Would you buy a classic Mercedes-Benz 280 SE?

Would you buy a classic Mercedes-Benz 280 SE?
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A Grand Tourer indeed, the 220/250/280SE Coupé served as a coupé not for one, but for two generations of Mercedes S-class. If you want to buy a classic Mercedes-Benz 280 SE, keep in mind that values can go from 30,000 to 450,000 US-dollar.

If you ask yourself why would you buy a classic Mercedes-Benz 280 SE, then there is a good chance you are thinking of buying one.

Honestly, that’s a pretty good idea, because the W111 Coupé and Convertible are comfortable, roomy cars of great quality. And what’s more: their value is rock solid. 

In 1959, the ponton-models of Mercedes-Benz were at the end of their lifecycle.

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The W111 sedan replaced the round-shaped ponton. The new car became known as the ‘heckflosse’, referring tot he tiny tailfins of this model.

There was a small and a large version of this saloon car, the small one had petrol engines up to 2 litres and was also available with diesel engines.

The large ones were the S-class of their day: 220 S and 220 SE, equipped with a 2,200 cc six-cylinder petrol engine. The sedans are built from 1959 to 1968.

Mercedes-Benz by Paul Bracq

Based on this ‘Heckflosse’ S-class, Mercedes-Benz introduced a coupé version in 1960 and a cabriolet version in 1961.

These cars shared most of their chassis and drivetrain with the sedan, but the styling by Paul Bracq was quite different.

Its elegant lines, not to mention the lack of fintails, gave this car a timeless look, which undoubtedly helped to keep it in production until 1972.

Initially, the coupé/cabriolet had the 220-engine, a straight six with 2,195 cc and a single overhead camshaft, giving the car a top speed of 120 mph.

The 220 SE Coupé and Cabriolet were produced until October 1965, a total of almost 17,000 units were built, 14,173 were coupés.

In 1962 also the 300 SE became available, with the three-litre engine from the famous 300 SL and the big 300 S limousines.

It started with the introduction of the 300SE sedan which was based on the 220 SE sedan. So of course, there had to be a coupé-derivative also.

The 300 SE Coupé would cost almost double the price of the 220 SE sedan. The big car would reach a top speed of 200 km/h and it even had pneumatic rear suspension.

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New engine

When in 1965 the new W108/109 S-class replaced the W111, the new 2.5-liter six cylinders also became available in the coupé/convertible, replacing the old 2.2 engine.

In 1967 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz showed the new 280SE, the latest version of the three-year-old S-class. So the coupé got that engine too. For about a year, both engines were available, but in 1969 the 250 went out of production and only the 280 SE was available for both the coupé and the convertible. 

The 2,778 cc overhead-camshaft six-cylinder M130 engine was completely new. The S had a carburettor, the SE had mechanical fuel injection by Bosch. This engine would produce 160 hp, giving the big car a top speed of 118 mph.

The 280 S and SE would be produced around 5,000 times between 1968 and 1972, 1,390 of them were convertibles.

Buy a classic Mercedes-Benz 280 SE

In 1970 the 3.5 was introduced, the first V8 for this series.

The eight-cylinder was available as an upgrade of the 280 SE, it was equipped with Bosch electronic fuel injection and transistorized ignition.

The new engine would deliver 200 hp and would propel the car from 0 to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds.

In this same year, the exterior of the car was updated with a wider grille, a lower hood and some minor changes to the trim and slightly different taillights.

The big engine was a big hit, 3,270 280 SE 3.5 Coupes were built until the end of the series in 1972, and 1,232 cabriolets. Of the six-cylinder 280 SE, 3,797 280 SE coupes had been manufactured.

Out of production

The big coupé finally went out of production when in 1972 the new W116 S-class was introduced.

And this time there was not really a big coupé adjoining the S-class.

Instead, Mercedes-Benz created the SLC-series, which is basically a stretched version of the SL convertible of the day.

But the 2+2 SLC could not be compared to the old four-seater 220/250/280 SE Coupé, just like the SL was much smaller than the Cabriolet of the SE-series.

It took until 1983, before the old S-class coupé got a successor again: the Mercedes SEC coupé. This luxury coupé made a huge success. In the early 1990’s, the new CL-series replaced the SEC. 

Suitable family cars

So what is it that makes people want to buy a classic Mercedes-Benz 280 SE? For one thing, it is their build quality. Mercedes-Benz in the 1950’s and ‘60’s would build cars that could last a lifetime.

These models have a reputation for their reliability throughout, making them great even for everyday use.

Apart from that, the W111 coupé and convertible are suitable family cars.

The backseat offers room for two, or maybe even three, making the car very practical.

They also boast all the options that we like in modern cars, like power steering and powered windows.

Most of these cars have an automatic transmission and American versions usually have airconditioning as well.

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Differences make the value

When you go out to buy a classic Mercedes-Benz 280 SE, you will find a wide variety of different cars.

The good thing is that they all look more or less the same.

A 1962 220 SE Coupé does not look much different than a 1971 280 SE 3.5. But still there are many differences and it’s these differences that have a strong influence on the value of each car.

There are coupés and convertibles, there are small six cylinders, big six cylinders and V8’s.

Some cars carry a lavish load of leather, chrome and wood, older ones can look simpler. And it’s differences like this that influence the value of the car.

And then there are some goodies that make a car like this extra attractive, like an original radio (Blaupunkt or Becker) and a Behr air conditioning.

From 220 SE to 3.5 V8

It’s the engines that make the difference between one version of this car and another.

The least powerful version is the 220SE from 1961 to 1965.

Remarkably enough, this is not the ‘cheapest’ engine of this series. The price level of the 250 SE Coupé in an auction is around 20 percent lower than that of the 220 SE.

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As you would expect, it’s the big engines that are really in the money. Buyers appreciate the 280 SE, but even more so the 300 SE and the 3.5, much higher than the 220 and the 250.

In many cases, the big engined cars fetch more than double the price of a similar car with the smaller engine.

And then there is the price difference between the Coupé and the Cabriolet.

One can wonder what is the cause of this difference.

A cabriolet, of course, is a more glamorous car than a coupé, but a car like the Ferrari Daytona, for instance, teaches us that a coupé can become more desirable over the years.

But this Mercedes-Benz is another matter. It’s simply a matter of looks. The roof of the Coupé shows some very round curves that are very much associated with the 1950’s.

Especially when you see it from behind, the steel roof shows outdated.

Whereas the Cabriolet, even with the top up, looks timeless indeed. This topless Mercedes truly has glamour, it is a car of classic beauty. It may be an inconvenient truth, but to put it simply: the cabriolet looks a lot better than the coupé.

Wide price range

So basically all this would mean that a 250 SE Coupé is a lot more affordable than a 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet. Some auction results seem to corroborate this.

The highest price that a W111 Coupé ever fetched in an auction was paid in 2016: USD 319,000 for a 1971 280 SE 3.5 in the Pebble Beach auction of Gooding & Co.

Cabriolets, however, go for 400K and more. Russo and Steele sold a gorgeous dark blue 1971 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet at their Monterey sale in August 2015 for USD 440,000. And RM Sotheby’s sold a light blue 280 SE Cabriolet in Arizona in January 2015 for USD 473,000.

But lower-priced versions of this car can still be within reach of the collector.

It is possible to buy a car like this for less than USD 30,000.

We found this one, for instance, on Mobile.de. This blue 1963 220 SE Coupé is for sale at EUR 22,000.

And this 1964 white one is for sale in Belgium at EUR 26,950.

Again, the convertible is much more desired, which reflects in high prices. In the European market, prices will start at around EUR 60,000. This 1964 220 SE Cabriolet, for instance, can be yours at EUR 69,900. But this one in New Jersey, USA, has a price tag of USD 125,000.

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Conversions and transplants

What is important in the valuation of these cars is, of course, the condition.

Being in original condition increases the value, matching numbers are extremely important.

And also, watch out for conversions. There are several cabriolets on the road that originally started life as a coupé.

Of course, there are also cars that had engine transplants. So basically it is possible to turn a 220 SE Coupé into a 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet.

If you decide to go and buy a Mercedes-Benz 280 SE, make sure to do your homework and always seek advice with an expert of the brand.

Once you buy a car like this, you own one of the most stylish Mercedes-Benz automobiles ever made.



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