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Pagoda Plunge: 1966 Mercedes 230SL


Has everyone lost their minds? We keep seeing all these basketcase cars listed online with outrageous asking prices! It seems that everyone is finding old cars, dragging them home, and then listing them on the internet for tens of thousands of dollars more than they paid… Well, that is what ran through my mind when I first looked at this 1966 Mercedes 230SL that Alan F sent in. It appeared rough so the asking price of $14,000 just seemed insane. After I calmed down a bit, I did some research though and discovered that maybe, just maybe, the seller isn’t too far off. Take a look at the craigslist ad here out of Fairfax, Virginia.


Paying more than a couple grand for a rusty beat-up old project car may seem like a bad idea to most of us, but there are some cars that are so desirable that there could actually be an upside to going into debt. Some cars are worth so much restored that you may actually earn a return on your investment if you play your cards right. I’m not sure if this is one of those cars, but I have a feeling, that for the right person, it just might be. Values have been on the rise for vintage MBs and this is one of the most desirable models of the era. Perfect examples have almost touched six figures at the auctions lately and even driver quality cars have been known to fetch 25 grand. This one is going to need a lot of help before it is going to see those kind of numbers, but the seller does claim that everything is there.


So, what’s the big deal about these old Benzes you may ask? Well, after 300SL and 190SL production ended, Mercedes needed a new sports car to show people that they still knew a thing or two about performance. So, they took the chassis from one of their sedans, stuck a two-door roadster body on it, and shoved a fuel-injected inline six under the hood. It wasn’t as beautiful as earlier SLs, but it did the trick and Mercedes ended up selling a bunch. It did incorporate some advanced safety features and made for quite a comfortable cruiser, so what it lost in sport, it made up for in class.


Most of us enjoy the old car hobby with no hopes of making any money from it, but there are a select few who view the hobby as an investment strategy. They buy project cars, restore them, and sell them on for a profit. I have never had much success with that strategy, but I respect the people who can make it work. They are saving a few cars while putting food on their table at the same time. The prospect of taking this Pagoda on is tempting, but I can’t help but wonder if the real winner here isn’t the guy who is currently trying to sell it. Either way, would you take the plunge?


  1. L.M.K.

    If doing all of the work yourself, maybe ??? If paying for the labor to revive this one, better off buying one that’s already done…..

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  2. cory

    nope. my goal with old cars is to stay close to zero. as in always have it worth about what im into it. I imagine this car may bring good money someday, and agree it is neat and likely an expanding market, but the cost to bring it back is just too much for my comfort level.

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  3. Mark E

    Pass. You got me to read the whole article thinking that maybe it was owned by someone famous or was some kind of a historic vehicle or something but NO. If they dropped a zero off the price they’d be closer to market value. I could even see someone buying it for $2500 maybe…

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  4. Rex Kahrs Rex Kahrs Member

    These cars are likely scarce enough that the asking price probably isn’t too far over the top.

    That is to say, not too far over the top for someone who is cashed-up and can afford to invest maybe 50-75K to put the car back to top condition. Thus, whether new, used, or basketcase, the Mercedes-Benz is a marque for the affluent!

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  5. Carl B.

    Looks like someone started to do the work needed on this example – and as they got into it – found out that they didn’t have the additional $80K to $100K needed to accomplish a finished car. Cut your losses short – and sell it as is.

    If one can afford it – and loves the process of restoring a Classic Car – it might be a project worth taking on. Properly done they are beautiful Classics and although demand is limited, there seems to be buyers out there. In terms of “demand” these are somewhat like the 55/56/57 T-Birds. Everyone likes looking at them – not too many are willing to put much money into a purchase. Might take a year to sell – but sooner or later the right buyer can be reached.

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  6. NF

    God bless the person who would save this car. No offense to the seller but I’d be thinking it should be free to anyone who would spend the time and money to revive it. This Benz didn’t just become desireable … its been iconic since the day it was new …. how do cars get in this condition?!! Even after it’s undergone a $100k restoration .. who’d want to own it? You can buy good survivors probably for less. This car would be the twin to the first Benz I ever drove … MB company demo (sweet).

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  7. socal Joe

    looks like a great start if it isn’t rusted out beyond what the photos show. I’d be a buyer if it were on the west coast.

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  8. Doug M. (West Coast) Member

    I would bite… Been watching Mercedes, done a few older sedans. This would fit nicely into my garage/shop. If a guy could shave a little off the asking and get in for $12k, I think it would be a good project.

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  9. marc

    I think it would be a good gamble – doesn’t look to have much exterior rust but the floor pans are probably shot. I bought one 4 years ago in much worse condition for $400 and sold for $5000 the next week after realizing it was more than I could handle. This looks like you might actually be able to drive it with little work.

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  10. Dave Wright

    These will be the next mercedes to appreciate quickly. When you buy a car like this it is like a real estate investor buying for future appreciation. They are much better cars than the 190SL whitch really were simply pretty bodies on small sedan chassis. In the old days we always bemoand the Aluminum doors, hoods and trunks on these cars, they would evidence of every time they were roughly handled. They were wonderful ladies cars while we men would drive our 2 ltr 911S. These were smooth quiet reliable cars with attractive lines, high quality fit and finish. I can not quite figure out todays prices for 190SL’s. They are underpowered, rust prone, sort of boring to me. People that compare them to a 300SL are on drugs.

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  11. Dolphin Member

    This is best tackled by somebody with the experience, skills, a well equipped shop, and maybe spare M-B parts that are needed to do it right, otherwise it won’t bring the top money that you see these sell for now to make the purchase worthwhile.

    Peter Klutt, who runs Legendary Motorcar Co near Toronto, does a reality show about buying and restoring vintage cars. The thinking and information getting that he does on the show when he’s deciding whether or not to buy a car is interesting. Last night he was looking at a ’30s barnfind Packard. It’s his bread and butter as well as his passion, so he has to get it right, given what the market for a car is now and in the near future.

    My guess is that he wouldn’t buy this 230SL, but that a smaller shop with minimum overhead and the experience to R&R this car well could make it work—providing the car is solid and not a used up mess, which it could be underneath. You don’t know because the CL ad has only the vague promise that the seller “has all the original parts”, but there are no details to back that up, no pics of the underside, and not even pics of the trunk and engine bay.

    This car might be OK for the right person to buy, but not without a lot more information, and probably not at the $14K ask.

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  12. mtshootist1

    One thing about Craigslist, You pretty much have to deal face to face with the seller. There is no recourse if you do it by phone. Having bought several classic motorcycles, sidecars, and myriad other stuff off Craigslist, I always deal face to face, with my Para 45 in concealed carry.

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  13. Phouha

    Hmmm,. not so scarce as there were 48,912 built. Presentable drivers of this model run $20,000 to $40,000. Considering how much work needs to be done on this example, weigh the costs vs. going out today and spending the same money on a done vehicle or nice driver. A project is a project. Those hours of assembly and repair are billable at $100/hour. Parts, paint/body, interior, and allllll that labor. I’m with those in the low 4 digits.

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    • Carl B.

      If you find a presentable driver at $20K – please let me know. Haven’t seen a presentable driver at $20K in the past 10 years.

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      • Dave Wright


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    • Carl B.

      48,912 total 130/250/280 SL’s built over a 9 year period 1963-1971. Average just over 5,435 per year.

      19,831 230SL’s over a 7 year period – average about 2833 per year. No matter how you look at “production cars” – that is an extremely low number. After 44 years, how many are still out there in the world?

      I’ve only seen 1 – yes 1- being driven on the streets in the past 10 years. There were 3 at the last Classic Car Show.. where about 12 E-Type Jags sitting, and so many 63-67 Corvettes that I didn’t bother counting them all.

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  14. tom999p

    If you’re into restoring old cars to sell and make profit, then you’re in the wrong hobby..

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    • Carl B.

      If you’re into restoring old cars to sell and make a profit – – then you’re in Business.

      If you’re into restoring old cars as a hobby, and you want to make a profit, then have someone pay you to work on their old car. LOL

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  15. Rex Kahrs Rex Kahrs Member


    So true! Flipping is easier!

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  16. Chris A.

    When the 230SL’s came out, they had the image of a Mercedes Thunderbird. Especially with the automatic.MB abandoned any development of a 300SL successor and instead went for a much larger “sporty image cruiser” market and did well selling these. Even so, they were heavy, slow, the engine wasn’t anything great and expensive. But comfortable. Later development of the cars like the 250SL especially in the european version with the hotter engine and the rare 5 speed ZF and the last version with the 280 SL and the 5 speed were much better cars overall and closer to being a sports car. I love the looks, but this is at the bottom of the 230/250/280 SL with the small engine and the automatic tranny. This is a car for someone that has done one before, loves them, can do most of the work and knows exactly what it costs to bring it back and doesn’t pay one penny over what he needs to at least end up even. I don’t see this as an investment car at all.

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    • Dave Wright

      You have missed the place of these cars in Mercedes history, The 300SL was conceived primarily as a racing car, after the tragic accident at LeMons in 1955, Mercedes retired from racing. The in between years of the mid 50’s until the return of Mercedes racing in the 90’s, the highest performance cars were the sedans, The open cars were designed as fine highway cruisers, not high performance speedsters. Off course, in typical Mercedes (and Porsche) fashion when they returned to racing they were dominante. When the Germans put there attention to a problem, they lead. My 190D still gets over 40MPG and it is over 30 years old. My wife’s R500 will cruise over 100 MPH effortless lee for hours at a time just like my 6.3’s only at twice the fuel economey and with all wheel drive.

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  17. Rex Kahrs Rex Kahrs Member

    Carl B. Thanks for the perspective on the relative scarcity of this model, which I mentioned early on. Contrast this with the 1964 Chevrolet BelAir/Biscayne/Impala, of which over 1.3 million units were produced.

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  18. Woodie Man

    The diversity of opinon above concerning the relative value of this sorely neglected 230SL proves that there is an ass for every matter how expensive or worn out it may be.

    For my money, if I had any, I would buy a solid driver with as little rust as possible. Period.

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  19. Barry Thomas

    Back in the day, I thought Benz had lost their way with this design. Just a pleasant GT, but nothing like the SL brutes that had proceeded it. Time heals all wounds, I guess, as some current pricing is really out there. I still think the Mercedes before and after were a far better representation of what this company could/can do.
    Barry Thomas’ “Wheel to Wheel” blog

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  20. JohnnieD

    It’s the influence of these stupid reality car shows. People actually believe it’s that easy. And the half finished project cars suddenly flooding the market indicate two things. One amatuers starting in on a resto and giving up when they find out just how tough it is. You can get some super deals buying these with half the work done but, must be sure to chase down every part before handing money over. This can be maddening as confused minds often mix them up in boxes. And two, much more important usually indicate an unwinding economy as their phone is not ringing when they put a finished car up for sale. The 230 needs everything and is a 5,000 car in present condition.

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