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Mercedes Pagoda

Sky's The Limit Published: 24th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mercedes Pagoda

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?: Generally no problem
  • Club support: Excellent
  • Appreciating asset?: Steadily
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
Clean cut shape has lasted well and parts still available from M-B Clean cut shape has lasted well and parts still available from M-B
Body coloured hubcaps, nicer then alloys, etc Body coloured hubcaps, nicer then alloys, etc
Chromework is dear to restore but longlasting Chromework is dear to restore but longlasting
Reversed gear selector, otherwise auto is fine Reversed gear selector, otherwise auto is fine
Robust straight six lasts as does fuel injection Robust straight six lasts as does fuel injection
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Lifting the lid on the best SL of them all that’s a brilliant future investment as well as a highly usable classic

Pros & Cons

Image, build quality, driving experience, stylish lines
Costly to buy and restore, lots of rubbish about

Classic cars don’t come more timelessly elegant than the SL ‘Pagoda’ Mercedes, a sportster that’s at home in any setting and capable of crossing continents without breaking into a sweat. Now much more valuable than the R107 SL that succeeded it, the SL (code-named W113 by Mercedes-Benz) still represents exceptional value for money and is a sure-fire investment if you buy well.

The SL was a car that the famous flocked to when new. John Lennon was a fan, along with Tina Turner and Audrey Hepburn, while that suave caddish actor Leslie Phillips has owned one since new, purchased way back in 1966. What a sensible top bloke!


The first SL (SL is the term for Sport Light, not a trim level later used by Vauxhall!) was the mighty 300SL, an ultra-exclusive sports car built initially in futuristic gullwing coupé form. Launched in 1954, the car was fast and extremely costly; the roadster that superseded the closed car in 1957 was just as exclusive and is now even more highly prized.

After the 300SL came the 190SL; it looked much the same but was offered as a roadster only and packed nothing more exciting than a 1897cc four-cylinder engine. It was from this point that the SL became a more mainstream model; still relatively costly and beautifully built, but far more attainable than the 300SL had ever been. While the 190SL is sought after, it’s the Pagoda that followed in 1963 which is the SL that everyone wants.

Clean cut and built like a Mercedes should be, at first there was a 230SL only, fitted with a 2306cc straight-six: 19,831 were made in a production run that lasted until 1967.

Beautifully crafted and engineered, it cost more than £3500 new which was well over a grand more than a Jaguar E-type while performance from the 148bhp engine, despite standard fuel injection, was only satisfactory even back then.

Enter the 250SL. This was only ever intended as an interim model. The rarest of all the Pagodas, just 5196 were made, all but 19 of them in 1967. Each was fitted with disc brakes all round and a 2496cc straight-six for 170bhp plus usefully more torque while a fivespeed manual gearbox became optional albeit rarely specified over the four-speed auto.

The final incarnation of the breed was launched in 1967. The 280SL is the most common, most sought after and also the most valuable of all the Pagodas. With softer suspension (which made for inferior handling), better seats and a stronger engine featuring seven main bearings, 23,885 examples of the 280SL rolled off the production lines to be replaced the equally excellent 107 series.

When it ducked out, the price had risen to £4619, which would have got you a Porsche 911S or a nearly new Aston Martin DBS. Although officially SLs, the term Pagoda became common parlance. Pagoda is a temple which has a dip in the roof and it referred to the SL’s hardtop.


Despite its two-seater convertible configuration, the SL is no serious sports car but much more of a cruiser, as it’s based upon a saloon floor pan and running gear. However, it’s a role that the Pagoda rises to admirably, although - as in the best Mercedes tradition - to do the job properly it’s best to have an automatic gearbox fitted, 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. There are those who like the manual transmission though, so it’s worth trying one before you go the obvious route, as these cars can represent the bargain end of Pagoda ownership (if there is such a thing) even if the ratios were judged ill matched at the time.

Deeply impressive is how Autocar summed up the SL overall in a late ‘60s road test, so well honed was this machine. Make no mistake, these Mercs are no road burners and don’t like to be driven as such. Predictably, the bigger the engine the more performance there is and so the better the car is to drive, although road tests throughout the 1960s only saw the car hit 60 in no better than ten seconds for the top 280SL. Still, speed isn’t everything and if this Mercedes wooed a certain J. Clarkson a couple of years back then it can’t be that sedate!

The 280SL also received a retuned suspension; Merc’s actually boffins softened things to improve the ride at the expense of handling. However, most buyers would agree that this is the version with the best balance, proving that the SL is a car for cruising in, rather than for thrashing along twisty back roads - something that’s hardly unexpected given that the car was designed almost 50 years ago. What remains sky high is the feel good factor driving one, watching the frantic world fly buy.


Two SLs recently went for under £4000 at auction but these were real basket cases and in reality you’ll need at least £18,000 to secure a Pagoda that isn’t a liability which usually nets a 230SL.

According to leading SL expert, Roger Edwards of London, £30-75,000 is the general ballpark figure of a good turn key car, which is set to rise, and truly exceptional ones have broken the £100,000 barrier and will continue to do so.

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. As with most Mercs, cars equipped with a manual gearbox are also less sought after even if it does make the car perform sportier; a stick shift can knock 10 per cent off a Pagoda’s value. Gavin Edwards says the later the car, the better the buy and the 280 is the best although any good SL is worth considering.


Leave well alone - that’s the view of Roger Edwards and the company’s not alone in advising this! The SL is one of those cars that doesn’t benefit from normal upgrades like most oldies because it was so well engineered and usable in the first place and this is why is a fair number remain daily drivers. Indeed, be suspicious of cars that have been modified, as the suspension and braking systems are excellent in standard form and so are the engines and transmissions. Also be very wary of SLs with non-standard wheels and tyres, as these can easily upset the car’s dynamics.

The only upgrades worth incorporating are the fitment of a wind deflector to reduce buffeting, and perhaps a good electronic ignition and an uprated radiator to cope with modern traffic better.

What To Look For

  • Built like a tank but the SL’s monocoque can corrode badly and it’s common to find a car with a rusty structure that looks presentable. The bulkhead normally survives intact, but the complex sill structures don’t - and properly repairing these can cost £2500 per side. What’s initially visible is a screw-on cover that hides the structure itself, and because you’re unlikely to get the opportunity to remove this, you need to make the most thorough checks you can from inside the car - which isn’t easy.
  • You also need to get underneath the car to inspect the floorpans as well as the chassis members at the rear; they extend the length of each side of the boot floor. Also take a look at the chassis legs at the front of the car, along with the bumper mountings. These may be accident damaged or rusty, but replacement is cheap and easy at £200-£300.
  • You must also ensure that you remove the floorpan covers behind the rear seats, to allow you to see inside the chassis legs. At the inner wings, check the strengthening channel and the front crossmember.
  • 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, along with paint micro-blistering. The bonnet, boot lid and door skins are all 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 it’s still there, the panels are original.
  • All W113s 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, not so the alloy 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 rad will usually put everything right; expect to pay £200 for an exchange unit - a hefty £1000 or so from Mercedes…
  • Predictably, the key to long engine life is 3000-mile oil changes, using a decent quality 20/50 lubricant; it helps reduce bottom-end wear while also minimising the likelihood of the camshaft wearing quickly. Dirty oil will also lead to the fuel injection pump failing prematurely - with a rebuild costing over £1000. There can also be fuel injection problems on infrequently used cars, caused by condensation leading to corrosion in the injection pipes - but this is pretty rare.
  • The W113’s auto box is tough, and lasts forever unless it is truly neglected. Leaks aren’t unusual, and if the fluid level is allowed to drop, the gearbox could be badly damaged. If a rebuild is needed, expect to pay £1000 for an exchange unit. The rest of the transmission is strong, but the propshaft’s couplings fail eventually, as will the universal joints; both are easily fixed. The latter is given away by clonking as drive is taken up, but this could also be worn diff mounts, which typically costs up to £1000 to repair. Beware whining from a worn diff; rebuilds are £1500-£2000.
  • Power steering was an option on all W113s; most autos have it and it’s worth having, as the steering is more direct.
  • 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 dampers (£60 a piece) usually transform a Pagoda.
  • 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.
  • Callipers also stick if the car isn’t used regularly, so drive slowly on a level piece of ground then take your foot off the accelerator; if the car comes to a halt the brakes are sticking. Again, an easy fix at around £70 each for exchange callipers. 230SL featuted rear drums which while okay in performance can be hard to obtain.
  • All electrical bits are available, but replacing some is a nightmare. For example, the wiper spindles sit behind the dashboard, which is a part of the car’s structure so it can’t be removed. It’s the same for the capillary tube temperature gauge and heater controls - if these all need replacing expect a bill of £600-800 to sort out.
  • Check that all four of the functions controlled by the single stalk column are working okay; they sometimes don’t and it’s a dear inconvenience.
  • Check the state of the loom, which may have gone brittle by now - this is especially important if you’re looking at a sun-baked ex-US car.
  • The leather-like MB-Tex material used to trim the cabin is durable, although seats can sag. The wood trim on the dash can rot; a £450 fix.
  • Make sure the hood and its frame are intact, because replacing either is costly; a replacement hood is £850-1000 while a new frame is £7500 new or £2000-£2500 for a used one.
  • Parts supply is superb as even the factory obliges - but it can be a costly hobby indeed. Chromework for instance where the grille and bumpers are concerned costs some £5000+ to renew - the grile along accounts for half this! A wing is around £800 and rusty hardtops run into thousands to fix.
  • Veloce Books publishes an excellent buyers’ book for less than a tenner. ISBN 978-1-84584-113-3.
  • If you’re unsure, have an expert such as Roger Edwards inspect the car to see if it’s as good aas it looks. A couple of hundred now will save thousands in the long run.

Three Of A Kind

Alfa Romeo Spider
Alfa Romeo Spider
Whereas the Merc is a cruiser, this is a car for those who love to drive, thanks to its brilliant chassis, sweet engine and light controls. It's a beautiful car too, as long as you don't buy one of the hideous later cars with colour-coded bumpers. But be very wary of tarted-up cars, which are sadly all too rife.
BMW 2002 cabriolet
BMW 2002 cabriolet
You're going to have to search very hard to find one of these; even if you go to Europe and settle for a left-hand drive example, you'll have your work cut out tracking one down. While they're stylish, classy and rare, these drophead BMWs are far cheaper to buy than any worthwhile Pagoda and as classy.
Jaguar E-type
Jaguar E-type
A car needing no introduction, the E-type was more of a sports car in six-cylinder form, but by the time the S3 V12 came out had become more of a cruiser. Hugely sought after, stunning to look at and great to drive with a few sympathetic upgrades, be careful as many E-types aren't as good as they look...


During an eight-year production run, just 48,912 W113s were built. Although the survival rate is high, these cars are rarer than you think, so it’s unsurprising that this is one of those surefire classics which you can’t really lose on, if you buy with your eyes open. There’s also more performance on offer than you’d think while parts supply isn’t an issue - even main dealers have ‘em - although some bits are ludicrously costly. As ever, you must always buy the best you can afford; finding a good example will prove in the long term, and it’ll also be far more rewarding to own. A real (three-pointed) star, in fact.

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