Mercedes-Benz SL: the variant that became a legend

Mercedes-Benz SL: the variant that became a legend

This article was first published in Finansavisen engine.

Veteran car: Already at the end of the 50s, it became clear to the Mercedes-Benz management that they had to phase out their successful 300 SL and 190 SL models relatively early in the 60s. The legendary, complex and very expensive 300 SL initially brought the brand back to the top of racing, but after the Le Mans accident in 1955 it withdrew from all motorsport at the factory level.

Although it cost more than anything else in the sports car market, it was not a financial gold mine for the manufacturer. This role was for the 190 SL the simplest and least expensive. It was “just” a nice but bland sports car with surprisingly good sales numbers.

The razor sharp 230 SL was commissioned to replace both the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL and 300 SL when they were launched in 1963. Photo: IVAR ENGERUD Photo: Ivar Engerud/Finansavisen

High ambitions

Development of the future SL or W113, which was the internal designation, began as early as October 1958.

The aim was to achieve sales figures in line with or preferably higher than the outgoing 190 SL, while not pushing the 300 SL segment too far. So they bet on a car with an annual volume of more than 3,000 instead of a model that sells about 400 copies a year.

The C moment was a seemingly impossible balancing act: to replace both the highly advanced 300 SL and the more simple and affordable 190 SL with just one SL model.

Claim synergies

It was to continue as an open 2-seater or 2+2 and was technically based on the upcoming W111 launched in 1959. This meant that it was to be built on the same platform as the 220 SEb Coupé, but shortened from 275 to 240 cm wheelbase Like its predecessor SL models.

Another requirement is that as many components as possible should be collected from the “Parts Warehouse”. The big problem was how to give the next SL, which had to be a “mid-of-the-tree” model, enough distinct characteristics and personality to stand out from the crowd. Not only in competition with other models on the market, but also against the new and beautiful 220 SEb Coupé designed by the young French coachbuilder Paul Bracq.

As early as 1960 Paul Bracq created the first sketches of what was to become the 230 SL's sharper design.  Photo: Mercedes-Benz

As early as 1960 Paul Bracq created the first sketches of what was to become the 230 SL’s sharper design. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Design revolution

Mercedes-Benz wasn’t the fastest among the building blocks of the post-war design revamp, so the first drafts were a little rounded and safe, and marked by the past. too much.

In early 1960, the actual body style for the upcoming model began to settle down with slightly straighter, sharper lines, but the loose hardtop style was still reminiscent of the rounded roof of a four-seater coupe.

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Then came the stroke of genius that was to give the new SL all its distinctive stamp and nickname. Again, it was Paul Braque who drew the pen and designed the concave roof based on a three-year-old concept drawing.

This spring marks 60 years since the launch of the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL at the Geneva Motor Show.  Here with security expert Béla Barényi and designer Paul Bracq with a private hardtop.  Photo: Mercedes-Benz

This spring marks 60 years since the launch of the Mercedes-Benz 230 SL at the Geneva Motor Show. Here with security expert Béla Barényi and designer Paul Bracq with a private hardtop. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Temple inspiration

– The design was the result of a good collaboration between me, Karl Wilfert and Béla Barényi. But the idea itself came from Barényi, Paul Bracq modestly told the Mercedes-Benz Classic on the occasion of the model’s 50th anniversary.

So the goal was not a particular design per se, but how to get the maximum window area with a low ceiling height and at the same time a sturdy and secure construction. The concave roof proved to be a winner across the board.

French Paul Braque was the man behind the narrow lines in the 1960s.  Here at Pebble Beach in 1989. Photo: IVAR ENGERUD Photo: Ivar Engerud/Finansavisen

French Paul Braque was the man behind the narrow lines in the 1960s. Here in Pebble Beach in 1989. Photo: IVAR ENGERUD Photo: Ivar Engerud/Finansavisen

Very quickly after its Geneva debut in the spring of 1963, the style was dubbed the Pagode after the Asian pagodas with their characteristic pitched roofs. The car’s concave roof was a world first, and the glass area of ​​the new SL was 38 percent larger than what was offered by the previous 190SL.

Despite its unassuming exterior, the roof was very sturdy, and so, in a way, was the car. Without the hardtop, the 230SL is still a very nice car, but the familiar character is, well, kind of absent.

The legacy of the past is certainly more evident up front, where you can recognize the large upright lights and slightly wide-angled grille of the 300 SL Roadster.

Mercedes-Benz exclusive models were still largely hand-built in the factory after the 1960s.  Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz exclusive models were still largely hand-built in the factory after the 1960s. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

magical borders

During the planning of the new model, it was an explicit goal for the new SL to reach 200 km / h. You can’t just give up the sporty qualities of the 300 SL even if you move away from the elegant racing qualities of this model.

It was clear that the current 120-horsepower 2.2-liter inline-six wasn’t up to the task. The solution was to bore the engine up to 2.3 liters, and rev it up to 150bhp using higher compression, stiffer camshafts, larger valves and improved injection.

With these improvements, it was possible to reach 200 km / h with a cry for help, but only with the canvas roof up. With the loose hard top, I lost a few kilometres. The extra fifty kilograms of weight may have taken its toll, but the poorer aerodynamic properties of the hardtop may have contributed more.

Safety in focus

In fact, the new 230SL had higher drag than the previous 190SL. It also made it use more fuel, but this was a time when this was not the subject that preoccupied the target audience of the new 230 SL.

While the production 300 SL was a pure racing car in civilian form, and the 190 SL looked like a million but was more relaxed, the 230SL aimed to be a proper safety car with sporty characteristics and an attractive appearance.

Mercedes-Benz was already a leading brand in the field of passive safety, and the W111 from 1959 was the first series-produced car with a folding front and rear design.

The brand’s safety expert Bela Barenyi insisted this should also be integrated into the new SL. In addition, a folding steering column, padded interior and seat belts are also installed. The 230 SL was the first sports car in the world to boast all of this.

The interior of the car is light brown genuine leather, which gives the car soul and authenticity which goes well with the moss green metallic paint. Photo: Ivar Engerud / Finansavisen

The interior of the car is light brown genuine leather, which gives the car soul and originality that goes well with the Moss Green metallic paint. Photo: Ivar Engerud/Finansavisen

Go to Norway

Although the 230 SL was a more affordable car than the 300 SL, it was still an expensive car in Norway. Therefore, there will be a long time between the contracts signed for the new sports car to the Norwegian Mercedes-Benz dealers.

It didn’t help that the 230 SL was replaced by the 250 SL in 1967 and the 280 SL in 1968. This was a car for a few loyal enthusiasts whose finances were good. Of a total of 48,912 Pagood examples produced up to 1971, Mercedes-Benz classic expert Bjarne Koren knows that only seven were used as new cars until the 1971 model year ended.

Morten Gåskjønli owns three classic Mercedes-Benzs, but his favorite in good weather is the 280SL.  Photo: Ivar Engerud/Finansavisen

Morten Gåskjønli owns three classic Mercedes-Benzs, but his favorite in good weather is the 280SL. Photo: Ivar Engerud/Finansavisen

Norwegian origin

One of these was Morten Gåskjønli’s beautiful 280 SL, which was dressed in the very beautiful original Moss Green metallic. The same color was ordered from the Gjestvangs Grafiske Fag factory through the Oslo dealer Juul Gulbrandsen.

Automatic transmission, differential lock, halogen lights and hardtop were among the extras This was probably one of the most expensive cars in Norway when it was first registered in the spring of 1970. What a sight it must be in the center of Oslo or parked in Kongens gt . 8 is where the traditional toll company dating back to 1876 is located!

It is not known whether it was the owner himself who used it daily or as a wife’s car, but it was sold again in 1974 to Gunnar Haugerud in Oslo.

Rolling recovery

The car had a few owners when Morten responded to the finn.no ad in 2009, but it was in relatively good condition and well maintained. Instead of immediately embarking on a complete restoration, the car was used in the summer, and then the technical objects put in order in the winter. In this way, he enjoyed the car every summer, while gradually improving it until “only” the bodywork was left.

The car break-in, as the canopy roof was cut off, hastened the decision to disassemble the entire body and clean the panels to fix a few small things before painting and the new canopy. The interior itself was so well maintained that the car kept the spirit since it was new and had a good life.

In 2018 it was completely completed. Before and after that time, there have been many short and long trips at home and abroad.

– I used to ride a motorcycle a lot, but after I got this open two-seater, I didn’t miss it. Driving long distances on a cool summer night with the roof on is just an experience. This overnight trip to Stockholm is among the many good memories behind the wheel of the car that puts a smile on my face every time I get in.

The 170-horsepower inline-six in the 280 SL gives you plenty of driving fun, and the only small modification Morten made is the installation of stiffer springs up front. This model has been known to “dive” a bit in the front when cornering, but with slightly stiffer springs, this model is loose and has the advantage of being a great long-distance (two-person) car.

The owner isn't afraid to set out on long journeys in the 53-year-old driving machine.  Photo: Ivar Engerud/Finansavisen

The owner isn’t afraid to set out on long journeys in the 53-year-old driving machine. Photo: Ivar Engerud/Finansavisen

A committed owner

Morten Gascgenelli is no newbie to the Mercedes-Benz environment, he has a dead original 1966 300 SEL and a partially restored 300 SE Coupe from the same year. He participates in the small circle of Pagode owners, which over the years has increased so far to about 40 cars in Norway.

Every year, the Nordic Temple Meeting is arranged on an interstate circuit, and this year it will be held in Norway. Specifically in Ostfold, based in the castle in Halden, where Morten and his wife help arrange. Then you will see all editions of Pagode is the place to go this past weekend in August.

And if you have any ’70s pictures of the green beauty, the owner would be very happy.

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

"Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff."

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