We recently just did a photo comparison between the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabrio and BMW 6 Series Convertible, as the former is all-new. During this comparison test, I pointed out, rightly or wrongly, that the new E-Class Cabrio had an elegance I hadn’t seen from a Mercedes convertible since the 280SL Pagoda back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. That got me thinking of cars from that era, so I decided to see what BMW had from the day and compare the two.
To be fair, BMW wasn’t really putting many convertibles out at the time that compared to the 280SL. However, with the optional “Pagoda” hardtop applied, the 280SL actually took the shape of a coupe and looked quite svelte. So, with that in mind, I decided to compare it to the BMW 3.0 CS Coupe, the most iconic coupe of the era for BMW.
In terms of exterior design, it’s almost impossible to choose between the two cars. Both are the top of their respective model lines, so they’re the best looking of each. Both are also bafflingly beautiful, with near perfect lines and proportions. It’s actually hard to fault either in terms of design. The Benz gets a bit of an edge because the roof can come off but with the hardtop on, they’re so close. If I had to choose between the two…I wouldn’t. I’d buy both. I’d sell a kidney if I had to. They’re both bite-the-back-of-your-hand pretty.
On the inside, both are very cool in very different ways. The BMW 3.0 CS certainly has the sportier cabin of the two, with a more driver-oriented cockpit and sports car style. The Mercedes 280SL, on the other hand, is definitely more elegant and more of a classic cruiser. However, anyone would be happy to drive around in either and if you say one is ugly you’re flat-out lying or just being a blinded fanboy. I think in terms of pure design, I like the 280SL better but the 3.0 CS makes me want to get in and drive it more. If I had to look at one forever, it’d be the Benz but if I had to actually get in and drive hard, the Bimmer seems more inviting.
The 280SL’s cabin is the sort you’d see in a classic movie, with James Garner driving and a pretty blonde riding shotgun, Ray Bans on and the wind in her hair. Maybe The Eagles in the background. The 3.0 CS looks a bit more Steve McQueen, running from baddies on some windy Italian roads, Persols on and a gun in the glovebox.
Each of these cars were powered by inline-six engines. The BMW 3.0 CS Coupe had a, you guessed it, 3.0 liter I6, making 180 hp. It was also paired to either a four-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic. The Mercedes-Benz 280SL had a 2.8 liter I6 engine and developed 170 hp. That engine was paired with either a four-speed manual or four-speed automatic. A five-speed manual was also available as a very rare option. So, in terms of power and performance, these two cars were very evenly matches.
Both of these cars are spectacular, both drive really well and both have their different styles to them. The BMW 3.0 CS is the sportier car of the two an begs to be driven hard. The Mercedes-Benz 280SL Pagoda sort of a boulevard cruiser with immense style. I guess it really depends on your taste, which you prefer. But there’s no denying the icy-coolness of either.