Featured: I Put 800 Miles On A Mercedes 230SL W113 And Fell In Love

I Put 800 Miles On A Mercedes 230SL W113 And Fell In Love

Ted Gushue By Ted Gushue
January 10, 2017

Photography by Ted Gushue

SLThey’re iconic, aren’t they. The Pagodas. I’d never driven one til the other day, and to be completely honest I would have been happy for the rest of my life just looking at one from time to time. Such a chipper little thing, based on the W111 platform with a scrappy inline six, it hadn’t exactly earned a reputation as a car begging to be pushed to the redline in a canyon. As my friend Nigel Case described its larger sister, the 280SL, you had a tendency to waft around in them when they had automatic gearboxes.

But when he and the Classic Car Club of London tossed me the keys to their 1964 230SL with a tight little four speed I was immediately impressed by how much fun it was to wind this car up on twisty back country roads and narrow city streets. Nigel estimated the fuel injected engine was putting around 150 horsepower, but as this was a first series car they had yet to weigh it down with all sorts of nonsense. It’s a downright sporty drive, reminding me immediately of a period Alfa, almost Duetto-esque in its airy fun and whiny tailpipe.

Visually speaking it’s a treat to drive through crowded London. The occasional scolds and scoffs that are normally reserved for the supercar elite in Mayfair are immediately replaced by beaming grins from all ages. The design, to car people and non, is universally beloved.

I didn’t quite mention to the Classic Car Club just how many miles I’d be putting on the plucky red roadster, but then again they didn’t exactly deter me from ticking away the odometer. I started out with a 160 mile leg from London to Somerleyton Hall in Lowestoft, Suffolk. It was a combination of highway and twisty country roads that would immediately reveal how capable and confident the car was.

On the highway I found it most comfortable around 3800 RPM, humming along at 70-75. Pushing it to 90mph wasn’t exactly nerve-wracking, but it didn’t exactly release enough positive dopamine to bring me back there often. Make no mistake about this car, it’s a cruiser.

I overnighted at Somerleyton Hall as a guest of Hugh & Lara Somerleyton’s, if you’ll recall I shot the CCC’s 3.8 E Type there around this time last year, who were quite keen on the car if only a little hesitant to come out and see it due to the brisk temperature. Generally speaking when you wake up and the ambient temperature is around 10 degrees below freezing it’s less than likely you’ll get something of this age to wake up. The E-Type sat under a blanket of frost for nearly two whole days while I tried unsuccessfully to get it started. This could not have been further from the case with the Pagoda.

I set a timer on my phone to see how long it would take to cold start. 3.72 Seconds. 

That’s the thing about the W113, it just works. 

Over the next week Florence Walker and I would travel from the coast in Aldeburgh (incredible fish and chips, FWIW) all the way out to Wiltshire to make new friends at Wilton House. The Pagoda just kept plugging along in grand fashion.

Twisty country roads? Toss it in second and wind it up. Cruising on the highway? Hum along in fourth, count the smiles from passing cars. Driving at night? Might want to keep the high beams on.

It wasn’t until the last day I had the car in London that I felt brave enough to put the top down. It was sunny enough, especially by London standards, and I had the roof down in under a minute (Mercedes boasted at the time that this was a sub-15 second operation). Pootling it from North London to Wimbledon for a meeting with Joe Macari was what I can only call the most fun thing I’ve done in ages. The car loves to breeze through city streets in second, hopping up to a very satisfying 4500RPM. Driving back to the CCC London HQ on Pitfield street was equally fun, if a bit warmer as the sun had a few more minutes to do its thing.

At every roundabout there was a smiling face. Businessmen and little girls and everyone in between loves the look of the Pagoda with the top down. More smiles per mile, as they say. All in all I couldn’t be more in love with the car that I was already in love with from afar. Who says you shouldn’t meet your heroes?

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Not sure what you mean be scrappy 6. Compared to British and American cars of the era (and even later eras) the m127 was a brilliant engine. Overhead cam, alloy head, 12 ports, tuned to rev, and smooth as silk (the coin resting on edge on the cam cover was a real thing). Sure it was probably best at 2.5l (m128) but it was still one of the best sixes going around at the time.

Jose Carlos Castanheira

MY 230SL, ALSO 1964!!!

Peter J.
Peter J.

I had a blue 230SL with a 4 speed in the early 1970’s and now I have a signal red 280SL with an automatic. But I am also 85 years old and it suits me very well. Thank you! I put a high lift cam (09) and a 3.27 rear axle in the car and it has become a wonderful thing to drive. I live by the ocean and we have 10,000 ft mountains within one hour. Love to chase the car up these mountain passes just to go for lunch. I am truly blessed!


…miss the old girl.

65 230SL.JPG

’65 4-spd was my DD for two+ years a decade or two ago and it did everything. Awesome car. Okay in winter snow, wonderful on any day above 6 for the top down (aboot 15-20s). Never an issue with reliability, parts were cheap (except for the 5k when the hood flew off, thanks insurance). Best passer-by comment… “must be a lawyer ’cause clerks don’t drive cars like that”. (I’m not 🙂 )

Phil Auldridge
Phil Auldridge

I own two Pagodas, both currently partially disassembled but each running great when I acquired… when the stars align, I’ll have both on the road again. One is a 230SL with 280 engine, while the other is the last-year 280SL. For some strange reason, I do prefer the somewhat cleaner lines of the earlier car, and with the equivalent engine, what’s the downside? Both my cars are automatics, and while I’m generally a manual shift kinda guy, I’ve driven a manual Pagoda and found it just unbecoming to the marque. I’ll stick with that wonderful little automatic box thank you,… Read more »


That’s our car! I always felt the W113 should get more praise, it’s just… beautiful. I prefer the pagoda top on, but the red pops either way. Not too flaunty, 4 on the floor, and it puts a smile on my face as well as others. What more could you ask for? Happy to have grown up around one, and it’s become somewhat of a family heirloom at this point.


How about that red and white interior? I’m usually against red interior but this one works for me.

Diamond Five
Diamond Five

Nicely written. Such a shame I didn’t know you were in Suffolk. I live 20 miles away. I would have been pleased as punch to say hello.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Aint Pagoda SL’s just abut the sweetest little Benz Mercedes has ever made ! Fact is I’d be hard pressed to find much of anything wrong with them … as long as you accept them for what they are , Extremely competent and enjoyable town car / grand tourer with just enough ‘ sport ‘ to put a smile on your face . Ahhh … the green mist arises Gushue .. tis been awhile since I’ve spent anytime behind the wheel of one