1965 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL W113The 1963 Mercedes-Benz 230/250/280 SL W113 was the first of the ‘Pagoda’ series of roadsters, so-named for the shape of their optional hardtops, that added a dash of glamour-puss to Mercedes’ range in the Sixties. Those who really know SLs will also tell you it’s the best of the Pagoda bunch to drive, thanks in no small part to less weight and a slightly revvier engine. But unlike many other classics, from the Jaguar E-type to the Fiat 124 Spider, the original concept-pure model is also currently the cheapest to buy. Buyers are still being seduced by the larger-engined, more luxurious and plentiful 280 SL.
That is patently quite daft, especially because you are more likely to find a 230 SL with a manual gearbox, which further improves any SL’s behind-the-wheel appeal. Not that the 230 SL is ever short of that, whatever the gearbox. You’ll always be wooed by the elegant styling and exquisite details; you feel special just being in it.
That compensates for the fact that the 230 SL, though capable of being chucked about a bit if you must, is more in the mould of a GT than a sports car. It is often compared with the E-type I mentioned earlier, but really the Merc is closer in character to the Aston Martin DB5. No surprise because when new the 230 SL was much closer in price to the Aston than the bargain-basement Jaguar that is far more race-bred.
Where the SL wins is in areas like comfort, with some of the most comfortable and embracing seats to be found in any Sixties two-seater, and detail. For me the car’s trump card is that slickly body-coloured and chrome-trimmed rear deck panel that is hinged out of the way then clicked into place to conceal the lowered soft-top. It makes everything else in its class look untidy.
Despite what I’ve said, don’t think the 230 SL is completely devoid of sportiness. There’s a pleasant directness to the steering and it’s always eager to change direction, with a lot less body roll than I was expecting and an impressive level of grip from those skinny-looking 185/70 tyres. Criticism by others of the swing-axle rear suspension proves largely unfounded too; the tail only gets twitchy if you brake too late for a corner or lift of in the middle of one. I’d call that operator error more than serious design law. There’s also a lightness of touch to the whole car that you just don’t get in the later SLs.
Most of the time the engine note is quite subdued, but get it over 4000rpm – where its revvy nature is happy to take you – and it does the right thing and makes proper snarly straight-six sounds. Even more impressive are the brakes, which are remarkably strong and predictable for a car of this era. Put an E-type owner in one of these and they’ll be green with envy on that score.
These Mercs are a lot more affordable than an Jaguar E-type too. You will see some 230 SLs advertised for close to six figures but unless they are really exceptional and fresh out of restoration that’s more than a bit speculative. There are properly nice cars to be had in the £50-75k range, and complete restoration projects can be found for under £20,000. Take care though – those can easily end up costing six figures in a rebuild. All that is a good 15 per cent less than you’d pay for a similar 280SL. It doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination to see that gap closing.
‘Unlike E-types and the Fiat 124 Spider, the original concept-pure model is also the cheapest to buy’
Owning a 230 SL W113
Lyn George’s 230 SL was a present from her husband Rob five years ago. ‘It was chosen because it’s a very nice original car that’s not been apart,’ she says. ‘Other than regular maintenance by Mercedes specialist Kim Cairns, it’s just had a new hood and carpet since I got it, along with some correct original hubcaps. One day it didn’t start because a sticking fuel pump, but that was a ten-minute fix. I’ll admit it doesn’t get used as much as I’d like, though I do sometimes use it for shopping and to take the kids to school. But therein lies one of its benefits: I can leave it for months and – apart from that one time – it always starts easily. It’s not fast but is much nicer to drive than a 280 SL and is just painless classic motoring. I’ll probably keep it forever because it’s so nice, both to look at and to drive.’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1965 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL W113
Engine 2306cc iron block/alloy head inline-six, sohc, Bosch fuel injection
Power and torque 150bhp @ 5500rpm; 159lb ft @ 4500rpm / DIN
Transmission Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Steering Recirculating ball
Front: independent by coil springs, wishbones, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar.
Rear: independent swing axles with coil springs, radius arms, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Discs front, drums rear, servo-assisted
Weight 1328kg (2933lb)
Performance Top speed: 121mph; 0-60mph: 10.7sec
Fuel consumption 24mpg
Cost new £3595
Classic Cars Price Guide £32,500-£80,000