The Mercedes Benz 230SL and its successors 250SL and 280SL (1963-1971)
For the first time in the history of Mercedes Benz, the car was shown to the press two weeks before its official presentation on March 14, 1963 at the Geneva Motor Show. In this way, it was ensured that their reports were published on or before the car’s official launch date. This Benz was eagerly awaited and no one knew whether it would follow the mighty 300SL or the popular 190SL. He did not follow any of them. When Prof. Fritz Nallinger, chief engineer and member of the executive board, introduced the new Mercedes Benz 230SL, internally called W 113, it created something of a stir. As Erich Waxenberger, Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s talented engineer once remarked, the car looked as if a tree had fallen on top of it. The ceiling was, well … unusual. But it wasn’t just the roof that created some buzz, it was also the car’s performance. Everyone expected a successor to the legendary 300SL.
Daimler-Benz, of course, was firm in its approach to the role of the new SL. It was neither a 300SL nor a 190SL. It was a high-performance touring sports car with superior handling characteristics that could carry two passengers plus their luggage in style, comfort, and most of all, safety. It was a very Mercedes Benz on its own. To demonstrate the sporty aspect, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, always available for a quick blast on a race track, pushed the 230SL down a 1.5km circular circuit near Montreux in the presence of the press. Most impressive was that British Grand Prix driver Mike Parkes couldn’t drive much faster. However, his car was not the SL, his car was a Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta!
Although many of the car’s technical features weren’t new at all, it was the combination and its enhancements that made this Benz special. The undercarriage had a recirculating ball steering and a dual-circuit braking system. Girling disc brakes were installed on the front axle, while Alfin vacuum-assisted drums were installed on the rear. For the first time in the history of Mercedes Benz, such a car could be ordered with power steering and the most shocking thing for most European journalists – automatic transmission. A sports car and automatic transmission? Absolutely impossible! Not only did the press think that way, it was the same with most of the European public. Not surprisingly, very few cars of this type were sold in Europe. The Americans were already one step ahead, for them the combination of sports car and automatic transmission made perfect sense. And since Daimler-Benz thought of selling about 80 percent of the car abroad, this extra was certainly beneficial. The Benz came standard with a four-speed manual transmission with a 3.75: 1 gear ratio. It was similar to the one used in the 220SE but with a shorter first gear ratio of 4.42: 1 instead of 3.64: 1. It should. guaranteeing faster acceleration, but it was not universally appreciated, so in 1965 the manual transmission of the new 250S / SE was adopted.
In 1967, two years after the launch of the 250 series sedan, the 230SL was replaced by the 250SL. Its larger engine reduced somewhat mediocre performance at low revs. Unfortunately, it suffered from reliability issues at high speeds, something that didn’t amuse a sports car driver much. Although this problem was quickly resolved, the car was also famous for its relatively high fuel consumption. After just one year, it was replaced by the bigger, more stuffy 2.8L engine. It offered 170 hp at 5,750 rpm compared to the previous 150 hp at 5,500 rpm, it also had a bit more torque and improved fuel economy.
While the 250SL Benz cost 22,800.- DM ($ 5,700.-) almost the same as the 230SL, the 280SL cost 1,500.- DM ($ 375.-) more expensive. In the United States the 280SL costs around $ 7,500.-, depending on the extras. However, the customers didn’t care, they loved the package and came running. In its five years the Mercedes Benz 280SL managed to sell 23,885 units, more than half of them went to North America. The 230SL sold 19,813 units during the same period.