Main.TrailIndexPage | Buying a car | To buy or not to buy?

To buy or not to buy?

I currently do not own a W 113. My wife and I just started looking, and have been reading the groupís e-mails to hopefully become a smarter buyer. We do not have the space or funds for a third vehicle. The lease is up on my wife's current vehicle, and we are thinking about finding a 280 SL in good shape to use as a daily driver. We live in Los Angeles, put approx. 10,000 miles a year on her car, and have limited mechanical expertise. How does the group feel about this scenario?

These cars are moderately expensive daily drivers. Even if you can find a mechanically restored vehicle (where someone took the hit to get the car completely back to being mechanically sound) the upfront cost would likely exceed the cost of a reasonably priced new car and would be more costly to maintain (likely would still need more service than a new car).

However, if you can afford a "nice" second car and are prepared for more shop time than a new Honda, you may find this is more fun to drive, with less value depreciation than a new car. Annual mileage of 10,000 makes this a reasonable approach. Be wary of cars that are advertised as "fully restored" to "show-room condition." Most have been painted or had the interior done but no material mechanical work.

Go for it! I would have no problems at all using a 280 SL as a daily driver. I have run a '74 and a '81 Fiat Spyder as daily drivers and now I am running a '67 230 fintail as a daily driver - the MB beats the Fiats hands down in terms of reliability but even these were good daily drivers.

I have just bought a 300SEL 6.3 to be my next daily driver - I wouldn't touch a car newer than '73 for obvious reasons in CA. The bottom line is that for less money than a new Honda Accord you can buy an excellent 280 SL that you can drive everyday. You might have to allocate more money for annual maintenance (not so much if you buy a good car to start with) but there is virtually NO depreciation on a 280 SL.

By the way, if you go for a 230 SL you will get an equally good (some might say even better) car as a 280 SL for a few thousand less. The only reason why I never considered my 230 SL to be my daily driver is that it is just too damn nice to drive it in the rain!

Will Samples: I have 2 customers who use their 280 SL's as everday drivers. They have limited trouble and seem to enjoy using their cars like this. One owner is very mechanical and one is not. Both seem to have developed a list of mechanics who can help them for various problems. But overall, they are successfully using their cars everyday.

I am on two sides of the fence on this question. I love the cars, but they are pretty expensive to maintain. I bought my 230 SL two years ago, and have put 38,000 miles on it in those 24 months. It is my only car, and I drive 20 miles each way every day, plus weekend trips to Los Angeles and wherever, every so often. It drives like a dream (now), and I love getting on the freeway with it - it accelerates unbelievably well.

My car is a "driver" version, not a showpiece by any means, and I have certainly put a lot of money into maintenance. I change the oil religiously every 3,000 miles, and my mechanic does the traditional Mercedes-Benz overall check while he lubes up the 60 lube points (or however many lube points there are on these beauties).

Just about every time I take it in, the mechanic finds something that should be replaced or repaired - brake lines, wheel bearings, what-have-you. I never hesitate to accept his advice, and the car runs better after every visit to the garage, so he isn't feeding me any bogus lines. In the two years, the car has failed me once - my coil went bad and I could not start.

So, I just want you to understand that these cars take a little bit more (probably a lot more) care and attention than a current-model. I think for me, the worst is over, but the maintenance is going to be there always. The cars are very durable, and reliable, but they must be taken care of very well. The best thing that I can think of them is that they don't lose their value as a new car will - but also, be careful of what you buy.

My 280 SL was my fatherís and was a daily driver for many years. Granted, this was 15 years ago and the car wasn't 34 years old. I remember it being bullet proof. The problems I have now are due to years of improper storage (rusty fuel tank). I agree with the other posts that the key is to find a car that has had significant work done.

After 30 years, the rubber bushings start to go, there may be rust in the pan, things get old and tired. You don't want to get yourself in the position of having all the old stuff start to fail one after another. This will be frustrating and expensive. I had a 30 year old sailboat once. It nickled and dimed me to death.

The SL, while up to MBís usual high tech standards at the time, is very low tech now. Other than the complex mechanical fuel injection, the other systems are pretty straightforward. No computers, ABS, smog stuff (if you get an early one) etc. The other thing to consider is many of the engine and suspension parts are shared with the sedan. Buying anything for the SL carries a premium price. One thing for sure, if you have one of these, you'll be able to find it in a parking lot! I'd take a 113 over a 107 (next SL body style) any day.

Obviously you've come to the right place to ask this question ... while many of the owners only drive them on sunny days and treat them like the classic they are, others among us treat them like the wonderfully engineered CARS that they are... and use them daily as a primary means of transportation.

I am in both of those groups, my 1971 280 SL is "appreciated" on occasion, but my 1966 230 SL is "loved and cherished" daily ... I drive the car everywhere ... these models certainly have the performance and reliability to meet your needs. The comments others have made about finding one that is in great shape, or has been restored already are very true, if the car needs work then the purchase price is only the beginning of your expenses.

I paid $7,500 for the 230 SL knowing it needed engine work, I'm now over $30,000 and while it runs great, I still haven't repainted it or replaced the interior. I should have found one in better shape to begin with. Assuming you decide to do this: ask around, and visit several mechanics, look for vintage mercedes in their shops, if they're good then others are using them already.

If you see only newer models then move on. I've gone through several mechanics before finding ones that really know these cars. Most of the shops that work on newer cars simply do not know how to work on vintage cars, they just replace what is broken and don't worry about WHY it broke. Also, shops that specialize in vintage cars do so because they love them and will look the car over every time you take it in for even the most minor of items.

If the car does not have air-conditioning then being in LA you're probably going to need it, I live in Houston where air conditioning is more important than a radio or headlights. It's an issue with these cars - I went with an aftermarket model from Buds Benz in Atlanta, but it is no good. It's R134a and simply does not cool the car sufficiently.

I'll be in Mexico in a few months an will change it back to R12 to see if that helps. None of these cars had factory air, it was dealer installed and I've never known one that would keep the car cool in a truly hot climate like Houston. Cooling of the engine will be an issue too, these is no room for an electric fan to help with cooling, unless you remove the belt driven fan and bolt up two electric fans to handle it. I did this, it helps, but I still ended up recoring my radiator.

If you get a Euro model then do this anyway, the american models used a radiator core that staggered the tubes, the euro models aligned them... staggered cools better... if/when you add A/C it will need help in this area. If the car is in good shape mechanically and you work out the A/C & cooling then you'll never regret the decision (except when buying parts).

The constant admiration these cars get on the road is amazing, especially when the top is down. Be sure to have any cars you look at checked out by a good mechanic that knows these cars before you buy it... it'll cost you $200-$300 but will be worth every cent, because it may save you from buying a car that is in bad shape, but also even if the car is in good shape and you buy it, the inspection will let you know what areas will need attention.

My wife used her '68 280 SL as a daily driver for a couple of years, and the availability of parts can be a problem if you don't have a third car. While its true that the car is pretty "low tech" by modern standards, there are plenty of W 113-specific parts that can break. Most MB dealers don't stock a full range of parts that old, and sometimes, parts need to be ordered from Germany. If you don't have a spare, be prepared to rack up some rental car charges from time to time. That said, there is nothing better than driving top down in a 113 on a sunny day.

Pete Lesler: here are my two cents worth. I have owned the same 250 SL for over 30 years. I drove it daily for the first five years I owned it, and as a summer cruiser ever since. I have never touched the injection pump. I would not even hesitate to take this car on an extended trip tomorrow. These are simply very reliable cars. The worst thing you can do to one of these is to not drive it regularly. That's when you hear horror stories about rust and gunk in the fuel delivery system and frozen brakes.

Just get the best maintained example you can find and make certain you have an educated guess what it will take in terms of additional maintenance to make it a reliable driver. By the way, I prefer the earlier examples without any emission regulations for reliability. The 250 SL is a nice compromise car as it has the seven main bearing six, four wheel disc brakes, and the larger fuel tank. If it is a 1967-built prior to serial number 2980, it will not have any emission hardware at all.

Should I go for the 71 280SL or the 68 260SL. Which would be the better one to get?

Hands down the 1968 250/280SL.Have had one for 15 years now a 68 280SL- zero problems and I mean none. Also had a 250SE (108) for 23 years - same drivetrain as your 250SL no problems. Make one call to the best SL mechanic on the East coast , Gernold Nisius owner of SL Tech in Arundel, Maine and he'll give you all the reasons way, major ones - never any overheating, no ignition problems, the late 69's suffer very major problems in these areas and there are more reasons. etc.

Whichever model you choose, buy one that is truly in good shape, meaning the previous owner really sorted it out and took good care of it. Spend a bit more on a vehicle that has no problems, or you may find you will have to spend an inordinate amount of money to get a cheaper one in the same shape as a solid and honest one. Get whatever you look at checked out by someone who really knows these cars. Once in good shape, they are virtually indestructable.

Just a few comments:

  • I prefer Euro versions because they have the cleaner look (no side marker lights, no sealed-beam headlights and, in case of the 280SL, a higher output engine).
  • Get the best one you can afford. It will always be cheaper than fixing it.
  • Very short distances (like a 2-mile commute) increase wear and tear on the engine dramatically. On that disctance, the engine doesn't even get warm. Make sure you change the oil and maintain the (or any car) frequently.

I bought a 1971 280SL because the Merecedes Benz Buyer's Guide (Frank Barrett) suggested that choosing the latest model which will have all the improvements added over the years. I wanted AC and Power Steering and these are more likely to be found in a later 280SL along with four wheel disk brakes and a slightly larger engine. But I love all the 113's and now believe that the individual car and its condition are probably more important than aiming for a particular model...if you find a car that you like, reasonable price, runs well, looks good, get it...you'll love it.

I have owned each model and agree on the fact that you can usually get a better deal on the earlier 230/250 vintage. I personally prefer the early [referred to as the '67 ] 250sl. They had the nice crome, interior, etc. of the 230, but with 4 wheel disc and a 7 main bearing engine. Basket weave seats and square weave are nice, too. The rarest of all models. There was a mid year production and the later [referred to as the '68] lost some of this quality and got the later 280 interior and appointments. An early 250, Euro w/stick is a nice car and can be found for not big $$$ if you search around. They all are nice- look for condition first, model second....

Poll results: on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) in life's pleasures, my Pagoda ranks:

  • a perfect 10, 2 votes, 7.69%
  • somewhere between my spouse and a perfect 10, 2 votes, 7.69%
  • right below my spouse, 9 votes, 34.62%
  • above, say, watching television, 4 votes, 15.38%
  • pretty low come to think of it - any offers?, 1 votes, 3.85%
  • higher, now that I have worked most bugs out of it, 2 votes, 7.69%
  • lower, since I spent so much money on it, 1 votes, 3.85%
  • higher than I expected, 2 votes, 7.69%
  • lower than I had feared, 0 votes, 0.00%
  • I don't know, I don't want to think about these things, 3 votes, 11.54%

I could use a little advice from the group. A friend has always wanted a W 113 and he found a real gem! It discribes as a rusty car with all its parts. Interior bad, soft top poor, hard top invisible. It runs he is told, he will make sure of that before it goes any further. What is the worst-case scenario? Is it worth getting a car with this discription as a practice project? Asking price is $3,800. It is a Ď67 250 SL . I told my friend to join the group so he will read your responses.

A full restoration can quickly become a bottomless pit. It certainly doesn't sound like an economically sound proposition to restore a car this far gone. You can pick up a decent 230 SL for $12k which is far less than it would take to fix a rust bucket. Generally, it is always cheaper in the long run to buy the best car you can find. Even if you do all the work yourself, the spare parts alone can kill you.

I had to have my front end rebuilt and it cost me $3.2k with only $600 of that being labor). However, it might be possible to just fix the bare minimum and turn the car into a driver. How is the chrome on the car? If it has excellent bumpers, grille, and head- and taillights, you should get the asking price back for these parts.

I don't want to sound too negative, but your friend should be well aware of what he is getting himself into with a restoration project. It will take lots of time and lots of money.

A word to the wise: always buy the best car you can afford, i.e. buy the one that has the rust free body or the perfect interior and chrome. I would never advise buying a car that had three of its important elements namely: body, interior (including softtop), and mechanicals needing major restoration. The costs of refurbishment and replacement simply don't justify it.

Pete Lesler: the 250SL with stick is usually just a tad quicker or certainly on par with the 230SL. The 230 is abit lighter, by about 100 pounds, but the 250 engine has more torque. Likewise the 280 is heavier by perhaps another 100 pounds but has more torque and advertised HP. In reality they are all very close.

When I drove my 250SL in competiton at timed acceleration runs and in timed runs around a sports car course, it always was quicker than the 230 and most but not all 280SL's. The 230 that came the closest to beating me was one with a newly rebuilt long block. It ran extremely well. It was also an early car (1964) which are the lightest.

I usually beat the 280's in acceleration except for two cars equipped with 4.08 limited slip differentials. I found no advantage or disadvantage to a car eqiuipped with a four speed, five speed or automatic transmission. On the subject of the 280's having more rubber in the suspension.

The only place I know of where there rubber replaced metal is the idler arm bushing. Hardly a negative to good handling. The late 250's and 280's did have a smaller diameter sway bar (20mm versus 22 mm) installed whiich would have a negative impact on handling. I suspect that MB also changed the spring rates and heights of the springs on the 280 to compensate for the extra 200-300 pounds. Perhaps the front subframe mounts are taller as well.

If you install shorter spring spacers on the springs, decamber the rear axle, install urethane bushings and stiffen up the shocks, the 280 will handle as good perhaps better than the lightest and earliest 230SL's.

I agree with you: the performances of the three models are very similar (in fact, I remember to have read 200, 195, and 200 Km/h for the 230, 250, and 280). And moreover, when you are competing with other cars, the driver is also a very important component, so it's not a scientific system to compare performances.

And another point: in cars more than 30 years old, itís much more important the good health and good settings of the particular unity, than wich engine is. So we can really use only the manufacturerís official performances, or maybe the vintage press tests. But anyway the conclusion is: after 9 years of production, and three different engines, the performances were nearly identical from 1963 to 1971, and this is not very usual.

And of course, if you make a Pagoda 28 SL AMG, you will have a more sporty 280 SL than any 230 SL, but we were talking about standard cars ;-))
< Prepurchase Evaluation | Main.TrailIndexPage | Tune-up/Setup Overview >