The 280SL simply enamours. Driving one in today’s age makes you wonder where modern car makers went wrong. It’s a sweetheart; an evocative throwback to simpler times.
The 280 SL series was produced between 1967 and 1971, effectively squeezing between the production cycles of the 250 SL and 350 SL.
The moniker was applied on the 1963-71 SL Pagoda because the optional detachable hardtop had a thin, slightly-concaved centre panel bracketed on both sides by the pillars. The work of Mercedes-Benz safety engineer Béla Barényi, who wanted to bolster the roof structure in the event of a rollover, the design also proved handsome and svelte, especially when viewed head-on. It might suggest why the Pagoda option was so appealing; some 48,912 SL variants of this shape were sold worldwide.
You can imagine the trepidation around actually driving a 280 SL on the road today, especially when modern values are approaching around R2,5m ($200,000) internationally. Its distinct lines and beguiling profile create more than enough attention to turn heads.
Turning the key invokes a reassuring thrum from the 2.8-litre naturally-aspirated six-cylinder engine. An obligatory waft of old car fumes soon blankets the cabin, re-affirming that you’re driving something special.
The reverse-layout four-speed automatic shifts into gear without fuss, and the SL tinkers away from a standstill as if we’ve rolled back time to the Nixon administration, pre-Watergate.
The SL’s lumpy idle at 750rpm builds to a smooth and surprisingly vigorous resolve as the needle climbs the tacho. The gearbox shifts ratios at 3000rpm, at a speed not too dissimilar to today’s torque-converter units. A strong degree of mechanical sympathy eventually relaxes as we learn the SL’s brakes, steering and ride in fact gleam on the road, like its paintwork. The 280SL simply breathes with speed, rolling gently into corners, gripping and exhibiting modest but competent levels of agility.
Perhaps all of this lust is owed to the fact our particular example has been in the hands of a passionate Mercedes-Benz collector since 2012. There is a newness to the cabin, mechanicals and exterior that suggests this particular 280 SL, with 76,300 kilometers on the clock, has had more than a light ‘going-over’ during it’s restoration. It hasn’t undergone a full, 3000-hour concours restoration, but it’s extremely tidy nonetheless.