This Mercedes-Benz offers classic style motoring with modern reliability and convenience. Furthermore, the 3.5-liter version of the 280SE coupe and convertible has the cachet of being one of the rarest Mercedes-Benz models of the past 30 years, with a production run of just 4,502.

Like many desirable cars, the 280SE 3.5 was created at a time of transition. It was based on the W111 platform, introduced in 1961, with
all-independent suspension and disc brakes on all wheels. The 280SE series was spared air suspension and received coil springs at all four corners. Into this proven and highly developed base was installed Mercedes-Benz’s new V8 engine, which developed a smooth and flexible 200 bhp (DIN) with a maximum 211 lb./ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm.

This engine was an important development for Mercedes-Benz and the descendants of this V8 were still in production well into the 1990s. On this car it delivers its power through a four-speed automatic transmission, the option preferred by most customers.

The handsome body style originated in 1961, but benefited from the many improvements in production techniques Mercedes introduced in the 1960s. This combination of classic styling, modern build values, and superb running gear makes the 280SE 3.5 an unusually interesting car, arguably the German equivalent of a coachbuilt Bentley.

With a top speed of 125 mph, 0 to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds and every creature comfort, this magnificent five-seat convertible is as desirable today as at its introduction. It offers high-speed comfort in the grand style, which may be why the model was a particular favorite of film stars.

This exceptional 3.5-liter convertible was restored in Germany to “95 point” condition and is described by the vendor as “very good” in every respect. The V8 engine was overhauled, the coachwork stripped, painted and lacquered, the interior retrimmed in the finest quality leather, the wood veneer polished, the transmission overhauled, the electrics refurbished, and even the chassis restored. The car is said now to look and drive like new, resplendent in dark metallic green with parchment hide upholstery and a new dark green top, a very attractive color combination.

German registered and accompanied by a fresh TüV certificate, this is a superb example of one of the most sought-after Grand Tourers of the period.

SCM Analysis


This comprehensively restored car sold for $68,414 including buyer’s commission at Brooks’ Oldtimer Grand Prix, August 5, 2000, at the Nürburgring in Germany. The price reflects the continued status of these competent touring

machines, which offer style, speed and comfort equaled by few other five-seat open cars.

Introduced late in the 1969 model year, the 3.5 coupe and convertible were sold through 1971. All 3.5s are equipped with the “low grille.” The radiator grille’s size and position were changed from the original 1961 220SE design, making it 100 millimeters wider and placing it 70 mm lower. This small change modernizes the front end, giving it more pleasing proportions, and a much more modern look than the earlier “high grille” cars.

These were hand-finished cars built in low volumes due to their high price (about twice as much as the next-generation 1970 250C six-cylinder coupe and about the same as the monster 300SEL 6.3 sedans). With only 1,232 3.5-liter open cars built, they are rarer than the legendary 300SL Gullwing.

The 3.5-liter engine provides more power and torque at lower rpms than the six-cylinder engine it replaced, while the weight penalty is a modest 55 pounds over the six.

Although sold in the middle of the SCM price range, the description of this car includes some items of concern. First, the car is noted as a “95 point” restoration. This might disappoint the vintage M-B crowd, who like their cars pretty darn close to 100%. The description says the car was “lacquered,” but today the paint of choice is usually some version of urethane enamel. Lacquer, although easier to shoot, repair and color match, lacks the durability of modern two-part urethane paint. Also of concern is the statement that the chassis had been rebuilt, which may indicate previous—and possibly substantial—rust damage.

It is always important to ensure that any 280SE convertible didn’t start out life as a coupe. The second three digits of the serial number must be 027 if built by Mercedes as an open car, 026 if a coupe (for 1970 cars). We can see this is a legitimate convertible.

The 280SE convertible remains one of the most sought-after postwar Mercedes-Benzes. Editor Martin had an opportunity to drive a 220SE “high grille” convertible, on loan from the

Mercedes Classic Center in Stuttgart, in the New England 1000 a couple of years ago. “We

expected the car to be underpowered, but it wasn’t,” Martin related to me. “It was able to maintain 100 mph on decent, straight-enough two-lane roads. And best of all, with the top down and the heater cranked up, we could enjoy open-air motoring in brisk weather, along with a high degree of comfort.” Add another 1,000 cc and 50 hp, and the 280 would be that much better.

Assuming there are no surprises lurking, and the quality of the restoration work was to a high standard, this car can be considered well bought. Perfect, 99-point cars, when offered in the right venue, can bring more than $100,000.—Jim Schrager

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