Classically beautiful or beautifully classic, the ‘Mercedes Pagoda’ SL radiates style – no wonder consumers and celebrities alike can’t get enough. Buy right, look after one and it’ll look after you, especially if you trust us to do the hard work for you…
Evocative is a word that’s all too often misused. The cold dictionary definition doesn’t come close to summing up the sensation of being transported back to another era, simply by standing in the presence of a truly redolent object. Just one look at a Mercedes SL ‘Pagoda’ speaks more than a thousand words. Even then you can’t hope to match the feeling you get from experiencing one of these fascinating machines first hand. Don’t believe us? Well, how about trusting some of this classic SL’s well-known former owners?
Few machines can boast as many glamorous alumni as the Mercedes Benz SL ‘Pagoda’. Songwriters John Lennon and Tina Turner both had one, alongside the ‘King’s’ widow Priscilla Presley. Silver screen stars flocked to the effortless cool of the W113 with Audrey Hepburn, Peter Ustinov and Charlton Heston just some of the model’s famous former keepers. Despite their day job – or rather because of it – racing drivers also chose to ensconce themselves in the quiet style of this SL, with all-time greats Juan Manual Fangio and his arch rival Sir Stirling Moss both counted among former owners. It’s not just those in period who seem to have been drawn to this understated Benz. More contemporary celebrity owners include F1 driver David Coulthard, former Spice Girl Emma Bunton and the now mega star, Harry Styles.
Doubtless the styling of this SL has drawn many of the aforementioned aficionados. Yet, as is so often the case with a design-house creation, the precise penmanship that lead to the final showroom appearance of the W113 is up for debate. The ‘Pagoda’ design team was led by Friedrich Geiger, yet it’s thought likely designer Paul Bracq and engineer Béla Barényi also had a big hand in the signed-off silhouette.
What was unambiguous right away upon launch in 1963 was just how much of a departure the W113’s crisp, angular lines were from the organic flowing nature of its predecessors. One of the few curves found on the car was actually responsible for its popular nickname. The near unique concave bow of the rooftop lead many to associate it with similarly-shaped roofs of Chinese Pagodas – after that, the name ‘Pagoda’ quickly stuck.
The beauty of this SL was far more than just skin deep, its mechanical innovations stood it apart too. The platform was based on a shortened ‘Fintail’ saloon floor, which meant it came with all of the development ingenuity from that landmark model. The Mercedes-Benz staple of increasing safety through mechanical innovation had taken giant leaps forward during the 1950s and much of what had been learned through crash-testing was implemented for the W113, commencing with the Mercedes Benz 230 SL Pagoda.
One of the leading lights in passive safety at Stuttgart back then was M-B engineer Béla Barényi. Up to 1951, cars were still made outwardly as strong as possible, the thinking being that a rigid structure would better protect passengers. Barényi turned this idea on its head, making deformable outer sections of bodywork around a solid passenger safety cell. In other words, he invented the crumple zone, a technology that’s still an integral part of vehicle safety to this day.
After the Le Mans disaster of 1955 effectively shut down all M-B racing activity, the W113 was the first SL that no longer had to balance road design with racing. That freed up its designers to concentrate on making this generation of SL more comfortable and useable than ever before. One of the big complaints of previous models to bear the Sports Leicht moniker had been the relatively hairy handling, especially close to the rear axle’s limit of grip. Everyday driving in a 190SL or 300SL was no more problematic than in one of the firm’s saloons, but pushing these sporting machines hard highlighted a few issues. The single pivot rear end tended to tuck under, leading to a sudden break in traction and usually a spin, unless your name was Fangio or Moss. Although the rear axle remained largely unchanged for the Mercedes Benz Pagoda SL, its tyres were a brand new and uniquely developed radial-ply that greatly increased grip and therefore driver confidence.
Driving a Mercedes 280 SL Pagoda
Speaking of which, driving a Pagoda feels special from the moment you enter its cabin. The relatively simple dashboard design incorporates an enchanting mix of chrome and body-coloured surfaces. Its huge dials climb into a face-like binnacle – the speedo and rev counter are the eyes with a big grin easily visible, formed by the bottom third of the vast thin-rimmed steering wheel.
Out on the open road this grin translates onto the driver’s face as these graceful SLs feel smooth with a refined and floating ride that’s matched to relatively relaxed body control. Grip remains good, despite the angles that the body can roll to if you get a little carried away. The engine, especially in 2.8-litre form provides good power with a smooth and linear delivery. There are no spikey spots in the torque curve, just a steady and continual pull right through the range. The performance is quite swift in the range-topping Mercedes 280 SL Pagoda, though at no point does the power delivery feel intrusive, that would be far too vulgar. Let the revs climb and a wonderful snarl is your reward, emitted from the twin exhausts to the delight of passengers and passers-by alike.
Even the briefest of spells behind the wheel of this SL is enough to enthral. It’s one of those machines that makes you feel special. The attention it draws is remarkable and yet it doesn’t seem that anyone thinks you’re a prat, most quietly nod in appreciation of your impeccable taste. It’s also a machine that’s still eminently capable of covering major miles, ensconcing its occupants in comfort levels that aren’t far removed from modern luxury vehicles – just without the pointless gadgets. This combination of factors is why the Pagoda has rocketed up the desirability charts of late and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon – quite the opposite in fact…
Found your Classic Mercedes For the taking?
If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position to purchase one of these remarkable machines, the good news is that here at SLSHOP, we can take care of all your needs. As one of the world’s top specialists in this, or any, generation of SL, we can source, restore or simply maintain your W113 to the highest possible level, ensuring that it’s turn-key ready when you fancy your next adventure.
Right from the first step, we’re here to help. We have an extensive database of hundreds of Pagoda owners that’s continually updated. This allows us to keep track of the location and condition of Pagodas wherever they are in the world. This ear to the ground also gives us access to cars that often never come up for sale on the wider market, especially when you factor in our highly competitive sale on return rates.
Any SL that we offer for sale is also thoroughly checked and worked on to ensure that its mechanically and cosmetically perfect before we give the keys to its next owner. Those sold through our showroom also benefit from a 12-month transmission and mechanical warranty as well as a three-year bulkhead warranty. SLSHOP Appraised cars are sold via our website and are thoroughly inspected by our technicians to offer an extra level of buyer confidence.
A new Mercedes Pagoda just for you
If you’re after more of a blank canvas build, or have a W113 already that’s in need of some attention, we can offer everything from a bit of light cosmetic painting and a tidy up all the way to a full restoration. Here at SLSHOP HQ in Warwickshire we have an on-site body and trim shop, that means bringing back a Pagoda in almost any state doesn’t faze us. As well as sourcing a suitable vehicle project for you, we can return it to its former glory without it ever having to leave the premises. Our experts can also rebuild the mechanical components including engine and transmissions to as new or better condition, with hard-to-source parts just another day in the office for us. If you want to take things past OEM, we can even offer engine upgrades or six-speed transmissions that make these classics even more user-friendly in the 21st century.
As with any old car, a lot of owners will put up with foibles, putting it down to ‘part of the charm’ but you’d be amazed how often these are the result of poor setup. That’s why we offer our unique Pagoda setup service. This complicated machine is often beyond the reach of generalist garages, which is why many send us their near-completed projects for us to finalise and get running ‘just right’. These cars are especially sensitive to suspension and injection setup and we specialise in getting both of these vital components spot on, providing the best possible driving experience. We want you to enjoy using your Pagoda, not just looking at it in the garage, which is why we are confident that we turn out the best driving Pagodas anywhere.
This really is a great time for any potential Mercedes SL Pagoda possessor to get into ownership. Prices are climbing swiftly and yet there’s room for them to grow still further. Not only that, but we’re currently preparing, or have ready for sale, a number of Pagoda 280SLs. All these range-topping models are in peak condition and come in a variety of colours and options but the one that really stands out has to be our uber-rare manual car. One of just 35 made in right-hand drive and fitted with the correct rear differential and transmission from the factory, this is one highly collectible Pagoda. Not only is it highly unusual as it sports the rarely selected ZF manual transmission, but it’s also 280 SL number 101, built in 1968. Check it out here https://www.theslshop.com/showroom/mercedes-benz-280sl-w113-blau-metallic-with-parchment-mb-tex-2360/
While this unique 280 SL Pagoda was quick to move on to pastures new, we currently have several 280 SL restorations underway which we will be bringing to market over the next 12 months. As with all our Pagodas, these retain the correct identification numbers, and have been finished in period correct colour specifications such as Medium Blue Metallic (396) and Metallic Blue (387); both with beautifully trimmed leather interiors. More recently, we have introduced this fully restored 280 SL to our Showroom, which has undergone a meticulous restoration by our craftsmen. Finished in Anthracite Grey Metallic and Bamboo Leather, this is a palatial Pagoda ready for a new home.
If you’re still wavering, perhaps learning that next year will be the Pagoda’s 60th anniversary might tip the balance. To celebrate, we will not only be hosting a cavalcade of Pagodas down to M-B World in Surrey, but we’ll also be organising a curated tour over to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. What better goal is there to aim for when making your Pagoda dream a reality? Make sure you keep an eye out on this site and in our newsletters for more details on these trips over the summer.