The word itself evokes a sense of adventure: “Pagoda” refers to the Far East, with an exotic Asian flavor and warmer climates. Many people in Central Europe longed for the sun during the seemingly never-ending “winter of the century” of 1962/63. The Mercedes-Benz 230 SL caused quite a stir when it was unveiled at the Geneva International Motor Show in March 1963.
Known internally as W 113, the two-seat roadster combines decadent power delivery with captivating elegance and is distinguished by outstanding comfort, outstanding driving performance and exemplary driving safety. The 230 SL is the world’s first sports car to feature a safety body with a rigid passenger cell and front and rear crumple zones. Following this strategy, the safety-conscious Mercedes-Benz designers used Béla Barényi’s knowledge of passive safety in bodies for the first time in a sports car.
The distinctive shape of the removable coupé roof, with its inward curvature, also improves passive safety: the concave shape provides greater stability at a lower weight. Because the coupé roof, designed by Paul Bracq, is reminiscent of the curved roofs of temples in the Far East, the new SL quickly acquired the nickname ‘Pagoda’.
The Mercedes-Benz 230 SL Pagoda offers incredible performance
The technical basis of the Roadster was the luxurious 220 SE Saloon, also known as the ‘tail fin’. As an S predecessor, Class’s, it gave the sports car its shortened and reinforced frame floor construction, as well as its front and rear suspension. Its engine also formed the basis for the development of the 150 hp M 127 six-cylinder inline engine, 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 in late 1966 and was followed in 1968 by the 280 SL, the third and last variant of the W 113 to be launched. It was powered by the M 130 engines. All three SL model series were available as a Roadster with a folding soft top or as a sports car with a removable coupé roof.
Production of the W 113 ended in March 1971. The completely redesigned successor to the Series 107 replaced the technically and stylistically groundbreaking “Pagoda” and set new standards, such as the first eight-cylinder engine in an SL. For the fans, however, the “Pagoda” remained the standard – especially in the eyes of the owners of the 48,912 copies that came off the line between 1963 and 1971.
The Mercedes-Benz 230 SL Pagoda has an exotic and elegant design from the 60s
The 230SL was created as a bridge between the feisty but exorbitantly priced 300SL “gullwing” and the attractive but underpowered 190SL. The 230SL was a more refined car than the 300SL, a street racer. It had everything a sports car should have: a six-cylinder in-line engine with fuel injection, two seats, independent four-wheel suspension and a removable hood. However, these elements were encased in one of the most ornate bodies to date. It just looks good, like whiskey in a fine cup.
The “Pagoda” roof is the distinctive design feature of the SL. Mercedes engineers created a unique concave curve in the removable hardtop (which is surprisingly heavy); most roofs are convex when viewed from the front or rear. One of the reasons for this was to make the structure more rigid, which would protect the occupants in the event of a rollover collision; another reason was that the raised eaves allowed for larger windows and better visibility, giving the car a very light and almost delicate appearance.
The 230SL’s design was ahead of its time and the driving experience is shockingly modern. Thanks to the multi-point fuel injection, it starts and runs like a new car – none of the usual reluctance to start one of these cars. It drives smoother than the recently released 1965 Sunbeam Tiger and is only slightly less quiet on the highway than the excellent Citroën SM.
A sports car that only needs a few thousand dollars to drive home
If you want to buy one of these elegant convertibles, it would be a good idea to do so. Unlike most cars, the SL’s fenders and body panels are all spot welded to increase stiffness and reduce rattle. Unfortunately, this means that rust and dent repairs can be very expensive and time consuming. The first step in repairing an SL’s front fenders is crying in the fetal position. It won’t be cheap.
When new, the SL was not a cheap car. The $7,000 price tag was comparable to Porsches and Maseratis back then. Today, values are still high, with a perfectly restored car fetching up to $100,000. The “R107” generation SL is an option for those who want the graceful look of an early SL at a fraction of the price.
Sources: Mercedes-Benz, DrivingAutoNews
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