When the Pagoda arrived in 1963, it had a huge role to play in the future of Mercedes-Benz’s luxury and sports car programme. Following on from the success of the 190 SL in the United States, as well as the almost godly credentials of the ‘Gullwing’, the W113 Pagoda would need to mark a new era for the Super Leicht roadster. The W113 would go on to fulfil the dreams of not just baby boomers in the United States, but also Europe, expanding the number of owners on the continent for the first time since the two letter abbreviation emerged nine years before.
The difference to its bigger brothers Is obvious – angular Germanic lines that would define the next fifty years of design – as are the differences to comparable luxury convertibles of the same era. Britain, Italy and America were still producing curvaceous aesthetics emulating the female form – it was the sixties and sex sold. The W113 Pagoda therefore stood out from the crowd visually, and coupled with generous space, versatility and sporting prowess, its popularity was unwavering for the remaining decade.
As we write this guide in 2022, Pagoda prices are soaring. Original and factory restored examples are fetching over £200,000, with extremely unique examples pedalling beyond the £250,000 mark. With this trend comes the quizzical brows of many petrolheads and enthusiasts around the world, all looking for an opportunity to enjoy, collect or flip a Mercedes W113 pagoda. Further complications come with the ascension of digital auction platforms, where tarted up photography, cleverly crafted descriptions and the countdown theme are leading people into projects they potentially can’t complete. A buyer’s guide to the W113 Pagoda is therefore essential.
Those with interest in the model will be aware of the three variants and how they differ – for an overview of these different variants, visit the following links.
230 SL | 250 SL | 280 SL
SO, WHAT SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING A W113 SL?
Peeling back the layers.
New everything required.
Any old car is going to have suffered from the elements over the years. The below image illustrates the spots of fragility on the W113 Pagoda. You can also see just how bad it can get with this Pagoda restoration project that we recently commenced. A shiny exterior means nothing until the paint and filler is peeled back – you can spot a poorly restored car by looking at panel gaps. But remember, new panels are not cheap, neither is the expertise and time required to revive an old W113 Pagoda.
To get around these issues, aspiring owners tend to search the States for rust-free examples. But note, the cost of Euro conversion is rather high given the amount of amendments necessary.
American vehicles had separate sealed-beam headlamps, rubber-tipped overriders, lower axle ratio, headrests, side wing reflectors and hazard warning lights. American cars also had aircon – a costly facility to reinstate on a dilapidated car.
Properly setup engines are a dream to drive. The 230 SL has always been classed as the more underwhelming of the line-up. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t sufficient for spirited cruising. Our Heritage craftsmen report that the main issues with Pagoda have arisen from lack of knowledge. The complexity of these engines requires deep understanding of the sweet spot.
Issues with all engines (2.3, 2.5 and 2.8) include:
- Distributor issues: are indicated by rough running. And a lack of performance at all revs. These are generally due to vacuum and condenser issues.
- Pinking: This is generally an issue with the 230 SL variant and is caused by uncontrolled detonation whereby the fuel burns too quickly and results in rough running. This is also indicative of distributor issues.
- Throttle Linkages: need to be set precisely to move at the same time. Often, the length of the throttle linkages has been changed resulting in issues.
- Throttle Bodies: Spindles are common for wearing, sucking in excessive amounts of air which causes the revs to surge at idle. Erratic idling usually indicates an issue with throttle bodies.
- Tapets: These can rattle due to either a worn camshaft, worn fingers, adjusters or simply just lack of clearance.
- Servo Failure: is indicated by rough idling, likely due to an air leak.
- Oil Leaks: are most commonly found due to a perished rear crank seal or the deteriorating rocker cover gasket.
- Emissions: Our craftsmen often find that Pagodas are either running too rich or too lean when they arrive at SLSHOP. This could be caused by problems with throttle linkages, distributor timing. Or cold-start injectors leaking.
HOW TO KNOW WHEN A COLD-START INJECTOR IS LEAKING?
Cold-start injectors will always have fuel running through them but should only let the fuel through when cranking from cold or warm (250 SL and 280 SL). The 230 SL’s suffer more with fuel leaking as their cold-start injectors always operate when the engine is cranking, causing the engine to flood. So be mindful if a 230 SL you view is taking time to fire. There is the potential that the engine will have often been flooded.
THE REVOLUTIONARY REAR SWING AXLE:
The transition from the Gullwing to the 190 SL, led to the development of a new swing axle setup to remedy the issue of uncontrollable cornering… The new setup for the 190 SL proved so successful. That it was utilised with the W113 Pagoda, too. This would feature throughout its production run. The main issues include:
- Gator Leaks: will require a full axle strip down to replace the gator. We also then replace the half shaft bearings, seals and oil. This is borderline a full rebuild except. That the differential bearings aren’t replac. Unprofessional outfits replace the gator with versions. That are stapled together – these split and don’t work.
- Pinion Seals Leaking: due to wear and tear. They’re most exposed to dirt that causes them to wear down. Look for leaks beneath the rear axle.
Other than the above issues, the rear axle is generally quite strong. Just be mindful of corrosion and need to replace serviceable parts.
FRONT SUSPENSION: DOUBLE WISHBONE WITH KING PINS:
- This setup will often wear out and cause excessive movement in the wheels and make the car wonder. Expect to hear a loud bang from the front suspension when out on the road.
- Front subframe top mounts are common for splitting, causing the engine to lift and touch the bonnet
- Engine mounts: tend to perish and flatten, causing vibrations throughout the whole vehicle
- Loose steering and back lash: feel as if you are not in control of the vehicle and is usually a result of leaks or a tired and worn-out steering box. Mostly, the issues arise from lack of maintenance by a specialist.
What maintenance does a steering box require?
A regular oil and filter change will protect the seals within the steering box. If the oil is not regularly flush. Swarf circulating in the steering box will continue to eat away at the steering box.
- Issues tend to include sticking and an in-operational kick-down due to overuse.
- Further issues include a loose selector which results from the selector rod bushes breaking apart.
MANUALS: ONLY APPLIES TO FOUR SPEEDS DUE TO RARITY OF THE 5-SPEEDS.
- Whiney due to leaks and running dry causing the bearings to burn out. A common issue we see very often at SLSHOP.
- As with the autos, the loose selector which results from the selector rod bushes breaking apart.
This is a snapshot of some of the issues you can expect to find with the W113 Pagoda. If buying at auction, we advise you to thoroughly inspect the vehicle with someone who understands these vehicles. Expect sellers to attempt to hide issues with rust as this is one of the most expensive problems to rectify.