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St. John's | Lot 168

1971 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Coupe

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$77,000 USD | Sold

United States | Plymouth, Michigan

27 July 2013


Chassis No.
Engine No.
Body No.
111.026.12.000001
116.980.12.000003
111.026.90003
  • Serial number “one”
  • Mercedes-Benz Classic Zertifikat
  • Offered from the Estate of John O’Quinn

197 bhp, 3,499 cc single OHC V-8 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, double wishbone coil-spring independent front suspension, swing axle coil spring independent rear suspension, and four-wheel power-assisted hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 108.3 in.

Mercedes’ W108 and 109 models were the large luxury line of 1965–1972, replacing the Heckflosse or “Fintail” W111/112 cars. They initially used the venerable overhead-cam straight six in several sizes, all the way up to 2,996 cubic centimeters, and the cars’ nomenclatures were 250 S, 250 SE, and 300 SE, depending on the engine. A 2,778-cubic centimeter “M13” engine in 1967 gave rise to 280 S and 280 SE model designations. By 1969, however, it was recognized that the lack of a V-8 was a hindrance in the U.S. market, so a 3.5-liter powerplant, designated M116, was developed. Using a cast iron block for rigidity, economy, and better sound damping, it had cross-flow wedge cylinder heads with rocker-operated valves driven by a single overhead camshaft per bank. Cams were chain-driven for a long life. Bosch transistorized the ignition, and electronic fuel injection was utilized. The British magazine AutoCar called it “a copybook example of how experience plus careful design can create a simple-to-make high output engine of considerable refinement.” Initially with 3,499-cubic centimeter displacement, it was followed by a 4,520-cubic centimeter “big block” M117 version in 1971.

In Mercedes’ sometimes confusing nomenclature, the new W108 model was designated 280 SE 3.5, to distinguish it from its six-cylinder counterpart. Production began in August 1969 and continued through July 1971. Total production in 24 months was 3,270 coupes and 1,232 cabriolets. The 1971–1972 cars with the larger engine were designated 280 SE 4.5.

The Mercedes-Benz Classic Zertifikat that was issued in 2004 indicates that this 280 SE 3.5 Coupe was dispatched from the factory on August 26, 1969. Its distinctive chassis sequence number, 000001, gives it pride of place as “car number one.” Metric instrumentation suggests it was intended for the European market. It was first titled in the United States in 1971, designated as that year’s model, and it still remains so today. From 1973, until purchased by Mr. O’Quinn in 2005, it resided in California. It has reportedly had but three owners.

Repainted in the original Daimler-Benz 571 Red Poly color, it has had a new windshield, door, and trunk gaskets. The interior is the original perforated biscuit leather, and only the slightest aging of the dashboard padding is visible. The engine and transmission were rebuilt some 5,000 miles ago. The engine compartment is generally clean, but it would benefit from detailing. Equipped with a sunroof and air conditioning, it has the standard features of power windows, a stereo radio, and an automatic transmission.

Comparatively rare as Mercedes-Benz cars go, the 280SE 3.5 has a distinctive niche in the collector car community. This example, as “car number one,” has a special place in that small constituency.

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