1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Coupe 4-speed manual

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At the outset of the 1970s, the Mercedes-Benz model range was about to have an overhaul, with a new SL roadster and S class on the way. Meanwhile, the W111 coupes and convertibles would get one last refresh in the form of the 3.5 liter, M116 engine. This small displacement V8 would live on until the early 1990s in later 3.8 and 4.2 guise. While these M116 engined 280SE Coupes are rare, add in the manual gearbox and you have a car that is extremely exclusive. Some estimate that just over 100 were produced. This example was imported to the US via Italy in the 1980s and has covered just under 50,000 miles.

Click for more details: 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Coupe on eBay


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Year: 1970
Model: 280SE
Engine: 3.5 liter V8
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Mileage: 49,375 mi
Price: Reserve auction

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1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Coupe. Delivered when new in Milan, Italy – Gray Market Importation to the U.S.A. in 1986. Less than 50,000 Original Miles / 80,000 Original Kilometers documented from new. Rare Factory 4-Speed Manual Car – Early Production (#105) – Numbers Matching

Finished in Mercedes-Benz DB904 Midnight Blue and featuring its rare original, yes, original Cognac leather interior, this 3.5 Coupe has lived a very gentle life since being sold to its first owner, a real estate company in Milan, Italy in the summer of 1970. Documents with the car detail some early service history during the 1970s and early 1980s. Per accompanying documentation, they kept the car until it left for the U.S.A.

Contrary to popular belief, W111 and W112 coupes and 300SEL 6.3s came with round headlamps in European markets, not the fishbowl style lamps of the standard cars. This car did get lighted side markers during federalization but no other changes were made. The car retains its European turnsignals in the outer portion of the headlamp surrounds. Per the body tag, the car was originally finished in DB836 Moss Green Metallic but the color was expertly and professionally changed a long time ago; there’s little to no trace of the original color. I suspect that it was done very early in the car’s life as it extends into every door jamb, under the hood etc.

In 1986, the car was imported by a private person on his one-time exemption and on arrival, it landed in Ann Arbor, Michigan. One piece of US government paper from this importation remains with the car. At this time, the car had a documented kilometer reading around 50,000. This man used the car sparingly and after a little over than ten years sold it to some friends of his in Ann Arbor. A service record from about 15 years ago shows the car in their name with the kilometers then in the low 70,000s. They sold the car sometime prior to 2005 when a Wisconsin owner pops up in the service history. This man sold it to the gentleman I purchased it from in 2006. Records document throughout a slow progression to the kilometers shown now on the odometer and I have added another 200 or so as it is quite enjoyable to drive.

While the car presently rides on a set of sharp MB Bundt alloys with redline radials, it also comes with its original steel rims and full wheelcovers with an older set of narrow band whitewall radials. A previous owner preferred this look. This is a very straight and generally very solid example of a 3.5 Coupe!

In the last number of years and within the last 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) the car has been the recipient of a very large amount of work; briefly to include fuel pump and fuel tank (still wearing the MB parts sticker on the filler neck), flex disc coupling on the driveshaft, front brake pads and rotors, brake master cylinder, a major service and tune-up, a front suspension overhaul with Bilstein shocks, kingpins, tie rods, control arm bushings and a rear compensator. The front suspension overhaul is really evident as the car steers and tracks perfectly with no slop in the steering as is common with older Mercedes.

I also translated (poorly) the original Italian records with the car and can send a text file along with this abbreviated translation. It’s just interesting…See the sticker on the rear window? The original dealer sticker. And as long as we’re at this…The remnant of the original “Ausland” sticker on the center of the windshield……as well as the original antifreeze sticker on the windshield and the original etching beneath.
Now, let’s take a look in the trunk!

The original Mercedes trunk mat has a few small cracks here and there but is very tidy. The original jack, lug wrench and Phoenix Firestone spare tire remain with the car. Note the original owner’s manual pouch, service book, guarantee book, European service directory, an English language owner’s manual, Italian documents and early service history, a USDOT import document and service records from the past 10+ years.

ou no doubt noticed the Italian tags on the car front and rear. When we got the car, we were fortunate enough to get the original plate frame, but no tags. Luckily, we were able to get faithful reproductions and put them back in their place. As you can see written on the service book (and I found elsewhere in the records) this is the car’s original license number.

A fantastic looking car from any angle! Now, let’s have a look inside. Save for the wood which was redone by Madera Concepts in California in the last few years, the entirety of the interior is original – leather, vinyl, carpet and small stainless and chrome trim. The Cocomats appear to be quite old and have protected the original Cognac mats which are near perfect. Just 44 years of patina here, all the seats are lovely. The entirety of the dashboard and windshield surround wood was redone as mentioned. It is breathtaking. The steering wheel has no cracks as you can see here.

Note the perfect hot idle and oil pressure in this shot. The red light is for the parking brake which is on in this photo. The speedometer is incredible, immaculate, like the rest of the instruments. The tripodometer works, I just haven’t bothered to reset it. I’ve put about 250 km on the car in the last month or so. The KMs may increase slightly during the course of the auction – I might take it to Cars & Coffee or something one last time…

Even the W111 and 6.3-only clock works, I don’t think it’s been converted to quartz. Likewise, the heater levers and blower work well too, the heat will chase you out. Fascinating, isn’t it – a 4-speed V-8 Mercedes gentleman’s express… and yes, the power windows are aftermarket Italian, the switches read “TORINO”. The rear windows are still crank. All work as they should.

Like the driver’s door, the passenger door is no less impressive. The amazing amount of chrome on the sill plates, on the door in the jamb, even over the seat rail is exclusive by this point to the W111 and I suppose the 600 – a 300SEL 6.3 wasn’t even this nicely ‘endowed.’ Passenger’s seat is no less impressive. In the back, likely rarely used, I found a few 1980s quarters but no millions of Lira when I pulled it out to clean up. I also found a little tag still affixed to the carpet beneath the rear seat from when the car was built as well as a small scrap of the original upholstery. It’s quite possible that the back seat was never out of the car before.

You’re likely asking yourself where the speakers are for the radio – they’re not in the perfect Cognac rear parcel shelf which has never been cut for speakers but in removable boxes that sit in the rear footwells so you can listen to the radio or a CD. The rear belts were added later as they are dated 1972; I am not sure about the fronts but I cannot confirm that the car was delivered new with 3 point belts for the Italian market. These would have been required during Federalization.

The headliner is original and perfect. The light spot to the left is a reflection of the dome lamp off of the sun visor. The import sticker is missing the first 1 of the VIN – this however appears on the original VIN tag and matches the title.

Yes, I removed the name of the importer from this photo as he is still alive and well. The original VIN plate on the radiator cowl. The decode for the manual transmission is the 0 in the 8th position – 2 is automatic. Here’s one for the history buffs – the M116 engine was Mercedes’ first small-displacement V-8 and was produced into the 1990s (I just sold one of the last M116 powered cars, a 1991 420SEL). This is M116 number 46!

The original engine compartment presents well for an unrestored car, it is clean with evidence of the service documented in the paperwork. In addition to documented work, the auxiliary air valve and various hoses appear to have been replaced (unless they are on one of the invoices that is blurred). The work to the fuel injection documented on one of the early Italian tickets is still evident. The car also has a Crane XR-700 electronic ignition that replaced the points and a Bosch Blue Coil.

When the car came in, I made a few small adjustments, tightened the lower locknuts on the right front shock absorber (not sure why they were loose) and replaced the radiator cap, shifter bushings at the transmission linkage and the center exhaust hanger. That’s really all I could find to do. It leaks nothing short of light seepage, the rear axle, transmission and engine oils were all full as was the brake fluid and power steering fluid. I was amazed and even more so when I first took it out on the road.

In short, just a very complete, correct and original Mercedes V-8 that drives just as well as it looks!

Our reserve is very reasonable against the current marketplace – here’s why:

Just weeks ago in mid-January, a pristine original white 1971 280SE 3.5 US spec example with just over 42,000 original miles sold for over $178,000 including buyer’s premium at Gooding & Company’s Scottsdale auction. The day before, a 542 Dark Red US spec 1971 280SE 3.5 in driver condition and with undocumented mileage of just over 51,000 sold for $70,400 inclusive at Barrett-Jackson Westworld. I was out there during the auctions, looked at both cars personally out of curiousity and neither were significantly more exciting to me than the car above.
Obviously these were both US cars with automatic transmissions, air conditioning and power-robbing emissions controls.

Is a Euro-spec 3.5 with a 4-speed manual worth more? As a driving enthusiast, it is to me. One thing is for sure, however – these are no longer sub-$50,000 cars.

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The amount of information provided by the seller is impressive; very important when selling such a valuable and historically significant automobile. We featured a similar Euro spec 280SE 3.5 Coupe with the 4-speed gearbox that was up for sale last May at $65,000. Prices have steadily climbed on these stately coupes and their open-roofed counterparts. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one reached into six figure territory, given the great presentation. Some may prefer the automatic, but the 4-speed certainly has its fans and given the low build number on the M116 engine, this car represents one valuable piece of Mercedes-Benz history.

-Paul

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