Classic Car Corner: Mercedes-Benz 230 SL

  • Written by Tom Berg, Windermere Real Estate

Since the 70s I’ve wanted to buy the classic Mercedes 230 SL. I was young, broke and newly married so it just didn’t happen until this year, 40 years later. For some reason I just liked the looks of the little sports car but I never really knew much about them so here’s what I’ve recently learned.

230slIn the 50s Mercedes made the 300SL in a coupe and a gullwing (the doors opened up rather than out), both of which now sell for a million plus. They also had the cute little 190 SL at that time which today sells in the six figures. In 1963 they finally came out with their new sports car, the 230SL, which was actually designated the W113. The number designation always indicated the engine displacement so 230 was 2.3 liters. This convertible normally has a soft top and a hardtop with a slightly concave roof that has earned it the nickname “Pagoda.”

The 230SL has a multi-port, fuel injected, inline six cylinder engine with just 150 horsepower compared to my ’62 corvette with 250 horsepower. At 2,900 pounds it actually weighs less than the fiberglass-bodied ’62 Corvette thanks in part to its aluminum trunk lid, door skins, tonneau cover and “bonnet” which of course we call a “hood.” I also learned it was the first sports car designed with a “safety body,” which included a rigid passenger cell, designated “crumple zones,” impact-absorbing front and rear sections built into the vehicle structure and an interior “rounded” with all hard corners and edges removed.

Also new at the time was a dual circuit brake system (I wish I had that when my brakes failed in my T-bird), with disc brakes in front and the first Mercedes-Benz with radial tires. Sounds like a safe car and I hope I don’t ever actually find out how well those ideas work out.

The 230 SL was produced from 1963 to 1967 with a total of 19,831 cars, of which only 4,752 were imported to the U.S.
I’m sure more than a few were privately imported to the U.S. from Germany as I once hitched a ride with a  serviceman who had been stationed in Germany from Salt Lake City to Portland. He was driving his newly imported 230SL and we easily covered the 700 miles that day. This body continued to be produced in the 250SL and 280SL through 1971.

I bought my 230SL at the Russo-Steele auction in Scottsdale so I never drove it before buying. The sellers were there (which is not usually the case) and I learned enough about the provenance (history) of the car to take a chance on it. Many cars are at auctions because they have some faults that are not readily obvious so buying a car from a private party or even a dealer is sometimes better since you can have it inspected before shelling out a lot of money.

After driving my car for a month I am still happy with the chance I took but am really surprised how low the gearing is. At 60 m.p.h. I am at 3,000 RPM while my other cars are much closer to 2,000 RPM. I’ll be checking into a different gear ratio rear end if I want to do some real highway cruising.

Keep an eye out in town for my dark grey little German sports car with the “Pagoda” roof, or in a couple of months, no roof.

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