Cymon Taylor ©2015, courtesy of RM Auctions
The Mercedes-Benz 230SL, immediately recognizable for its Pagoda top, was an extremely popular car within the circles of the rich and powerful. In 2013, the 230SL celebrated its 50th birthday, and it is still an iconic car today, with fans around the world. The 230SL, built to fill the gap between the 190SL and the flagship 300SL, was a ground-up project that began with a whole new platform. Initially, the engine was to be a 2.2-liter inline 6-cylinder, but technical difficulties pushed the development of the platform back several years. Eventually, Technical Director Fritz Nallinger ordered the marriage of two projects to create platform W113. This would contain the larger 2.3-liter M127 inline six but feature a shorter chassis. Paul Bracq and Béla Barényi designed the distinctive “Pagoda” top, so named for the unique concave roof as seen on a Japanese pagoda. At the Geneva Motor Show in 1963, the Mercedes-Benz 230SL was introduced. Although the technical features of the 230SL weren’t incredibly new, the improvements to them and the increased safety made this Mercedes-Benz special. For the first time, they offered power steering and automatic transmission in a sports car. Barényi had worked extensively on the safety of this car, and as a result, the exterior was built with a rigid passenger cell and crumple zone, and the interior was free of sharp corners. The 230SL offered here is one of the rarer U.S. models, from the first year of production. It was imported to Europe in the spring of 2013 and was restored inside and out by a Mercedes-Benz concessionaire in Italy. The full workup included a complete overhaul of the original 2,308-cc SOHC inline 6-cylinder engine with Bosch multi-port fuel injection producing 148 horsepower, a replacement 4-speed manual transmission, and the original upper and lower A-arm front suspension with coil springs, and swing-axle, coil-spring rear suspension. The completed car was finished in a classic gray, with a matching brand-new leather interior. Included with the car is the contemporary owner’s manual, as well as an automatic gearbox appendix, 1963 230SL parts catalog, a Becker radio manual in the original Becker red plastic envelope, a directory of the authorized Mercedes-Benz dealers that operated in the United States as of July 1964, a Haynes repair manual for the 230, 250, and 280SL, an Italian Certificato di Rilevanza Storica, an Omologazione ASI, and a FIVA Passport. The Mercedes-Benz 230SL is a classic even amongst classics, and this example, which is in magnificent condition, is sure to impress wherever it goes.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1963 Mercedes-Benz 230SL convertible
Years Produced:230SL, 1963–67; 250SL, 1966–68; 280SL, 1967–71
Number Produced:230SL 19,831; 250SL 5,196; 280SL 23,885
Original List Price:$7,506
SCM Valuation:$52,000–$105,000
Tune Up Cost:$300–$500
Distributor Caps:$50–$75
Chassis Number Location:Data plate on firewall
Engine Number Location:Right side of engine block
Club Info:Mercedes-Benz Club of America
Alternatives:1962–64 Jaguar E-type, 1963–65 Aston Martin DB5, 1962–65 Alfa-Romeo Spider
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 159, sold for $141,064, including buyer’s premium, at RM Auctions’ Paris sale on February 4, 2015.

With this sale in Paris, and the sale of a 1968 280SL for $264,000 at RM Auctions in Monterey last August, we can state with confidence that the W113-chassis Mercedes-Benz 230, 250 and 280SLs have moved from desirable hobby cars to collectible classic automobiles.

No longer will we talk about these attractive roadsters as having the potential to increase significantly in value, as we did in these pages only a few years ago. Now the question is how to tell whether the car being presented is worth the going market rate — or is instead a fright pig that has been tarted up in hopes of getting a quick return on investment.

The successor to the 190SL
and 300SL

Now as then, there is no question that the Pagodas (nicknamed by the Mercedes engineers when they first saw the design of the removable hard top with the outside edges turned up to add additional strength) have all the attributes that make an automobile desirable. Truly, when Mercedes-Benz decided to replace the breathtaking-but-expensive 300SL and lovely, anemic 190SL with this one all-purpose grand-touring sports car, they hit a home run.

These are two-seat roadsters, eye-catching in layout and enjoyable to drive on a soft summer day, complete with roll-up windows and a soft top tucked under the graceful tonneau cover in case there’s a change in the weather. Even better, they come with weatherproof hard tops that make them practical year-round in any climate.

The W113 series (any Mercedes aficionado refers to specific series by their chassis numbers more often than by their specific model numbers) shares the chassis and suspension with the W111 sedans — they are simply shortened between the wheels. The unique-to-Mercedes single-pivot rear axle with transverse compensation spring provides the comfortable ride of independent rear suspension without risk of oversteer or wheel hop.

More power in later years

The 230SL did attract some criticism for its limited horsepower when it was introduced in 1963. The 2,308-cc engine with 150 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque was leisurely off the mark, although it could eventually reach 120 mph. In response, the company increased engine capacity to 2,496 cc with the 250SL in 1966 to increase torque by 10%, which helped with acceleration. Then, in 1967, Mercedes-Benz introduced the 280SL, with 2,778 cc producing 170 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque.

In today’s classic-car world, the differences really don’t matter very much; all of the W113s can safely reach safe highway speeds and then cruise all day, making them safe touring automobiles, albeit with buzzy rear end gearing that emphasizes acceleration over high rpm.

The interior, with its striking similarities to the comfortable and luxurious Mercedes sedans and coupes, contrasts markedly with almost every other roadster of that time. It’s a perfect compromise car for high-end sports car tours.

The Pagodas have arrived

It’s no surprise that this specific 230SL reached the price it did. It was recently restored at one of the several first-rate houses that work on these popular cars, so the buyer could be confident that beauty wasn’t just skin-deep, as can be the case in any marque when values increase rapidly.

At the same time, the decision was made to swap out the optional automatic transmission, pervasive in units originally sold in the United States, for the more-sporty manual transmission that a European buyer would prefer now — and then. In addition, at some point the U.S. headlamps and market lights have been swapped for the combination European headlamps, which are more congruent with designer Paul Bracq’s original intentions.

The side-facing “kinderseat,” or children’s seat, in the tonneau area is another desirable option that isn’t always seen on the Pagodas. The only faults I can see are wrinkles in the soft top, but those can easily be corrected for concours display.

An example for the future

The major message in this watershed shift in W113 values is that prospective buyers need to use a different strategy than would have been the case only a few years ago, as there is much less margin for error. The best opportunity is a car like this one, which someone else already paid a well-known shop to restore. Buying an unrestored version and then paying a specialist to do a nut-and-bolt restoration is not a cost-effective strategy.

However, given the straightforward nature of the W113s and the easy availability of replacement parts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, a careful hobby restorer can do the job at home with satisfying results. It’s fairly easy to farm out the engine, transmission, and fuel-injection pump rebuilds — and then purchase a first-quality interior kit.

Or, perhaps the best advice of all, now is the time to start looking for the very best original-condition R107 sports roadster one can find — and count on it to begin appreciating in value following the lead of its older sibling. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)

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