With the advent of the 1968 - 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280 SL the personal luxury convertible became a thing. The 280 SL is itself an evolution of the earlier 230 and 250 SL. The unusual hardtop shape ensured that the “Pagoda” nickname would stick to the cars collectively. The gentlemen at Mr. Benz had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a fully restored “old timer” and shared their impressions.
Those versed in Mercedes nomenclature may be aware that the “SL” stands for “Sport Leicht” or “Sports Lightweight”. This is quite a misnomer as the 280 SL is a solid cruiser. The unibody construction featured a first for sports cars: front and rear deformation zones. However it is in the construction of the Pagoda roof that gives this car its nickname. Mr. Bela Barenyi headed the Mercedes-Benz pre-development department back in the day, and the construction of the Pagoda roof is credited to Mr. Barenyi.
While seemingly delicate, the roof was designed to withstand a load of 1000 kg. Bela gave special attention to limiting obstructions in the driver’s field of vision, ensuring that the driver can see clearly from all sides without the pillars intruding. The sturdy construction of the hard top would provide ample rollover protection if needed.
Originally created as a sports coupe/convertible, the huge demand for the 280 SL in the US contributed towards its reputation as a touring car.
“The point with the good old timer cars, for example with this SL 280 Pagoda, is that as soon as you start the engine or start to drive you instantly move back in time. You forget everything. From 2020 it’s like moving back to the ‘70s as soon as you drive it. It’s an unforgettable drive.” Mr. Benz, already missing the Pagoda, revealed that it was raining the entire week of filming. However a few precious hours of sunlight pierced the gloom, allowing the team to experience this classic.
“In these few hours when we drove this car it was full sun, and we had some very nice memories with it. The special thing about this is also as Brabus Classics has restored it, it has zero mileage. It is even better than the car back in the day when it left the factory.”
The six-star restoration is based on the principle of reusing as many original parts as possible. The process starts by disassembling the base car in the workshop, where all parts are inspected and catalogued. Unserviceable components are discarded while other components are reconditioned and restored to mint condition.
Once the bodyshell is stripped of paint and bodywork specialists set to work. Restoration includes corrosion protection.
While the body work is happening the engine is disassembled and all parts are measured. During the rebuilding process will see to the grinding and honing of the cylinders as well as overhauling the cylinder head. The resulting smoothness outperforms the original engine.
Suspension and brake components are replaced with new parts to offer the best safety results. Finally, the in-house upholstery shop adds the finals touches in order to finish the restoration to the finest authentic details.
A Daily Luxury
The Pagoda, despite its classic lines and sporty fierceness, is a practical car. This explains why this luxury sports car became a bestseller in the USA, where it was particularly popular in California. The vehicle inspired such a following that the Mercedes-Benz SL-Club Pagode was formed in 1981.
The club has over 1,600 members in twelve regional clubs. Club chairman, Micheal Lenhardt, effortlessly describes why the Pagoda is still a hit.
“The vehicle body has a timeless elegance without losing its sporty note. In addition to this, the Pagoda is a reliable companion on long journeys as well as in everyday situations.”
The club has a primary goal of restoring and preserving Pagodas in as close to their original condition as possible and has over 1,300 registered vehicles.
In the club chairman’s garage one can find a “...230 Pagoda from 1964 with free-standing spare wheel, occasional bench seat, red leather, white paintwork, rare 5 speed transmission, driven approximately 6,000 to 8,000 km a year. Alongside this, I have a 280 Pagoda from 1970 first hand with 42,000 original km, black leather, ivory paint and original 5 speed transmission, in absolutely original condition.”
The Pagoda has a long legacy of being a timeless, sporty classic and there is little doubt that it will continue to inspire in the years to come.