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When introduced in the early 1960s, all Mercedes-Benz W111-chassis ‘S-Class’ cars were powered by the company’s reliable 6-cylinder engine. Displacing just over 2.2 liters with a cross-flow cylinder head and overhead camshaft, their performance can only be described as stately. Later developments in engineering as well as the introduction of the W108 chassis that replaced the W111 sedans also influenced the styling of higher-displacement coupes and cabriolets. However, despite another few increases in power, the high-priced 280SE with a top that went down was still not competitive.
That reputation for solidly-built but lackluster-performing automobiles changed dramatically when the 230-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-8 was introduced in Germany for the 1970 model year. This car offered mighty performance to match its grand-touring, if not sporting, stance. Based on numerous developments that stemmed in no small part from the W100 and W109s 6.3 liter V-8 introduced a few years earlier, the W111 280SE chassis was up to the power. Like its predecessors, the body structure was of unitized construction. 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 and stiff platform that was ideally suited to form the base of a luxury automobile.
The success of the first V-8 cars were built on the strong foundation from better US marketing of Mercedes’ S-Class cars that really took off in earnest with the introduction of the 111-series 220SEb coupes and convertibles 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 V-8 powered car that would be produced in limited numbers for the next two years, yet for only one of these were the cars exported to the pivotal US market.
Featured here is a stunning example of a 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5. Recently professionally restored in the correct factory ‘mittelblau’ metallic over Saddle Roser leather with acres of burl-walnut trim and a contrasting Haartz cloth convertible top, the results are nothing short of stunning, understated opulence combined with the power, handling and ride comfort this generation of Mercedes-Benz automobiles are known for. As all 802 examples that reached the United States were equipped, this car features factory-installed Behr air-conditioning, a Becker Europa stereo radio, dash-mounted clock, power-windows, vacuum-operated power locks and much more. As remarked on by marque specialist Alex Dearborn, ‘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 V-8s, 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 hundreds of knowledgeable dealers and independent shops.’
If you have been looking for the right and correct one of these to buy in an understated and uncommon color combination such as this one, you would be hard-pressed to acquire a better example.