W113 Pagoda SL vs. A124 Cabriolet: A Detailed Comparison

The classic you can drive everyday.

Until recently, this was how nearly every enthusiast magazine around the world described the Pagoda SL. It's hard to argue with the Pagoda's combination of classic lines, comfort and reliability. Plus you can still get most any part needed from your local Mercedes dealer.
My first 280SL 

The Pagoda was even affordable. Note past tense here. That changed about a dozen years ago when Pagodas prices started their ascent into madness. This trend was certainly not limited to the Pagoda, though the fundamentals behind the upward surge of the little roadster were unquestionably strong. If any old car was going to appreciate, the Pagoda were certainly due. It's beautifully made, exudes elegance decades later, and still has that special "it" factor that makes cars desirable.

Nonetheless, with decent Pagodas now fetching prices well north of $70K and exceptional examples over a quarter million dollars or more, it's clear things have changed. No matter how comfortable, reliable and beautiful it may be, cars in this price range just can't be driven without some degree of stress. The risks are just too great to hand the keys to an 18-year old parking attendant or to leave the car parked on the street.  

Handsome, but is it special?
Mind you, 20 years ago most people would have scoffed at the notion that Pagoda values would go so high so fast. They would've told you that there were too many made or that they aren't real sports cars. Not "manly" enough. Years later, we can now safely say they were wrong.

Undoubtedly, there are lessons to be learned—lessons that can be applied to the A124 Cabriolet. The purpose of this blog entry is to take a closer look at the vital statistics of the Pagoda SL and the A124 Cabriolet and to see what conclusions, if any, we can draw.

Without a doubt, there are some pronounced differences such as the fact that the Pagoda was usually a two-seater (kinderseat option and California Coupe excepted), whereas the E320 Cabriolet is a true 4-seater. Here's the nitty-gritty:

W113 Pagoda SL vs. A124 Cabriolet

An Examination of the Numbers:

  1. Total number manufactured: 48,912 (Pagoda) vs. 33,952 (Cabriolet)
  2. Years in production: 1963-1971 vs. 1990-1997
  3. Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: ~ $8,500 (1971 280SL) vs. $85,039 ('93 300CE Cabriolet) 
  4. Power: 170 hp@5750 rpm vs. 217 bhp  @5500 rpm
  5. Seating capacity: 2 vs. 4
  6. Closest competitors: BMW 3.0CS, Jaguar XKE, Ferrari 246GT Dino vs. Jaguar XJS, Porsche 928, BMW 850CSi
  7. Significant features: Removable hardtop, occupant safety cage, crumple zones, padded interior parts vs. Sensor-controlled rollover bar deployable within .3 sec, standard anti-lock (ABS) braking system, panoramic windscreen wiper capable of cleaning 86% of the windscreen (the largest swept-area of any passenger car at the time), standard Catalytic Converter.  
  8. Current market value: 82,400 (1971 280SL) vs. $11,000 (1995 E320 Cabriolet)

Known Weaknesses:

  • W113: injection pump issues, cold start valve, rust
  • A124 Cabriolet: wiring harness, head gasket, roof hydraulics

Key Insights:

  • There were far more Pagoda SLs manufactured than Cabriolets. 44% more, to be exact.
  • The Pagoda SL had a longer production run than the Cabriolet. 
  • Both models were among the higher end of the product line.
  • Both models are mechanically and structurally robust.
  • The Pagoda SL was offered with more options.
  • The newer Mercedes benefits from greater availability of spare parts.
  • Both vehicles borrow key mechanical elements from 4-door counterparts.
  • Both vehicles incorporated industry-leading safety features.


The Pagoda SL and the A124 Cabriolet are very different cars. Yes, both are heavy, fuel-injected 6-cylinder cars (E220, excepted) with a substantial feel, but one is a revvy little roadster and the other is a mid-size 4-seater with a distinct grand touring feel.

For this reason, many would say the W111 Cabriolet is a more logical comparison to the A124, but this blog entry seeks to compare one former sleeper to a current sleeper. 

More importantly though, I would argue these two cars share intangibles that are significant. I would argue they share a certain engineering DNA and a sensibility that is distinctly Mercedes, in the best sense of the brand. Though separated by two decades, they both set the standard for build quality in their day. Both were head and shoulders more expensive than their competitors. Both languished in the used car market for their first couple decades. Both had an appeal that crossed gender lines. Finally, both are driver's cars, but engineered with understated Teutonic restraint and efficiency. These are serious, beautifully constructed, eminently drivable Mercedes with timeless designs.  

And there you have it. A list of the fundamentals that should put the handsome A124 Cabriolet squarely on a path that has already been forged by the universally-loved Pagoda SL.