She was always the favourite Merc of GQ motoring ed Dieter Losskarn, the 280 SL Pagoda. And after driving the newest automobiles on a regular base, it was time for a driver-assist-free trip into the analog past. Dieter took a seat behind the large steering wheel, said ‚Hey Mercedes‘ and the 280 SL kept quiet. Wonderful.
Photos: Philipp Rupprecht
The SL 280 Pagoda is relationship material. Even as a little boy she was my favourite Mercedes. Not the Gullwing nor the orange C111 from the car card games we used to play. The magnificent SL 280 Pagoda, introduced in 1963. As the concave, standard hardtop resembled an Asian pagoda roof, the nickname was born. Over the years it turned into an endearment for the entire car. Internally the Pagoda was plain and simply known as the W113.
Though the hardtop should stay in the garage as often as possible. Gliding along in the SL works best topless on a sunny day. The two-seater luxury car turned out to be a hit, especially in the States (‚It never rains in California!‘), where almost half of the 48 912 produced units (including 230 SL & 250 SL) found happy buyers.
I am sitting in a silver SL 280 Automatic from 1968 right now, restored by the Mercedes-Benz Museum. And it is the first time for me in my dream ride. What a magnificent place, behind the large steering wheel, in the comfortable leather seat. I turn the ignition key and the 2.8-l. six-cylinder awakes unagitated, babbling quietly. Exquisite, this delicate automatic gear shift lever. It gently clicks into D and the Pagoda floats away.
With her 170 hp she is neither a wild nor a particularly fast sportscar, she is an attractive cruiser with gorgeous lines and a lightness in the design, that her predecessors and successors are lacking. Ideal for road trips through picture-perfect landscapes.
And that is exactly what I am doing. With ‘my’ graceful SL 280 I take part in the Hamburg-Berlin Klassik, a rally for classic cars and young-timers, as one of 170 participants. All those vintage rides reinforce my non-digital experience even more. I have classics in front of me and the rear mirror is also full of them. The oldest car is a Bentley 4½ Litre Le Mans from 1929, the newest a TVR Griffith 500 from 1996. The most powerful ride is a 1966 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray with 407hp, the smallest engine the one in the 1958 BMW 600 with 19 hp. But in a regularity event like this one David can beat Goliath.
At the special stages, called WP (Wertungspunkt) in German, it is not about power and speed. Exact timings lead to a possible win. The classics are driven over a tube or through a photo sensor, your co-driver stops the time and you have to hit the various time targets between checkpoints as accurately as possible. Even a hundredth of a second means penalty points and decides about standings and overall victory.
Three days of exciting time travel across 700 kilometres of some of the most beautiful roads in the North, between Bremen and Hamburg. With cheering and applauding spectators in the villages along the way. Culminating in entering the harbour of Hamburg with the famous fish auction hall.
I have to admit, I did fall in love with the car. A fatal attraction. In a financial sense. The Pagoda has risen in price dramatically over the last couple of years. And back in Cape Town, I am test-driving one or two…
The story of the Pagoda began in June 1963 with the introduction of the 230 SL (2.3-l. & 150hp). Her production ended after 18 831 units on 5th January 1967.
She was followed by the 250 SL (2.5-l. & 150hp), produced 5196 times between 1966 and 1968. The most sought-after Pagoda was introduced in December 1967. The 280 SL featured a 2.8-l. six-cylinder with 170hp. On 23rd February 1971, after 23 885 produced units, the car was ousted by its significantly heavier successor, the R107 350 SL.
When in Stuttgart visit:
My favorite hotel in Germany:
While in 2010 you were still able to find good Pagodas for around 50 000 Euros, they are now firmly in the six-digits region. Perfectly restored concourse vehicles even went beyond the 300 000 Euro mark. Breathtaking. Check the German market here: