An original road test taken from the Motor Sport archives, June 1965
By Bill Boddy
Max speed: 124mph
Prettiest of the SL two-seaters, especially with hard-top in place. Retained M-B’s swing-axle rear suspension but with tricks ironed out. Servo brakes, discs front, drums rear, going all-disc from 2505L on. Injected straightsix very reliable. Auto or four-speed manual available on all models, but five-speed ZF stick-shift is desirable rarity. American imports may have ugly round lamps. Perfect spec: 2505L, 5-speed ZF manual, power steering.
In 1959, during a visit to the Daimler-Benz factories at Stuttgart and Sindelfingen, I was able to enjoy a Mercedes-Benz 1905L and to sample this sporting Mercedes-Benz round the Niirburgring. The impression lingers of a beautifully appointed, comfortable, essentially predictable, fast car. However, time marches on and the 1905L became outmoded, so DaimlerBenz introduced the 2305L, using a modified version of the well-established 2205E fuel-injection six-cylinder overhead-camshaft power unit of 150bhp. This runs safely to 6500rpm, giving 1591b ft of torque at 4500rpm.
It’s a typical Mercedes-Benz, with coil spring and wishbone front and lowpivot swing-axle coil spring rear suspension, Girling disc front and Alfin drum rear brakes and a stylish twoseater body. It is an effortlessly fast car that provides a great deal of satisfaction tempered with some disillusionment.
The interior exudes the quality and convenience one expects from a Mercedes-Benz. The big separate ventilated leather-upholstered seats have reclining squabs and are among the most comfortable I have sat in for a long time. The driver’s seat hinges forward to give access to the rear compartment, which is more fitted for canines than humans, leg room being restricted. A transverse seat can be supplied for this shelf if required, and presumably customers who order it have their legs amputated free of charge…
With the hard-top in place there is all the comfort of a fixed-head coupe with extremely good visibility. The driver is confronted with a big, somewhat slippery wheel with half horn-ring, and hooded instrumentation, comprising a 140mph speedometer and a tachometer recording to 7000rpm, these dials having between them an instrument cluster containing a fuel/oil gauge and a trio of warning lamps. The facia is otherwise uncluttered.
Typically neat Mercedes flush-fitting pull-out internal door handles are used, and the hard-top is released by operating a series of levers within the car. The hood is effective and free from drumming. The cubby-hole is lockable but wouldn’t take a Rolleiflex camera. Although the boot contains the spare wheel, it is shallow but generous. The rear-hinged bonnet is self-supporting, to reveal some truly impressive machinery.
The car submitted for test was the automatic transmission version, with optional power steering. There is the usual kick-down on the accelerator, very positive, and providing impressive acceleration with a considerable increase in engine noise. Normal motoring is better done in ‘4’ using the hold positions only when really trying, or to prevent hunting in traffic.
For high-speed driving this 2305L is effortless, predictable and stops well. It does everything very nicely indeed, in a rather characterless manner. Cornering is virtually neutral and the steering is sensitive in spite of the power assistance, the wheel needing three turns lock-tolock. Judder and kick-back are absent, the action superbly light without being over-sensitive, this being extremely good power steering. The tyres can be made to squeal if the car is cornered close to its limit, but this means very fast indeed. This Mercedes is very stable, although rather lively suspension gives a hint of swing-axle sway if a rough surface intrudes on a corner.
The brakes feel indecisive, yet retard the car powerfully for light pedal pressures. Except when unleashing most of its 65-per-litre horses for accelerating, the engine is very quiet. It gives a top speed of 120mph, but against the watch acceleration is not particularly impressive, though figures were taken two-up with the heavy hard-top in place. On the road, however, kick-down disposes very effectively of most of the faster saloons and sports cars, and using the ‘hold’ positions of the gearchange, the maxima were 28, 50 and 78mph, change-ups occurring at 5800rpm.
It is interesting that, wheelspin on take-off being virtually absent, driver skill counts for nothing, a time of 171/2 seconds for the standing-start quartermile being obtained repeatedly and the other times being notably consistent. Petrol consumption of premium fuel averaged exactly 20mpg and no oil was required after 575 miles. The fuel tank provides an absolute range of 286 miles and the reserve light, instead of flickering uncertainly, acts as a steady reminder that fuel for about 37 miles remains.
It was very pleasant to be in a Mercedes-Benz again, product of a company which, in my opinion, makes the best all-round touring saloons and sporting two-seaters in the world — I have not yet driven their limousine!
After the automatic 230SL I had a couple of days with an exceedingly smart red normal model, shod with ordinary tyres and a Blaupunkt radio with an electrically erected aerial. It had a four-speed manual gearbox controlled by a neat little central lever, positioned a little too far back for drivers who like to sit fairly close to the wheel, but no doubt ideal for those with long legs who adopt the full arms-stretch position. It functions lightly, with rather long movements, but the change is notchy, somewhat spoiling the speed at which the gears are changed. The lever has no spring-loading, except that protecting reverse. This is a quiet box, with good syncromesh, giving maxima of 27, 54, 80 and 121mph The clutch has a long travel, but is light and smooth. The manual steering takes more than 31/2 turns, lock-to-lock, and while light and precise on small movements, it becomes tiringly heavy when making normal turns, so the very good power steering is to be preferred. My choice would be to have the manual gearbox but power steering, but the 230SL is magnificent in either form.
It is the manner in which the 230SL runs, its impeccable finish and comprehensive specification, as much as the performance, that makes this a supreme sporting car for the discerning, worth the price of £3959 that it costs in this country, in the form tested.