The Star of Geneva 1963
Photos and text courtesy of “In aller Welt” May 1963. (You’ll have to excuse the sometimes tortuous translated text)
It was a rainy day. The slopes were still covered with snow. The Mont Blanc was shrouded in clouds. For seconds only the sun gleamed over the wet streets of Geneva. This was the typical March mood, no longer winter and not yet spring.
People sat in the comfortable, old Valaisan inns, drank Dole, ate Raclette at open windows, or conversed at the distinguished “Mövenpick” while Entrecôte, banana Flambee and coffee were served. “Yesterday it arrived. It was transported to the Mercedes-Benz agency. It is supposed to look long and low and to have a fantastic road holding ability”. The Genevans nodded considerately.
For them, the Geneva Automobile Salon is no longer a sensation. But, they are greatly interested in the new models every year. It was not as quiet everywhere, as at the Rotisserie or at the Hall des Residences. Advertising banners were spanned across the streets, huge advertising signs were erected: “The superior fuel” – “The outstanding tires”. In the exhibition halls the circular saws shrieked and hammers sounded. Discussions were taking place in all languages. At the Geneva airport, otherwise so quiet, turbines roared. Caravelles, Boeings and Viscounts in quick succession shot down to the runways through the low clouds. Cameras, tripods and searchlights were unloaded. The International press had arrived. After calm days of thaw, wintry, comfortable Geneva , meeting place of ski fans from all parts of the world, experienced a new international highlight: the 1963 Automobile Salon.
At the Mercedes-Benz agency of Geneva, the firm of Perrot, Duval & Cie., the new cars were polished to high gloss during the night prior to the press conference. It goes without saying – this was of course done with all precautionary measures of utmost secrecy, for the presentation was meant to be a surprise.
The new car was supposed to look long and low – so the Genevans had said, but nobody had seen the car as yet. But they discussed. Vehicles which have not yet been presented to the public are called “alder king” by the specialists. Aria “alder kings” are particularly interesting, especially when sports car alder kings are involved. It grew dark. Neon light advertising was reflected on the wet asphalt of the streets. Later people sat with a glass of whisky until midnight. They discussed luxury cars and sports cars. Is there any sense at all to build sports cars for the congested roads of Europe? The motor journalist filled his pipe. “A combination should be found”, he said. “Perhaps a car which could easily attain 110 to 125 miles per hour, but which is also suitable for the traffic in large cities”. Well, we will see.
The next morning was rainy and dull. The picturesque Chateau des Eaux Vives, though, prevented all sad moods. Covers were drawn over cars. Waiters ran around busily. Crystal candlesticks created a festive atmosphere. Through the windows one glanced over the cars still covered on the terrace and over the park down to the lake. Occasionally, when the fog disappeared, the Palace of the League of Nations became visible on the opposite shore. The Publicity Manager of the Daimler-Benz Company was still kept busy while attending to the latest details. Premiere mood. And then the guests arrived. Journalists from all parts of the world drove their cars from the lake shore up to the Chateau. Greetings and salutations came from old friends, new prospects and the newsreel reporters. And television teams arrived from the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, France and Italy. The festive birth hour of the 230SL had arrived.
The new 113 chassis SL range is there, ready to be revealed…
The “Pagoda” has arrived!
In his address, Chief Engineer Professor Dr. Ing E.H. Nallinger stated: “the magnificent and always hospitable city of Geneva and the outstanding organization of this exhibition give the Geneva Salon worldwide impact. Therefore, it has always been valuable to our Company to arrange in Geneva the premiere of our new sports cars. In March 1957, we presented here in Geneva the 300SL Roadster and last year our 300SE Coupé and Convertible. We feel particularly happy that we are able to continue such a tradition today with the presentation of our new sports car model, the 230SL.
One might ask why we have developed a new sports car just at this time and which principles have led us in this task. All who are present here are fully informed on the immense variety of passenger cars offered today on the world markets, and on the vast production capacities which have been created. Is there still any sense at all in our epoch of large series production, to offer any cars of an individual nature? On behalf of our Company, I wish to answer that question with a very clear Yes. We maintain the opinion that, in particular in this time of large mass production, a genuine need of individual vehicles exists, which not only make possible transportation from place to place, but which are also in a position to impart real motoring happiness.
I believe that in particular the European automobile industry, which initiated automobile manufacture, is predestined for the production of such cars, as has been proven by the sales of European sports cars achieved in the United States. How great the desire for individual sports cars is in that country is shown also by the fact that the American automobile industry has likewise developed numerous models of such a nature which have achieved most favourable during the last few months. Thus the sports car has found not only a steadily increasing circle of adherents, but also an important share in the production programs of all major automobile manufacturers throughout the world”
Basking in the glow of the new 230 SL. The two blondes are Swedish Rally drivers, Ewy Rosquist and her co-driver Ursula Wirth
Rudi Uhlenhaut admiring his handiwork. Note that there is no firewall pad
“But now I may be permitted to explain the conception of our new 230 SL model: It was our aim to create with this model a very safe, fast sports car with high performance which, despite its sports characteristics, has a very high degree of travelling comfort. For purely functional reasons, this aim led to the typical styling and equipment embodied in this car. We believe that the 230SL model is equally suitable both as a utility car in particular for long trips and for motoring out of sheer pleasure. Since, in our opinion, the joy of sportsmanlike driving must no longer be coupled with any physical strain nowadays, the combination of driving safety and driving comfort was to us the most important developmental trend.”
It was our aim to combine in the 230 SL model:
Driving safety of the car through
- Road holding ability
- Performance, in particular, acceleration
Driving comfort and thus, in the last analysis, again driving safety through
- Maximum useful space
- Optimal visibility toward all sides
- Seat comfort and accessibility
- Maximum comfort through soft springs
- Good heating and ventilation
- Favourable arrangement of all levers and instruments
The car is available in three variants:
- As roadster
- As coupé
- As coupé with roadster top
“In this respect I wish to point but that, in view of the special construction, the roadster soft top in folded position can remain in the car when the Hard Top roof is attached. Thus one may travel with this coupé, including the roadster soft top, over the Alps to the south. Once there, one may remove the coupé roof during the vacation days, thus enjoying the first days of spring in an open roadster.”
And now the great moment arrived. The canvas covering the car was removed. Minutes of applause ensued. Professor Nallinger, his assistants Director Uhlenhaut and Director Wilfert, now had to answer questions for hours and to discuss pertinent problems with expert motor journalists. General enthusiasm about the new thoroughbred car prevailed.
The reviewer should not be subjected to the suspicion that he may judge subjectively in favour of the Daimler-Benz Company. The praise in the world press was unanimous and emphatic enough.
An early production 230 SL ready for a press demo. Note lack of wheel trim rings
A red/black factory two-tone on display at the Geneva Show
A few months will pass until the new 230SL will appear on the roads. It will not be manufactured in mass series. Even in the days of automation, cars which are to meet the highest demands will require much affectionate and careful manual assembly work to the most minute detail
Those thousands of Mercedes-Benz friends who have already purchased this exclusive sports car without actually being able to try it will naturally be the first ones to take delivery of the new car. But certainly one can prophesy that the 230SL will win friends throughout the world and that it will dominate as a modern and comfortable sports car for many years to come. (Well put!
The first drives begin!
1963 Mercedes-Benz SL Pagoda – the first sports car with crumple zones
The Geneva Motor Show, a favorite stage for premieres, once again fully lived up to its image in 1963 when the new 230SL (W 113) with its novel concave “Pagoda” roof was presented as the successor to the legendary 300 SL coupé and roadster sports cars and their smaller relative, the 190SL, in Geneva from March 13 until 23. With the new SL, the safety bodywork with rigid passenger cell and deformable front and rear sections – developed by Daimler-Benz engineer Béla Barényi – made its debut in international sports car production.