Making its debut in 1959, the Mercedes-Benz W111 was a versatile workhorse for the marque, forming the basis of a wide range of models that lasted through the early 1970s. Based on a new unibody chassis, with independent front and swing-axle rear suspension, the W111 came in a variety of forms, ranging from the four-door “Heckflosse” (fin-tail) sedans to a series of handsome coupes and glamorous cabriolets. Everything from a four-cylinder diesel to an all-aluminum V8 would find its way under the hood, and the W111 even spawned two sub-models – the base W110 and the luxurious, W112 with fuel-injection and air suspension.
The most coveted versions of the W111/W112 range are the stylish and sophisticated SE coupe and cabriolet. In the period, some buyers felt the fins of the sedan were a blatant attempt to pander to American buyers, so the two-door models received a more subtle treatment with rounded flanks that were barely considered fins. Designer/engineer Paul Bracq is credited with creating the understated shape that better appealed to high-end buyers. Bracq’s design was so well received that the coupe and cabriolet outlived the sedan by a significant margin and the styling cues carried over to the new W108 that remained in production from 1965 to 1973.
With understated elegance and impeccable build quality, the two-door W111 models stand as some of the most desirable post-war Mercedes-Benz automobiles this side of the 300SL. Among those, the choice for drivers is the V8-powered 280SE 3.5. Produced in the legendary Werk Sindelfingen these cars were virtually hand built to a very high standard, using the finest materials and fittings. The elegant, pillarless coupe offered luxury and style on par with the vastly more expensive Bentley T-Series coupe, and with exceptional reliability and refinement. Much in the same way as buyers in the 1970s, today’s enthusiasts cherish the 280SE 3.5 for its relaxed nature and highly refined road manners.
Presented in the attractive shade of Lapis Blue over an original blue leather interior, this 1971 280SE 3.5 is an outstanding example of Mercedes’ flagship coupe of the early 70s. Desirable specification includes the preferred low-grille body styling, floor shift automatic gearbox, and Behr air conditioning. It is in fabulous running condition, enjoying long-term care in the personal collection of a professional marque specialist. A European specification model, this car has been in the US for many years, with the most recent owner acquiring it from a long-term keeper in 2013. Originally finished in Papyrus White, the car received a very high-quality respray in Mercedes-Benz DB932 Lapis Blue, believed to be done in Germany. The paintwork remains in outstanding condition, and the bodywork is crisp, straight and finely detailed. Panel fit is excellent, and the doors shut with a satisfying vault-like feel. Bright trim and bumpers are in excellent condition, with high-quality plating showing some light polish marks. Accessories include a pair of period correct chrome-body Hella fog lamps up front, chrome horns, and a period Hella rear fog lamp.
Complementing the exterior color is the handsome dark blue leather interior, which remains in excellent original condition. The leather seats show some creasing and cracking in the surface, yet they are comfortable, wonderfully inviting and full of character. Blue carpets are also in fine order, protected in front by recent sisal fiber floor mats, which are a period-appropriate accessory. This car features a center console, electric windows, floor shift transmission, and a factory add-on Behr air conditioning system. The aircon system benefits from recent comprehensive service, including a new Delco compressor, drier, and hoses. A Becker Mexico AM/FM Cassette player sits in the dash, which features blonde colored wood in good condition. There is some delamination noted mainly in the wood at the base of the windscreen, which is a common weak point on these cars, although it does little to detract from the otherwise finely preserved cabin. The large boot has room for plenty of luggage, retaining the correct rubber mat, jack and tool roll. With generous seats and space for four adults, this 280SE is an incredibly versatile classic that can is suitable for virtually any event or occasion.
Mechanically, this Mercedes inspires the kind of confidence needed to take it on those long journeys and driving events without worry. Sophisticated yet reliable Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection keeps the original, numbers-matching 3.5 Liter V8 running strong in virtually any conditions. Rated for 200 horsepower and 286 ft-lbs of torque, the M116 V8 weighed in at only 29 pounds more than the old 2.8-liter inline six. Light and efficient, the engine transforms the W111 into a capable high-speed grand tourer. The professional Mercedes-Benz mechanic that cared for it since 2013 has ensured it remains on the button and ready to drive anywhere and includes service records. It performs beautifully on the road, feeling extremely well-sorted, with confident handling and braking that belies its age.
Few classics of the era can match the Mercedes 280SE 3.5 for continent-crushing ability. Rapid, comfortable, and reliable they are the ultimate Gentleman’s Express of the early 1970s. This example has enjoyed a cherished existence, and it is ready to reward its next owner with many more miles of enjoyment out on the road.