CLASSIC DRIVE: Pagoda vs Mechatronik Pagoda

Mercedes Pagoda

We go for a cruise in two stunning Pagodas, both which left the factory in 1969. However, one of them is rather different today compared with what it was when it rolled off the production line all those years ago!

Words Wilhelm Lutjeharms

Photos Kian Eriksen

For professional restoration companies such as Mechatronik, the Pagoda achieved classic status many years ago, as a large number of clients have brought W113 SLs to them for restoration purposes or for the Mechatronik conversion. The latter choice is also often combined with a full restoration.

Mercedes-Benz Pagoda

However, of all the Pagodas converted by Mechatronik (I was told a few years ago that it was around the 30 mark), only three have been right-hand drive examples, one of which was residing (at the time) in Cape Town.

Although there has been a flare-up of classic car restoration companies in recent years, Mechatronik was one of the earlier ones that started to focus on the rejuvenation and modernisation of classic Mercedes models. 

Mercedes Pagoda

The company is highly respected for its attention to detail, although you will need a healthy bank balance and lots of patience to acquire a car such as the pristine blue example featured here. Should you find a neat 250 or 280SL (a 230SL needs further strengthening for the modern treatment), a full conversion will set you back more than €110 000 and eight months' of work.

However, when you opt for a nut-and-bolt restoration including a full conversion that will include the installation of either a V6 engine or the choice of three V8 engines, that can take up to two years and cost around €250 000, excluding VAT. It comes as no surprise then that the owner of this M-SL 430 example has been offered multiples of that amount. 

Mercedes Pagoda

On a perfect autumn afternoon I meet both owners in the centre of the Western Cape’s Winelands district. These cars couldn’t be better suited to the area, the landscape and the stunning surroundings. The owners, both serious collectors and motoring enthusiasts, immediately start exchanging thoughts about cars while I have a closer look at both examples. 

This 280SL was imported from the USA to South Africa in 2009. It is totally original and basically spotless, and enjoyed on a semi-regular basis by its current owner. The tobacco brown body colour is more a sign of its age compared to the light blue metallic colour of M-SL. From a distance, you would be excused for thinking that both cars have simply been looked after over the years, but climb behind the wheel and there are vast differences, or simply take a peek underneath the car or open the engine lid.

Mercedes Pagoda

It would be wrong to immediately experience the opulent, luxurious V8 power the Mechatronik car has on offer, so I decide to get in to the 280SL first.

The interior is not unlike other Mercedes-Benz cars from the era. However, as soon as you start to press the throttle, and let the engine run through the rev range, there is a lightless – and almost nimbleness – to the way the engine and car behaves. It feels more sports car than cruiser, especially compared to the larger W111 of the same era.

Mercedes Pagoda

As the 280 shifts to second gear, I press the throttle pedal down deeper, and the engine eagerly starts to pull. I watch the rev needle as it swings towards 4 000 rpm before changing gear. You can sense the engine is happy to be driven this way all day long.

The huge steering wheel makes changing direction effortless, and I’m also surprised, especially considering there is still an amount of play in the ‘wheel, by how quickly the car reacts to steering input. After all, it was a sports car of the time. If you are used to modern cars, the steering will, however, take a while to get used to.

Mercedes Pagoda

It doesn’t take long to realise that you can cover great distances in this car, but I think it will reward its driver more during short, spirited drives.

I have a perfect view over the bonnet with the slight bulge down the centre reminding you exactly what you are driving. The Cognac MB Tex is still in a perfect condition, and complements the darker exterior hue to a tee. This is the result of the care and effort of the two previous owners and the current "minder" who have looked after this car for 45 years, and there are no signs that this is about to change.

Mercedes Pagoda

I pull into the layby where both owners are now exchanging thoughts on each of their cars, as the Mechatronik owner has allowed the 280SL owner to blast his car up and down the road – no wonder both are smiling!

As I positioned myself behind the wheel of the M-SL and marvel at the quality of the cabin, the owner walks over and tells me: “Don’t play around with her. Press that throttle down and drive her hard, she’s built to be driven!” He did use more colourful words though, but the message was loud and clear. 

Mercedes Pagoda

From the moment I shut the door, I can sense how much more solid the car feels compared to a standard Pagoda. There are simply fewer noises coming from the entire car – it feels newer, but fortunately nothing like a modern car, either. That is the result of a total rebuild. 

The interior is done in such a stylish and classical way that you can sit in it for a long time, just appreciating every little detail and modern twist that is sprinkled on the buttons, levers, trimmings and finishes. But, and this is important, it never deviates from the original concept, layout and experiences of the original car, which is an achievement on its own. 

Mercedes Pagoda

This experience is amplified the moment you press the accelerator for the first time. The 4.3-litre engine drops a gear (or two), and the modern V8’s revs climb through the rev range with a level of eagerness that highlights the four decades of engine research and development.

After what feels like only a few seconds, the speedometer heads to 160 km/h, and it's time to slow down again. Even on part throttle the 4.3 is already quick. Use all the power and you will definitely leave a few bystanders and even car fanatics scratching their heads.

Mercedes Pagoda

I’m not surprised when the owner tells me that he loves the sleeper effect of the car. He loves those moments when a modern sports car flashes lights at him to move over, and he simply puts his foot down, and makes his "pursuer" work a lot harder to overtake him than anticipated.

“People don’t understand it, it is a complete sleeper. Their assumption of what the car is capable of, and what it can actually do, are two totally different things. I love that about this car.”

Mercedes Pagoda

But it is not only the performance alone, but also under braking and in terms of handling, that the Mechatronik car is on another level compared with the standard car. Take into account that Mechatronik’s work also includes the installation of a special chassis with the modification of the front and rear axles, the complete replacement of the braking system and it is no wonder the car behaves so well on the road. In line with these overhauls the company also installs a traction control system with an ABS braking system. 

Mercedes Pagoda

Even purists should applaud the fact that Mechatronik's engineers manage to slot a V8 engine into the nose of the Pagoda. Although Mercedes-Benz never released a V8-engined production Pagoda, the company did experiment with a test mule on the Nürburgring Nordshleife. The car was fitted with the heavy and large W100 600 Grosser’s 6.3-litre V8 engine! Needless to say, the 4.3-litre engine fitted by Mechantronik is significantly more compact and lighter.

mechatronik pagoda

The beauty of the Pagoda has always been its shape. Paul Bracq's dainty and perfect lines have never aged, and today this shape only seems to receive more acknowledgement from enthusiasts with every passing year. The fact that it is one of the most compact classic Mercedes-Benzes must also count in its favour. Even the turning circle is quite impressive!

Mercedes Pagoda

Although we might look at the Pagoda today as an iconic Mercedes-Benz that should be best used for cruising down your favourite stretch of road, when the car was launched, it was a proper sports car, and as is always the case, enthusiasts look at cars differently. The result was that in 1963, the same year the Pagoda was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show, Stuttgart hotelier Eugen Böhringer with his team mate Klaus Kaiser, won the year’s Liège-Sofia- Liège rally in a race-prepared 230SL, giving the Pagoda one of its early motorsport victories.

Mercedes Pagoda

It is a fruitless exercise to try and pick a winner between these two cars. However, it does perfectly sum up how valuable and sought-after classic cars have become during the past 10 to 15 years. A company like Mechatronik, which restores, with a modern twist if needed, cars such as this Pagoda, make it possible to enjoy your classic, and at the same time embarrass modern sportscars in a traffic light grand prix. 

Fortunately, there will also always be the original cars, the cars that allow us to travel back in time and experience what motoring was like, back then. 


Mercedes-Benz M-SL 430 (W113)

Engine: M113, 4,3-litre, V8

Power: 205 kW @ 5 750 rpm

Torque: 400 Nm between 3 000 – 4 400 rpm 

Transmission: 5-speed automatic, RWD

Weight: 1 472 kg

0-100 km/h: 6.5sec 

Top speed: 220 km/h 

Fuel consumption: 14.4 l/100 km 

Mercedes-Benz 280SL (W113, Pagoda)

Engine: M30, 2.8-litre, in-line 6-cylinder

Power: 125 kW @ 5 750 rpm

Torque: 240 Nm @ 4 500 rpm 

Transmission: 4-speed automatic, RWD

Weight: 1 360 kg

0-100 km/h: 9.0 sec 

Top speed: 195 km/h

Fuel consumption: 11.4 l/100 km 

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