10 Mercedes 230SL heroNot every car has a patented roof, but in 1965 Daimler-Benz was issued with US patent 3169793 for a “Motor vehicle with a concave top”. It covered one of the most distinctive sports cars the company has ever produced, the gorgeous two-seater 230/250/280SL built from 1963 through 1971.

The slightly concave, removable roof was unique and, with the patent, remained exclusive to the model. It was quickly nicknamed the pagoda roof and remains the car’s most distinctive feature. In fact it was an option, the standard car came with a fabric roof that folded back into a cavity behind the seats, under a hinged aluminium tonneau. The folding roof looked nowhere near as good but afforded far better weather protection than most of its British-made competitors.

The 230SL (1963-67) replaced the heavy and underpowered 190SL two-seater, and with extensive use of aluminium panels and a 2.3-litre fuel injected in-line six-cylinder engine developed 110 kilowatts, a highly respectable figure for the time (Austin-Healey 3000’s developed 101 kilowatts). The standard transmission was a four-speed manual with an optional (and these days highly sought after) close-ratio five-speed manual, or a four-speed auto created mainly for the American market. The car was noted for its pin-sharp handling and high level of cabin comfort. It was also extremely safe, being the first two-seater to be designed around a rigid passenger shell with crush zones ahead and behind. Despite its safety being heavily promoted the SL was not fitted with seat-belt anchorage points until1966.

10 Mercedes 230SL 2The 250SL (1966-68) got a bigger engine but developed the same power as the 230, however it did have a slight increase in torque and a wider power band which made power delivery more flexible. It was replaced by the 280SL in 1967, which carried through until the substantially heavier and rather less sporty 350SL, which also lost the pagoda roof (unless you looked very sympathetically from the rear).

The 280SL increased power to 125 kilowatts, and with half of them being sold in the USA was produced with mostly with the four-speed auto transmission, although the four-speed manual was the most popular choice in Australia and Europe. The five-speed close-ratio gearbox by ZF was still available but, having the same top-gear ratio as the four-speed, sold only to enthusiasts. Models fitted with it are highly sought after by collectors.

The American SLs had a number of differences to those made for the rest of the world and the most obvious was their round headlights with separate indicators, required by US laws at the time. The vertical “fishbowl” headlights fitted for the rest of the world incorporated fog lights, not available in the US.

According to auctioneering websites SLs in excellent condition are now worth anything up to $US250,000.

Posted June 2020.


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