An introduction to an icon:
Mercedes-Benz never intended the 300SL Gullwing to go into production as a road car. It was the Austrian-born, New York-based importer Max Hoffman who suggested the idea during a directors meeting in Stuttgart in 1953. With America enjoying a booming post-war economic period, the time was right to introduce a racing car for the road, aimed squarely at wealthy enthusiasts. An initial order of 1000 cars was planned, with the road car making it’s debut at the 1954 New York Auto Show.
Max ‘Let’s build a cheaper 300SL’ Hoffman:
With the 300SL, Mercedes-Benz and Max Hoffman had pioneered a new section of the market, but the high production costs of the 300SL resulted in a prohibitively high price tag. Mercedes-Benz wanted to capitalise on the racing success of the 300SL and the sales success of the road car – what they needed was a car that could inspire desire like the 300SL while borrowing heavily from the existing Mercedes-Benz parts resources…
This new car had to had to have 100% of the beauty and 50% of the costs… Enter the 190SL.
The new ‘mass produced’ SL arrived in 1955 and would remain until 1963, utilising many of the styling cues that made the 300SL so desirable. With it’s four-cylinder engine and lower price tag than the 300SL, the 190SL was an instant sales hit. This was the car to own and be seen in. It cemented a new direction for Mercedes-Benz, and would begin the development of the SL as a model for the future.
Despite the success of the 190SL, the limitations of it’s performance were acknowledged by Mercedes-Benz as early as 1955. Offering just over 100bhp from the 1,897cc engine, company bosses knew that a 190SL replacement had to offer more substance for it’s style…
With the market established and driven by the success of the 190SL, the W113 SL was born.
The Pagoda more substance for SL style:
Arriving in 1963, the new SL used a shortened W111 Fintail platform and technology from the new W112… hence W113.
The beautiful styling of the gently inwardly sloping roof would earn it the nickname ‘Pagoda’. Penned by Paul Bracq, this now iconic design is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cars of all time.
The W113 ‘Pagoda’ was the first mass-produced SL to utilise a six-cylinder engine, and no car would combine an ‘SL’ badge with a four-cylinder engine until the SLK230 arrived some 33 years later.
Across the 9 years of Pagoda production, three different engines were available, with displacement and output growing accordingly.
The 230SL (148 hp) arrived in 1963 and remained until 1966, when it was replaced by the 250SL, which offered the same power output but increased torque from 145 lb ft to 159 lb ft. The 250SL lasted just 14 months before it was replaced by the 280SL (168hp) in 1967.
230SL 1963 to 1967 (148 hp, 145 lb ft)
250SL 1966 to 1968 (148 hp, 159 lb ft)
280SL 1967 to 1971 (168 hp, 180lb ft)
(It should be noted that USA cars operated with reduced power thanks to the stringent emissions regulations at the time.)
Almost 49,000 Mercedes-Benz Pagoda cars were produced between 1963 and 1971, with nearly half that number destined for the USA.
Today the Mercedes-Benz Pagoda is a well established classic car, adored by collectors and enthusiasts alike.
The ultimate Pagoda?
For many, the ultimate Pagoda is a European Right Hand Drive 280SL Automatic. These cars offer the very best of Pagoda technology, being the final incarnation of the W113. Although the manual-gearbox cars are in demand, for many of us the pure simplicity and ease of use that comes with a 4-speed automatic transmission makes touring in a Pagoda an absolute delight.
This is a car that can be admired and adored on the most exclusive boardwalks the globe has to offer, yet that can comfortably cruise at 80mph and contend with modern traffic. With enough driver and passenger conveniences to make winter touring possible, plenty of luggage space and being such an easy car to drive, it’s no surprise that the Pagoda is more in demand than ever.