Mercedes 230SL / W 113: sportscar of a new era

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Before treating the car itself – Mercedes 230SL / W 113 – let’s pay attention to a key fact. Important strategic turn in the early history of the Mercedes SL series by the end of the ’50s: the “sportscar theme” moved from the desk of Rudolf Uhlenhaut (engineer of the motorsport department) to the one of Karl Wilfert (manager for passenger cars).

The Mercedes 230SL / W 113 “Pagode” looks as we know it today thanks to a couple of major trends generated during the second half of the fifties at the headquarters from Stuttgart. The first: official withdrawal of Mercedes-Benz from the motorsport activities, following the deadly crash at Le Mans in 1955. The second: an intense evolution in the passenger cars field in terms of styling, comfort, safety and engine design. The efforts spent during the late ’50s and all along the ’60s by the designer Paul Bracq and the engineer Bela Barenyi led to a dawn of a new era for the Mercedes-Benz automobiles.

Mercedes 230SL W113_01 drawing bw

Coming back to the Mercedes SL series, the transition from the typical sporty 300SL / W 198 to the refined granturismo 230SL / W 113 looks natural in this kind of context. Also, it would not be wrong to consider that the 1963 Mercedes 230SL / W 113 was the successor of both the “racing-star” 300SL / W 198 I/II and the “cheap” 190SL / R 121 (made out of the “Ponton” technical platform).

All kinds of crash-tests were conducted before defining the final concept for the body of the Mercedes W 113.

Even the unusual shape of the hardtop, with it’s tall edges and somewhat concave roof surface, was chosen for a superior rigidity and a better protection of the passengers in the case of a rolling-over accident. Seeing this hardtop design, Erich Waxenberger (research specialist in the development department) said: “mr. Wilfert, it looks just as if a tree had fallen on it”.

Mercedes 230SL W113_01 roll test

Despite various comments were expressed, about the roofline being much too tall and spoiling the whole style of the car, it’s shape – as drawn by Paul Bracq and agreed by Bela Barenyi – was retained for the serial production. Of course, the “Pagode” nickname describing unofficially the Mercedes 230SL / W 113, refers to this very special hardtop design.

Mercedes 230SL W113_01 aprototype

The prototype of the Mercedes 230SL / W 113 was dubbed 220SL. This happened because it was supposed to inherit the engine of the Mercedes 220SE sedan a freshly-developed 2,2 litre “straight-six”, able to deliver some 120 PS. Yet, some work was done to make it better. The enlarged bore (with 2 mm) led to a 2,3 litre displacement and the increase of the compression ratio (from 8,7 to 9,3) raised the power to the level of 150 PS. The Mercedes 230SL / W 113 began it’s commerical career with this engine (M 127 series) in 1963.

Mercedes 230SL W113_01 motorshow

By the end of 1966 a new version of the W 113 series was introduced: the Mercedes 250SL. It’s maximum power was still 150 PS, yet the discretely bigger displacement (2,5 litre) brought a distinguishable improvement regarding the torque charateristic.

Since a new generation of six cylinder engines became available (M 130 series), as it was developed for the “phase II” of the Mercedes W 108/W 109 sedans, a new power unit was also prepared for the sportscars of the W 113 series.

As result, the Mercedes 280SL (2,8 litre, 170 PS) was presented in december 1967 and it remained in production until 1971. In fact, this was the most successful version of the W 113 series, with a total production figure of 23.885 units. This is almost similar to the figure of all the Merecdes 250SL (5196 units) and the 230 SL (19.831 units), considered together.

Mercedes 230SL W113 racing 02

The Mercedes 230SL / W 113 had only one significant competitional achievement in Europe. It is about the victory in the long range rally Spa-Sofia-Liege (1963). And in these marathon-like conditions, the remarkable realiability of the car proved to be far more important than the absolute power or the dynamic performance figures.

Mercedes 230SL W113 profile

Certainly, the Mercedes 230SL / W 113 was not conceived with the motorsport capabilities on the priorities list. However, in 1968 something exceptional happened: the development specialists from Daimler-Benz mounted 206 PS Wankel engine under the bonnet of a 280SL prototype. Registered in the company’s documents as R 113 W 33-29, this car was able to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 8,7 s and to reach the top speed of 205 km/h.

Mercedes W 113 - 1963 to 1971
Engine configurationL6 petrolL6 petrolL6 petrol
Engine capacity (cmc)230624962996
Maximum power (PS/rpm)150/5500150/5500170/5750
Maximum torque (Nm/rpm)196/4200220/4200240/4500
Unladen weight (kg)130013601360
0-100 km/h (s)11,010,59,7
Maximum speed (km/h)200200200