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    Mercedes 280SL Review (1967 - 1971)

    Overall Summary

    Dusty Cars Rating

    The 280 SL arrived in 1967 completing the three-model lineup of the W113 and also serving as the most powerful model of the series. It was the result of several years of improvements of an already astounding car. The W113 replaced two models at the same time – the Mercedes 190 SL and the Mercedes 300 SL– and the 280 SL moved a lot closer to the six-cylinder 300 SL.

    Just like the others, the 280 SL came in the forms of coupe and convertible with FR layout. It was the result of the engineering philosophy which included a lightweight body with lots of materials used to ensure weight reduction, very advanced suspension and brakes and, for its time, groundbreaking steering. As the time progressed the W113 was moving away from the original sporty nature and going towards being the ultimate ground tourer. It was incredibly popular in the USA and more than 50% of 280 SLs ever built were sold in the USA. Vast majority of these cars had four-speed automatic transmissions, although there were four-speed and five-speed manuals available as well, the latter being very rare in the US and particularly sought after by collectors.

    The engine’s displacement was increased to 2.8 l with the new engine dubbed M130. It produced 170 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque, which gave the car the top speed of 124 miles an hour but, more importantly, far better response and generally more enjoyable and engaging ride.

    This engine was also the final version of the I6 SOHC engine which was replaced in the next model by the M110 I6 DOHC engine.

    The 280 SL had a special version for the North American market. In order to conform to different regulations, the U.S. version of the car had different headlights, imperial measurements on the instruments, side reflectors which got illumination in 1970, chrome bumper guards, different ratios for the rear axle which improved acceleration that were used to negate the effects of emissions regulations which resulted in different valve timings and lower compression ratio reducing the power to 160 horsepower instead of 170 in the rest of the world. Vast majority of American models came with white wall tires, air conditioning and a four-speed automatic transmission.

    There was also one special edition model called the R 113 W 33-29. It boasted a Wankel engine which had the power rating of 203 horsepower and better performance than any other production W113 SL model to date.

    The 280 SL, and also the W113, was replaced by the W107 in 1971. The new car was similar in styling, but far different when it comes to driving mainly due to the fact that it was significantly heavier than the previous model. This is why, although the W107 was an amazing car, many fans of the SL class preferred the final version of the W113.

    Driving & Performance

    The heaviest 280 SL weighed just 3,000 lb which meant that it was very interesting to drive, having in mind its wheelbase and suspension settings. Transmission options in the two previous models of the W113 were notably beloved by the public so there was no need for any changes. The four-speed automatic, four-speed manual and five-speed ZF manual were all very precise and choosing one over the other two was a simple matter of preference, or money.

    The suspension was an absolutely perfect blend of support and confidence during aggressive rides and refined comfort for long cruising. There aren’t many cars which have suspension with such a soft spot hit.

    By the time the 280 SL came into production the SL class was definitely moving towards grand tourers and away from track cars. This makes the 280 SL a perfect choice for today’s classic car lover, because sports cars from the 1960s are definitely not competitive enough for modern cars, while the overall feel and comfort are something that you can still greatly enjoy in the 280 SL.

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    Equipment & Comfort

    The interior of the 280 SL was very similar to the previous two models. An elegant instrument cluster was still present as was the flat top chrome ring steering wheel. Superior quality materials were present as well, featuring lots of chrome, aluminum and high quality leather. Apart from being very pleasant to touch and look at, they were also very durable, so a well looked after interior of the 280 SL should still be in a great condition.

    The seats were increasing in size and leaned towards comfort rather than support, but still being rounded enough to keep you in place during sharper turns. If the seats are in good condition, you will enjoy them without a doubt.

    The section between the driver’s and passenger’s seats had a big column which served as the place for gear selector and the handbrake. On top of it, right between the seats, there was a large storage compartment which, aside from the space, also offered a classy wood finish and a leather and chrome ashtray.

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    Running Costs

    Just like almost all other Mercedes-Benz cars, especially at the time, the 280 SL was extremely reliable and definitely worth buying. Furthermore, it was the final installment of the W113 evolution, so every last bit of a problem must have been solved by the time it appeared. Regular maintenance is not very expensive, but you should bear in mind that the 280 SL is a luxury roadster, so we couldn’t exactly call all the parts cheap.

    Just to name a few prices, a flex disc is about $70, double row timing chain with master link is between $60 and $95, depending on the manufacturer and fuel injectors are between $140 and $240 again depending on the manufacturer.


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    History & Development

    The W113 first came in the form of 230 SL in 1963. After a few years, in December 1966, the car received the first upgrade, most notably the increased displacement of the engine and it became the 250 SL. The 250 SL was short lived and it was superseded by the 280 SL, the first of which was made in 1967 while both the 230 SL and the 250 SL were still being produced.

    The 280 SL featured a 2.8 l straight six-cylinder engine and it was paired with a single four-speed automatic, or either of the two manuals with four or five speeds, respectively. The engine gave the car 170 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, while US models had lower compression ratio, different valve timing and a modified fuel pump which resulted in conforming to the emissions regulations in the US, but also in 10 hp less. However, the driving feel was preserved with the help of modifying the rear axle ratio, which improved the acceleration, but negatively affected the top speed. This was more than acceptable since the top speed difference was not significant and we don’t drive flat out very often, anyway. The US models bore several other differences as well including different headlights and chrome bumper guards.

    The 280 SL, and the W113 altogether, was discontinued in 1971. It was replaced by the W107, which was a lot heavier and thus far different to drive so, although the W107 has been highly regarded, introducing new engines and loads of other advancements, many still argue that a lighter SL would have been a better option.

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    Facts & Figures

    BodyConvertible, coupe
    Engine2,778 ccm SOHC l6 (160 hp - 170 hp)
    Dimensions and weight
    Weight2,866 lb – 3,000 lb
    Mercedes-Benz 280 SL years of production
    280 SL1967 – 1971
    Mercedes-Benz 280 SL production numbers
    280 SL 23,885 (12,927 US models)
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