Curbside Outtake: Mercedes Benz 280SE 4.5 – Oregon Style Patina in California

Despite the Nevada license plates, this 1970 or ‘71 Mercedes has been parked curbside in my California neighborhood for quite a few years. Recently it moved around the corner to a location where it isn’t overlooked by the presumed owner’s house, so I decided to grab a few quick photos. It doesn’t seem to get driven much.

The W108 280SE 4.5 was sold in the US in 1971 and 1972. Today it would be considered an S Class, though as far as I know that designation was only formalized with its successor, the less upright W116, which seemed very radical for a big Mercedes at the time. I’m not sure the 280 SE 4.5 version of the W108 has ever been covered at CC; Paul wrote up a six cylinder W108 here, and of course the W109 300SEL 6.3 has had its time here as well, including this Tokyo sighting by Tatra87.

But I’m not going to go into much, except to say that as a high school car buff when these came out (first as the 280SE 3.5) I was confused. It had a 3.5 liter engine, so it wasn’t really a 280. And unlike the 300SEL 6.3, it wasn’t a supercar that deserved a unique designation that highlighted the engine. And anyway, why did a non-performance Mercedes need a V8 anyway? Six cylinder Mercedes and BMWs seemed to be doing just fine sales-wise here in California and had plenty of performance with OK fuel economy.

This one doesn’t just have a V8, it has some fine Eugene, Oregon style moss and even a bit of rust. I don’t know how long this car has been here, but though we don’t put salt on our roads, there is quite a bit of salt in our sea air to encourage rust, and enough fresh water falling out of the sky, at least in winter, to stimulate plant growth. And if this car lived in the Tahoe region of Nevada in a prior life, the roads certainly get salted there, and in the past quite heavily.

The stainless steel trim is holding up just fine. The paint and body steel, not so much. But it is over 50 years old now.

Interestingly, while there’s more moss here than is typical even on old cars around here, there was no lichen on the body panels. Just a block or two away lives a Ford Ranger, which has no moss but a fair amount of mildew and lichen on the hood and front fenders.

The F150 behind the Ranger must get better care as it’s quite free of plant matter. By the way, the driveway of the home where I believe the Mercedes actually lives is occupied by a Cadillac CTS, also white and with Nevada plates. For now it looks very shipshape, but I wonder how it will look in 50 years.