What is it?

Mercedes-Benz Pagoda was slick speedster

Last week’s photo showed a light, lively, well-styled sports car from more than 50 years ago: a 1964 Mercedes-Benz 230SL Pagoda.

We didn’t knock off points if you missed the model year because those little Benzes all pretty much looked the same.

That coupe/roadster body style was manufactured from 1963 through 1971 and was known within the company as W113. Its front styling hailed from the previous 300SL, which included the legendary gullwing coupe.

The lithe speedster was unveiled at the 1963 Geneva Motor Show, and was produced with both a folding cloth top and a lift-off hard top whose concave surface, when viewed from front or back, led to the nickname Pagoda because some felt it resembled an Asian temple.

Our particular Pagoda was for sale on the website of the Beverly Hills Car Club, which was on sale for $32,500. It featured the two tops in silver and a navy-blue interior.

The car features a manual transmission, European-style headlights (one of the covers is missing and there is some minor damage to the front), power steering, matching numbers hood and solid wheels, and there is a spare tire, according to the site. The club reports that the car has been in storage by the same owner for more than 30 years.

Before you pull out your credit card with hopes of maxing it out, be advised that “SALE PENDING” was emblazoned across a photo of the sports car on the club’s website. There were plenty of other possibilities for sale, however, so keep that card handy. There might be one or two hidden away in the Augusta area, too.

Chosen randomly from the entries was the name of Rick Farris, who lives in Augusta. He wrote:

“I had to look twice at this one; OK, maybe three times. My best guess on this one is a 1964 Mercedes SL230. Just a guess, but it kind of looks like one.”

It must have been the third look he gave to last week’s photo, because Farris was spot on with his guess. We appreciate his entry, and those from our other respondents:

AIKEN: Ann Willbrand guessed a 1970 280SL and told us a great tale: “When I was at Emory in the early ’70s, there was a student named Mary Benz who drove a 280SL of that vintage. Her license plate was ‘M BENZ.’”

AUGUSTA: Lowell Fritsche said: “My wife looked at the car and said, ‘There isn’t very much to go on.’ I told her it didn’t matter because it was a Mercedes. To be more specific, I would say it is a 1970 Mercedes 280SEL. I don’t have any stories about them so that’s about all I have to say about that.”

John Hayes said: “I think the car is a Mercedes-Benz 300SL. Vintage would be middle 1950s to 1960. I cannot identify the year.”

Gary Engen wrote: “I think it is a 1964 Mercedes 230SL W113 Pagoda. The Mercedes-Benz W113 is a two-seat roadster produced from 1963 through 1971. It replaced the classic 300 SL and the 190 SL, two very popular German luxury sports cars. Most W 113 SLs were sold in the US. Its distinctive, slightly concave, hard top inspired the ‘Pagoda’ nickname.

“When the military sent me for a tour in Italy, I saw quite a few of the classic W113 Mercedes and wish I would have purchased one back then when it was possible for something under $10,000. I did return to the USA with a used Mercedes 350SLC, which was a slightly more modern sports car, and have since owned a more recent Mercedes 560SL.

”But the true classics are those from back in the ‘50s and ’60s like the Mercedes-Benz Pagoda. There is one Mercedes W113 (a 1969 280SL) on the online auction website www.Bringatrailer.com this week that I bet will take well over $100,000 to purchase it.”

James Wall thought it might be the 300SL from between 1957 and 1961.

Willie Thomas said: “I know this week’s car is a Mercedes-Benz, and it looks like an SL model from the 1970s. Maybe an SL230. I know it’s a small model.”

CANTON, Ga.: David Anderson wrote: “You could definitely find a Mercedes 300SL, back in the day, among some of the world’s royalty and by inference at some pretty fancy settings. Introduced in 1954, it was an instant success. It was built in coupe form with those famous gullwing doors from 1954-57 and then converted over to roadster production for 1957-63, so there was only the brief cut-over period in 1957 when it was available as both the gullwing coupe and the roadster.

“Those gullwing doors were an engineering necessity – not a frivolous styling cue – because of the tubular racing chassis the car still rode on even as a production vehicle. Traditional doors could not be fitted without cutting into that tubing and thus compromising the structural integrity. The racing version of the car had a removable steering wheel to ease the job of entering and exiting.

“A slight interior redesign was performed for the production version; however, graceful entry and exit was still a chore, especially for women. Sophia Loren was one of the earliest buyers of a production 300SL.

“The base price for a 1954 300SL was $6,800, compared with the introductory price of the 1953 Corvette at $3,498 and the 1955 Thunderbird at $2,695.

“The teaser shot appears to be of a European-specification model because of the rectangular lens over the headlight, and I can find no image with the exact grille detail as shown, so to my eyes this could be any one of these 1954-63 model years.

“The story of how the 300SL came to be a production vehicle is quite interesting. During World War II, Mercedes suffered devastating losses by the successful saturation bombing by the Allied Forces. In 1945, the Mercedes board of directors officially announced that ‘Daimler-Benz has ceased to exist.’ “But a group of dedicated employees were able to scrounge together enough parts and an only moderately damaged facility in which to resume producing one of its prewar vehicles in 1946. They slowly rebuilt the Daimler-Benz brand and by 1951 were ready to begin development of a new sports car for a factory-sponsored race team. The 300SL has quickly put together and debuted in the 1952 racing season. It was more successful than anyone involved with the project could have hoped.

“This success caught the eye of a lot of people worldwide, most notably the newly appointed U.S. distributor for Mercedes, Max Hoffman. In early 1953, he was invited to attend a directors meeting in Stuttgart. He told them he was particularly interested in a production version of the 300SL. The engineering management felt it was not a viable production car for it had been too hastily put together with the purpose of getting back into racing. By the end of the meeting, the go-ahead was given and Hoffman left with firm orders for 500 cars and 500 orders for the smaller variant, the 190SL. The Mercedes SL has lived on to this day thanks to that American influence.”

EVANS: Jerry Paul wrote: “I guess it is a 1964 MB 230SL Pagoda.”

Paul Perdue wrote: “This week’s car is a 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SL. It was produced from 1967 to 1971, and they all looked alike. The concave hard top inspired the ‘Pagoda’ nickname, which could be a fancy temple.”

Bill Harding wrote: “I know that it is a Mercedes-Benz W113, which was produced for model years 1963 through 1971. It was known as the Pagoda, with models designated 230SL, 250SL and 280SL. The numbers represented the size in liters (2.3, 2.5 or 2.8) of the inline-six engine under the hood.

“I truly don’t know for certain which model was chosen for us, so I’m going to guess that it’s a 250SL Pagoda from 1967. This is the rarest of the W113 Pagodas because it was produced only from December 1966 through January 1968. The 2.5-liter six was improved (in comparison with its 2.3-liter predecessor) by being fitted with a seven-main-bearing crankshaft, larger valves and a radiator with a larger capacity.

“Running changes occurred during August 1967 by implementing 1968 U.S. safety and emission regulations, which made the 1967 Pagoda 250SLs the last of the unfettered breed.”

Wayne Wilke had had no problem identifying the year, make and model, and he had plenty to add: “The 230SL (SL stands for Sport Leicht, or Sport Lightweight in English) was made from 1963 to 1971. Its top got the nickname of Pagoda for its distinctive shape.

“Later model years could be bought with larger engines than the 230 (250 cc or 280 cc) but all were inline six-cylinder engines. The model pictured had Bosch ‘fish bowl’ headlights; models exported to the USA had to have the less-attractive sealed-beam headlights to meet U.S. Department of Transportation standards.

“I lived in Germany in the early 1980s and had a 1981 Mercedes 230CE (C for coupe, E for einspritzer, which is fuel injection). I loved that car and wanted to bring it back with me to the U.S. in 1984. The headlights and other DOT-required changes (door rails, engine and bumper modifications) and the potential for long holdups in U.S. Customs put the kibosh on that.”

Wilke even sent along a photo of him standing in front of that Mercedes coupe parked at his German house during the 1980s:

“The German standards for cars were very strict. All four tires needed to be the same manufacturer and model number and had to have a rating commensurate with the top speed of the car being safely run for extended periods. My car had a top speed of 126 mph, and it was illegal for a tire dealer to install tires that didn’t meet that rating.

“Also, cars with moderate rust or anything beyond little dents failed inspection and needed to be kept off the road. The Germans were very proud of their high standards and that all were strictly held accountable to them.

“When my good friend and colleague Josef, who was a Mercedes aficionado and who had made business trips to the USA, heard that my Mercedes needed so much to ‘pass’ U.S. standards, he was incredulous. He said, ‘Door rails installed. Door rails installed? People in the U.S. drive cars with doors smashed in, and I’ve seen cars that didn’t even have doors!’”

GROVETOWN: Ruth and Jimmy Sapp wrote: “Finally, this is what we’ve come up with. We think this week’s car is a 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SL Pagoda. No, we never owned one; would have been fun, though!”

HARLEM: Owen Sprouse said it was the 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280.

HEPHZIBAH: Eddie Cleaves guessed it to be a 1961-62 300SL.

KEYSVILLE, Ga.: Glenn Widner got very close: “I knew it was a Mercedes-Benz, but what year and model? I’m guessing a 1965 230SL. It came with a 2-liter engine with four-speed transmission or optional four-speed automatic.

“A sporty little two-passenger, but in 1965 I was looking for Detroit iron with lots of get-up-and-go. A black 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop with a crate 30o-horsepower 327 and Borg-Warner four speed was just right. The next year, I went to work with my uncle, and the Bel Air was sold.”

MARTINEZ: Eddy Marsh said: “I think today’s car is a 1967 Mercedes 250SL. By the teaser, it could possibly be a 1968-71 280SL. I will just have to wait till Friday to find out. Keep ’em coming!”

Joe Bert said: “This week’s quiz resembles a 1966 Mercedes-Benz headlight assembly, possibly a SL convertible.”

MILLEN, Ga.: David Thompson identified the car as a 1966 230SL and said: “I hope I’m right!”

NORTH AUGUSTA: Ed Wilcox said it was a 1963-71 Mercedes-Benz 230/250/280SL: “A Mercedes Pagoda. The exact model (engine size) and year, 1963 through 1971, are difficult to determine from this picture. From the headlamp lens, this appears to be a European model.”

PERRY, Fla.: Larry Anderson said it was a “1957 Mercedes SL, probably a roadster because the gullwing didn’t have headlight covers like that.”

TIGNALL, Ga.: Gene Wilson said it was about a 1961 Mercedes-Benz 190SL – “just guessing.”

WARRENTON, Ga.: Don Wiggins said: “I’m going out on a limb here: a late 1960s or early 1970s Mercedes-Benz.”

THIS WEEK’S QUIZ

Can you tell us the make, model and year of this vehicle? If you need a clue, just hark back to Groucho Marx’s great foil, Margaret Dumont.

If you know the vehicle, you can enter through our online form at chronicle.augusta.com/whatisit. Or, you can email glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com and put What Is It? in the subject line so we won’t miss your entry. Your last resort is to leave a message at (706) 823-3419.

Tell us your name, city and any personal stories you might have of this car. If you call, please spell your name clearly and leave your telephone number. What we’re saying is, we really need your name.

Please don’t lift information verbatim from other sources, because we want your personal accounts.

You have through Tuesday to respond. Entries might be edited for space, content and style. Entries will be printed next Friday. Thank you.

– Glynn Moore, staff writer

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