(first posted 2/14/2014) When walking the dog a while back, I came across a non-V8 300SEL parked in the street. “What’s this,” I thought. “Another cowboy putting California headlights where they shouldn’t be?”
Eventually I met the owners who told me it had the 2.8 liter six under the hood and was pretty much original. A quick online search revealed what I was looking at, but not the why.
Cut to the recent CC post on the Nova/Seville hybrid. So anxious was I to know the why that I interjected and Paul patiently explained for me. Little did I know that this was akin to stopping the Superbowl to ask the referee who his childhood heroes were. What follows here is my attempt to retell Paul’s story and expound on it a bit.
In the first few years after WWII, Mercedes got back on its feet building only four-cylinder models (170V, 170S), updates on pre-war cars. But after the D-Mark was established in 1948, Germany’s economy roared off, and Mercedes was also eager to show the world that it too was back in the luxury car game.
In 1951, it launched two new six-cylinder lines, the mid-range 220 and the top-line 300 (shown), quickly dubbed “Adenauer” in honor of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s steady leadership. Although their frames were still based on pre-war designs, and the body styling was conservative, they both had brand-new SOHC straight sixes (M180/130, and M186/189); engines that would both spawn a long line of successors.
The 300 sedan was a bit staid, but already in 1951, Mercedes showed the superb 300S Coupe and Cabriolet versions, some of the very last cars that still reflected the spirit of the splendid classic Mercedes of the thirties. They were some of the very finest (and most expensive) cars available at the time, and sought after by Hollywood stars and such.
And they made quite a contrast to contemporary American luxury cars of the mid-fifties, such a Cadillac Eldorado convertible. One might actually see them as the origins of the neo-classical resurgence that soon gripped American car design. Genuine landau bars, just the thing to inspire Detroit’s finest future Broughams.
But the numbers “300” were to become significant in another way: on the race track. Mercedes also sought to also recapture its pre-war racing glories with the 1952 300SL, a sports-racing coupe using the same 2996 cc six, but angled on its side for a lower profile. Of course, that led to the legendary production 300SL.
But even that wasn’t enough. In 1954, the 300SLR made a huge impact, a magnificent sports-racing car derived from the W196 Grand Prix racer. While it also had a 3 liter engine, this one was totally different from the other 300s: an all-out racing straight eight, with direct fuel injection and desmodromic valve actuation, no less. It made somewhere over 300 hp, a fabulous number for the times.
Thus, at the end of the fifties, the numbers “300” were iconic in Germany, as they represented the very “Wirtschaftswunder” (Economic Miracle) that made West Germany and Mercedes major players again.
By 1961, the Adenauer was on its third chassis code and had grown long in the tooth. A replacement was being prepared (600), but until then a stopgap was required to keep the magic 300 number on a saloon. Hence the Heckflosse 300SE. Given its own W-code (W112), this short-lived vehicle was equipped with M189 300, pneumatic suspension, lashings of extra chrome, power steering, a substantial price markup on the W111 Fintail and its own separate showroom. There was even an extended wheelbase model (300SE lang, shown above), but it did not use the “L” as part of its rear deck badging.
In 1965, the W108 was launched. Styled by Paul Bracq, this was more than a mere plucked Heckflosse; a cleaner greenhouse and crisper lines delivered what many consider to be the archetypal Mercedes Benz. It was initially launched as the 250S, 250SE and 300SE. Since the “Grosser” 600 was already in production, the W108 was really a replacement for the 220/230 six-cylinder “Heckflosse” cars, not the 300SE version. Which gets confusing, since there was also a 300SE in the W108 line-up (called 300SEb), essentially a higher-performance W108.
But the long-wheelbase 300SEL W109 was a decided step up in price and amenities, and essentially carved out a new niche in the Mercedes hierarchy, between the lesser S-Class sedans and the 600. It was visually distinguished from the W108s by all that chrome trim on the windows, and of course its 4.5 inches longer longer rear doors. Under the hood was the 3 liter M189 “big six”, and inside, the W109 was lavished with more and finer wood, better carpet and other details, and the whole thing was carried by self-leveling air suspension. The badge on the boot and the glovebox of the W109 said 300SEL.
By the end of 1967, the M189 300 engine was becoming obsolete. Overly heavy and thirsty, it was replaced in the 300SEL W109 with the fuel injected M130 2.8 engine, which made essentially the same power. Here is where things get a bit even more complex: At the start of 1968, MB released the W108 280SEL. This was essentially a long-wheelbase version of the 280SE or a ‘stripper’ version of the 300SEL, , depending on your point of view. So now you could buy a 280SEL with the 2.8 or a 300SEL with the same 2.8 six, depending on the size of your wallet and desire for prestige.
I have focused on these two models for this post. As you can see, there appears to be little differentiating the pictured 280SEL and 300SEL, apart from diligence of ownership. Closer inspection of the exterior reveals that chrome highlighting for the 300SEL on the A-pillar and door window surrounds.
The interior of the 300SEL is plusher and features more wood (burled instead of zebrano) on the dash and inside door window surrounds. This particular 300SEL recently had its air suspension replaced with a more conventional system.
In 1963, the Adenauer replacement was launched. The W100 “Grosser” 600 was such a successfully expressed vehicle, it has come to represent the apogee of diplomatic giants.
In 1966, Erich Waxenberger shoehorned the V8 from the 600 into the W109 which went on to create yet another legend; the 300SEL 6.3, the Teutonic muscle car (production began for the 1968 MY). And within a few years, the new smaller V8s were also dropped in the W108 (280 SEL 4.5) and w109 (300SEL 3.5 and 4.5), creating even more potentially confusing ingredients to the alpha-numeric Mercedes stew.
In the shadow of the 600 flagship status, the 300 designation might appear to have been superseded. By 1963, the 300SL Gullwing and roadster had also been replaced with the W113 Pagoda. By 1968, the M189 300 engine was no longer in production. So why did MB persist with the 300 designation through to 1972 and the end of the W109’s lifespan?
In 1955, a 300SLR ploughed into the crowd at Le Mans. Whilst blame for the accident could be apportioned between three drivers, Mercedes Benz withdrew from racing and were not to officially re-enter the arena for decades. At this very point in time, the silver arrows were the dominant cars in Grand Prix and long distance road racing. Mercedes Benz was also leading the charge on the consumer front with the some of the finest automobiles in the world. For a nation re-emerging, this number meant more than just a cubic capacity.
This 300SEL 2.8 is owned by a family with a sweet story. The husband is Australian and the wife is American, and whilst in London they decided to start a family. He persuaded her to move to Melbourne with the promise of a gift. This car is that gift; it’s a true curbside-parked, child-carrying classic and she never wants to sell it. Happy Valentine’s Day to both of them!
Back in the days, in most parts of the world. Owning a 300 Mercedes means you have arrived.
Great article and great photos Guest Writer. I love that silver racing 300SL I didn’t know about that car. Yes the full chrome window moldings are one of those 300-specific things. I always preferred this body style in shorter wheelbase SE form and greatly preferred the four round US-spec headlamps over the Euros.
Usually when this comes up people will chime in preferring the Euros until someone else points out that the 300 had the four round lamps even in Europe. It’s really a much better look, though I prefer the US style amber running lamps between the grille and headlamp.
“Usually when this comes up people will chime in preferring the Euros until someone else points out that the 300 had the four round lamps even in Europe. It’s really a much better look, though I prefer the US style amber running lamps between the grille and headlamp.”
Are you sure about that? There are two versions of the W109, a sort of mid-season face lift. The one from -65 with the old 300 engine, and from -67 the one with the 2.8. And I’m pretty sure the earlier version came standard with the European headlamps in Europe. I don’t know about the later ones, but I know the US-lamps were at least optional in Europe. But standard? I need to see that verified…
Thanks, Calibrick. The credit for this should perhaps read ‘guest writer with even further patient explanation by someone at CC who parsed the Wirtschaftswunder better than I ever could’.
My thanks to this mysterious hand.
I couldn’t resist adding a few additional details to your excellent post. It got me going…. And it cleared up a mystery for me. I always assumed that the W108 300SE was trimmed and chromed like the W109, but apparently not. It took some doing to clarify that…
A chromed W108 300SE would make sense, particularly as the luxe W111 300SE coupe was also in production.
The LWB W112 was the revelation for me, how many were made and has anyone ever seen one?
Only 1546 of the “lang” version were ever built. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one; just seeing a regular W112 was very unusual. These were very expensive cars. I suspect most were used by government, and as chauffeured cars for a few top businessmen, and such.
I’m still not 100% certain of that non-chrome W108 300SE. I would like to see definitive proof, but I’m mostly there, based on some things I uncovered in my travels via Google.
I have two (well, one and a bare shell) W112 300SE langs in my shed right here in sunny Melbourne…and know of another easily seen at a workshop in South Melbourne!
Nice. Is the good one destined for the road soon?
Well, soon is a relative term, in the world of car restorations…
But that’s the plan!
The first few years of the 300SE/SEL definitely had Euro-style headlamps (outside of the US), like the blue one shown in the article. The 1968 300SEL 6.3 introduced the twin round halogen lights, and by 1969, they were standards on the 300 series cars.
That clears it up, thanks Paul — the stacked headlamps were on the 6.3 standard from the beginning and phased in on the regular 300s.
That supports my point even better because the 6.3 was the top dog. It would be natural for MB to put their “best” front end on that car.
Perhaps they thought it looked sportier. The round lights to me look like focused eyes, the Euros more like bleary eyes.
Yes. I bought a ’68 300SEL when I lived in Amsterdam*, and it had the European lichtentoren headlights. Interesting car, it was dark blue with a light gray Bedford cloth interior, and the wood was tightly grained like ash or mahogany. Originally came out of Italy, and I’d still like to know the story behind that classic limousine interior.
Back here in the U.S., I picked up a medium green over medium green leather ’71 300SEL 3.5 – that one looked like a Bundeswehr staff car.
Great cars, and I got the ’68 up to 120 on the Autobahn one afternoon.
*The ’68 replaced my stolen ’74 Citroen DS23 w/a Borg-Warner 5 on the tree, which started my brief fling into hydraulic- and air-suspended cars, none of which thankfully suffered a major failure.
Lucky bastard! Both that you didn’t have any problems and that you were able to own such cool vehicles!
I really like the fintail,Mercedes were a rare sight in 60s Britain.
Before the U.K. joined the European economic community in ’72, the prices were just alarming. In 1965, a 300SEL W109 was £4,600 with import duty and purchase tax (equivalent to almost $13,000 U.S.). You could almost have two Jaguar Mark Xs for that.
The price is still alarming!Thanks for that info,I never knew they were so expensive
One of my relatives in Tasmania bought new in 1972 a Mercedes Benz 280sel 3.5 V8.The car had the Californian headlights but the exterior was beige and the interior black and white houndstooth cloth! I always thought it a beautiful car but a shame about the colour.
A mate o mine bought a 3.5L V8 Benz cheap the paint was shot he did a respray with the idea of flicking it on however various electrical issues saw it dumped at auction at a loss quite possibly why he got it cheap in the first place. Nice car to drive and ride in but old Mercs are not always a good idea.
Sorted old Mercs are a very good idea, Kiwibryce. I currently drive a 2 owner country-bred (lessons learnt) 1977 W116 purchased for less than the first year depreciation on a $40,000 new car. Maintenance over the last 2 years has been minimal. This car has completely reoriented my expectations of old car ownership.
I have now decided that instead of finding another Fiat 130 Coupe and pouring $100,000 into making it a 5 day/week driver, I’m going to save a bit more money and buy the Pininfarina Pagoda.
Yes good Mercs are worth having bad one like my mate had not so much but he got it at auction for what seemed a good price and it had more problems than good points and fixing would have cost far more than it was then worth so he ditched it and went back to bodging Falcodores.
Very interesting, I had never paid much attention to Mercedes during this period aside from the 300SL (a car that I have seen only once in my entire life) and 300SEL 6.3, so the majority of it was news to me. The retention of the 300 number after it had ceased to denote engine capacity appears to make it somewhat like Cadillac continuing to use the Fleetwood name long after Fleetwood ceased to be a coachbuilder or an actual entity producing higher trim Cadillacs.
Do you think that the 300 number retained some currency into the 1980s, which may have influenced Mercedes to call the smaller-displacement US-market W124 the 300E 2.6, instead of the 260E?
300 being the number at issue brings to mind, “This is madness? This is Sindelfingen!”
Yes; the W124 was referred to as the “300” class initially by MBZ, but only in the US, FWIW. The E-Class designation did not come until a few years later, when the nomenclature was reversed to “E 300”, and such.
They REALLY should’ve gone to names at that point if they needed a change. New name with each full model change, too, so that when someone says “I have/had a (model name)”, you know exactly what to picture.
I think the 300-designation should be seen as a top of the line trim-line. Mercedes tried to separate the lines by giving it its own chassis code (W109), but for the general public, the 300-name was sufficient. Without it, most people couldn’t tell them apart.
Generally, the larger engine the car got, the more expensive it was. Larger engines thus equals (and becomes) a higher trim-line. But this also means people will think a higher trim-line belongs to a certain name. Without the name, people would be confused.
Thus it would be logic for the general public to assume that a 300 SEL was a step up from the ladder of a 280 SEL, even though they had the same engine. But most people wouldn’t know that they had the same engine, most people would assume the 300 had a larger engine than the 280. Even I assumed that, until I found out it didn’t.
In the case of the 300E 2.6, most people would assume it was trimmed like the 300E, thus more expensively equipped than the 260E. And there was a 260E sold in Europe. Mercedes had constant problems differentiating its lines from each other, like the 50’s 219, that was a six cylinder 220 with the shorter greenhouse of the 180.
I think the cake for the most muddled combination of engines goes to the W114 coupe. The first generation 250C/CE got the 2.5 M114 engine as seen in the 250S/SE. Except for the US, who got the 2.8 M130 as seen in the 280S/SE. With the second generation W114, the 250C was supplemented with the 280C/CE, who got the new twin cam M110 2.8, while the 250C retained the M130 2.8. The 250 and 280 thus both had 2.8-litre straight sixes, but it wasn’t even the same engine, it was two different engines…
FWIW, Mercedes sold both a 300E 2.6 (first) and later the 260E in the US. Both were trimmed-down from the 300E. Confusing..but that’s how it got in the eighties with Mercedes.
That’s how confusing it got with Mercedes in every decade. And now it’s BMW having the same engine size equals name thus become trim-line problem, with their 528 being a turbocharged two-litre four or whatnot….
Do any of the BMW/M-B cars have a model number that actually reflects the engine capacity any more? (rhetorical question)
The late 1950’s 300’s are such handsome cars.
The W109 cars are so much more appealing with gear shift in the floor and rear headrests.
I attended the first M100 meet in the late 1990’s in Pa. There were more 600’s there than had ever been in one place at the same time; I seem to remember around 40 cars. I drove several early 1970’s 600swb cars. Absolutely over engineered and wonderful!
I remember reading an online article stating that with minor tweaks, an otherwise stock 300SEL 6.3 was capable of mid-14 second quarter-mile times, putting it on par with most mass-market musclecars of the day.
And just about as front-heavy. I’ve driven them and while they handle much better than their Detroit contemporaries, you’re very aware that there’s a lot more weight up front than the designers in Stuttgart ever intended.
The most expensive car you will ever have , is a cheap Mercedes .
Never the less I love my old W-123’s and dream of owning a 111 Coupe one day .
Say, that red 1992-1996 Camry Estate is kind of rare, I hardly ever see red Camries in the U.S and never in wagon or sedan form just coupe.
Even though I’m a pretty big nerd for MBZ minutiae like this, I’m still confused. But it’s no matter… I love these cars regardless of what number they wear on their decklids. It amuses me that outside of the US, the “AUTOMATIC” badges were retained for so long. I believe even the W116 had these and perhaps even some models after that. If we ever had them, they were last seen sometime in the 50s. Manual transmissions were theoretically available on six-cylinder big Benzes here, but I’ve only ever seen a handful. I don’t believe they ever attached the “b” suffix to American Benzes either. I have seen it on Pontons, but it’s tough to tell because many of those were privately imported from Germany before Mercedes-Benz had a large dealership network.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned it on here before, but I had one of the more unique versions of the W108 – a US-spec 1972 280SE 4.5 (W108). For those unfamiliar with Mercedes, it was the short wheelbase version of the sedan with the biggest V8 available. Not actually as exciting as it sounds – the 4.5 was a less powerful version of the smaller 3.5l V8. I drove a Euro-spec 350SLC (W107) once with a 4-speed manual and it was a real rocketship, but the bigger engine still had plenty of get-up-and-go. My car looked only slightly better than the W108 pictured here and was frequently seen with smoke emanating from it’s rear wheel arches like the black 6.3 above. It was a total rustbucket and developed had some weird electrical problems, but it was a lot of fun while I had it, and what an otherworldly car to drive compared to the trashy American compacts and high strung Japanese cars I was used to at that point!
From what I understand, the 4.5 was initially introduced to offset the power losses in the 3.5 from US (California?) smog laws.
I’ve read that too, but it never really made sense to me. The 4.5 was only first introduced here for 1972, so it was only a one-year option in the W108. At that point, it was less powerful than the 3.5l engine from the previous years. Seems like they could have just gone with a detuned version of the smaller engine and gotten the same result, but what do I know? Maybe someone just thought the larger displacement sounded more impressive. This was the era when Cadillac engines bloated to over 8 liters, so it wouldn’t surprise me.
BTW – In addition to the subject car, the other pictures chosen for this article are outstanding! They’re not exactly a common sight here (or anywhere), and I’ve never seen a 300d hardtop photographed in side profile. Looks so friggen cool… as does the W188 cabriolet. I agree very much with the “last, great pre-war (in spirit) car” assessment.
The smog laws were tightening, compression ratios dropped, etc; and Americans preferred a torquier engine with their luxury cars. The 3.5 was a very sporty engine, and not that well suited for typical American (lazy) drivers.
I am going from memory here, not Google, but didn’t the 300 SEL 6.3 debut in ’68 not ’66? Otherwise, WAY more MBZ trivia here than I’ll ever need to know 🙂
Oh, let’s not stop there. The interior model designation badge was affixed to the radio blanking panel at the factory, even on the 600s. The move to the glovebox lid is likely by the radio installer, often they found their way to the grille mesh. The 300 SE coupes/cabrios also had the W112 chassis signifier. There’s a 300SE lang, albeit a bit down on its luck, pictured in the cohort. I know where there are a further 2 RHD lang examples, and these were trimmed to a standard beyond the standard 300 SE, close to the coupe/cabrio variants. I have never seen zebrano on a pre W116, the straight grains available on the W108/9s were maccassar and French walnut. And this very afternoon I had the pleasure of riding in an ex Hong Kong W112 300 SE being resurrected in Melbourne. The owner may be along here very soon.
Jim, another question: in the 70s there used to be a dealer in Malvern Road where the Hawksburn socialites now play. It was a black building with cyclone wire instead of windows and, as my father explained to me, was full of Hong Kong imports. Do you know of it?
Sorry, no. Before my time, try asking on the general discussion board at ozbenz.net someone’s bound to know.
Jim, you have wisdom beyond your age.
@ Jim, I have a set of Zebrano trim for my W111 220SE coupe project that came from an incredibly rusty 300SE coupe on Qlds. sunshine coast. It was given as gift to a famous surfer in the 60’s .Many years ago a brown 6.3 was offered for sale at winery sell of Brisbane which had a full zebrano trim set including the door trims.
I have seen a site on german site many years ago which showed a W111 220SE with zebrano.
My assumption based on that which I’d not seen stands corrected! The laying of a strongly directional veneer over your instrument binnacle must be quite a piece of work.
Yes; 6.3 production started for the 1968 MY. He meant that the first time anyone dropped the 6.3 engine into a W109 was in 1966. text has been amended to clarify that.
I’ve got a question for CC’s learned commentators; were the chrome wheel arch trims factory or aftermarket?
Chrome arch moulds were standard on the W112 coupes and cabrios and all W100 600 models. The W112 sedans both displayed a fine anodised aluminium trim and unique ribbed sill moulds.
All other wheel arch moulds post the Ponton 2 doors are aftermarket, and likely not the plated brass of the factory items
Thanks for the story Don.
Thanks for that answer Jim. That question has been stuck in my head for quite a while.
In my shady used car days, I got to buy and sell a 1971 300SEL 4.5 several times. It was well worn even then. It was equipped with air suspension. We’d sell the car and something in the air system would break. Back it would come, and we’d fix it, and make money every time.
The car was a European grey market import and it quite frankly went like stink for the day. This was the first V-8 I had every experienced that revved over 6000 rpm. What I also remember was the superb quality of the materials inside the cars. Everything was of exceptional quality, the leather was beautiful and the chrome gleamed. The only really bad point about these cars was the heater controls always broke off and cost a fortune to replace. No used ones were available as they were all broken.
The car was as heavy as a tank and built like one, too. Daimler had tamed the swing axle by this time and the car handled really well. It finally met its death when the last owner used the wrong hydraulic fluid in the compressor. The damage was so bad it wasn’t worth fixing. It was a real piece of history and I was fortunate to experience it.
Definitely a posting I will go through many times. Thanks GW!
I have a 300SEL 6.3 which I have owned for quite sometime ,I also work on them for living. Regarding the 300SE lang, there were only 14 right hand drive cars built. These were a step up from the already expensive 300SE W112 sedan with inlays in the wooden door trims ,leather coverings on the door panels ,and lots of wood trim around the rest of the car.
Given that so few cars were built ,a lot have survived ,mostly as derelict barn cars.
A lot of that was caused by the incredibly ridiculous prices for the air bags that the dealers were charging. I was quoted $2000 per bag by a straight faced dealer parts guy in 2000. Today they are 10% of that price direct from the Mercedes Classic center.
Height valves are easily fixed by at least 4 different firms who specialize in them.
To fit steel springs is being cheap and lazy. With air springs, The ride is still incredibly good by today’s standards ,as is the handling .I doubt who ever said they could feel the mass of the M100 6.3 engine up front has ever driven one. The 6.3 has faster ratio steering and feels almost like the W113 pagoda when driven quickly. There is no sense whatsoever that there is several hundred kilos of engine up front. Besides with a 0-101 KMH sprint of 6.5 seconds who cares?
The idea of the stacked headlights was safety. At high speeds the tombstone headlights do not project a beam far enough ahead so it is very easy to out drive your headlights on winding roads at night.
With individual headlights, the high beams could be the more powerful H4’s . my 6.3 (UK delivered in 1969) has Hella driving lights,a combination which turns dark into day.
The blue car with the tombstone lights is an development car from Daimler Benz and was fitted with various different engines for testing by Daimler. A guy working for Daimler bought it as a used car before emigrating to Australia. The engine in it at present is a very early M116 experimental V8 . So it’s possibly a bad choice to use an example as so many things on it were atypical of other 300’s.
Like I said in another post, I had a 300 SEL 4.5 with air suspension. The reason we eventually had to give up on the car was the air suspension bags were absurdly expensive. This was circa 1990 and they were dealer only. We sold the car to a guy and when the air suspension failed we didn’t buy it back since we knew it needed bags. Even with the 4.5 the 0-100 km/h times were in the low 8’s and that was fast for the time. With the air system working properly the car handled beautifully. These cars had superb materials and workmanship and were really a cut above, a far way above, anything else available at the time. In fact, the materials inside the car are better than anything I have seen since.
Don that was a beautiful piece. And you closed it with something I love about this place: everyone you meet has a story on how they came here. Many times they’re fascinating.
Loved the article, but particularly the “Rampside Classic” shot of the 600 posing in front of a Lufthansa Convair 340.
The 300SEL 6.3 was the first german über-sedan. Performance similar to the top sport cars of the era but these cars could carry four passangers in perfect comfort. One and a half decade before the first BMW M5. Mercedes-Benz at its best!
During college in the early ’70’s I had a part-time and summer job working at the port of Baltimore, ferrying new imports around the terminal after they were off-loaded from the ship. Would take them to be undercoated, inspected, inventoried, etc., before loading them onto tri-level railroad cars for transport to distant dealerships. Local delivieries were handled by auto carrier trucks. 95% of what we handled were VW beetles, but on rare occasions there was the coveted M-B duty.
Many of my co-workers were an eclectic assortment of derelicts whose use of a variety of intoxicants was not always confined to off duty hours. I guees I seemed responsible in comparison, so I was often selected when the Benz’s arrived. I still recall my boss warning me to be careful, as “these were $7,000 cars”.
On one lucky occasion I had to drive a 6.3 about a mile to a distant part of the terminal. Well out of the watchful eye of management I brought it to a stop – then floored it. The car was so quiet all I heard was a faint distant rumble, then noticed in my rear view mirror a cloud of smoke from the spinning rear wheels. Eerily quiet, yet the thrust was amazing. Driven many performance cars since, but never again had this experience of refined acceleration. Got to 60 in a flash, then had to back off.
One weird thing I recall was that the factory A/C systems were basically hang on units below the dash, not the nicely integrated systems common to all American cars of the time. Seems that all that German engineering could have done a better job there.
On a positive, the Benzes all arrived off the boat in perfect, pristine condition (as did the VW’s). Jaguars and the British Leyland stuff bascially came over just slapped together with parts falling off. Hated handling those as they rarely started and had to be towed all over the terminal.
All of the aforementioned cars were unloaded off regular commercial cargo ships one by one, with cranes lifiting them up from the holds then swinging them over the sides and setting them down on the dock. One day around 1971 I noticed a weird new ship in port. It looked like a huge ferry and had “Toyota” painted on its sides. Two huge ramps swung down and a thousand or so of these new fangled Japanese cars were driven directly off in a continuous stream. Dedicated Toyota personnel then handled all port services and transportation. What normally took 4 days was completed in 4 hours. I was impressed. At the time I had little idea of what a Toyota was, but thought this must be a smart car company. Little did I know …
So many topics and subject themes in this discussion, which I only found because I did a search for M 116 electrical problems! My understanding on these subjects are shown below.
1.STACKED ROUND HEADLIGHTS
These were created to meet USA regulations which specified all cars had to have round sealed beam headlights of a particular size. I dont know when these regulations came in but they lasted for many years and account for the fact that 111, 108, 109, 112 and later 116 models all had round headlights in the USA. The round headlights were available as options in other markets, but with quartz bulb headlamps, not the USA sealed beam units. I have a W 108 280 SE and a W 111 280 SE 3.5 Coupe and both have the stacked headlights with the euro quartz lamps.
2.W 108 300’s
There is no such thing as a W 108 300. Any 1965 to 1972 300 Mercedes with 300 on the boot is in fact a W 109 if it is a sedan or a W 112 if it is a coupe or cabriolet. Yes, engine size varied over the years from 3 litre, to 2.8 (albeit with a higher output), 3.5 and even the 6.3. The two things they all had in common, apart from the 300 badge, was air suspension and more luxurious interior. Yes, you could get a 280 SEL and it had a 2.8 litre 6 cyl engine but it had steel spring suspension, not air. Indeed all 280 badged cars (108 and 111) had steel spring suspensions.
3. 280 and 300 Coupe and Cabriolet models
The coupe and cabriolet body styles were introduced in 1961 and 1962 respectively and were actually part of the fintail generation of cars. They shared the same model numbers as their counterpart fintail sedans, namely W111 for the steel suspension models (which has 220, 250, 280 and finally 3.5 engines) and W113 for the air suspension versions (note that all 300 coupes and cabriolets actually had the 3 litre aluminium engine). The coupe and cabriolet body styles were available until 1972 – a long production run. In a strange twist, the ultimate expression of the coupe and cabriolet body styles was not a 300, but a 280! Albeit a 280 with the 3.5 litre M116 V 8 engine, which was available from 1969. By this time these coupes and cabriolets were basically built to order in small numbers and priced accordingly. A luxury car buyer in 1969 had a choice – a 280 SE 3.5 Mercedes coupe or TWO Jaguar E types…or a Porsche 911 AND a Mustang convertible. The V8 coupes are rare though – under 3000 in total and only 245 ever made in Right Hand Drive of which either 56 or 58 (depending who is telling the story!!) were built to Australian delivery specifications.
Again the headlights….some 280 SE 3.5 Coupes had the lichtenheiten (“tombstone” single lens) – many in Europe had these. My coupe has the stacked lamps, which are listed on the cars data card as an original fitting but I have not been able to substantiate if they were an option or standard. My W 108 280 SE also has the stacked lights and again they are listed in the data card but in this case I have verified that they were factory fitted options.
Sorry for all the words about small details!
Thanks for that Ashley. A lot of what you’ve mentioned seems to conform with the story and the commentary. The one thing I might add is that in my research I found that another reason given for the twin round headlights as was mentioned by Rob B. above. They were introduced as an option in Europe because the tombstone lights did not give enough depth of illumination for the higher speed 6.3. It would then follow that they were an option for the later 3.5. The learning curve on these lights for me was high after I found them as original spec on the featured W109 2.8.
Please check your research regarding the W113, that was the Pagoda SL model. As Jim above mentioned, the air suspension large coupe was designated W112 as per the heckflosse 300 saloon. I’m guessing with your knowledge that was just a typo.
Thanks Don. Actually I checked and there was a w108 with the m189 3 litre – the W 108.015. It was a 300, but with steel suspension which is really confusing but there you go.
The safety aspect of the stacked headlights is interesting and seems logical. I wonder though how much better the sealed beam versions in the US spec cars would have been, though the quartz Euro versions would certainly be an improvement. Further, was it possible to fit the extra driving lights in the US, given those extra amber indicators that were fitted to US bound cars? Neither of my cars gave those driving lights but they do look nice!
Here is a picture of my 3.5 coupe, with stacked lights (quartz euro versions).
There was some conjecture on a possible SWB 300 under the W108 code so maybe this refers to that. Nice car. Cheers.
Ashely; Yes, I’m glad you’ve confirmed for yourself that there was a W108 300SE. The logic is understandable, since it was only built in the first year or two, and at that time, and presumably the W109 simply wasn’t ready yet. But dropping in the 3L six into the swb W108 was easy enough to do, and it gave MBZ a car with decidedly more performance than the 250 SE W108, a niche in their line-up they felt was worth building until the W109s came along, as well as the stronger 280 SE W108.
The coupes and cabriolets were very beautiful, but also very heavy – there’s a lot of lead in those bodies. It’s always struck me as odd that the 3.5 wasn’t offered in /as a 300SE convertible, because it made it into the sedan.
Lead? Where? The bonnet, boot lid and door skins are all aluminium in order to save weight. They are of course still heavy cars, but where would they have actually used lead?
Lead was used to tidy up body seams before plastic filler became universal
Lovely car,a rolling curvaceous sculpted, refined, elegant work of art.Sumptios leather and warm wood envelope you in a classic setting, awaiting your input.A beautiful becker radio, huge sunroof and spirited performance beckon you with a beautiful smoothe yet taut ride.refined elegance from a bygone era.timeless classic.
I have a 1971 Mercedes 300sel 3.5 owned by one family since purchased in 1971. I have enjoyed all of your notations by everyone on their different 300sel models but have not been able to find anything out about mine. It was purchased in Germany and driven to the family estate in France then sent to our estate in Napa. I would like to buy a twin of this model so family peace can reign after I am gone. Why can’t I find anything or any of this type around?
C.T ,I have had a few 300SEL 3.5’s. Brilliant cars! If you are in the USA finding one there will be problematic as I don’t think they sold too many there .
Regarding the W112 300SE Lang.. I have just received one as resto job for a customer . Very rusty but very complete right down to it’s original becker ,push button with signal seeking.
Also,the amount of lead in the W111-W112 coupes was only in the roof,trunk filler area,about 120mm by 50mm wide and 3-4 mm thick. and that was all in the whole car. The Caberios are 200Kg heavier than the coupe because the central tube is 4mm thick,the front floors are double thickness and the sill panels are three layers thick to make the body stiff .
This very car was sold at auction in 2010, before the boom in classic prices. If it’s still in good nick some six years on from this 2014 post, it’d worth a good bit more than that 2010 hammer price.
This 300S Cabriolet was documented as a Paris introduction show car, serial number 00001, Doc had it a few years, the car show pic has his ’74 Dino next to it, the larger pic was when I delivered it soon after he bought it and I did a couple of weeks of restoration. At the show, both took 1st places. Had a 300 SEL 6.3 until the air suspension went out, still love that style.
Interesting to see the Dino’s two-tone colourway. They used that to hide the awkward bumpers of the subsequent GT4, works on neither though.
That’s a Mark IV caliber hood.