Pagoda SL values have been appreciating, and top examples continue to stretch the upper limit of the price envelope

The last of a popular and extremely successful line that began with the 230SL of 1963, the Mercedes-Benz 280SL was introduced in 1967. Its overhead-camshaft, six-cylinder engine was entirely new, with horsepower of the fuel-injected unit stated at 180. Otherwise, the 280SL remained mechanically virtually identical to the 1967-1968 250SL, with independent suspension all around and four-wheel disc brakes. Top speed was 118 mph, and its 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) time was 10 seconds.

Christened "pagoda top" after the distinctive shape of their removable hardtop, these SL models were among the best-loved sports-tourers of their day and remain highly sought after by collectors.

An automatic transmission model, the 280SL Cabriolet pictured here is original and unrestored except for a high quality repaint in its original antique white. The interior leather upholstery, woodwork, carpets, and chrome all appear like new, as does the black original soft top and original white hardtop. The engine bay and trunk are likewise well presented, while door gaps and exterior brightwork are described as "perfect."

Enjoying only one registered owner since first sold in September 1970, this exceptionally well preserved 280SL has covered just 53,000 kilometers from new and is offered complete with its original tool kit, spare tire, owner's manual, and original, complete service history booklet.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SL
Years Produced:1968-1971
Number Produced:23,885
Original List Price:$7,224
SCM Valuation:$25,000-$40,000
Tune Up Cost:$600
Distributor Caps:$28.95
Chassis Number Location:right front frame rail
Engine Number Location:left rear, top of block
Club Info:Mercedes-Benz Club of America, 1907 Lelaray Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80909
Alternatives:1962-1967 Austin-Healey 3000, 1962-1974 Jaguar XKE convertible, 1967-1973 Porsche 911 Targa
Investment Grade:C

This 1970 280SL Cabriolet sold for $61,900 at the Bonhams Nurburgring auction in Germany, held on August 9, 2003.

A period advertisement in Road & Track declared: “The Mercedes-Benz 280SL departs from other sports cars in two respects. First, it does not resemble a rocket ship or a fugitive from a racetrack. It is sporty but deliberately unflashy. It will never embarrass you, whether keeping fast company in a rally or arriving at the White House. Second, it is one thoroughbred sporting machine that isn’t stark or cramped. That doesn’t make you pay for soul-stirring performance with ringing ears or stiff joints. It is a civilized sports car. For adults.”

The W113 (Mercedes’ internal designation for this model) could be ordered with hard top, soft top or with both tops, and whichever combination buyers chose, they got better weather protection than that offered by any of its competitors. A rare option was a hard top with a sunroof. Today, cars with both tops bring a premium; those with hard top only can be a tough sale.

Mechanically, these cars are basically bulletproof with their most serious issues concerning malfunctioning accessories and trim pieces, both internal and external, that deteriorate with age. Be sure to have the fuel injection pump inspected before a purchase, as a rebuild can set you back $2,000. Like any car of this age, look for rust, especially along the inner fender lips, or poorly done body repairs.

SLs have been popular as tourers throughout their lives, so some have racked up exceptionally high mileage. Unlike many sports cars, an SL that has covered 150,000 or more miles can still be a decent driver, although with a car like this you would want to have a trunk full of service receipts. The cars to run from are those that have been treated badly, then given a slathering of body-filler, a cheap but shiny respray and an engine detailed with a pressure washer.

A good SL is a comfortable car that offers moderate performance and decent handling, even by modern standards. They also qualify for the current Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance program, making them a great choice in a usable collector car.

Prices for SLs have always been all over the map. A week after this car sold in Europe, a #2 condition 280SL achieved $55,200 at Bonhams’ auction in Carmel. At Kruse’s January sale in Arizona last year, a one-owner 3-condition car, described as a nice driver, went for $18,020. The SCM Price Guide has this series SL valued between $20,000-$40,000, making the $62,000 paid for the car pictured here nearly double what most 280SLs will command. But before we go calling that crazy money, let’s acknowledge that this 280SL was represented as very well preserved, a one-owner car with complete service records and mileage just under 33,000.

For a 35-year-old car with the mileage of a two-year-old one, the price paid here is high, yes, but not out of line. Pagoda SL values have been appreciating, and top examples continue to stretch the upper limit of the price envelope. And if you take your ratty 280SL to a specialist restoration shop for a complete redo, don’t be surprised if the total bill comes near six figures.

However, if you just want a decent car to drive and enjoy, with careful looking you should be able to find one in the $25,000-$30,000 range. Not only will you save a bundle, but you’ll free yourself from the paranoia that comes with buying any low-mileage, original car. After all, they are just a fender bender or a few parking lot dings away from becoming just another used car and depreciating accordingly.-Craig Morningstar

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