Estimate: $400,000 - $450,000
- Desirable M116 V-8 engine
- Automatic gearbox
- Only year of 3.5 Cabriolet
- One of just 1,232 built
- Behr air conditioning
Eager to show off his design expertise, Frenchman Paul Bracq took advantage of a mandatory military posting to then-occupied West Germany in the late 1950s by visiting Daimler-Benz. Bracq, armed with some of his drawings and sketches, managed to secure an interview with the automaker’s design department. Impressed, they offered him a position when his military service ended in 1957. Little did they know that Bracq would take Mercedes-Benz into the modern era by reinventing the brand’s flagship, the W108.
Refining Friedrich Geiger’s iconic “fintail” models, Bracq penned clean, elegant lines that hid a powertrain that was both robust and eminently reliable. Together, the cars’ styling and engineering set the course for decades to come. Fuel injected V-8 power arrived in 1970 mated to a massively advanced 4-speed automatic gearbox. This was an engine and a transmission combination designed for the ages, with the combination lasting 20 years as an offering in Mercedes’ flagship lineup with only incremental updates. Not only did the V-8 become a staple of the German automaker’s underhood offerings, it has proven to be an especially durable highlight in a lineup noted for its longevity.
While the sedans were stoic, the Cabriolet was the attention-getter with its evocative chrome and folding roof covered by a contrasting boot. Bracq’s evolution of Mercedes’ distinctive postwar design language lent itself especially well to a four-place convertible. The 280 SE 3.5 became the first to be fitted with the company’s V-8 that was unveiled at 1969’s Frankfurt motor show, but it was only briefly offered. In addition to the V-8, the 280 SE 3.5 featured a wider grille, revised tail lamps, and rubber strips on its chrome bumpers.
Finished in black over cognac, this 280 SE 3.5 was recently treated to a cosmetic restoration to a high standard. As such, it presents as almost new with limited signs of wear, showing decades of care by its previous owners.
It features a floor-shifted automatic gearbox rather than the column lever that was more common on the sedans. Period upgrades include a Becker Europa AM/FM radio, a Behr air conditioning system correctly fitted below its leather-wrapped dashboard, and tasteful chrome wheel well trim. A matching cognac boot hides its folding black German canvas soft-top. It shows just 60,000 miles on the odometer.
As one of the mere handful of 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolets built, this example represents the pinnacle of its breed. With its V-8 engine, it remains eminently drivable and remarkably modern—not to mention characteristically eye-catching.