebuild was needed, and planing or decking the head beyond specification are not uncommon. Misadjusted fuel injection, mixture, and linkages are common and they have a serious effect on runnability.

The high-rpm cruising speed of both automatic and manual transmissions is often mentioned as an area of concern. The best fix of all is not considering the engineering of the drivetrain a problem needing a solution because the engines are quite capable of operating at high rpm for long periods.

The Holy Grail for some is the rare ZF 5-speed manual transmission. Parts and repair for this transmission were almost impossible to find, so if you find one, ensure it is solid and performs well. Recently, ZF announced it would soon make another batch of these transmissions, as well as spare-parts kits. Get in line with your check for $9,300 (add 19% VAT) and you, too, can have one.

Other Buying Tips

The Pagodas are now true collectibles, so if you buy carefully, you can acquire an investment asset as well as an enjoyable car. Learn as much as you can, and seek expert assistance through your local section and the SL113 Pagoda Group, prior to inspection or purchase. Ask the registered owner to obtain the “build card” from the Classic Center to get original build information.

Don’t fixate too much on any one model; values and characteristics won’t override condition, originality, and completeness, including loose parts, like tools, in determining value. Be wary of cars that have not been used for a long period of time; these may take more work to restore than high-mileage cars.

One Owner's Example

Ray Bragg and his wife Karolyn, of Upland, California, purchased their 1971 280SL 32 years ago. How did they come to love the Pagoda? In the summer of 1969 in Istanbul, Turkey, the Braggs were just finishing Peace Corps Service in Europe and talking about which car they should buy when they returned home. On the Galatta Bridge they saw a sharp-looking 250SL driven by an attractive young woman with a flowing white scarf, who looked like Audrey Hepburn. Ray said to his wife, “That’s a cute little two-seater. Maybe we could look for that when we get home.”

Of course, the price was beyond their means at the time, and a decade would pass before their dream came true. In 1979, they found a one-owner 1971 280SL coupe at a dealer for $14,500 with all original manuals and paperwork. It was Tobacco Brown (423) with Cognac upholstery (140) and Bamboo headliner. It had an automatic transmission and came with a Frigiking air conditioner, which they would eventually replace. The odometer showed 133,473 miles.

Since returning home for good in late 1983, Ray has made the car his baby and daily driver. In 1986, he replaced all the interior wood. In 1987, he had the car stripped to bare metal and repainted the same Tobacco Brown. In 1998, he had the entire interior reupholstered and recarpeted in the same Cognac fabric and Bamboo headliner.

The Braggs do not use the SL for long trips, but Ray continues to drive it to work every day on the freeway, approximately 40 miles roundtrip. He believes the engine just “purrs” at 70-75 mph, and he likes to think he has extended the engine life by keeping the engine rpm at a high touring pace. Today, his SL has well over 370,000 miles on it, and he thinks there is still plenty of life left in her. He cannot imagine driving anything else. And to think it all began on that bridge in Istanbul back in 1969.

Mar.,  1963230SL introduced at Geneva Auto Show
June, 1963Production begins
Aug.,   1964Wheel width increased from 5.5 to 6 inches
Nov.,  1964Spare-tire well removed; tire mounted horizontally
July,   1965Exhaust manifold changed from sheet steel to cast iron;  exhaust headpipes were changed to match
Aug.,  1965Shape of horn ring changed from round to flattened-top segment
Dec., 1966

Production begins

Coupe-only version with rear bench seat introduced

Fuel tank increased to 82 liters

Rear disc brakes introduced

Front anti-roll-bar diameter decreased from 22 to 20 mm

Instrument panel made one piece instead of split

Aug., 1967

Rear and side-view mirrors changed

Side reflectors added to fenders

Shiny chrome changed to matte on many parts

Dec., 1967

Production begins

Firewall insulation pad changed from coarse to smooth

Mirror in passenger sun visor omitted

Heater and air-vent levers made of rubber instead of plastic

Legend plates added to lightswitch and heater controls

Emergency four-way flasher made standard

Rubber floor mats replaced with synthetic carpet

Headrests added to seats

Wheel covers made as one piece

Aug., 1968Lights incorporated in side reflectors (markers)
Aug., 1970

Ignition transistorized

Wheels changed to pierced with round holes

Note: Changes and change points are for U.S. cars only. Non-U.S. cars had different equipment and change points in many instances.


Value Estimates



     Add $2,000 for working a/c

     Add 5% for good leather



     Minus $4.5K if hardtop only

     Add $2K if two good tops



     Add $3,000 if 5-Speed (pre ’69)

     All else equal, 70 and 71 favored


Low value is a safe driver but with visible flaws. 
Medium value is a car that is well maintained or partially restored and could win an award in a local car show.
High value is a car that is in top concours condition – equivalent to or better than a new car straight from the factory.
(Source: John Olson,

Production Numbers  


Engine:6-cylinder inline engine, front-mounted
Bore x Stroke82mm x 72.8mm82mm x 78.8mm86.5mm x 78.8mm
DIN hp @ rpm:150 hp @ 5,500150 hp @ 5,500170 hp @ 5,750
Torque @ rpm:145 lb·ft @ 4,200159 lb·ft @ 4,200180 lb·ft @ 4,500
Compression ratio:9.3:19.5:19.5:1
Fuel feed:Bosch Mechanical Fuel injection
Fuel tank capacity:17.2 US gal21.7 US gal21.7 US gal
Valvetrain:SOHC, single roller chain SOHC, duplex chain
Gearbox:4-speed manual, 4-speed automatic, or ZF 5-speed manual rear-wheel drive.                        
Rear axle ratio 230/250SL: 3.92; 280SL: 4.08
Electrical system:  12 volt negative ground
Front suspension:Double wishbones, coil springs, stabilizing bar, tubular shock absorbers
Rear suspension:Low-pivot swing axle, radius arms, compensating spring, coil springs, tubular shock absorbers
Brakes:Disc/Drum brakes                               Disc brakes all around            
(253mm front, 230mm rear)             (273mm front, 279mm rear)
power-assisted                                    power-assisted           
Steering:Recirculating ball steering, optional power-assisted
Body structure:Unitized monocoque steel construction
Dry weight:

2,900 lbs

(hardtop + 110 lbs)

2,900 lbs

(hardtop + 110 lbs)

3,000 lbs

(hardtop + 110 lbs)

Loaded weight:3,600 lbs3,600 lbs3,780 lbs
Track front/rear:

1,486mm (230SL); 1,484mm (250/280SL)

1,487mm (230SL) 1,485mm (250/280SL)

Height:1,305mm (hardtop); 1,320mm (softtop)
Tyre/Tire sizes:185 HR 14185 HR 14185 HR 14
Top speed:120 mph121 mph124 mph
Fuel Consumption (est):15.7 mpg14.7 mpg17.1 mpg
Price USA:


later $6,185−$7,909



later $7,469−$7,909

More Information

There are many good reference books on the Pagodas to be found on Amazon and eBay, including:

Faszination SL W113 from Mercedes-Benz; ISBN 3-61302-869-7

Mercedes SL Series by Brian Laban; ISBN 1-85223-595-0

Original Mercedes SL by Laurence Meredith; ISBN 0-76031-921-9
Mercedes-Benz SL
 by John Heilig; ISBN 0-7603-0328-2

llustrated Buyer’s Guide: Mercedes-Benz by Frank Barrett; ISBN 0-7603-0451-3

Mercedes 230 250 280SL: Gold Portfolio 1963-1971 by R.M. Clarke. ISBN 1-85520-304-9

For additional information, visit the online buyers guide at Star
Our thanks for their contributions to Joe Alexander, Jon Bernardi, Alfred Esser, Peter Lesler, Richard Simonds, and John Olson.