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Risky Business: 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280SL

1968 Mercedes-Benz 280SL

Mercedes 280SL values have been skyrocketing lately. Everyone seems to want one and even basketcases have been going for decent money these days. So, this example that I just found here on eBay presents an interesting conundrum. It is claimed to be an original California car. It has a Florida title. It appears to be relatively solid. It has a desirable 4-speed gearbox. It’s already sitting at a Mercedes restoration shop. The only problem? It’s in Hungary… The seller claims that it shouldn’t be too hard to import back to the States, but would all the hassle and risk really be worth it? This car is listed for $28k and after a full restoration it could be worth upwards of $150k, so it might be worth the gamble to some. What do you think? Would you roll the dice on this Hungary find?


  1. Rich Truesdell

    Jesse, interesting barn find but as I contribute to Classic Mercedes in the UK and having written about the steady rise of both 300SL and Pagoda prices, this is not the no-brainer it might be. These cars are incredibly expensive to restore properly, even solid originals. It’s not difficult to spend into six figures and to reach top-tier concours levels, it’s not uncommon to spend into mid-six figures.

    This car, which won the overall Best of Show at the 2013 Legends of the Autobahn is a great example. It is, having been restored by Hjeltness Resoration in Escondido to the absolute highest standards, is arguably one of the best Pagodas on the planet.

    I collaborated with Classic Mercedes’ editor David Sutherland on this story on his 2013 visit to the US with David writing the text while I shot the photos. It outlines the challenges of restoring a Pagoda to as-new condition even with this being an original owner car.

    More than most cars, the Pagodas are an example of the old adage, buy the best one you can afford. With their continued run up in price, that’s never as true as it is now. They are money in the bank.

    Here’s a link to the story.


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  2. Dolphin Member

    This car in Hungary might be worth bringing back to No America if…..1) it isn’t as bad as it looks in terms of fundamentals, 2) you have the help of someone who *knows* how to get it across Europe and over here without any glitches, 3) if you just want an OK driver that doesn’t need to be perfect, and 4) if you want it badly enough to take on all the risk that’s invoved.

    Me? No thanks.

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  3. Seventeen

    All true. And I still like it. Great color.

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  4. 365Lusso

    …..into mid-six figures? You must mean mid-five figures….

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  5. grant

    Hmm. A California car with a Florida title located in eastern Europe. Nope, nothing shady going on here.

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  6. Rich Truesdell

    No 365lusso I meant mid six figures for a top-tier, world class restoration like the 250 SL in the story. And that’s on a solid car, here in the US. To do a Pagoda right you’ll be into six-figures easily at a good restoration shop or the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Europe or here in Irvine, California. You’re not planning on having Maaco paint it, are you?

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    • 365Lusso

      RT, I can see going into low six figures for a top 280SL resto but think it would be entirely insane to spend $500,000 to restore a 280SL as you say. Of course not a Maaco paint job. Half a million dollars to restore a 280SL? Does it have gold plating instead of cad plating on the engine parts? Even that wouldn’t cover it.

      Grant, I think the California Coupe part of the description refers to the model of 280SL, not the geographic origin of the car.

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      • Rich Truesdell

        365Lusso, since I follow these cars closely, $200,000 will get you a concours-level Pagoda restoration but the car I shot took more than twice that (Hjeltness Restoration in Escondido is recognized as the one of the top five 300 SL restoration shops in the world) and nothing is gold-plated but everything is done to the way it rolled off the assembly line. Their restorations are near perfection and if people want to win at a top-tier venue, like Pebble Beach, in either a 300 SL or a Pagoda, they are the go-to shop. They also restored the one-off 1964 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL Pininfarina coupe that I have written about.


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  7. D. King

    The obvious question is–If it’s so valuable, why is a Mercedes restoration shop passing on the job? Someone spent a lot of money to bring it over the Pond, but is now backing away, after all.

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  8. alan

    US market car with kilometer speedo/odo so that would suggest that the mileage is TMU.

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  9. 365Lusso

    RT, it’s shocking to hear those costs. I was thinking of restoring my tired but still soldiering on ’71 4sp 280SL, but those kind of funds are not in the cards. Ah well, keep on keepin’ on….

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  10. Chris A.

    After you put it on the rottisserie, you can pitch those ugly wheels that don’t beling on a Pagoda series car. Will the bubble break on these as well as the 356’s?

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