50 years of the “Pagoda”.
Comfort and driving safety.
The word alone incites wanderlust: “Pagoda” alludes to the Far East, with an exotic Asian note and warmer climes. Many were left longing for the sun in central Europe in the seemingly never-ending 1962/63 “winter of the century”. When the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL was presented at the Geneva International Motor Show in March 1963, it caused a sensation within the industry. Known internally as W 113, the two-seater roadster unites a decadent delivery of power with an engaging elegance and is distinguished by outstanding comfort, excellent driving performance and exemplary driving safety. The 230 SL is the first sports car worldwide with a safety body consisting of a rigid passenger cell and front and rear crumple zones.
Béla Barényi (right) at the presentation of the “Pagoda” in Geneva in 1963.
In following this strategy, it was the first time that Béla Barényi’s knowledge of passive safety in vehicle bodies was implemented in a sports car by the safety-conscious Mercedes-Benz designers.
Stylistic sketch from Friedrich Geiger: the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL is defined by its clear and distinctive lines.
Named after the shape of its roof.
The characteristic form of the removable Coupé roof with its inwardly pointing curvature additionally improves passive safety: the concave form ensures greater stability at a lesser weight. Because the Coupé roof, designed by Paul Bracq, is reminiscent of the curved roofs of Far Eastern temples it didn’t take long for the new SL to receive the nickname “Pagoda”.
Under the direction of the designer Friedrich Geiger, a modern vehicle was designed which had clear and distinctive lines – it is the cult vehicle for fans of open-top driving and additionally a worthy successor for the two successful previous SL 300 and 190 series.
“In all the years I have been driving, I cannot remember ever driving a car that I would have liked to own more (except for racing cars!)”. (Sir Stirling Moss in a letter to the racing director Alfred Neubauer.)
The Mercedes-Benz 230 SL “Pagoda” – a place of worship for Cabriolet fans.
Sports car with genes from the luxury segment.
The technical basis of the Roadster was the luxury 220 SE Saloon, better known as the “tailfin”. As the predecessor of today’s S-Class, it donated its shortened and strengthened frame floor assembly to the sports car as well as its front and rear suspension. Its engine also forms the basis for the development of the 150-hp M 127 straight six-cylinder engine, with which the new SL-series was launched on the market in 1963. The 230 SL quickly received a higher-capacity successor: at the end of 1966 the 250 SL replaced the 230 SL, which was followed by the 280 SL in 1968, the third and last variant of the W 113 to be released on the market. It featured the M 130 engine. All three SL model series were available as either a Roadster with folding soft top or as a sports car with removable Coupé roof. Alternatively, they were also available with both the removable Coupé roof and a Roadster soft top.
End of production in the year 1971.
In March 1971, the production of the W 113 ended. The successor model series 107 with a completely new design replaced the technically and stylistically ground-breaking “Pagoda” and set new standards itself, such as having the first eight-cylinder engine in an SL. For the fans however, the “Pagoda” remained the measure of all things – especially in the eyes of the owners of the 48,912 examples that rolled off the production line in the years from 1963 to 1971.
Among the official Mercedes-Benz brand clubs worldwide large numbers of members devoted to the cult sports car – a prime example of this is the German Mercedes-Benz SL-Club Pagode.
Founded in Ulm in 1981, Mercedes-Benz SL-Club Pagode has 1,668 members in twelve regional clubs and over 1,300 registered Pagoda-SL vehicles. We interviewed the club’s chairman Michael Lenhardt.
Why does it have to be a Pagoda?
The vehicle body has a timeless elegance without losing its sporty note. In addition to this, the Pagoda is a reliable companion on long journeys as well as in everyday situations.
What gems can be found in your own garage?
A 230 Pagoda from 1964 with free-standing spare wheel, occasional bench seat, red leather, white paintwork, rare 5 speed transmission, driven approximately 6,000 to 8,000 km a year. Alongside this, I have a 280 Pagoda from 1970 first hand with 42,000 original km, black leather, ivory paint and original 5 speed transmission, in absolutely original condition.
Interior view: Michael Lenhardt's Pagoda (year of manufacture: 1964).
Which activities are you planning in the anniversary year?
The 33rd international annual meeting takes place from 9 to 11 August in Willingen (Sauerland), in which around 300 Pagodas from all over the world (USA, Australia, and Europe) are expected. Information about the event can be found at www.50-jahre-pagode.de.