The Mercedes 280SL has mellowed magnificently. In 1963, the new SLs took over the sports mantle of the aging 190SL. They evolved from the original 230SL, through the 250SL, and on to the 280SL. The most remarkable thing is how modern they look, for with their simple, clean-shaven good looks, it is hard to believe that the last one was made in 1971.
Underneath the timelessly elegant sheet metal, they were based closely on the earlier Fintail sedans, sharing even the decidedly unsporty recirculatin-gball steering. Yet it is the looks that mark this car as something special, and the enduring design includes its distinctive so-called pagoda roof. This well-manicured Mercedes is a beautifully built boulevardier that will induce a sense of supreme self satisfaction on any journey.
The full-width front bumper featured a central recess that was just big enough for a standard license plate; the quality of the chrome, as elsewhere on the car, was first class.
Suspension was on the soft side for driving glove types.
So-called “stacked” headlights are unmistakable Mercedes trademarks. Each outer lens concealed one headlamp, indicator, and sidelights.
The SL was essentially a two-seater, although a third, sideways-facing rear seat was available as a (rare) optional extra.
In Mercedes-speak, the S stood for Sport or Super, L for Leicht (light) and sometimes Luxus (luxury), although at well over 3,000 lb (1,362 kg) it was not particularly light.
Windshield wipers were of the characteristic “clap hands” pattern beloved of Mercedes.
The D-shaped horn ring allowed an unobstructed view of the instruments.
Design of the 280SL was down to Frenchman Paul Bracq. Some macho types may dismiss it as a woman’s car, and it is certainly not the most hairy-chested of sporty Mercedes.
Relatively few cars were ordered with a manual gearbox.
UNDER THE HOOD
The six-cylinder ohc engine saw a process of steady development— the 2281cc 230SL in 1963, the 2496cc 250SL from 1966, and the final
Swing-axle rear suspension was tamed to provide natural understeer.
The most distinctive feature of the 280SL is the so-called pagoda-roof removable hardtop. It is said to have evolved from the need to provide relatively deep windows for a more balanced sideview of the car, without making it look top-heavy.
Seats were trimmed in leather-look vinyl or, at extra cost, real leather.
Only the 280 automatic and some of the last 250s had the neat illuminated gearshift.
With the huge steering wheel (albeit attached to an energy-absorbing column), the painted dash, and the abundance of chrome, the interior is one area where the 280SL shows its age.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Mercedes-Benz 280SL (1968–71)
BODY STYLE Two-door, two-seat convertible with detachable hardtop.
CONSTRUCTION Pressed-steel monocoque.
ENGINE 2778cc inline six; two valves per cylinder; single overhead camshaft.
POWER OUTPUT 170 bhp at 5750 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Four- or five-speed manual, or optional four-speed auto.
SUSPENSION Front: independent, wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers; Rear: swing axle, coil springs, telescopic dampers.
BRAKES Front discs, rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 121 mph (195 km/h, auto)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 9.3 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 30.6 sec
A.F.C. 19 mpg (6.7 km/l)