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*Please note that the fourth digit of the engine number is a 9 and not a 0 as printed in the catalogue, so that the complete engine number is 116.980.120.02641.
In 1965, the “New Generation” of upscale Mercedes-Benz models (S-Class) debuted. Carefully refined, these luxurious five-passenger automobiles continued a tradition of handcrafted quality, vault-like solidity, and superior engineering, while their formal styling by Paul Bracq remains a design benchmark today.
When introduced in late 1969, the Mercedes- Benz 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet and Coupe were virtually identical to the six-cylinder 280 SE models, with the exception of Mercedes-Benz’s all-new and uncannily smooth 3.5-liter V-8 delivering a 25% power boost. Dubbed the “engine of tomorrow” by Mercedes-Benz, it produced 230 bhp with highly advanced engineering, including aluminum-alloy cylinder heads – each with a single overhead camshaft and sodium-cooled exhaust valves – a cast-iron block, Bosch electronic fuel injection, and transistorized ignition. Performance belied the car’s considerable size, with acceleration from rest to 60 mph possible in just 9.0 seconds en route to over 120 mph.
A four-speed automatic gearbox, fully independent suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes endowed the 280 SE 3.5 with further refinement and remarkable poise during spirited drives. Leather upholstery, real wood trimmings, and useful instrumentation enhanced the driving experience. When production ended in 1971, just 4,502 examples of the 280 SE 3.5, in both Coupe and Cabriolet form, were built in total. Of those, 1,232 were Cabriolets. Apart from Mercedes-Benz’s 600, the 280 SE 3.5 was the company’s flagship model. A 1970 road-test report by Car and Driver summed up the 280 SE 3.5 experience best, declaring “... if you feel obliged to quibble over the price, to seek a $13,430 justification, you probably can’t afford the 280SE 3.5, and wouldn’t appreciate what you had if someone gave you the car.”
This 1971 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet is a particularly interesting example with a complete concours-quality restoration performed approximately 10 years ago by none other than Lothar Motschenbacher, the Germanborn Mercedes-Benz marque specialist from Santa Ana, California. To racing fans, Mr. Motschenbacher remains well-known as a mechanic and highly successful racing driver, with his main years of activity spanning from 1964 through 1974 in sports cars, Can-Am, and Formula 5000. In testament to the quality of Mr. Motschenbacher’s restorative work, this 280 SE 3.5 earned the Karl F. Benz Award at the 2008 Geneva Concours d’Elegance near Chicago and subsequently claimed Best of Show at the July 2010 Mercedes-Benz Club of America Concours.
Strikingly finished in dark blue with gray leather, the Mercedes-Benz sports the classically modern combination well. Regal as they are, this particular example is tastefully finished and has great presence. Remaining in superb cosmetic and operating condition and offered complete with a tool roll, this 1971 280 SE 3.5 is a very attractive example from this highly desirable model’s final production year.