Simply put, Mercedes-Benz faced a daunting task after discontinuing the legendary and unbeatable 300 SL. They couldn’t afford to repeat the disappointments of the “budget-friendly” 190 SL, nor could they compromise on the luxurious features that made the 300 SL famous for its performance.
To meet this challenge, Mercedes-Benz introduced the 230 SL at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1963. This new super-light model featured an innovative unibody construction with a central “safety cell.” Designed by Paul Bracq, the car was not only modern and safe but also had an elegant appearance. Its sleek lines, meticulous detailing, and a unique removable hardtop with a concave roof earned it the nickname “Pagoda.” The motoring press was equally impressed with its exceptional handling and comfortable ride.
In November 1966, the model’s inline six-cylinder engine was upgraded to 2.5 liters, resulting in the one-year-only 250 SL. This version saw further improvements with the addition of front and rear power-assisted disc brakes, larger anti-roll bars, and the option of a five-speed manual transmission with a 4.08:1 rear axle ratio. Only 5,196 units of the 250 SL were manufactured, and it’s believed that as few as 112 of them were equipped with this sporty and engaging five-speed transmission.
According to official records from the Mercedes-Benz archives, a total of 882 SLs with five-speed transmissions were produced across all engine variants from 1963 to 1971, encompassing the 230, 250, and 280 SL models. This accounts for less than two percent of the approximately 49,000 SLs produced during that time period!