Why you’d want a Mercedes-Benz W113 230-280SL
Paul Bracq’s styling masterpiece, the Pagoda-roof Mercedes-Benz W113 SL was built to exceptional standards, from cast-aluminium door shells to individually numbered alloy bonnet, bootlid, hood cover and door skins.
Way ahead of its time in the combination of sporting performance and touring comfort that it offers, it seems delicate but is a masterful endurance rally car – as proven by winning the gruelling 1964 Spa-Sofia-Liège.
The 280 also has softer seats and suspension and 90% were sold with an excellent four-speed automatic, whereas 75% of 230s were manual.
The W113 was always glamorous and expensive (twice as much as a 4.2 E-type), with Charlton Heston and John Lennon among star owners in period. John Travolta, David Coulthard, Jason Orange and Kate Moss have added more recent flair to the model.
Most were sold with both hard- and soft-tops, but some were soft-top only.
Beware the 230SL ‘California Coupé’ with removable hardtop but the hood well replaced by a drop-down bench, giving a 2+2 configuration. Though rare these are not sought-after, a soft-top being useful in case of sudden showers.
This should not be confused with the optional side-facing ‘jump seat’ available for cars equipped with the hood, and fitted to the 250SL in our photographs.
As values rise, US-market cars are returning; they make good projects if rust-free from a dry state, but factor in the cost of upgrading to Euro spec.
American cars had separate sealed-beam headlamps (with flashing disconnected), rubber-tipped overriders, lower axle ratio, milder cam (from late ’68), headrests, side wing reflectors and hazard warning lights.
There were data/emissions plates in the door frame, but no mirror in the passenger’s sunvisor and less chrome trim, while many had aircon. RHD conversion is not viable.
Inspect the condition of all rubber seals. Solidly built with all-welded panels, a rotten SL is costly to repair properly, so there are many superficially shiny ‘restored’ cars around.
Look for consistent panel gaps, smooth spot-welds on the front outer-to-inner wings and an unfilled panel join seam below the headlights.
Brightwork is pricey, too, so ensure it’s all present and undamaged – likewise the valuable toolkit and jack.
White with black top was the combination of choice when new; silver is now most favoured.
Images: Tony Baker/Daimler AG
Mercedes-Benz W113 230-280SL: what to look for
See above for trouble spots
Though durable if well maintained, the engines are not bombproof and should be carefully inspected.
Blue smoke on acceleration is likely to be hardened/worn valve stem seals. Expect near-instant starting; neglect or lack of use can cause rust in the pipework to block injectors.
Dirty oil can damage pump: it costs £1000+ to rebuild.
Head gasket can fail, notably on cars idle for long periods: a misfire or overheating are warning signs. It will soon recur if not properly repaired by a Mercedes-Benz specialist.
Lots of nipples on 230/250 need regular greasing to avoid rapid wear. Suspension and engine are subframe-mounted: failed mounts transmit harshness.
Rear suspension is robust but costly to overhaul. Look for seized splines, worn UJs, loose bolts and worn rubber mounts transmitting axle noise to the cockpit.
Hard- and soft-tops
Not all W113s were sold with a hardtop, but each was numbered and matched to the car originally. Adding a missing hard-or soft-top puts £5000-plus on the value.
Test that hood erects, folds and latches correctly, fits well around door windows (which shouldn’t be loose) and material is still flexible. A new soft-top costs £607.
M-B Tex is durable but horsehair stuffing can disintegrate and door cards warp; leather is not a desirable upgrade. Check screen-base wood for water damage
Mercedes-Benz W113 230-280SL: on the road
The 230’s M127 straight-six had a four-bearing crank, the 250-280 units seven-bearing. Engines get swapped with saloons, so check: 127.981 is a 230 engine; 129.982 a 250; and 130.983 a 280, stamped on the nearside of the block.
The body number on the VIN plate on the adjacent inner wing should also appear on the hood frame, hood cover, hardtop base and gearbox support
No more power was claimed for the 250 than the 230, but its useful band was much wider with a substantial torque boost.
Corrosion inhibitor in the coolant is vital to avoid the system silting up, causing overheating and head-gasket failure. Check the oil level, listen for rattles and, ideally, avoid stainless exhausts, which sound tinny compared to the M-B mild steel type.
Automatic suits 280s and 250s, and Mercedes’ four-speed manual transmission is a gem, though for competition and relaxed cruising the rare ZF five-speed is the ultimate and boosts value.
The fluid-flywheel, four-speed auto is no slower-accelerating than the manual – test for slipping or jerky changes and inspect the colour of the oil, which should be red, not black or brown. Power-assisted steering, which came with a quicker ratio, is a plus and commands a price premium.
Taller final drives can be fitted, but it is an expensive job and best suited to tuned 250/280 engines – it’s not a cheap unit to uprate, either.
Check that the heater and all the electrics work correctly, because issues are common and usually dear to sort.
Look as far as you can see inside the fuel filler for rust – tanks can corrode in cars that have stood for a long while; a repro item is £500.
Mercedes-Benz W113 230-280SL price guide
- Show/rebuilt: £100-130,000+
- Average: £40-70,000
- Restoration: £15,000+
Mercedes-Benz W113 230-280SL history
1963 Mar 230SL launched at Geneva
1964 Oct Vertical spare wheel moved to horizontal; larger fuel tank, less boot space
1965 Sep Closer-ratio ’box and axle ratio lowered
1966 Jan ZF five-speed manual ’box optional
1967 Jan 250SL replaces 230SL (19,831 built), redesigned engine with seven main bearings (formerly four), 150bhp, rear discs, wider wheels
Dec 280SL supersedes 250SL (5196 built);
water passages between cylinders deleted; thinner anti-roll bar
1968 Oct US cars get emissions kit, less power
1971 Mar 280SL production ends (23,885 built), replaced by R107 SL and C107 SLC
The E-type sports car gradually became more of an all-rounder, with comfier seats, 2+2 and auto options. It remained much faster than the SL, but maybe more tiring on a long trip.
Sold 1961-’70 • No. built 57,228 • Mpg 18-22 • 0-60mph 8.9-6.9 secs • Top speed 136-150mph • Price new £1967 (rdstr, ’67) • Price now £35-200,000
With 150bhp from a 2.8 V6 in its final form, the GT/Cabrio was stylish and rapid. A transaxle and de Dion back end gave it confident handling, plus it was a superb, if rot-prone, tourer.
Sold 1957-’67 • No. built 8101 • Mpg 19-26 • 0-60mph 13.6 secs (2.5) • Top speed 106-121mph • Price new £2990 (Coupé, ’67) • Price now £50-130,000
Mercedes-Benz W113 230-280SL: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
Buy the best you can afford and don’t ignore the sportier manual 230: top examples of each model command similar prices, with full spec being most important. A good Pagoda will reward with decades of service, but beware the tarted-up rusty cars hidden behind new sill covers and badly fitted front wings, neglected running gear and missing hardtop.
- Exceptionally usable touring cars
- Great versatility and practicality
- Durable, with superb build quality
- Well supported by manufacturer, a raft of specialists and clubs across the globe
- Bodywork extortionate to restore properly
- Engine expensive to rebuild if neglected
- Many poorly restored with non-original parts
Mercedes-Benz 230-280SL specifications
- Sold/number built 1963-’71/48,912
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine iron-block, alloy-head, overhead-cam 2306/2496/2778cc straight-six, with Bosch
- six-plunger mechanical fuel injection
- Max power 150bhp @ 5500rpm-180bhp @ 5900rpm
- Max torque 159lb ft @ 4500rpm-193lb ft @ 4500rpm
- Transmission four- or five-speed manual or four-speed auto, driving rear wheels
- Suspension independent, at front by double wishbones, anti-roll bar rear swing axles, semi-trailing arms, transverse compensating spring; coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r
- Steering recirculating ball, optional power assistance with quicker ratio
- Brakes 10in discs front, 9in Alfin drums rear, with servo; all-disc (f 10.7in, r 11in) on 250-280
- Length 14ft 1½in (4285mm)
- Width 5ft 9¼in (1760mm)
- Height 4ft 3½in (1305mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 10½in (2400mm)
- Weight 2856-3124lb (1298-1420kg)
- 0-60mph 10.7-9.3 secs
- Top speed 118-124mph
- Mpg 18-25
- Price new £3611/3806