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Prepurchase Evaluation of the W113 230SL, 250SL and 280SL

Foreword: The following document is a collation of all those letters and articles that were published in W113 sites. Duplication was eliminated, material arranged into sections and some of the personal references to specific regions or experiences were edited out. The Pagoda SL Group makes no claim to authorship and freely acknowledges the effort of others who have done much of the hard work but, for ‘wanabee’ W113 owners, we needed all of this information in one document. If anyone wishes to add further sections, material or photos, please be our guest.

Content

Please feel free to print this document and take it with you when appraising a vehicle before purchase.

General

The 230/250/280 SL’s are referred to as the 113 chassis noting the internal Mercedes-Benz type designation. The 230 SL is designated: 113042, the 250SL: 113043 and the 280SL: 113044. The identification number of each type of 230/250/280SL begins with one of these prefixes. Hence a typical 280 identification would be 113044 12 034556. The 12 indicates an automatic transmission,10 would indicate a manual gearbox car. The last 6 digits(034566) are the actual chassis number that identify a particular 280 SL.

Engine numbers for these SL’s are as follows:

  • 127.981 230SL
  • 129.982 250SL
  • 130.983 280SL

Engine numbers are stamped on the block left side rear just below the head gasket area. It certainly makes sense to check Engine numbers to give you additional information. A missing Engine number indicates a replacement block, somewhat common with these cars as many were overheated early in their lives. It may be that an SL has been retrofitted with a 280SE sedan motor, a cheaper alternative to replacing a broken SL motor.

When approaching a 280 SL with an eye toward purchasing, first simply walk around the car and step back a bit to look at how the car fits together. Mercedes hand fitted the aluminium hood/doors/deck lids to close specifications. All should have tight uniform gaps with the adjacent panels. If the gaps are uneven, widening here or closing up there, you have to look further for sheet metal repair. Next open the hood and inspect the identification plate that sits on the left apron adjacent to the shock tower. This plate has some vital information: paint codes and body number. The body number is located at the lower right corner of the plate, usually 3-4 digits. This number is stamped in the hood/soft top cover/trans support/hardtop base. The hood stamp is right at forehead level just on the inner edge of the hood corner as you stand with the hood open. No number or a non-matching number might indicate prior damage/replacement/possible strip/etc. While a missing body number isn't the end of the world, lack of a number warrants a closer look at the car for possible damage.

Although usually not an option before purchase of your 280 SL, as explained in Data Cards you can send a copy of your registration with the VIN number to Mercedes Benz and they will send you a copy of the data card for the car with English translation of the Factory installed options... some dealer installed items may not be shown on the data card such as: AC and the transverse jump seat... some options were considered included in other data card codes and were not indicated such as a car which has original seat belts but the seat belt code box is blank. As all USA export cars required seat belts the option was not individually coded.

Unlike the SL construction techniques of the post 1971 era the 280 SL has no body panels that will unbolt. If you damage an SL nose or fender beyond repair it has to be air chiselled off the car! A very messy process indeed. Rarely is this procedure completed properly. A quick look at the car with the hood open should reveal a steady line of spot welds (the SL unit body has very few gas welds) where each fender rolls about 3/4 of an inch into the under hood area. A smooth clean surface in this area indicates filler and warrants a closer look at fender attachment and body integrity.

Depending on which part of the world a particular SL has lived you see varying levels of rust. Common rust areas are the trunk floor left side/unit body wells below the removable carpeted wooden panels behind the seats/rear valance lower edge at the spot weld seam/rear valance where the exhaust exits the body. See the section below on RUST for further detailed areas to check for rust.

If you are happy with the basic structure/rust/matching numbers situation then the general cosmetics and interior switchgear should be checked.

Examining the cosmetics is straightforward. Have a close look at the grille shell as repairing a deformed shell is expensive and time consuming. Have a look at all the bright work is sensible so you know what you might be in for as far as plating is concerned. Inspection of various lenses of the lights is important as these can be expensive. The solid red rear taillight lens assemblies found originally on '68-'69 280SLs are no longer available! You have to use the amber/red assemblies from the later cars. See the section below on Originality for further items to check.

Have an experienced person look at the mechanicals if you are not very familiar with these cars. Noises, rough or slipping transmission, oil smoke, low oil pressure, can be expensive repairs. Heater motor and heater control levers are difficult and costly to replace. The soft top and mechanism should be checked. Check the floor pans, poke and pry. Salt eats the bottoms of these unit-body cars. It can cost thousands to fix! Chrome is expensive to restore or replace. The front end is the old king pin type suspension with lots of grease nipples if it has been neglected it is probably worn and can be costly to fix.

Always research the history of the car. It will have a paper trail of service records and other receipts. If these are not available then the seller probably does not want you to see them. Look for chronic problems. See who did most of the work on the car and contact them if possible. Find out if the car has been re-painted and why. Rust can be difficult to fix correctly. Ask for the body shop records. In general, restoration work and parts are expensive, things that need fixed will be costly unless you can do some of the work yourself. In most cases a fully restored car can be the best value. You are fortunate in that many experts and parts sources are already available in many places on Internet and on this list. These are great cars, handling, performance and drivability is excellent for a vintage classic.

Initial Check List

  • write down full details of the car such as VIN number, engine no., colour, transmission, full list of any extras etc. and verify numbers with current registration document. Check and note last government test (TÜV, MOT, CT etc)
  • check the heater and cables work, if broken or not working it could be expensive
  • check to see if all trim and chrome is present and in good condition (grille alone costs $3000.-) and bumpers are also expensive
  • check that the hood, doors, trunk, and soft top cover all operate easily and are dent free (these panels are aluminium and dent very easily)
  • check under the carpets inside the car (front floors, rear floors and if possible lift up rear wood bench in rear-or third seat, whichever is there)
  • check under trunk rubber mat
  • check rear panel under bumpers and license plate for rust(double skinned and traps moisture)
  • check wipers? to make sure they work(time consuming to repair)
  • check for accident damage
  • check engine oil and for excessive gas smell
  • check transmission fluid, it should be bright to dull red (brown or black spells trouble)
  • check cooling system reservoir. Colour should be fresh antifreeze, either green or yellow
  • inspect gas cap and inside of tank filler neck for rust
  • listen for noises from valves or timing chain (rattles or knocks)
  • idle speed, high and low -smoke from exhaust (puff of blue for a moment is acceptable, but continuous blue is bad.) White means head gasket is blown or with automatic transmission, the vacuum modulator is bad.
  • drive the car
  • check the suspension (clunks, rattles or odd noises)
  • check transmission for noise (clunking, slippage, squeals)
  • transmission engage smoothly or jerks (bad)
  • steering easy to turn or clunking (clunk means the rubber isolator is worn or linkage is bad)
  • alignment, steer true and straight
  • brakes, do they pull evenly or to one side
  • check parking brake, coast and pull up handle to stop car
  • brake pedal feel, firm or spongy (problem with system)

Rust

The trouble with rust is that it can be spread over a much larger area than you think, you just can't see it until you start cutting. Once you start chasing it, the costs can keep going up in leaps and bounds. A spongy frame rail would scare me off. If the frame rails are rusted from the inside out, almost the entire rail on both sides will need to be replaced. The repairs could be very expensive.

Make sure you remove the clip on trays in the storage area behind the seats. They're held in by two hand screws at either extremity. Well worth pulling out, you may be surprised what you find

Look closely at these notorious hiding spots for rust :

  • In the trunk, under the mat. A bad trunk seal will invite water to settle under the mat and start rusting away.
  • Hard top. Check around the bottom edge of the rearmost trim. Water seeps through the screw holes, rusting out the screws AND forming rust along the sheet metal.
  • Behind or around the headlights. Remove a headlight and check carefully behind it.
  • Under the rear parcel shelf. Rust here can progress to major body damage before being noticed!
  • The frame rail just in front of the rear wheel before it begins its upward swing over the axle is a good place to look for rust
  • The rear valance under the rear bumpers.
  • The area above the heater matrix when you remove the air intake chrome grille and cover(sits between the wiper arms, at the windshield) because over the years there can be large concentrations of rust caused by accumulations of dirt and detritus when the drain hoses clogged.

Another area is the under the lip of the fender to sidewall joint, run your fingers carefully along the underside of the lip where the hood(hood is open) meets the fender.

Check the entire floor and cross members supporting it. The combination of under and over coating traps water entering from above, which can eventually seep in between the coating and the metal, leaving the coating intact but destroying the metal. You can have a car that looks and drives well with a totally disintegrated floor and rear suspension arms ready to rip out.

Originality

Verify the body part numbers stamped in the hood (for example) and see if they match with the VIN. Also verify that the firewall padding (inside back of the engine compartment, it is the glued on thick rubber material). It is difficult to replace and if it is missing may indicate a major repair to the engine compartment or a down-and-dirty paint job.

A good way to tell if the car has had a dodgy paint/restoration job is to check on the inner (i.e. not under the panel but on the inner side) of the upper area behind the headlamp. There should be a very slight groove in the panel, that goes at most an inch or so. During restorations/painting, many of these groves are filled and painted over smooth. If someone has gone to the trouble of not getting these groves right in repairs, then they've probably not taken a reasonable amount of trouble elsewhere

In any 30-year-old car, there can be some parts that are non-original replacements, or completely missing, and very expensive to put right. Here are some to watch for in a W113:

  • Gas Cap
  • Firewall material
  • Carpet. You'll have to do some detective work to discover what was originally in the car. There is a German square-weave replacement material which is good.
  • Chrome exhaust pipe extensions
  • Radio and Antenna. Is there an period Becker and original Hirschmann electric antenna?
  • Screws everywhere, especially the ones in the grille surround if car ever had front end damage. These should be chrome Phillips-head with thick chrome cup-style washers. Also pay close attention to the door trim and all door hardware. Most are readily available from a knowledgeable Mercedes Benz parts dealer and inexpensive to replace.
  • Wing nut on top of power steering fluid reservoir (if your car has p/s, of course). You'll have a very hard time finding an original replacement.
  • Heat shield between the exhaust system and the passenger side floorboard. If your passenger side carpet is burnt up, you're probably missing this part. It has been very hard to find, but Mercedes recently began manufacturing it again. It's over $125 used, nearly $300 new.
  • Dashboard material. Watch for badly recovered dashes.
  • Wood trim. The trim on the dash is effectively situated in a leaky greenhouse which is a recipe for rotten, pitted wood that costs over $400 to have an expert re-veneer or more to completely replace. The finish of the dash trim and central console should match the finish on the rear window trim in the hard top which is often the only trim to survive all these years.
  • Check that the body side trim (mouldings) are present, especially the ones behind the rear wheels. When the cars are repainted, the holes from the trim attaching screws are filled. These trim pieces (particularly the chrome-plated ones with the nylon insert) are very expensive to buy new... and difficult to find used.
  • sun visors that are missing or trashed are another expensive item.
  • In the boot there should be the jack and a ratchet wrench for the jack. On one side is printed "Auf" or "Up", turn it over and we see "Ab" or "Down" which may be clipped onto a built-in clip on the back wall of the trunk
  • Tool kit. Just try finding a mint original set in a clean cloth case!
  • Speakers. The only speaker in the car should be hidden under the wood grille in the centre of the dash. If the rear wooden parcel shelf has been cut, it will be expensive to replace -- however, this might be a great thing to have 2 of: one for driving, one for concours exhibition. If the metal wall between trunk and parcel area has been cut and you'd planned to show the car, you might want to get another car.
  • Soft top springs. The top will operate without them, but it's a lot harder to lift. Reconditioning a soft top is best left to an expert, and is expensive.
  • Tires. No, nobody expects the original tires, but they should be the correct size and look like what the car had when delivered
  • Spare tire cover.
  • Manuals & protective cover
  • Stickers/Decals: red foil tire pressure guide in trunk lid, soft top operating instructions, valve cover sticker, and several more...
  • Insulation material inside trunk lid. There should be a rectangle of black spongy stuff that appears to keep the aluminium skin from banging against the lid reinforcing bar.

Check the following are not missing:

  • Outflow hose from radiator expansion tank
  • Three rectangular rubber clips for the ridge at the back of the engine bay that the hood slams down on. Odds are that the two round corner bumpers are squashed flat or missing, too.
  • Black rubber dust cover for distributor
  • Long-handled ratchet tool that clips into the rear edge of the trunk, along the floor.
  • White grommet surrounding the hole that the glove box arm slides through.

Euro and USA Cars

Comparing USA and European Version Cars

When looking for a Pagoda to purchase in the USA, one of the choices might be a Euro version car. Also, a buyer outside the USA might want to import a USA version car to restore or retrofit to Euro specifications.

Euro version cars are not common in the USA as explained below. As some USA Pagoda owners or potential buyers might not be familiar with Euro models, we discuss here the “markers” of European version Pagodas.

Variations

Please keep in mind that Pagodas were handmade to some extent, had many options available, and underwent many production changes over the years.. Some cars have moved from Europe to the USA and back again. Many Pagodas have been modified, restored, or “improved” in the years since production. Expect to see wide variation among Euro version cars.

European Delivery

Don’t confuse “European delivery cars” with Euro version cars. While European delivery cars were handed over to the buyer in Europe, they were fitted according to the requirements of the country of final destination. A Pagoda picked up at the factory in Stuttgart by a US buyer for eventual export to the USA, would have been a USA version car.

DOT and EPA Rules

Beginning about 1964, USA Department of Transportation (DOT) issued regulations affecting auto design in an attempt to make automobiles safer. These DOT regulations covered bumpers, seat belts, interior cabin fittings, headlight and taillights, side lights, turn signals, and more. Another US Government agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued rules about emission standards. The rules were quite detailed and all cars to be imported into the US were required to conform to the new regulations.

Federalization

For some time after the regulations went into effect (maybe until the 1980’s), cars permanently entering the USA (including used cars) had to conform to many of these regulations. For that reason, a Euro version car coming into the US had to change to USA style sealed beam headlights, “mile” speedometers, and Fahrenheit temperature gauges.

When the USA items replaced the Euro accessories on these cars, to ensure that the Euro items were not re-installed later, the Euro parts of some of these cars were destroyed including the gauges and the Euro style headlights. This is called “Federalization”. However, some Euro cars coming to the USA, whether by luck or by timing, managed to pass into the US unmodified. It is possible to find unaltered Euro version cars in the US but they are not common.

Retrofitting

Some cars that were originally USA model cars have been fitted with Euro headlights, and have had the bumper guards and fender markers removed to give the car more of the original “cleaner” look of a Euro style car. As these Euro style modifications to USA cars vary greatly, they are not discussed here.

Indicators of EURO and USA Versions

These comments describe the indicators of an “original” Euro car as compared to a USA version car with SL/8 “safety” features.

Some obvious Euro signs: no bumper guards, no markers or lights on the front or rear fenders; usually no headrests or seat belts. Some Euro cars were fitted with seat belts as an option at the time of delivery and others have been fitted with after-market seat belts. Seat Belt attachment points are found in all cars.

A Euro version car speedometer shows Kilometers and the temperature gauge is in degrees Celsius unless the car was destined for the UK or other “miles” country.

Euro door pockets remained the hard style even after USA cars had shifted to the soft pocket; the finish on the neck of a Euro rear view mirror is bright chrome (USA is a satin finish to reduce glare); a Euro passenger sunvisor includes a mirror not found in USA cars.

Data Plates

On a Euro version car, the Data Plate is located on the right center of the firewall. If a Data Plate is located on the firewall, the car is an original Euro version car. The data and emissions plates installed in the door frame of a USA car are not found on a Euro car. The Data Plate located on the inside top of the left fender is in both USA and Euro cars.

Here is a Euro Data Plate in its firewall position.

Radios and Steering Wheels

Some radios installed in Euro version cars had a narrower range of stations at the right end of the dial. The high end frequencies found on some USA model radios were not available on some Euro radios.

An original Euro MB steering wheel center metal can have a different finish than a USA version wheel.

Lights

When the light control stalk on the steering column of an untampered Euro car is pulled up with the headlights in the full On position, the lights alternate between low beam and high beam. This is a common signal for passing on European highways. As this headlight flashing is not permitted on highways of some US states, the flasher wiring was disconnected on USA cars.

The most visible Euro indicators are the Euro style headlights. These are discussed elsewhere the Tech Manual. Very briefly, there were two styles of Euro lights: a Flat face and Bubble face. USA cars were fitted with Sealed Beam headlights with a larger more obvious amber section. Fog lights on the front bumper were more commonly fitted to Euro cars but were often later additions.

Compare these typical cars: Above is the Euro version. Below is the USA model. Note the Bumper Guards and the Headlights.

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Here are two side views:

Note the Fender Markers, Headrests, White Wall tires, Bumper Guards on the USA version (lower photo). The Euro example has none of these except Headrests, unusual for a Euro car.

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On an originally wired Euro car, all five bulbs in the Euro style headlights work correctly including the fog lights and the night clearance bulbs. When Euro lights are installed on USA cars, some of the smaller bulb functions do not work. This may not be a problem as clearance lights, for example, are not used in the USA. Some re-wiring may be needed to connect the USA fender markers to Euro headlights.

The rear light of Euro cars has a smaller orange section “going around the corner” than a USA rear light. More detail about taillights is elsewhere in the Tech Manual.

Four way Hazard lights with a switch on the dash became standard for Euro cars at about chassis 044 012000. While Hazard lights were available as an option for earlier EURO cars, they are not usually found on earlier Euro cars.

The "Hot" Cam

Some Euro cars were fitted with a “hotter” cam to overcome the modest emission controls installed in the later Euro cars. The Hot cam gave cars about 15 more hp (10 din). Cams shafts are stamped with different part numbers to allow identification of the cam.

Data Codes

Typical code indicators of an original Euro car: the Data Card and Data Plate will show a code for a non-USA market, example is code “620”, version for Italy. The market code in the Auftrags number of the Data Card will be for outside the USA such as “543” for Italy.

If the Data Plate on the Driver fender, Line 3, ends with “7” (“7”includes the USA,) the car might still be a Euro model since “7” was used for all markets in the Americas including many Western Hemisphere countries outside the USA. Cars delivered to North America, Central America, or South America outside the USA, were Euro version cars as they were not subject to USA DOT Regulations.

A Data Plate, Line 3 code other than a “7’ would be a good indication that the car is an original Euro model. As an example, Code “5” was for Europe outside Germany.

Other Indicators

Unofficial indicators: White wall tires and automatic transmissions were more common on USA cars than Euro cars.

Cars originally sold in Italy had a small round orange disk on each front fender required by Italian law.

Emission Controls

Some of the small “mystery” boxes mounted along the inside fender of USA SL/8 cars (sensors for emission control) are not found on Euro cars. A specific example is a 1969 Italian market 280SL which has three driver side sensor boxes while a typical USA car of the same age has 4 boxes.

Euro Population in the US

In the SL113.org Group Car Registry, about 10% of the cars are described as Euro models. Of the Registry cars located in the USA only about 8% are described as Euro spec Pagodas and some of these might be USA version cars retrofitted to Euro style. If the Registry numbers of about 8% Euro version cars holds for the entire USA Pagoda population, it would explain why very few Euro version Pagodas are seen at USA gatherings.

Preferences and Prices

Some Pagoda owners prefer the “clean” look of a Euro car while others appreciate the value of the safety features found on USA version cars. The version (USA or Euro) does not seem to affect the asking price of a car in the current (2010) Pagoda market.

Comparison Table

Here is a table comparing a typical Euro version car to a USA SL/8 car.

ITEMEUROUSA SL/8
Bumper GuardsNoYes
HeadrestsOptionYes
Fender MarkersNo, Italy Yes on FrontYes
Door PocketsHardSoft
Passenger Sunvisor MirrorYesNo
Cam ShaftHotStandard
SpeedometerKMMiles
Temperature GaugeCelsiusFahrenheit
HeadlightsFlat or Bubble styleSealed Beam, AC, AJ or AN
Emission ControlsSomeMore
Hazard FlasherOptionalYes
Rear View Mirror StemBrightMatte
Passing FlasherYesDisconnected
Seat BeltsOptionalYes
Data PlateFirewall right sideLeft Door Frame


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