This car was supplied new to the wife of well-known Tulsa-based actor and producer Milton Berry. She kept this quality, matching-numbers Mercedes-Benz 280SL until it was traded in to the original Tulsa, OK, Mercedes-Benz dealer in 1999. It stayed in his personal collection until 2010, when it was ultimately purchased by the present owner after years of asking. The odometer reads 75,420 miles, which is almost certainly actual, although it is stated as exempt on the clear Oklahoma title.

During the past 18 months, the car has been restored to the superb condition presented here. The excellent condition of the original sheet metal allowed a frame-on restoration, and the factory color scheme and appointments remain as the original build and are all in perfect working order. The cream steering wheel is matched to the leather seats and trim, the correct square weave carpet is in excellent condition and the dash sports the original Becker Europa radio with manual antenna.

The Haartz cloth soft top has perfect fit and finish, and the factory hard top with rare stand and cover has been lovingly restored to as new. The factory air has been updated and blows ice cold. It comes with its owner’s manuals, warranty books, tools, jack and spare wheel, all of which are correct and original to the car.

The 280SL outsold all its early siblings in its four-year production run because it ultimately offered quality construction, mated to performance and reliability that comes with a fully developed model. This lovely example represents the very best of the SL tradition that in many ways defines Mercedes-Benz.
All-alloy, 2,778-cc in-line, 6-cylinder engine with Bosch mechanical fuel injection rated at 170 horsepower at 5,750 rpm, automatic 4-speed transmission, independent front and rear coil springs and hydraulic dampers, rear swing axles, front anti-roll bar, all wheel hydraulic power-assisted brakes, 94.5-inch wheelbase.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SL convertible
Number Produced:23,885
Original List Price:$7,224
Tune Up Cost:$900
Chassis Number Location:Right front frame rail / Plate screwed to the firewall
Engine Number Location:Stamped left near top of the block
Club Info:Mercedes-Benz Club of America

This car, Lot 75, sold for $68,750, including buyer’s commission, at Worldwide’s Auburn, IN, auction on September 3, 2011.

I can find fault in almost anything when inspecting a classic car and I can be even more jaded (it seems 100 times more jaded, honestly) than the average punter when reading carefully chosen words in an auction catalog. I’m always looking for what is NOT said. This is an honest, harsh assessment about my critical mind, and it comes from a sense of responsibility — and not wanting to make mistakes. I like the task of due diligence and gathering information; I don’t like getting a car wrong for a client.

More information needed

The past few years have turned out to be stellar in the classic car auction world, with great growth, fantastic offerings — and good times.
A byproduct of this growth is that the larger auction companies have taken great pains in producing great catalogs for their clients at their bigger events. Some of these books really channel the personalities of the people who put them together, and that’s a good thing.

Look back at a catalog from 20 years ago, and you’ll see pretty pictures and some reasonable verbiage generally written by the owners of the consigned lot. Due diligence was not at the level that it is in this day and age. Know that some large venues (I’m thinking Rick Cole Auctions in Monterey, circa 1989) occasionally handed out one-line lists of what was being sold. Times have changed — well, some times have changed.

Sadly, we all know people who buy blind, and they are just asking for a world of hurt and trouble. My absentee bidder backup plan (aka common sense), tells me that a professional should be engaged to inspect a car. Or, at a bare minimum, a long conversation should take place between an auction house specialist and the bidder. Ask every question you can think of ahead of time.

In the worst-case scenario, the buyer may have no choice but to rely heavily on the catalog. More than anything, I feel badly for buyers who cannot personally attend a sale when they want to check out a car to potentially own and cherish. How can you truly make a wise decision if you can’t inspect, drive and crawl all over the car?

Now, let me address why I’m cross while I’m writing this — watch out, as here comes the steam.

In short, I would have liked to see a more thorough description of the car.

If this was a $7,500 car and it was my first purchase, I’d be pumped by the auction description. Well, this is not my first purchase, and this isn’t a $7,500 car. It’s a complex little ride that’s getting more valuable and desirable every year, and I’d like a little more sustenance in the form of automotive history.
It’s not enough to tell me that the mileage might be true, everything works and it’s been restored. If the car stayed with one dealership from new, are the service records available? It’s nice to know it was restored, but why not give me the name of the shop that did the work? Was it a Mercedes specialist? How much was spent restoring the car? Are there any before and after photos of the restoration? How about a pile of receipts? We need more details here.
I especially cringe at the sentence about the third owner being persistent about how he wanted the car for the longest time, then after getting it in 2010, he’s decided to resell it in 2011. I’d like to know why the car is on the block after only one year or so with the third owner.

Checking out an SL

But let’s take the ball from the auction company and put it back in your park. Let’s say you had a chance to look over this SL. First, remember that buying a lower-priced SL don’t mean there are lower-priced solutions when problems surface.

First, a thorough chassis inspection has to be completed. Rust can be a horrific repair, and checking everywhere is a little more involved than getting on your hands and knees and looking at the pan. Trim and chrome are costly to repair or replace, and some very small items are now extremely difficult to source with genuine parts. The injection pump tends to have problems when cars sit for a long period of time.

Things that seem small can become huge repair bills. For example, wipers that don’t work and heater control levers that don’t operate like new may seem like small issues, but both jobs can be wallet crushers because it’s difficult to find authentic parts.

Finally, an expert should give the car a test drive. You need someone capable of concluding that the clunky shifts in the transmission are not beyond normal, the suspension — front and rear — is tight, the brakes are firm and that the engine is pulling smoothly.

Probably a good buy

Bottom line, if this SL was a 75k mileage example in stellar condition as stated, then the $68,750 was fair money paid. Most Pagoda buyers want this specification: last year of manufacture, two roofs, automatic and a/c. I prefer a 5-speed manual 230SL, which in my view, is a purer, prettier and more lively sports car to drive.

When properly cared for, these Teutonic two-seaters will last forever. They were expensive, well-built and beautifully engineered cars when new. Collectors are starting to notice these cars; while $100,000 280SLs were pipe dreams just a few years ago, this is no longer the case, as buyers are realizing how rewarding and classic these SLs are.

I hope the new owner has a great car and I hope all of the questions not answered by the catalog were answered in an affirmative fashion by the car itself. If that’s the case, fairly sold and bought.

(Introductory description courtesy of Worldwide Auctioneers. For Worldwide’s response, see p. 52)

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