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Mercedes-Benz Pagoda

Mercedes-Benz Pagoda Published: 8th Nov 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 280SL
  • Worst model: Manual cars
  • Budget buy: 230SL
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4288 x W1778
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • DIY ease?: Good but requires specialist experience
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Strong but levelling off
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Satisfaction guaranteed
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Sophisticated sports tourer that has taste and class to spare. Owner satisfaction always guaranteed so long as you buy as best you can and pay the appropriate prices. Brilliant club and specialist support comes with the badge

The SL was a car that the famous flocked to when new. John Lennon was a fan, along with Tina Turner and Audrey Hepburn plus racing legends Stirling Moss and Juan-Manuel Fangio, while that suave caddish actor Leslie Phillips has owned one since new, purchased way back in 1966. Suave, stylish yet sensible – the pair of them – Mercedes called its W113 a sports car for grown ups. How true.


1963 While the 190SL is now hugely sought after, it’s the Pagoda that followed in ’63 which is the SL that most enthusiasts aspire to. At first there was the 230SL only, fitted with a 150bhp 2306cc straight-six fuel injected engine: 19,831 were made in a production run that lasted for four years.

1967 The larger-engined 250SL is introduced to supersede the 230SL. Only ever intended as an interim model until the 280SL came along, it’s the rarest of all the Pagodas. Just 5196 were made, all but 19 of them in this year. The 2496cc straight-six engine produced same power with added torque. In August a raft of passive safety and detail mods were included.

1968 Final incarnation of the breed is launched. The 280SL is now the most common of all Pagodas, the most sought after and also the most valuable despite a softer suspension,optional five-speed ‘box and 168bhp engine. Almost 24,000 examples rolled off the production lines.

Driving and what the press thought

Don’t let its sharp styling and high spec fool you otherwise, the Pagoda SL is not really a sports car , rather it’s much more of a cruiser and actually all the better for it because it’s a completely different animal to the 300SL predecessor. “In place of colossal maximum speed and breath-taking acceleration, the magic of this car lies instead in its refinement, comfort and superb road behaviour, described best in word rather than figures” said one road test.

Motor echoed the comments in 1965. “… it does not have exhilarating acceleration as the earlier raucous 300SL. Many enthusiasts might regret that the emphasis has shifted from performance to comfort and accommodation”.

The new smooth powerplants (five-bearing on 250/280SL) help give the SL the nature of a cruiser, which is why it’s generally best to have the four-speed automatic, whichever engine is installed. The rather odd ‘back to front’ floor selector gait needs some familiarising with but the ‘box is pretty responsive and smooth although there are those who like the manual transmission, so it’s worth trying one before you go the obvious route, as ‘Man trans’ represent the bargain end of Pagoda ownership (if there is such a thing) even if the ratios were judged oddly matched at the time. Despite being impressed overall by the Pagoda’s many talents, Autocar’s review wasn’t particularly glowing; it picked out a lack of low-down torque as an issue, which resulted in a need to pile on the revs sometimes to get a move on. The standard unassisted steering was also marked down as being rather heavy at low speeds – but only on the manual car, because when tested back-to-back with an auto featuring the optional excellent power steering, the latter SL was noticeably better all round.

Throw in excellent grip, handling, seating, all disc brakes and good fuel economy and it’s fair to say this first of the Pagoda breed went down pretty well. Motor largely concurred adding “There are very few production cars in the world that can match the 230SL’s uncanny roadholding” and cited the car’s feeling of solidarity as being a key safety feature. When the 280SL was tested by Autocar in 1968, the magazine was still making comparisons with the 300SL, rather than the 250SL that it replaced but the stand-out features of the new car (which Autocar referred to as a sports car) were excellent handling, a superb automatic transmission and a power steering system; items that should have been anathema to a sports car buyer yet those optionals were actually must-haves according to that weekly.

“Our experience of the original 230SL and the interim 250SL made us feel that the engines had to work very hard to give the expected performance. With this latest version (which has 11 per cent more torque) all these criticisms go and there seems to be a much greater reserve of power than the engine size, which is still small by absolute standards, would suggest”.

Road tests throughout the 1960s only saw Pagodas hit 60 in no better than ten seconds even for the top 280SL. But it wasn’t just about a bigger engine with more power and torque; the 280SL also received a retuned suspension, with Mercedes softening things to improve the ride at the expense of the handling – something that later appraisals of the better handling R107 replacement would remark upon. However, most buyers would agree that Pagodas are for cruising in, rather than for thrashing along twisty back roads but who wants to tear around all the time? Even Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson was won over by the Pagoda’s easy going charms – and sheer style.

Values and specialist view

Don’t assume that just because the 280SL is the one everybody wants, that’s the one you must buy say SL experts. The 280SL will always be seen as the ultimate edition as it’s the last one made and has the biggest, most powerful engine, so it’ll always carry a premium. But Pagoda owners don’t drive their cars that hard and as a result a 230SL or 250SL – especially the latter – make perfectly satisfying cruisers as well.

Interior and exterior colour schemes can make quite a difference to Pagoda values; silver with red leather will always be popular, but cars with a dark paint scheme and dark interior trim aren’t seen as especially desirable. Cars with a manual gearbox are also less sought after (75 per cent of 230SLs were manual but only 10 per cent of 280SLs were so attired); such a transmission can easily knock 10 per cent off a Pagoda’s value.

Gavin Edwards (son of legendary Roger) of Roger Edwards Motors says values have largely stabilised after “going up and up”, to the point where £85,000 will buy one of the nicest, if not perfect (280SL) Pagodas. He says that where previously everybody was conditioned into buying a 280SL, customers are not now so particular and major on provenance and condition instead, which is sensible as a full restoration can cost up to 90 grand – bear this in mind if a £30K barn find surfaces. Average-to-fair Pagodas sell in the region of sub £40,000.

Sam Bailey of the renowned Midlands-based SL Shop pitches values rather higher and six figure sums can be justified for the best examples such as original 280SLs.

“The market is buoyant for the right cars although there’s lots of tatty, painted-over cars around with overly optimistic asking figures”, warns Sam who adds that ‘matching number’ 280s always find a home quickly and LHD and US models won’t be markedly cheaper.


The SL is one of those cars that doesn’t particularly benefit from mechanical upgrades; it was so well engineered that improving on the standard product is very difficult and maybe counter productive. Indeed, be especially suspicious of Pagodas that have been modified, as the suspension and braking systems are well up to modern motoring needs in standard form, ditto engines and transmissions.

In fact, be very wary of SLs with non-standard wheels and tyres, as these can easily upset the car’s renowned dynamics. “Invest in unpicking previous poor repairs and attempted fixes by unqualified technicians”, is SL Shop’s Sam Bailey’s advice. “These cars are amazing when they are set up correctly! They don’t need anything else just to be set up right,” the head of the Midland-based SL Shop enthuses.

Beauty’s skin deep…

The SL’s monocoque can corrode badly and it’s not uncommon to find a car with a rusty structure that looks presentable. You need to make the most thorough checks you can from inside the car – which isn’t easy. The bulkhead normally survives, but the complex sill structures don’t – and properly repairing these can cost over £2500 per side. A visible screw-on cover hides the structure so insist on the opportunity to remove this. You must certainly ensure that you remove the floorpan covers behind the rear seats, to allow you to see inside the chassis legs. If refused, best walk away…

You also need to get underneath the car to inspect the floorpans as well as the chassis members at the rear. Also take a look at the chassis legs at the front of the car, along with the bumper mountings.

It’s not just structural corrosion that you need to watch out for; more cosmetic areas that can also be affected include the front wings around the headlights as well as the wheelarches – original wings will feature a flute either side of the chrome headlamp trim.

Many of the outer panels are aluminium, so rust isn’t an issue but corrosion might be, although check for micro-blistering of the paint. The bonnet, boot lid and door skins are made from aluminium, as is the hood stowage cover and even the door casings. Each was cut to fit when the car was new, with the chassis number usually stamped onto the bonnet and hood panel; if these markings are still present, the panels now fitted are the originals.

Sixes and sevens?

All feature a straight-six, which tends to be noisier than you’d expect even in good condition. The cast-iron bottom end is extremely strong and unlikely to give trouble, but it’s not the same for the aluminium cylinder head. As with all alloy heads, it’s essential that the right level of anti-freeze is maintained, if internal corrosion isn’t to occur. To make sure all is well, make sure the engine gets up to temperature reasonably quickly; if it doesn’t, the chances are the thermostat has been removed to mask an overheating problem.

Also let the engine idle for a few minutes and keep an eye on the temperature gauge; if things get hot it’s probably because the coolant flow is restricted, because the radiator has got clogged with cylinder head debris. A re-cored radiator will usually put everything right; expect to pay £200 for an exchange unit – or you could splash out at your local Mercedes dealer and buy a new one, for a hefty £1000 or so.

Predictably, the key to long, reliable engine life is 3000-mile oil changes, using a decent quality 20/50 lubricant. Dirty oil will also lead to the fuel injection pump failing prematurely – with a rebuild costing over £1000 as a result. There can also be fuel injection problems on rarely used cars, this caused by condensation leading to corrosion in the injection pipes.

Carefree cruising

A W113 automatic gearbox lasts forever unless truly neglected which is as well because if a rebuild is needed, expect to pay £1000 for an exchange unit. Beware whining from a worn diff; proper rebuilds cost £1500-£2000. ZF five-speed option dropped in mid ’69. The rest of the transmission is strong, but the propshaft’s couplings fail, as do the universal joints; the latter is given away by clonking as the drive is taken up, but this could also be due to worn diff mounts, which typically costs up to £1000 to repair.

Power steering was an option on all W113s; most autos have it and so do some manuals. It’s worth having, as the steering is more direct with it, and it’s also reliable. However, you need to check that the steering box isn’t leaking; any escaped fluid will be obvious. The suspension is long-lived as long as the kingpins and trunnions have been greased every 3000 miles. Wear here is given away by raising the front of the car and feeling for play by rocking the wheel top and bottom. Fresh OE spec dampers will usually transform most Pagodas

Get used to the car’s brakes before really trying them out, as the front hoses can fail internally, leading to poor braking and pulling to one side. Their callipers also stick if the car isn’t used regularly.

I promised myself one

‘Danny’ (who wishes to remain anonymous-ed) spent a lot of time and research before plumping for this superb Pagoda, which was one of the star cars displayed in the Pre ’66 car park at the recent Goodwood Revival meeting.

Purchased from specialist Chelsea Cars, two years ago, Danny admits to paying top money (over £100,000) for this two owners from new 1968 280SL that underwent extensive photographic refurbishment during 1993-94 by Le Riche Automobile Restorers, which is based in Jersey where the car spent most of its life. Danny has two thick folders of documents and pictures, relating to the 81,000 miles it has only covered from new.

A new hood was fitted a week before September’s Revival by D Class Automotive and more work will be done to the interior in due course. The Surrey Bentley- owning enthusiast loves the car for its shape, class and style. As a young boy, he was given the chance to experience a ride in one which he loved and always said that one day he would have one. After fulfilling his dream there’s no plans to sell – but if Danny did then it would only be for an earlier 190 Series SL.

Three Of A Kind

Alfa Romeo Spider
Alfa Romeo Spider
Closest rival came from Alfa with the Spider, a more sporty if not durable alternative. It’s a beautiful car as long as you don’t buy one of the hideous later cars with colourcoded bumpers, which admittedly are dirt cheap when compared to original Spiders values, which is now in SL territory.
Jaguar E-Type
Jaguar E-Type
A car with two characters, the E-type was more of a sports car in six-cylinder form, but by the time the V12 came out the Jaguar had become more of a cruiser. Hugely sought after, stunning to look at and great to drive, there’s still some good value buys around such as any 2+2.
Mercedes R107
Mercedes R107
Successor to the Pagoda was the long running R107. Based upon S Class running gear, it’s a much more modern car to drive than the W113 plus the handling is better although it’s still no sports car. Prices are all over the place and there’s too many tart ups. V8s are most favoured but ‘six’ is ok for cruising.
Classic Motoring

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