Buyers Guide – The W113 230SL, 250SL & 280SLs • 1963-1971

Richard Simonds, Michael Salemi

PAGODA 01.jpg

The W113, nicknamed the “Pagoda” due to its concave hardtop, has an ageless charm that remains fresh today, some 40 years after production ceased. Timelessly styled by the great Paul Bracq, the W113 is revered by many enthusiasts as his most beautiful creation.


Timeless: The W113 230SL, 250SL & 280SLs • 1963-1971

In praise of the eternally appealing Pagoda


Article Richard Simonds, Michael Salemi

Data tables Daniel Stahl

Images Daimler Archives


The W113, nicknamed the “Pagoda” due to its concave hardtop, has an ageless charm that remains fresh today, some 40 years after production ceased. Timelessly styled by the great Paul Bracq, the W113 is revered by many enthusiasts as his most beautiful creation.

The Pagoda was introduced to the world as the 230SL, the first modern-production SL in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. While the 300SL was an extravagant hand-built car with racing heritage, and the 190SL was a popular good-looker – but underpowered and looking like the cars of the decade from whence it came – the W113 brought the SL line into the modern era.

Despite development that started in 1960, Mercedes-Benz implemented innovative technology that included fuel injection, disc brakes, and specially designed semi-radial tires to work with a suspension custom-tuned for them.



In 1960, the 300SL was aging and expensive, with worthy competition coming from Jaguar and Jensen. Even the more affordable 190SL was out-performed by MGs, Triumphs and Austin-Healeys costing much less.

Still, Mercedes-Benz management needed a strong business case to authorize a replacement. Rudolf Uhlenhaut did the convincing and then led a development team that included Fritz Nallinger, Karl Wilfert, Friedrich Geiger, Béla Barényi, Bruno Sacco and Bracq. This stellar group created most of Mercedes-Benz’s notable projects of the 1960s. The new SL (W113) replaced both the 190SL and the 300SL, incorporating characteristics of both earlier cars.

Management required the use of as many existing sedan parts as possible. The M127 engine from the 220SE sedans was bored to 2.3 liters. Many suspension and mechanical components 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 held the engine and suspension. Barényi and Bracq patented the hardtop’s concave roof that allowed easier access and offered strong rollover protection. Junior engineers immediately noticed the resemblance to Japanese-temple architecture and nicknamed the car the Pagoda.

Uhlenhaut required exceptional modern handling and ride comfort. He employed the low-pivot swing axle of previous SLs, but to compensate, needed stiff-sidewall radial tires that did not yet exist. He convinced Firestone-Phoenix and Continental to develop them; the new P110 and RA60 185-HR14 tires combined 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 W113’s mechanical fuel injection is a six-plunger Bosch unit driven at half engine-speed, injecting fuel into the head behind the intake valves. Even today, this pump is a reliable, technical marvel. Brakes were power-assisted with 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,” at 2,900 pounds, the Pagoda is hardly light, and not precisely sporting. Lavish use of chrome and veneered wood trim delighted 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 soft tops and equipped with removable hardtops, ensuring year-round motoring comfort.


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; aftermarket parts are available from numerous sources. Many parts are cheaper to replace than to repair.

Modern amenities: Most 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 is noticeably older in design and engineering. The Pagoda inhabits a sweet spot between the rare and the plentiful with enough high-end engineering, styling and performance to be drivable today.


Reasons not to buy

Parts prices: The cost of some Pagoda-specific components has skyrocketed in recent years, making the attainment of a 100-percent complete and correct restoration a frightfully expensive proposition for most owners.

Parts availability: Some parts are “NLA” (no longer available). If you’re fortunate, you might be able to find an NLA part that can either be repaired or restored for reuse.

Sorting it out: The time and cost of correcting 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 at a loud 3,500-4,000 rpm at highway cruising speed, depending upon rear-axle ratio.



Rust: Rust is a major problem. Extensive rust may render the W113’s unit-body chassis unrepairable. The novice looking to buy a Pagoda will wisely seek expert advice and inspection prior to purchasing a vehicle.

Engine: A leak-down and compression test will provide a basis for evaluating engine health.

Other mechanicals: Evaluate all mechanical systems, as rebuilding the brakes, suspension, engine, fuel system and other mechanicals will be costly – making a little rust by comparison not look so bad.

Drivetrain: Owner fixes to the characteristic high rpm at cruising speeds can include overdrives, non-original transmissions, and differentials from other Mercedes-Benz cars. As the model becomes more valuable, these non-original changes may negatively affect resale value.

Body work: The Pagoda has aluminum door skins, tonneau (soft top cover), hood and trunk deck, so using a magnet to detect body filler will not help you. Visible rust can be found in and around the headlamps and wheel arches, atop 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 rust hidden beneath undercoating, paint or plastic body filler.

Engine operation: 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 signs of ignition, electrical, or fuel issues – 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 poor engine work; shortcuts, such as doing only a valve job when a full rebuild was needed, or machining the head beyond specification, are not atypical. Poorly adjusted fuel injection, mixture, and linkages are common and have a serious effect on drivability.

Buzzing at speed: The high-rpm cruising speed of both automatic- and manual-transmission Pagodas is often mentioned as an area of concern. The best fix of all is to not consider the engineering of the drivetrain a problem needing a solution; these engines are well designed and quite capable of operating at high rpm for long periods.

Manual transmission: The Holy Grail for some Pagoda collectors is the rare ZF 5-speed manual transmission. Parts for this transmission have become nearly unobtainable, making repair almost impossible; if you find one, ensure it is solid and performs well. ZF did announce that it would make another batch of these transmissions, as well as spare-parts kits. If this transmission is a must-have for you, inquire as to whether they’re still available. Rebuilding a ZF 5-speed, if you can find anyone who can do it, will be prohibitively expensive.



Pagodas are true collectibles; if you buy carefully, you can acquire an investment asset – as well as an enjoyable car. Values peaked in 2016, with values of 280SLs recently dropping the most: Get as original and well-maintained an example as you can, regardless of model. Learn as much as you can prior to purchase, and seek expert assistance through your local section and the Pagoda SL Group Ask the registered owner for the Data Card to get original build information, chassis and engine numbers, as well as accessories included at the factory.

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 examples that have not been used for a long period of time; these may take more work to restore than well-maintained, high-mileage cars.


Specifications: Mercedes-Benz W113 Pagoda SL  • 1963-1971

MODEL              230SL                          250SL                          280SL     

YEARS             1963-1967                   1966-1968                   1967-1971

CHASSIS           113.042                       113.043                       113.044

ENGINE             1.2L I-6 OHC                2.5L I-6 OHC               2.8L I-6 OHC

                          127.981                       129.982                       130.983

HORSEPOWER 170                             170                              180

TORQUE lb-ft   159                              173                              193

TRANSMISSION  4M / 4A                  4 or 5M / 4A               4 or 5-M / 4-A

REAR AXLE      3.75 (3.69, 3.92)         3.69 (3.92, 4.08)         4.08 (3.69, 3.92)

TIME 0-62mph 11-13 sec                  11-13 sec                    10-11 sec

TOP SPEED      M121 A118                 121M-118A                 121M-118A

MPG                14                                14                                14




1963    March             230SL introduced at Geneva Auto Show

1963    July                 230SL production starts

1966    November      250SL production starts

1967    January          230SL production ends

1967    November      280SL production starts

1968    January          250SL production ends

1971    March             280SL production ends


Note: There were numerous production changes in components over the eight years of W113 production; citing all of these would require several pages, far more than space allows.

Laurence Meredith, Original SL: The Restorer’s Guide to 300SL, 190SL, 230/250/280SL models to 1971, Breford, Devon, UK. 1996. ISBN 1 870979 66 4, is a source for production changes described in minute detail.


Production Totals – 1963-1971

YEAR   230 SL 250 SL 280 SL   PRODUCTION

1963    1,465                           1,465

1964    6,911                           6,911

1965    6,325                           6,325

1966    4,945   17                    4,962

1967    185      5,177   143      5,505

1968                2          6,930   6,932

1969                            8,047   8,047

1970                            7,935   7,935

1971                            830      830

TOTALS           19,831 5,196   23,885 48,912

1963-1971 W113 Pagoda SL


Every aspect of the Pagoda SL, from the shape of the door handles to the placement of the exhausts, exhibits Paul Bracq’s elegant touch with stance, proportion, line, volume and trim.


1963-1971 W113 Pagoda SL