|Vehicle:||1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SL|
The ’69 280SL featured here was sold at Christie’s London, England, sale December 3, 2002, for $18,448. It was presented with a fair repaint and new carpet but dirty original interior, hardtop included and, oh yes, the automatic gearbox was struck in drive.
The catalog mentioned that the car had been on display, according to the auction company, had not been used for some time, and that refurbishing may be needed to make it roadworthy. It’s not good for any car to sit unused, and the SL’s fuel-injection pump really does not fare well. Seals dry out and rebuild costs run up to $2,000. The transmission problem could be something simple or the new owner might be facing a complete rebuild. Overall, the price seems high considering the car’s so-so appearance, expensive deferred maintenance needs and potentially high repair costs.
Buying a good used 280SL should not be extremely difficult, owing to its high build quantity and its inherently robust nature. Rust is the car’s Achilles’ heel; the unit chassis box sections are structural and checking them is critical. Poor body damage repair is next, as each panel is welded to exacting standards, making it hard to replace or repair correctly. Add in the typical improper use of Bondo and judicious use of undercoating and the show car you think you’re purchasing might be a beautified rust bucket. Quick clues to a good example are the hood and door fit, and doors that give that solid “thud” when closed.
Engines have a normal life of at least 100,000 miles, and will last much longer if properly maintained. The car should start quickly and, when at operating temperature, pull smoothly from an idle of 600 rpm to the sweet spot of the torque curve at just about 4,000 rpm, and then right on up to 6,500 rpm. A properly sorted-out suspension should feel taut and agile. Don’t let mileage alone be your guide; proper use and maintenance are more the determining factors of a worthy purchase. Most mechanical and body parts are available: Some trim pieces are becoming harder to find and expensive, but many drivetrain parts are shared with sedans, coupes and convertibles of the same vintage.
The market for 113s has been steadily climbing. You must be very careful to accurately assess condition instead of paying too close attention to the asking price. Buyers seem comfortable paying $20,000 for a decent 113, which has resulted in many rough cars being fluffed up to reach that price point. As with so many relatively inexpensive sports cars, the price you pay may bear no relation to the condition of the car you get. When buying a 280SL, take your time, go over everything carefully and get a second opinion. Write a check if everything checks out, and walk away if it doesn’t.-Scott Featherman