When the covers came off the shiny new W113 Mercedes-Benz SL back in 1963, the buying public was presented with 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, bootlid 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?
All Pagodas are special, but this one is perhaps a little more special than most. You see, not only is it a genuine UK-market right-hand-drive car, it’s also got an incredibly low number of owners. We can see on the V5 that the first owner was, in fact, the dealership that supplied it – G&M Motors of Northfleet, Gravesend. This company took delivery on March 4th 1966, its official date of UK registration, and they then sold it to its first real owner (officially second, but such is often the way), and her name remains on the V5 today.
Furthermore, the history is backed up by an extensive and unimpeachable service record, outlining a huge amount of work over the years to keep it pristine and tip-top – the bills for bodywork and engine work over the last couple of decades add up to over £25,000. This, then, is a car which has been cherished as a long-standing companion, used sparingly, and maintained regardless of cost. It’s not every day that you find a Pagoda like this.
The history file with this car is little short of remarkable. For starters, there’s a chunky sheaf of MOT certificates dating all the way back through the Pagoda’s life, along with plenty of paperwork detailing servicing and maintenance throughout the 1980s and ’90s. We can see that around £5,000 was spent on bodywork at a firm called Auto Bodycare in 1993, and a further £2,000 at Doormans Garage in 2004. Of particular note are the numerous invoices from the German Pagoda specialist Stickel, with receipts totalling over €10,000 in 2004. The car then only covered a couple of thousand miles before, in 2015, it was subject to over £11,000 of engine and bodywork at German Automotion in Lingfield, Surrey – this last round of work included welding new metal into the wing bottoms and repairing the inner wings, stripping the engine to machine the block and service the head, regrind the valves, paint the engine bay, and much more besides. The original manuals are also present. Every chapter of this car’s life story has been carefully recorded.
The car is showing 121,000 miles, which is believed correct.
The design of the Pagoda’s interior is a masterful combination of elegance and functionality. It really is beautifully conceived, and the condition of this SL’s cabin showcases that to the full. Sporting its original white steering wheel, factory-option 3rd seat and brown leather trim, it’s a period-perfect snapshot of 1960s style. All of the correct trim pieces and controls are in place, and everything is working as it should. The windows wind up and down correctly, the seats tilt to allow rear access, and all of the switchgear is operational. The seats and doorcards have excellent leather trim which is free from marks, wear, rips or tears, and the matching carpets are in similarly super condition. Period Britax seatbelts are in place, and the stereo is a push-button radio-cassette, which we’d assume was an early 1980s upgrade. (There’s a spare radio in the boot which we suspect is the original factory-fit unit.) There are no cracks in the dash-top, and the wood trim is all solid and well presented with no signs of scuffs or lacquer peel.
It’s important to note that the car is equipped with factory-option power-steering, which not all of them did – as you’d expect, that’s in good working order too.
This car has had a lot of money spent on it across the decades, and it shows. Presented in its original Ivory White paint with contrasting brown hard-top and black soft-top, it’s evidently been a case over the years of preserving originality as much as possible, with all repairs seamlessly integrated into the original paintwork. Today, it presents as a remarkably tidy example; indeed, tidy is too gentle a word, the finish of this car makes it a potential show-winner. There’s no visible evidence of corrosion, no dings or dents, no mis-matching; all the panels hang perfectly with even gaps, and the doors, boot and bonnet close with the satisfying clunk you’d expect.
The hard-top is the car’s matching-numbers original, and is in excellent condition – it’s often the case that these things get stored in damp places and corrode at the corners, but that hasn’t happened with this one: it’s all rot-free with good window glass, and the headlining is complete and clean too. The soft-top is also in great condition and operates just as it should.
All of the chrome trim is excellent, including the bumper corners, and all the light lenses are complete and functional. Inside the boot, we find everything to be dry and solid, with a spare wheel in place in its original cover.
Having received an expensive engine rebuild, the Pagoda purrs like a kitten today. The extensive works were carried out around 500 miles ago, and included a full strip-down. The block was machined to eliminate bore wash, the crankshaft reground, the cylinder head serviced with valves reground, and once all the work was complete the engine and transmission were repainted before refitting. With the engine bay having also received paint, it now shines like a new pin under the bonnet. Our test drive demonstrated that the car is incredibly smooth – starting easily, idling correctly, and pulling eagerly through the revs and through the gears. The automatic gearbox is a slick-shifting unit, and everything works as it should with no worrying noises, leaks or anything of that nature. This is an SL which has been properly looked after, and it feels it. There’s no slack in the steering, no hesitance from the brakes, no graunching from the suspension – it really does feel remarkably tight for a car built in 1966.
Why wouldn’t you want a Pagoda? These things are truly beautiful to behold, tactile and playful to drive, tastefully appointed, and reliable enough to be pressed into daily urban duties if you felt so inclined. But the appeal of this particular Pagoda goes well above and beyond what’s usually found on the market in the UK; with a single-owner history stretching back to that first supplying dealer, and with reams upon reams of paperwork detailing a huge amount of care and attention, this is a car that’s had all the expensive stuff done. You’re not looking at a project here – this is an SL which has had a full engine rebuild and body restoration, with a fabulous interior and endless quantities of style. It’s all matching-numbers, everything’s been carefully documented, it’s everything you’d want a Pagoda to be. And just look at it. As much art as car. Wouldn’t your life be better with this in it?
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