History of Mercedes Benz: The Pagoda 230SL

The Mercedes Benz 230SL and its successors 250SL and 280SL (1963 – 1971)

For the first time in the history of Mercedes Benz, the car was shown to the press two weeks before it was officially presented on March 14, 1963 at the Geneva Motor Show. In this way, he ensured that his reports came out on or before the car’s official launch date. This Benz was highly anticipated and no one knew if it would follow the mighty 300SL or the popular 190SL. He didn’t follow either of them. When the prof. Fritz Nallinger, chief engineer and member of the executive board, presented the new Mercedes Benz 230SL, internally called the W 113, created something of a commotion. As Erich Waxenberger, Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s talented engineer, once commented, the car looked as if a tree had fallen on top of it. The ceiling was, well… unusual. But it wasn’t just the roof that caused a stir, it was also the car’s performance. Everyone was waiting for a successor to the legendary 300SL.

Of course, Daimler-Benz was firm in its approach to the role of the new SL. It was neither a 300SL nor a 190SL. It was a high-performance sports touring car with superior handling characteristics that could transport two passengers plus their luggage in style, comfort and, above all, safety. It was a Mercedes Benz very much on its own. To demonstrate the sporty aspect, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, always on hand for a quick race, pushed the 230SL around a round 1.5km circuit near Montreux in the presence of the press. Most impressively, British Grand Prix driver Mike Parkes couldn’t drive much faster. However, his car was not the SL, his car was a Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta!

Although many of the technical features of the car were not new at all, it was the combination and its improvements that made this Benz special. The undercarriage had recirculating ball steering and a dual-circuit braking system. Girling disc brakes were fitted to the front axle, while Alfin vacuum assisted drums were fitted to the rear. For the first time in the history of Mercedes Benz, such a car could be ordered with power steering and the most shocking thing for most European journalists – automatic transmission. A sports car and automatic transmission? Absolutely impossible! It was not only the press that thought this way, the same thing happened with the majority of the European public. Not surprisingly, very few cars of this type were sold in Europe. The Americans were already one step ahead, for them the combination of sports car and automatic transmission made a lot of sense. And since Daimler-Benz planned to sell around 80 percent of the car abroad, this extra was certainly beneficial. Benz’s standard camshaft with a four-speed manual transmission with a gear ratio of 3.75:1. It was similar to the one used in the 220SE but with a shorter gear ratio of 4.42:1 instead of 3.64:1. It should ensure quicker acceleration, but was not universally appreciated, so in 1965 the new 250S/SE’s manual transmission was adopted.

In 1967, two years after the launch of the 250 sedan series, the 230SL was replaced by the 250SL. Its larger engine reduced somewhat lackluster performance at low revs. Unfortunately, it suffered from reliability issues at high speeds, something a sports car driver wasn’t too amused to hear. Although this problem was quickly resolved, the car was also famous for its relatively high fuel consumption. After just one year it was replaced by the larger and quieter 2.8L engine. It offered 170 hp at 5750 rpm compared to the previous 150 hp at 5500 rpm, it also had slightly more torque and better fuel economy.

While the Benz 250SL cost DM 22,800 ($5,700) about the same as the 230SL, the 280SL was DM 1,500 ($375) more expensive. In the USA the 280SL costs around $7,500.-, depending on the extras. However, the customers didn’t care, they loved the package and came running. In its five years, the Mercedes Benz 280SL managed to sell 23,885 units, more than half of them went to North America. The 230SL sold 19,813 units during the same period.

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