In the late 1950s, Mercedes Benz was facing a problem. The elegant 300S and 300SC sat atop the range but these imposing and hand-built cars were becoming prohibitively expensive to produce. In comparison to the revolutionary tubular chassis 300SL sports car, the big 300S and SC’s body-on-frame construction made felt a bit old-fashioned on the road and a new model was needed that could be comparably prestigious, yet cost a fraction of the expense to produce. For the turn of the next decade, Mercedes-Benz focused intently to modernize their offerings and reduce production costs across the range. The new W110 and upmarket W111 series of four-door sedans and two-door coupes were built using unibody construction on a shared common platform. This new car was significantly cheaper to build, shared common components across the range yet still maintained Mercedes’ famous quality and bank-vault road feel.
The first W111 cars were sedans that wore styling that was heavily influenced by the American market. The “heckflosse”, or “fintail” had pronounced tail fins and an upright, conservative appearance meant to appeal to American buyers. The coupe, however, shared little of the sedan’s styling and was more understatedly elegant with a distinct roofline highlighted by deeply curved rear glass. The coupe’s styling was so successful that it outlived the sedan by several years, eventually lending its styling cues to the Heckflosse replacement. Top line models were initially powered by the classic, 3.0 liter Mercedes inline six, fitted with proven and reliable Bosch mechanical fuel injection. But some customers wanted more power and exclusivity, so in August of 1969 the all-new, alloy M116 V8 engine was fitted to the 280SE coupe – along with a host of luxury options and equipment - to become the 280SE 3.5. The 200 horsepower 3.5 liter V8 breathed new life in to the W111 for the final three years of production, transforming the luxurious coupe into one of the finest four-seat GT cars ever produced. Today’s enthusiasts relish in the unrivaled quality and visual presence of these magnificent luxury cars.
This 1971 280SE 3.5 Coupe is a very desirable example, finished elegantly in white over beige leather. It presents in superb driver condition and features many sought-after options such as a sunroof, fog lights, floor shift automatic transmission, electric windows and air conditioning. The older restoration still presents beautifully and there are receipts totaling over $25,000 for recent mechanical work and details. Finished in its original color of DB 050 white, the paintwork is very attractive and exhibits excellent, consistent panel fit and detailing throughout. Chrome trim is superb from the grille to the window surrounds to the bumpers. The classic Mercedes full wheel covers are color matched and fitted to steel wheels with whitewall radial tires.
Tan leather and burl wood trim feature heavily in the luxurious interior. The upholstery is in very good condition, showing only minor signs of use but no excessive creasing or cracking. The restored wood on this example is very attractive and shows no signs of the typical cracking or delamination that often plagues the W111. Power steering, power brakes, electric windows, sunroof and air conditioning all function as they should, as does the original Becker radio.
Grand Touring cars of this era often leaned heavily toward the sporting side, yet Mercedes-Benz staunchly held to their traditions and imparted the 280SE 3.5 with a heavy emphasis on luxury and easy performance. The 3.5 liter V8 is a beautiful engine, producing a modest 200 horsepower but delivering seamless power through the rev range, and this car retains its original matching numbers motor. The SE had a 130mph top speed and was the perfect tool for effortless continental cruising. As with all 3.5 liter W111 cars, the engine is dominated by the signature alloy air cleaner. Most of the fittings and brackets wear the correct gold-cadmium plating in good condition. Recent servicing means it is reliable and ready for use. As the last of the truly hand-built Mercedes Benz coupes, the W111 280SE 3.5 holds a special place among collectors and enthusiasts. These cars form the bridge between the modern-era, shared-platform Mercedes and the classic, hand-crafted Mercedes. Beyond their historical place in Stuttgart lore, they are simply outstanding cars to drive and own. This fine example is ready for its next owner to cherish and hopefully enjoy some effortless miles.
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