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Mercedes-Benz 230/250/280SL Roadster 1963-71

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On: Wed, Aug 24, 2011 at 5:22PM | By: Peter C Sessler


Mercedes-Benz 230/250/280SL Roadster 1963-71

The original Mercedes-Benz 300SL debuted in 1954 to raves and race wins, but its gullwing doors and very high price made the car unreachable but for the very rich. Still, Mercedes-Benz felt that the car had market potential and so, by 1963, the latest version of the SL (Super Light) was introduced. The car was less expensive than the 300SL, and it resembled the 1954-1963 300SL with its large open grille with the Mercedes-Benz star, but its clear-cut lines were a departure from the 300SL. The 230SL (from 1963-67) had a more angular appearance with cleaner sides and hood; however, it was the optional hard top, which incorporated a center dip, that was the car’s most distinctive feature—the Pagoda roof.

The 1963-1971 SL clearly established the marque as the sports car from Mercedes-Benz. True, like all Mercedes-Benz offerings, it was an expensive car, to be sure, but that didn’t hurt sales. In fact, the car started the reputation that it was built for the well-to-do.

The chassis of the 230SL was strictly conventional; the front employed double wishbones while the rear still had the Mercedes-Benz single pivot swing-axle system. The body was constructed of steel, except for the doors, hood, and deck which were made from aluminum. New for a two-seat sport car were the incorporation of crumple zones which protected the passenger in case of accidents.

Also new for the SL, was the incorporation of an alternator instead of a generator; vacuum power brakes were standard equipment; a four-speed automatic was optional, as was power steering.

Most SLs were sold with both the removable hard top and a soft top in the Coupe/Roadster configuration, but there was also a “California Coupe” version available that came with the removable hard top but no soft top. On these models the soft top was removed and a drop-down bench seat was installed in its place. It was a pretty rare option.

230SL (July, 1963 - January, 1967)

The 230SL was equipped with a 2.3L inline 6-six cylinder SOHC that used an aluminum head and a cast iron block. A Bosch mechanical fuel injection system was standard with output being 150hp @ 5,500 rpm with 145 ft-lb @ 4,200 rpm. The standard transmission was a conventional four-speed manual and a four-speed automatic was optional. Brakes on the 230SAL were power-assisted disc/drum. A total of 19,831 230SLs were built.

250SL (December, 1966 - January, 1968)

Introduced at the Geneva Motor Show, the 250SL sported a larger six-cylinder engine measuring 2.5L—it still put out only 150 hp but torque went up to 159 ft-lb. Rear disc brakes were now standard, and the popular four-speed automatic became standard, with a ZF-5-speed manual transmission that remained optional through 1970.

The special show cars were built, but they never reached production. One was equipped with the 6.3 liter V-8 and the other with a 203 hp Wankel rotary engine. The 6.3 V-8 powered car showed that Mercedes-Benz was quite capable of building powerful cars. A total of 5,196 250SLs were built.

280SL (December, 1967 – March, 1971)

The 2.8 liter six-cylinder engine represented the last engine for the 280SL. It was introduced in 1967 and continued largely unchanged through 1971. The engine was rated at 170 hp @5,750 rpm with 177 ft-lb @ 4,500 rpm. The transmission was the same as the 250SL.

European vs. American Spec. cars

European specification cars have a number of subtle differences from the American versions. Most noticeable are the European Lichtenheit or “fishbowl” headlights; the American uses sealed-beam bulbs. Some European cars used yellow lenses on the rear turn signals; other differences include metric gauges, no chrome bumpers, and the use of more chrome trim in the interior. Generally speaking, European cars did not have air conditioning and many European cars were equipped with an add-on red emergency flasher.

The 230/250/280SL established the SL as a viable two-seat sports car. For the next 30 years or so, the SLs would resemble the 1963 models.


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