The 3.5-litre version of the 280 SE typifies the resurgence of larger-engined Mercedes-Benz models that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the progressive easing of fiscal constraints, which had dissuaded customers from buying cars with large capacity engines, encouraged the German manufacturer to offer bigger, more potent power units. This, the ultra-luxurious 280 SE Coupé/Cabriolet and 300 SEL saloon were the models chosen by Mercedes to launch its new 3.5-litre V8 engine in September 1969. An over-square design featuring a cast-iron block and aluminium-alloy cylinder heads, each equipped with a single overhead camshaft, this all-new, state-of-the-art power unit produced 200bhp courtesy of Bosch electronic fuel injection and transistorised ignition. The new V8 engine had particularly smooth-running characteristics and endowed the 280 SEs with performance superior to that of many out-and-out sports cars. Thus equipped, the Coupé/Cabriolet was good for 125mph with 60mph reachable in 9.5 seconds, a substantial improvement on the six-cylinder version. As befitted top-of-the-range luxury models, the 280 SE 3.5 Coupé and Cabriolet came equipped with an automatic gearbox, air conditioning, electric windows, and a stereo radio as standard.
Although the equivalent SEL saloon used the 'New Generation' bodyshell, the 280 SE Coupé and Cabriolet kept the elegant coachwork that had debuted back in 1959 on the 220 SE. Nevertheless, there had been some refinements made: the radiator shell was lower and wider, with a correspondingly flatter front end to the bonnet, a characteristic that has led to enthusiasts referring to these face-lifted cars as 'flat radiator' models, while the bumpers were now fitted with rubber strips. Significantly, the 280 SE 3.5 was to be the final model featuring this long-established and much-admired body style, and today these last-of-the-line classics are highly sought after by discerning Mercedes collectors.
This beautiful example, a 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 'Flachkühler' Cabriolet is being offered by Bonhams at their upcoming Les Grandes Marques du Monde au Grand Palais sale held on the 6th February 2020 in Paris.