1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet

Mercedes-Benz’s W111 chassis traces its roots back to 1959 when it first appeared in the form of the “Heckflosse” fin-tail sedan. The fresh new sedan replaced the ageing Ponton series with a crisp and heavily Americanized body design. The fins were a direct appeal from the American importer Max Hoffman, who was working hard to secure Mercedes Benz’s place in the US market. Typical for Mercedes, the W111 was very well engineered with safety and solidity playing key roles in the design. The same floor pan and basic mechanical underpinnings also formed the 4-cylinder, entry level W110 models, as well as the luxurious, fuel injected and air-suspended W112. Two years after the sedan debuted, the coupe and cabriolet versions appeared, though with significantly revised styling that reflected the Stuttgart bosses’ reluctance to adopt American styling cues. The haunches of the two door cars were more subtle and elegantly styled with a more cohesive and attractive appearance overall. The superior looks allowed the two-door cars to outlive the four-door finned cars by several years, and went on to inspire the W111’s replacement, the W108.

Mechanically, a wide variety of gasoline and diesel engines were offered. However, since the coupe and cabrio were reserved for the higher classes, choices were limited mainly to six cylinder carbureted and fuel injected engines. Late in production, Mercedes shoehorned their all-aluminum 3.5 liter V8 into the W111 chassis, which transformed the car from an elegant cruiser into one of the most capable and advanced GT cars of the era. The 280SE 3.5 is one of the most desirable of all post-war Mercedes this side of the 300SL. They represent the end of the hand-built era and are exceptionally fine cars to drive. Collectors have taken notice and values have risen dramatically in the past several years.

This handsome 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet is a very desirable later low-grille example. It is well-equipped with a Becker radio, floor shift automatic transmission, color-matched wheel covers, and air conditioning. It presents beautifully thanks to a comprehensive mechanical and cosmetic refurbishment, and the paint and bodywork are in excellent order.  It has been resprayed in its original colors of Silver Gray metallic (code 180G) over a black leather interior and black cloth top. Panel fit is excellent and the general fit and finish live up to the high standards originally set by the factory. The extensive chrome trim is in similarly excellent condition, with straight, tidy bumpers and very good fit.

The cabin of a 280SE 3.5 is a fine display of Teutonic luxury; reserved and functional yet filled with exquisite quality materials and perfectly judged design. The black leather is inviting and in very good order, showing some signs of light use but remaining very attractive. Wood trim on the dash and windscreen surround set the 3.5 apart from some lesser models, and it is in very good condition. The fully lined black convertible top is excellent inside and out, upholstered as original in black canvas. Mechanically this example is very well sorted and ready for use. The engine bay has been recently detailed using mainly correct finishes and fittings, and the car performs very well out on the road; the light alloy V8 returning effortless thrust with just a slight burble to hint at the power under the hood. These are exceptionally good cars that perform in a way that makes them seem much younger than they are. Strong brakes, excellent steering and a crisp automatic transmission all combine to make the 280SE 3.5 a surprisingly good all-round touring car. With the added cachet of a top that goes down as well as strong collectability in today’s market, this 280SE is sure to please its next keeper.

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