As the 300SL and 190SL production ended in the early 1960s, Mercedes-Benz consolidated the SL sports car concept into a single line. The 300SL was already a legend but was complex and expensive to produce. The 190SL was high on style but lacked the performance to challenge more sporting competitors. When launched in 1963, the new W113 series aimed to blend style, sophistication, and performance at a more reasonable price point. Like the 190SL before, the new 230SL chassis shared standard components with the contemporary sedan line to keep production costs in check. Mercedes-Benz’s design team, led by the brilliant Paul Bracq, created a crisp, minimally-adorned monocoque body with exquisite detailing. From day one, the W113 was designed with a removable hardtop, to which Bracq added a subtle concave top panel, earning it the nickname “Pagoda.”
Upon introduction, the new SL was a sports car like no other on the market, combining the open-air experience of a traditional roadster with the insulated comfort and practicality of a continental GT cruiser. It boasted a spacious, comfortable cockpit, capacious boot, was built to Mercedes typical vault-like quality and delivered impressive performance in a refined and understated package.
The final evolution of the W113 arrived in 1968 with the 2.8-liter 280SL. Beautifully refined and with build quality that only a Mercedes-Benz can boast, the 280SL is a lively and enjoyable sports car that effortlessly plays the role of a sophisticated grand tourer. While the 280SL is less aggressive than some competitors, it is surprisingly capable when the going gets twisty, thanks to a finely tuned independent front/swing-axle rear suspension. The robust Bosch-injected overhead-cam inline-six produced ample torque, and while the vast majority of cars left the factory gates equipped with a four-speed automatic, a 4-speed manual was optional, providing a sporty edge to the SL’s relaxed GT-like demeanor.
This 1970 280SL roadster is an excellent example of the breed, crisply presented in silver over black trim. It is a beautifully restored car equipped with the desirable automatic transmission and air conditioning, with an emphasis on driving enjoyment, making it the ideal pick for the enthusiast seeking the authentic all-around Pagoda experience. This car spent many years in a private collection, was treated to extensive restoration work, and is now offered in superb condition, equally suited to the show field or the open road. The excellent body is well-defined, with consistent gaps, straight panels, and excellent silver paintwork. Exterior chrome and polished trim are superbly restored, and the car rides on the proper steel wheels with polished and color-keyed wheel covers and correct narrow-band whitewall tires. Doors open and shut with precision, and the car includes both a black canvas soft top and a restored matching silver hardtop.
With the Pagoda SL, Mercedes-Benz puts passenger comfort above outright sportiness, and this 280SL is a lovely place to spend the day. This car features black upholstery, matching black carpets, and excellent restored wood trim. The seats and soft trim are in fine order, displaying minimal signs of use. Similarly, the dash is in superb condition, housing correct instruments, original air conditioning, and a period-correct Becker radio. The boot features the proper rubber floor liner and houses the full-size spare wheel and factory tool roll.
Mercedes-Benz’s superb 2.8-liter overhead cam inline-six is undoubtedly one of the finest engines of the period. Offering robust torque and power, the 2.8 also had superior refinement and drivability thanks to the fitment of Bosch mechanical fuel injection in the SL. Like most Pagodas, this example is equipped with the excellent four-speed automatic gearbox, which suits the 280SL’s relaxed, grand-touring character. The engine compartment is immaculate and highly detailed, with the correct finishes on the prominent cam cover and the intake plenum. Correct labels and decals are present, as are proper hose clamps and the firewall insulation pad.
Out on the road, this 280SL is sure-footed and a delight to drive. The steering feels direct yet light, thanks to well-judged power assistance, and the engine, gearbox, and brakes all work with the solidity and poise expected of a classic Mercedes-Benz. Beautifully restored, well sorted, and highly detailed, this gorgeous 280SL is the perfect example for its next owner to drive to a show, display with pride, and enjoy the experience of taking the long way home.
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