﹒Extremely low miles ﹒Matching numbers ﹒Very original and unmolested example
Mercedes-Benz’s SL model line has been perennially popular for decades. The R107 generation (sold from 1971-89) is a hot ticket on the classic and collector market right now, the R129 that followed it is rapidly gaining traction, and we’re seeing a marked uptick in the twenty-first century R230 cars as well. But the car we have for auction here today, the W113, is the genesis of it all – the starting point of an iconic legacy.
The W113 wasn’t actually the first Mercedes-Benz model to wear the SL badge, of course. Classic car aficionados find their dreams populated by the wish-list gull-wing 300 SLs of the 1950s, along with the sylph-like drop-top sibling, the 190 SL. But in 1963, the covers came off this slinky little roadster – a new model to replace them both at once, offering a heady mixture of style, performance, luxury, comfort, and robust engineering.
Conceived as a two-seater roadster, it’s the removable hardtop which gives the W113 its ‘Pagoda’ nickname, the slightly concave nature of it calling to mind the distinctive curves of ancient Chinese architecture. Naturally, there was nothing ancient about the engineering – the underpinnings of this car were cutting-edge for the early 1960s, with the range of straight-six engines featuring multi-port fuel injection, along with boasting double-wishbone front suspension, dual-circuit brakes with discs up front, and optional power steering. The door skins, bonnet, boot-lid and tonneau cover were made from aluminium to keep weight down, and the car was designed with a rigid passenger cell and crumple zones – the first sports car to be conceived specifically with occupant safety in mind.
All of this adds up to an alluring formula today: it’s got all the charm and character that a classic SL should have, along with more advanced mechanicals than its peers, and an unparalleled drive. But most of all, there’s the way it looks. Just drink in Friedrich Geiger’s glorious design – it’s the stuff of dreams, isn’t it?
This is an all-original, unrestored, super-low-mileage California car – and as is almost always the case, West Coast cars don’t dissolve! It’s never been registered in the UK, and the current chapter of its intriguing story begins back in early 2018. Its now-owner (who is a lifelong Mercedes enthusiast, and something of an aficionado with many Benzes in his collection) had agreed to help a friend find an R107 SL to buy. Finding nothing suitable in the UK, he cast his net wider, zeroing in on the West Coast of the USA to find more solid examples… and in doing so, he spotted this W113 230 SL Pagoda. And it was such an attractive proposition, he simply had to have it for himself – a Californian road trip had already been planned, so it made sense to pick up the Pagoda along the way. In May 2018 he bought it, and by August it was arriving at the docks in Southampton.
It’s formed an interesting part of his collection, but he’s never road-registered it over here, or embarked upon fixing its few minor blemishes, for the simple fact that he doesn’t want to fall in love with it! The money from this sale is earmarked for the restoration of another Mercedes, and he knows that if he starts using the Pagoda regularly, it’ll be impossible to say goodbye to. So really, bidders, you’re saving this irrepressible enthusiast from himself…
There isn’t a huge amount of paperwork with this car, but it does come with what you need – plus one or two surprising treats. The California title is present, verifying it as a Sebastopol car (that’s about fifty miles north of San Francisco), along with all of the freight and shipping documentation. Before purchase, all the necessary due-diligence was undertaken to ensure that this car had no markers and was offered with a clean title.
The owner also has proof of all the necessary duties paid for importation. The car comes with its original owners handbook, and tucked away within that we found a hand-drawn wiring schematic for the car, sketched up in 1987 – suggesting to us that this was perhaps owned by someone mechanically-minded and sympathetic to correct maintenance. (There’s also a warranty for the battery, although whether you fancy trying your luck on exchanging a 15-year-old battery from 5,000-odd miles away is entirely up to you!)
What’s really endearing about this Pagoda is the originality. It’s evident throughout the car that it’s an unrestored and unmolested example, and the interior appointments have clearly been looked after. The lack of wear is also consistent with the super-low mileage of 20,159, which is believed to be genuine.
The SL features the optional rear jump seat, and all of the seat trim is in outstanding condition front and rear – although the seat-back of the passenger seat has warped a little and come adrift, so could perhaps do with re-boarding. The seats recline and adjust as they should, and are equipped with functional seatbelts. All of the instrumentation is present, undamaged and operational, and the lockable glovebox works – including the courtesy light on the outside that illuminates when you open it. The windows wind up and down freely as they should. The wood trim on the dash-top has felt the rays of the hot California sun and is consequently somewhat tarnished and left a lovely patina, but it’s all complete so it wouldn’t be too tricky to have it re-veneered and brought up to as-new spec. There’s a piece of loose carpet trim on the side of the passenger footwell, although this should be easy to reaffix. All of the carpets are in good condition, and dry underneath. The iconic cue-ball gear knob is present, as is a radio-cassette player and – the icing on the cake – a copy of Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ on cassette: the perfect soundtrack for cruising the Pacific Coast Highway.
The inside of the boot is all solid and tidy, with no corrosion or damp. The matching spare wheel is present – the tyre is perished, but the wheel is straight and correct.
It’s really important to keep in mind that this is an all-original, unrestored, matching-numbers Pagoda. There are a few very minor age-related blemishes here and there, but this is to be expected of a car that’s gone well beyond its half-century. Testament to the originality of the bodywork, this car still retains the notches on the front wings leading to the headlights. Most Pagodas no longer have this as after restoration, this is too difficult to replicate. In a nutshell, this particular example is far more original than most, and you'd want to limit the extent of the work that you’d do in order to keep the originality and simply match in the repairs, rather than repainting the whole thing – it simply wouldn’t need it. Originality is key with a car like this. An additional noteworthy point is that all of the panels and gaps are very straight, another testament to its originality.
So what kind of blemishes are we talking about? Well, the worst spot is on the passenger-side rear wheel arch, where a minor ding has removed the paint and created a moderate scab. This would require a little minor straightening and a topical paint repair. Elsewhere, there are very small cracks or blisters along the edge of the wheel arches, between the bonnet and headlight on the driver’s side, along the leading edge of the nose near to the Mercedes badge, and in the door shut on the driver’s side; there’s also a small scab on the driver’s side rear wing. None of this appears serious or structural though, and don’t let that list put you off – it really is a beautifully presented car. All of the trim is in place (and there’s a box full of spare trim pieces in the boot), the chrome is in good condition, and the car’s evidently never been in an accident – every panel sits perfectly straight and the doors close with a pleasing thunk.
The car comes with its original hardtop (the serial number stamped inside it matches that on the plate under the bonnet), and – as is often the case with SL hardtops – it has succumbed to a little corrosion. They often start to rust in the rear lower corners and that’s the case here, as well as a few blisters along the leading edge above the windscreen. But again, none of this is hard to sort, and the key thing is the matching-numbers nature of it. The trim inside the hardtop perfectly matches the interior trim (of course, as it should) and the headlining is in good condition. We removed the hardtop for the shoot and its fixings are all in perfect working order, and it secures tightly. The soft-top’s tonneau operates correctly, and is dry and rust-free inside. The soft-top itself is in excellent condition, with no rips or tears and a rear window that’s free from cracks or hazing. The mechanism could do with oiling to get the roof to fully extend, but this is presumably a symptom of having almost never been used – a few drops of WD40 and it should be solved right away.
The wheels are all original and complete with hubcaps; a purist may wish to restore them, but they’re all correct and fitted with quality whitewalls.
Pagodas are notoriously robust, and this car is no exception. While the car’s never been UK-registered, it has had regular outings on private roads in its time here to keep it ticking over correctly (because cars like to be used, it keeps them happy). The owner reports that the engine runs very sweetly and has a lovely exhaust note. There’s an OEM-spec Behr radiator fitted, complete with a plaque bearing the details of Dutton Radiator in Sebastopol, California. The only under-bonnet issue is that one of the ball-joint linkages in the throttle is a little prone to coming loose, but this would be a simple fix and has been something that has not stopped the current owner from enjoying the vehicle. Similarly, the four-speed manual gearbox is a smooth-shifting thing, with just a slight rattle from the stick thanks to another loose ball-joint linkage. Again, simple to sort. It’s a strong engine that pulls as it should, and there are no knocks from the steering, no rattles from the suspension, no squeaks from the brakes. Everything is correct Pagoda-spec, and while it’s not concours-pristine under the bonnet, it’s honest, very much usable, and ready for adventure.
The owner has had the car up on a ramp and confirms that there’s no structural corrosion or accident damage to be concerned about – you can see in the photos a little surface rust on the chassis rails, but this is only skin-deep.
The allure of a Pagoda is undeniable – beautiful to behold, tactile and playful to drive, tastefully appointed, and as dependable as a Swiss watch. But the appeal of this particular Pagoda goes well above and beyond what’s usually found on the market in the UK. This is a California car, and has only been in the UK for a couple of years, so it’s never had to worry about harsh snowy winters and salted roads. Consequently, it’s all solid. The mileage is incredibly low at just 20k, and the quality of the interior appointments bears this out. Everything original is in place – it’s that rarest of rare finds, a matching-numbers classic with nothing missing and no nasty surprises. You could very easily throw a new battery in it and press it into daily-driver status. Or you could tidy up the few minor cosmetic blemishes, give that factory-original paint a machine polish and go and scoop all the trophies at your local concours. Or why not both? With so few miles on the clock, it’s more than ready for its new life with you behind the wheel.
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