The super-luxurious 280 SE 3.5 made its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1969, giving convincing evidence of the Stuttgart company’s increasing self-confidence as it advanced towards major international status by offering its first V-powered sporty car.
There were two versions of this rather traditional but handsome machine — a coupe and cabriolet — with the old-fashioned look explained by the fact that the 280 SE was based on the 220 SE of 1961 with only the smallest of style changes. Even so, the ‘Flachkuler’ is thought by many classic car enthusiasts to be one of the most beautiful and elegant coupes ever made, well able to stand alongside the best of contemporary competitors in the minds of those who could afford the best.
But the real innovation was found beneath the bonnet, where the most advanced engine ever produced by Mercedes could be found. It had transistorized ignition, three-phase generator and a Bosch electronic fuel injection system. This brand-new V8 had a cast-iron block with an aluminum head. It hardly weighed more than the standard Mercedes six-cylinder engine but gave the 280 SE rapid acceleration and an impressive top speed. In 1971 it would be uprated to 4.5 litres, especially for the American market.
The superb 280 SE had standard features such as servo-assisted brakes, four-speed automatic transmission with a column change (there was a manual option), air conditioning, electric windows and Becker Europa stereo radio. The luxurious interior featured leather upholstery and specially selected wood trim. The original price was steep, reflecting the high cost of manufacture, which means that just 4,500 of these collectable cars were manufactured to an extraordinary standard of craftsmanship. They are the last of the hand-built Mercedes cars, making them especially rare and desirable, with good examples fetching serious money today.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1969 (until 1971)
3,499 cc V8
Top speed of 127 mph (204 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 8.9 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Unlike many classics, the Mercedes 280 SE seems like a thoroughly modern car when used as every-day transport – still handling well and driving beautifully, with the heavy cost of petrol unlikely to deter the celebrities and media types who like to be seen gadding around town in this exclusive automobile.