50th Anniversary of the Mercedes-Benz Pagoda SL

Words John Clark | March 11, 2013
The curve of the Coupé roof, designed by Paul Bracq, was reminiscent of an oriental temple roof garnering it the nickname “Pagoda”
Words John Clark March 11, 2013

The launch of the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1963 caused quite a sensation: nine years after the introduction of the 300 SL (W 198) and 190 SL (W 121) sports cars in 1954, Mercedes-Benz presented the motoring world with a single successor to both these extremely successful early SL models. Known internally as the W 113, the two-seater Roadster was characterised by its exceptional comfort, excellent performance, and exemplary handling safety.

The team under Chief Designer Friedrich Geiger had produced a vehicle with a distinctly contemporary flair, which also set a new benchmark in terms of handling safety. For indeed, the 230 SL was the first sports car in the world to feature a safety body made up of a rigid passenger compartment with crumple zones both front and rear. The engineering designers’ work on the W 113 thus reflected the ideas developed by Béla Barényi with respect to the passive safety of automotive body shells.

The characteristic inward curvature of the removable Coupé roof improved the vehicle’s passive safety still further: the concave shape improved stability, while at the same time keeping the weight low. The curve of the Coupé roof, designed by Paul Bracq, was somehow reminiscent of the sweep of an oriental temple roof, so the W 113 model series soon acquired the nickname “Pagoda”.

Sports car with luxury-class genes

The technical basis of the Roadster was provided by the Mercedes-Benz 220 SE (W 111) luxury-class Saloon: the shortened and reinforced frame floor assembly of the sports car, including its front and rear-wheel suspension, stemmed from this predecessor of today’s S‑Class. The engine in the 220 SE also formed the basis for the development of the 150 hp (110 kW) M 127 six-cylinder in-line engine (with a displacement of 2306 cc), with which the new SL model series was launched onto the market in 1963. For the first time in an SL, a four-speed automatic transmission was available as an option.

Towards the end of 1966 the 230 SL was succeeded by the 250 SL model. Its six-cylinder in-line engine (M 129) also had an output of 150 hp (110 kW), but generated 10 per cent more torque. This meant that the vehicle could accelerate from a standing start to 100 km/h in 10 seconds, and thus 1.1 seconds faster than the version introduced in 1963. The top speed of both the 230 SL and the 250 SL was 200 km/h.

Finally, in 1968, the 280 SL with M 130 engine became the third and last version of the W 113 model series to enter the market. Its 2778 cc six-cylinder in-line engine developed 170 hp (125 kW) and could accelerate the sports car from a standstill to 100 km/h in 9 seconds. As before the top speed was 200 km/h, a very respectable figure for this era.

The three SL models that made up the W 113 model series were each available as a Roadster with folding soft top, as a sports car with a removable Coupé roof, and in a further variant that combined the removable Coupé roof with a Roadster soft top. As an optional extra, Mercedes-Benz would fit an additional transverse seat into the rear of the sports car.

Production of the W 113 ended in March 1971 with 48,912 units to its credit. The completely redesigned successor of model series R 107 took over from the technically and stylistically trailblazing “Pagoda” – and went on to set new benchmarks in its turn, for example in the form of the first eight-cylinder engine for the SL-Class.