CC Capsule Comparo: 1968 Mercedes and Mustang Convertibles

1968 was one hell of a year. Martin and Bobby were shot, riots in Chicago, Paris and many other cities, and Soviet tanks stopping the Prague Spring. Those lucky enough to enjoy a new convertible could find some respite. Here we have 1968’s most classic 2-door convertibles, the Mercedes 280SE Cabrioletand the Ford Mustang Convertible, side-by-side. The 280SE, new for 1968, is the successor to the 250SL CC we enjoyed yesterday. Its SOHC straight six was bored out to the max, 2778 cc, delivering 160 hp at 5500 rpm.

I can’t tell the difference between the ’68 and the ’69, can you? From what I can see, both years’ US 280SEs have those bullet amber lights, while the ’70s and ’71s all have fog lights there instead. (Commenter Paul points out  ’69s have headrests, as this car does, but I see ’68s with and without.) I love these color-keyed wheel covers. What a clean, elegant design. Only 1390 280SE cabriolets were built between 1967 and 1971. This one needs a good washing, and it has no plates so I hope it runs. Otherwise it looks wonderful for a 44 year old car.

Delicious leather and wood, in nice shape too. Instrument cluster is up above the dash for maximum visibility. AM/FM Blaupunkt and factory air. What’s that under the dash on the left?

It’s a first-generation Becker cassette player. (This photo is from an ad.) That’s got to be rare. Can’t tell if it’s mono or stereo, they did make a mono version (model 356) and I don’t see any speaker on the door.

You could get an eight-track option in the 1968 Mustang, but I didn’t see one. To my eye, both cars have surprisingly similar post-fin ridges. 10 more inches of length in the Mercedes. A ride in its back seat is sure to be far more comfortable than Mustang’s. I always had my knees in my teeth in the back of our family’s ’66 coupe.

What’s under the Mustang’s hood? An inline six like its neighbor? That would be the Falcon’s 200 cubic inch (3.3L) one-barrel inline six, rated at 120 hp. Hardly comparable to Stuttgart’s SOHC, and an uncommon choice in any case. Most ’68 Mustangs like this one had the 195 hp 289 V8 or the 302 with two barrels (210 hp) or four (230 hp). Top option was the 325 hp 390 V8. Ticking off the GT package option got you the 4V 302 or 390, with GT badging and other cool stuff, which we don’t see here, but you could cook up a sleeper with any V8. Brochures offered the 390 hp 427 Cobra V8, but a strike kept it out of any ’68 Mustangs. (Thanks roger628 for clearing all this up.) So many choices!

Two of the most archetypal faces in automotive history. How similar are their specifications?

  • The 1968 Mercedes 280SE cabriolet is 193″ long and weighs 3495 lbs. Four-speed automatic, unit body. Four wheel disc brakes and independent coil spring suspension. 0-60 in 10.5 sec, top speed 115 mph, 15 mpg.
  • The 1968 Ford Mustang convertible is 183″ long and weighs 3112 lb. Three-speed automatic, unit body, four wheel drum brakes (front discs optional), independent coil springs up front, but a leaf-sprung solid axle out back (it’s a Mustang). I would guess the 289 or 302 is good for 0-60 around 9 or 10 sec, maybe 110 mph tops, mileage in the high teens.

Oh yes, one more thing, 1968 Mustang convertible base price, $2814. With a 289 V8, automatic, power steering and brakes, radio, around $3400. 1968 Mercedes? NADA guide says $9967. Your choice?