Buyers Guide to the wonderfully accomplished Mercedes W113
Paul Bracqs styling masterpiece, the Pagoda-roof 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.
All three engines give a near-identical top speed, though the 250 and 280 have significantly more torque than the 230SL. 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), rubbertipped 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.
Eugen Böhringer won the ’1964 Spa-Sofia-Liège in a 230SL. W165 ‘Tripoli’ car at Normand customer test day, Brands. Buyer’s guide Mercedes SL.
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.
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 Lots of nipples on 230/250 need regular greasing to avoid rapid wear. Suspension and engine are subframe-mounted: failed mounts transmit harshness.
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.
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 an M-B specialist.
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.
Not all W113s were sold with a hardtop, but each was numbered and matched to the car originally. Adding a missing hardor soft-top puts £5000-plus on the value.
1 Front panel and bumper collapsible subframe
2 Front wings, notably behind lights; box section inside
3 Front chassis rails
4 Windscreen pillar bases and heater plenum chamber
5 Floor crossmembers & rear pans/trailing-arm mounts
6 Sills (behind screwed-on cover) inc jacking points
7 Rear base of hardtop (right)
8 Chassis rails, ahead of axle
9 Boot floor
10 Rear valance
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.
Clever soft-top design folds out of sight, hidden under a cover, and doesn’t affect vision with the Pagoda roof in place. Beautifully crafted interior with signature large wheel. Paul Bracq styling was barely altered over the years and looks just as elegant now as it ever did.
OWNER’S VIEW Paul Badman
“Wanting a convertible with hardtop, I bought the 250SL in 2002,” recalls Badman, “I’d intended to buy a 280 and even had one surveyed by [late W113 guru] Roger Edwards. When I learned that his own car was a 250, I widened my search.
“I liked the looks and understood that Pagodas were reliable, and practical for European tours. It has always started first time except when the points failed; it now has electronic ignition.
“It cruises all day at 80mph with the factory wind deflector, but is blustery any faster than that. I will drive at 110mph on the autobahn, but it gets thirsty! I get 20-22mpg, depending on the speed. “The car has more than quadrupled in value, but that doesn’t stop me driving it all year round. I intend to keep it as long as I’m allowed to drive.”
WHAT TO PAY
Front wing (repro) £780
Full outer sill (repro) £321
Grille chrome surround (repro) £544
Full engine rebuild £7500-10,000
Brake master cylinder £209
CLUB Mercedes-Benz Club 03456 032660; www.mercedes-benz-club.co.uk
Mercedes W113 The Complete Story Kornblatt,
Crowood Mercedes-Benz The early SL cars
Koehling, CreateSpace Factory-Original
Mercedes SL Taylor, Herridge
Roger Edwards 01494 766766
John Haynes 01903 500000
Jacksons 01202 668509
Forest Fine 01273 891660
Kevin O’Keeffe 01883 626721
T&D Heaney 028 7940 1660
SL Shop 01386 791070
Silver Arrows 020 8789 8525
Schmitt 020 8450 5088
Crewe Engines 01270 526333
Greenvale Services 0161 796 2666
SLS 0049 40 656 939
Silchester Garage 0118 970 1648
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
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS Mercedes-Benz W113 230SL / 250SL / 280SL
Sold/number built 1963-’1971/48,912
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 (DIN)
Max torque 159lb ft @ 4500rpm- 193lb ft @ 4500rpm (DIN)
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, semitrailing 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 250SL-280SL
Length 14ft 1 ½ in (4285mm)
Width 5ft 9 ¼ in (1760mm)
Height 4ft 3 ½ in (1305mm)
Wheelbase 7ft 10 ½ in (2400mm)
Weight 2856-3124lb (1298-1420kg)
0-60mph 10.7-9.3 secs
Top speed 118-124mph
Price new £3611/3806 (Roadster/Coupé-Convertible)
£224.48, based on a 30-year-old, London-based driver with full no-claims bonus and a clean licence on a 1967 250SL as a second car, agreed value £60,000, garaged overnight, 5000 limited mileage. Richardson Hosken: 01277 206911.
JAGUAR E-TYPE SI/II
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/no built 1961-’1970/57,228
0-60mph 8.9-6.9 secs
Top speed 136-150mph
Price new £1967 (roadster, ’1967 in UK)
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/no built 1957-’1967/8101
0-60mph 13.6 secs (2.5)
Top speed 106-121mph
Price new £2990 (Coupé, ’1967 in UK)
One to buy £49,750
Year of manufacture 1968
Recorded mileage 68,615
Vendor Silchester Garage, Berks; tel: 0118 970 1648
For Solid driver; reasonably priced
Against Cosmetics; one to improve at home
This rare manual 280SL W113 came to the UK from Japan in 2014. It’s not clear where it was first supplied to because it has Federal side markers and Euro headlights. It’s solid, having had £1000-worth of new metal in the floors and front inner arches. It’s had patches to the rear chassis legs, but the sills look good. The boot floor was done in the past.
Door fit is pretty good and the front wings are probably replacements because the swage lines inboard of the headlights have gone. The chrome is smart and paint ‘okay’: presentable from 10 paces, but with a few small blemishes. The hardtop is sound and so, we are told, is the hood (it was starting to rain and we didn’t want to lift the roof). The motor is dusty and the dark, emulsified oil needs changing, but its coolant is green. The add-on aircon doesn’t work, and needs sorting: Jubilee clips on pipes are no longer acceptable.
Inside, the dash is excellent, the driver’s seat vinyl has a split and a hole, plus the carpets are a bit tired. It fires easily with no nasty noises and drives quite well, showing full-deflection oil pressure and 170ºF when up to temperature. There’s a little blue smoke on take-off, but that could be because it wasn’t fully warm and it had been standing. The brakes pull up straight and there’s no steering play, but the four-speed gearbox has a wide throw, suggesting tired bushes. The exhaust clatters, and has worn through the rear skirt, although this should be fixed before sale.
Tidy 280 has a few chips, decent tyres and full MoT on sale Nice dash and gauges; MB-Tex has a couple of minor flaws Straight-six could do with steam clean and some fresh oil.
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