There comes a time when a desirable old car just jumps in value. That time may be now for the 3.5SE

The 111-series of Mercedes-Benz automobiles of the 1960s and early 1970s is much appreciated by collectors who also enjoy driving their cars. There is a solidness to the ride and handling that helped Mercedes seize a profitable share of the world market.

When introduced, these cars were powered by the company's reliable 6-cylinder engine and their performance, with 105-135 horsepower, can be described as stately. That changed dramatically when the 230-horsepower, 3.5-liter V8 was introduced, offering performance to match its appearance.

The 111-series 280SE chassis was up to the power. The body structure was a rigid welded unit. Mercedes had perfected its independent front suspension with coil springs and refined its low-pivot swing-axle independent rear. The result was a solid, rigid, quiet, stiff structure that was ideally suited to form the base of a luxury automobile.

USA marketing of Mercedes's "S-Class" cars began in earnest with the introduction of the 111-series 220SEb coupes and convertible for the 1962 model year. The 1962 220SEb evolved, almost without visual changes, into the 250SE, and then the 280SE coupes and convertibles. The conservative styling did not include the vestigial tail fins of the period sedans, and endured right up to 1970, when Mercedes lowered the front grille a bit and created the all-aluminum, 3.5-liter, overhead-cam V8.

Mercedes-Benz's line of distinctive, hand-built, four-place cabriolets began with the 380K before WWII and ended with the 280SE 3.5. A similar body style would not appear for another 20 years.

This rare V8-powered 280SE 3.5 Convertible was imported to France as a rust-free California car in 2004, having been checked over for signs of damage before purchase. No evidence of this was found, so the car was commissioned as a concours rebuild at Classic Restoration Services in Loosdrecht, Holland.

The 280SE has the desirable options of air conditioning, a console-shift automatic, tinted and electric windows, and the original period radio. All accessories were working at the time of inspection and the quality of the restoration is quite stunning and would pass the most stringent examination.

SCM Analysis


Number Produced:1,232
Original List Price:$14,155
Tune Up Cost:$450
Distributor Caps:$49
Chassis Number Location:Windshield pillar
Club Info:Mercedes-Benz Club of America
Alternatives:1971 Rolls-Royce Corniche, 1971 Cadillac Eldorado, 1962 Mercedes 220SEb
Investment Grade:B

This 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Convertible sold for $192,406 at Christie’s Retromobile auction in Paris, February 17, 2007.

This sale represents a new benchmark for 3.5 convertibles. There have been a few sales in the $140,000-$150,000 range for #1 restored 3.5s in the past year, and these cars have been subject to a bare-tub restoration by MB specialists.

The 3.5-liter V8-equipped coupe and convertible came to the U.S. only as a 1971 model, and included a new built-in Behr air conditioning system, floor or column-shifted 4-speed automatic, and power windows. Just 802 cars were imported.

The enthusiast would have a hard time finding a collectible car so thoroughly modern and easy to use. With their snug-fitting six-layer convertible tops, excellent sound-deadening, and quiet V8s, they can cruise the interstates at today’s elevated speeds, delivering four people to their weekend destinations in better comfort than many new cars. Service and parts are easy to obtain through the MBUSA dealer network and hundreds of knowledgeable independent shops.

One of the cars we sold that made a top price was a 3.5 we restored in the early ’90s, which had been kept exceptionally well since. It seems there is a good demand for 3.5s of high quality, as there is for almost all limited-production MBs. The question is, how does one get a good example?

One way is to wait for the perfect car to come on the market. This always involves wasted travel time going to see a few turkeys in the pursuit of the best one, and the best one may not come in your favorite color. Only 1,232 examples were made for world production, and many of these didn’t have power windows and a/c. So the field of candidates is small.

The rusty and worn examples are not close to economical to restore, so if one decides to go the restoration route, it needs to be with a non-rusty car. A restorable car would cost $45,000-$60,000. Once found, get ready to spend a further $150,000-$200,000 and many months to restore to #1 quality. In the end, your investment in the car will exceed its market value, but you will have exactly the car you were looking for, which is why many people restore cars in the first place.

Right here, right now at Retromobile

The cost of restoration partly explains why someone paid $40,000-$50,000 “over market” for a good car. The car at Retromobile was a U.S.-spec car with air-conditioning and so on, nice colors, well-restored, and available right there, right then with just the wave of a paddle.

Obviously, more than one 3.5 shopper was in the crowd, and they both or all wanted it. Also, due in large part to the current exchange rate, vintage cars and other tradeable goods are selling for more money in Europe than in America. This car sold for 146,875 Euros, about the same as it might have been worth in dollars in the U.S., so it made about 25% more than it would have here.

This wasn’t a very risky buy, as with some vintage convertible muscle cars selling for over $200,000. A buyer could easily justify taking a chance on an expensive 3.5, with the expectation of future appreciation.

There comes a time with every desirable old car model when it takes a big leap in value. A while ago, we were selling 300SL convertibles in the $15,000 range. At some point, this model took a mysterious leap in value. It happened when all the really nice original examples were gone, and the only (desirable) 300SLs on the market were restored ones. Every seller of a restored 300SL wanted to get back at least most of his restoration investment, hence the higher prices. And as for a buyer who wanted a good one, he simply had to face up to the new, higher pricing structure.

It seems this is where we are with the 280SE 3.5 convertibles. The market is starting to move. Most of the good original ones are gone. What we’re left with are expensive restoration projects and even more expensive restored cars. So if you know of one for sale at the “old prices” and have had a hankering for one, now might be your best chance to make a move.

And for future reference, it should be noted that more 300SL convertibles were made (1,856 of all variants) than were 280SE 3.5 convertibles. In a while this car may seem to be really well bought indeed.

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