A Beautiful Farewell to Fins – 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5

Sold – $89,500 (plus fees)

While the overall design of a car can typically mature beyond ten production years without becoming too outdated, styling requires a far more delicate and deliberate approach. When Mercedes-Benz began exploring the replacement of their Ponton sedans in the mid-fifties, the style of tailfins was still chic. A bit behind the creative curve by its launch in 1961, the W111 coupe nonetheless would ultimately endure into the seventies ere gracefully bowing out with its fifties finesse. Although antiquated in appearance, these final three years (1969-1971) of the W111 brought the introduction of a powerful new 3.5-liter motor before sending the production of four-seater coupes for Mercedes on hiatus.  

While the 280SE 3.5 did not sell in particularly high volume during their years (less than 3,300 built), the cars have become a favorite among Mercedes collectors and appreciators. The 280SE possess the best of both postwar decades: subtle, elegant fifties coupe styling (now resurgent in popularity) and a smooth V8 engine brought to you by the sixties. On our auction block now is a 1970 example that has been owned by meticulous caretakers since new; here are the details of this mesmerizing Mercedes. 

Aside from the resplendent paint that was refinished in its original Tunis Beige (462), the chrome brightwork shines in superb condition. The seller informed us of a minor paint chip among the rear quarter panel. The 280SE was bespoke of the W111 series by use of a lower, wider front grille; bumpers with integrated rubber strips, and thinner tail lamps. Atop the sleek b-pillarless roof structure is an optional steel-panel sunroof (410). 

Perfectly complementing the exterior aesthetic are 14” steel wheels with body-color matching center caps. Mounted to those wheels are newer Vredestein Spring Classic tires. Throughout the outside, our 280SE remains faithful to its initial US-market sale location with the mandated lighting and safety equipment. 

Refinement reaches a new plateau inside the 280SE; tactile areas are liberally trimmed in Cognac Leather (250) with matching carpeting. The two individual front seats and the rear bench seat also wear their original, perforated-center Cognac leather coverings. Adding an accent to the creamy leather is a burled wood dashboard and windshield frame. Between the two front seats are the optional leather-wrapped folding armrests (570). One area of concern is with the leather is upon the rear window deck, where some diminution is evident. 

Additional accouterments around the interior include a Becker three-band radio (513), power steering and a floor-mounted shifter (420), a Behr air conditioner system (586), and heat-insulated glass with a heated rear window (598). Preliminary maintenance before the sale included the installation of a new air conditioning compressor: the entire system now has zero leaks or issues. The factory-supplied VDO gauges, including the vertical auxiliary cluster, all function as expected and the odometer registers a touch over 11,000 miles. 

First used on the 280SE, the 3.5-liter V8 M116 engine was capable of 200 horsepower when new. From the motor, power is sent through a four-speed automatic transmission and then out to the rear wheels. Although not designed for athletics, the 280SE was a capable grand tourer with a top speed of 130mph and the sprint to sixty taken care of in approximately twelve seconds. The engine runs smoothly and efficiently. All eight cylinders are maintaining a compression between 175 and 185 psi as lately verified. Recently a new fan clutch, muffler, and coolant were installed.

First sold new in Beverly Hills, California, the Mercedes remained in the state until the 1990s. During the nineties, the 280 lived in Florida before returning to Hollywood after being purchased by a local dealership. It was then sold the car to a collector in Japan. In 2017, the car came home to the States and has now been with its current owner since. Complete with the factory tool kit, Mercedes literature, and a clean California title, this great grand tourer is a beauty to behold. As one of the last cars designed in the fifties by Mercedes, the 280SE 3.5 is even more unique because of its pre-eminent, above 3-liter displacement, motor and exterior styling. 

If you’re interested in this exceptional elegance, check out the live auction here! 

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