Mercedes-Benz used this year’s Geneva Motor Show to unveil the compact A45 AMG hot hatch, but fifty years ago, it used its Geneva pulpit to launch a very different product: the 1963-1971 “Pagoda” SL.
Mercedes formally introduced its new W 113 series of SL at the 1963 Geneva show, but it’s somewhat hard to believe a car this clean and crisp is a half-century old. Daimler notes styling was executed under the auspices of styling director Friederich Geiger, but the SL’s lines are largely credited to designer Paul Bracq. In fact, the latter’s design for a hardtop, complete with slender, tapering pillars and a raised perimeter, reminded many of oriental architecture, and inspired the famed Pagoda nickname. Cars were available with or without the removable hardtop, or as a so-called “California Coupe,” which included the hardtop but not the folding soft top mechanism.
Full-scale production began months later in June 1963. The 230 SL, which was built through February of 1967, made use of a 2.3-liter inline-six-cylinder engine, which was derived from a 2.2-liter unite used in the 220SE sedan. Fitted with a mechanical fuel injection system, the engine developed 150 hp and 159 lb-ft of torque. Buyers chose between a four-speed manual transmission (later supplanted with a five-speed ‘box) or a four-speed automatic.
In late 1966, Mercedes-Benz added a little more power by way of a little additional displacement. The 250 SL, which was produced through early 1968, boasted a 2.5-liter I-6. Horsepower remained essentially unchanged, but torque increased by almost 15 lb-ft. In actuality, the 250 served as a stopgap car until the 280 SL could be readied for production in 1967. The 2.7-liter an all-new design, and developed 170 hp and 193 lb-ft of torque, despite the fact it was saddled with additional emissions equipment.
Production ultimately ended in March of 1971 as Daimler made way for the third-generation SL. In that time, nearly 48,912 cars had been manufactured. Impressively, roughly half of that figure were 280 SLs, despite the fact the model had been on the market for less than four years.
Mercedes-Benz isn’t celebrating the Pagoda’s past at the Geneva show, but it will pay homage to the car while celebrating vintage Benz convertibles at this weekend’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida. Mercedes-Benz’s exhibit will include not only a new SL65 AMG, but also a 1956 220 S Cabriolet and a 1968 280 SL – the latter pair restored by the company’s Classic Center.