(first posted 10/21/2012) Is there a classier postwar Mercedes? The W111 Cabriolet became an instant classic from the day it arrived in 1961, and its image and status only grew greater during its eleven-year production lifespan. It commanded respect parked in front of the world’s ritziest hotels, casinos and restaurants. There were Mercedes that were sportier, Grosser and technically more impressive, but never one classier, at least in my book.
Paul Bracq gets credit for the styling of these handsome coupes and cabriolets. His approach, which essentially married the classic Benz front end to a softer-looking body and more graceful roofline, won out over other designs that ditched the Mercedes radiator for a stark, modern front similar to that of the later W113 SL “Pagoda”. Although such would be the case with this car’s much more recent successors, in 1960 this was the way to go.
Stylistically, the W111/112 coupes/convertibles are much closer to the W108/109 sedans that arrived in 1966 than with the Heckflossen” sedans with which they are so often associated with. The changes were quite significant; the whole body is lower, longer, and the dash design is totally different, also more like the W108/109s.
In the good old days of Mercedes, their essence always seemed to be a dance of traditional and modern–a graceful veneer over the kind of constant and endless tug-of-war typified by the conflict over this car’s front-end design. Mercedes was able to synthesize those two seemingly contradictory forces into one potent amalgam that the W111 Cabriolet exuded from every pore of its steel, leather, wood and whatever those magnificent thrones were stuffed with.
In terms of Beverly Hills pecking order, this car gave up little to the Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible during its reign that lasted well into the ’80s…or has that reign yet ended?
For over twenty years, Mercedes didn’t even pretend to build a successor to the W111 Cabrio, prior to the W124-based 1993 CE300: A very nice car (like all W124s), but one that could never live quite up to the rep and status of the W111 Cabrio. It always remained in demand, and I suspect few cars ever had better resale value from the get-go, which in itself answers the question. And those resale values are still soaring; typically, those for the final version of the 280 SE 3.5 Cabrio are in six figures.
This example is a 250 SE, built about midway through the W111’s evolution. Only 2105 of these were ever built, at a rate of thirteen per week, and witha very large amount of handwork.
With seven main bearings and other improvements, its fuel-injected 2,496 cc, 150-hp SOHC M129 six had been revised substantially from the engine in the first-series 220SE. When teamed with a stick, as in this car, it can power the 250 SE to a top speed of 120 mph (193 kmh).
Given its Euro-style headlights and stick shift, this one undoubtedly was imported from Europe at some point in its life, after which the speedometer was converted from kilometers to miles. It has the fine Fuchs alloy wheels, which were first available in 1969 and thus obviously not original. But those whitewalls are not at all so fine; bad call there. And for some odd reason, this particular car is showing more positive camber than usual at the rear. Maybe it came to a stop there under severe braking? Not likely. The patented low-pivot swing axles were nearing the end of their life; although Mercedes had tamed most of the design’s vices, it was high time to move on. Tradition can become ossification.
The 280 SE version arrived for 1968. Also available in the final two years of 1970 and 1971 was a 280 SE 3.5, which had the new V8 as well as a substantially squatter “radiator” shell–in retrospect, the latter seems a somewhat unfortunate move. Still pretty classy, though.
Needless to say, all these convertibles had a very high-quality top with substantial padding between its inner and outer shells. But then, so did the VW Beetle Cabriolet; it’s a German thing, couldn’t just have a drafty, fluttery piece of fabric overhead, unless it was a real roadster.
How much tradition was invested in this? About as much as any automotive symbol, ever. During the Great Mercedification Era in the US, it represented the Holy Grail, which Detroit imitated blatantly. That only made the real thing even more desirable–and, quite possibly in the case of the Cabriolet, the most desirable of them all.
A neighbor had one of these cabriolets when I was a child in the 70s/80s. The family had a constantly rotating stable of classic cars which they would drive regularly and then sell after a year or two, and the only two cars that they kept long-term were his 1960 Corvette, which he restored himself in his garage, and her 280SE 4.5 cabriolet. I saw them still driving these cars about 10 years ago, and I hear that they still have both cars, after at least 30 years. It says something about the stature of this car, which is one of the most elegant designs ever. I consider it neck and neck with the Lincoln Continental as the most beautiful non-sports car of the 1960s.
Really classy….if you like cramped little compacts with high levels of NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness), vinyl upholstery (generally), shoddy automatic transmissions that jerked changes, incredibly small engines that probably could not even *start* a big block American V8, hard seats, and boring styling. And you get to pay a huge premium for this nonsense, too. Give me a Continental of that era any day.
This is not a small car. And if the seating was in the tradition of the 1950s Mercedes cars, it is supremely comfortable. My experience of Mercedes was my dad’s 1961 190Db, a splendid car cursed with the indestructible lump of a 1.9 liter Diesel. The seats were cushy yet supportive in a way that we have lost, and the ride was, by modern standards, soft and pleasingly compliant. Yet somehow that car handled crisply, too.
I can only imagine what the experience must be like, taken up a few notches in the line-up, and with a fuel-injected six.
I’m assuming you (Dermot) are comparing the W111 coupe to Lincoln, and the Continental specifically …
It is clear that Mercedes and Lincoln had VERY different ideas of what luxury was/meant during the 1960’s. It sounds like the Continental is for you then!
Ok, well, go and get the Continental then and I am sure you will be happy with it.
I’ll take the Mercedes, any day, thank you and I shall refrain from making any comments about the Lincoln’s deficiencies.
These are not “compacts” as they are just over 16-feet in length and can seat five 6-ft+ tall adults in complete comfort… I’ve done it many times. Noise, vibration & harshness? You must have only ever experienced a run-down beater. Sure there is more wind noise than a modern car but vibration is non-existent on a well cared for or restored car. They waft like a Rolls-Royce when the suspension rubber is new. The “shoddy automatic” that jerks is actually among the smoothest I’ve experienced, but it must be properly adjusted as they run a vacuum that is affected by the mixture ratio, properly set by a competent mechanic is all that’s needed to experience the beauty of the fluid-coupled trans. Most backyard, or even shop mechanics, have no clue what they are doing and that results on rough downshifts. Not a single one of the coupes and cabriolets *ever* left the factory with vinyl, only leather was specified for this top-of-the-line cruiser. I could go on and on with your misinformation, but then again, I own one of these cars, so my words are based on experience as an owner, and that trumps “I once read that a guy who has a friend who…”
Finally, the car pictured originally had the rare sport seats installed, you can tell by the small remnant of an armrest on the side of the back seating area, the bench seats, that this one now carries, didn’t have the armrest.
Well said! I have seen those optional seats you mentioned described as both Sports seats and Safari seats (why?) and have always wondered if they were two different designs or different names for the same thing.
I have a 280 SE 3.5 Coupe and it is exactly as you say. Glides along supremely, yet handles very well and absorbs bumps in one go that would keep a Lincoln bouncing for a mile. The ride and handling qualities are extraordinary for a car of this era and surpass those of many modern cars. The auto is very smooth, often changes are heard not felt and this was a 4 speed unit at a time when 2 and 3 speeds were the usual offering. Even though it is a relatively high revving unit, the engine is remarkably smooth and vibration free. Noise is very well controlled and when cruising you can actually hear the clock! (Yes, it is quite a loud clock, but the car is very quiet).
There is not a single rattle, squeak or groan to be heard and there is no wind roar from the pillar less side windows until you are way over the speed limit and even then it is muted. To have driven one of these back in the day must have been a revelation.
Mine is one of the original 58 right hand drive 3.5 coupes delivered to Australia. Only 245 were ever made in RHD, so it is a rather rare bird indeed. I would love a matching cabriolet but they only ever brought 8 of those here and the prices are stratospheric!
I have a 250se cabriolet with RHD and four on the floor gear stick, I bought it new in 1967 in Europe and have had it ever since.
I live in Perth Australia. Car has only done about 70 k miles and is pretty much still like new.
Love to send you pictures by email
Archie Marshall 08 9495 4023
To reply to Dermot:
I feel qualified to comment, after personal ownership of over 400 classic cars, as follows…
…shoddy automatics they are not. Well built, long lasting, instant shifting they are..clearly not for all tastes especially if one is looking for “unobtrusive” shifts. Most large engine / auto trans combos use a very loose torque converter which helps that feel. Conversely, a Mercedes style design – using a fluid coupling vs a torque converter (1000 rpm range stall speed) and a 2.5 liter (150 cu in) engine with 170 hp @ 6000 rpm- the rpm drop between gears is larger but more direct feeling. Simply a question of what resonates with each individual taste.
The “vinyl” interior aspect of Dermot’s comment also stirred my interest. A fairly large number of Mercedes-Benz cars were delivered with leather interiors, which has a finite service life, before progressing past the “patina” stage. The alternative upholstery material was MB-Tex, which looks so close to leather material that many times it is described as such.
But…any interior can take on a less than optimal appearance when not properly maintained or replaced…
Aside from appearances, I am certain the seat ergonomics are beyond reproach, as my personal frame of reference spans 90% of automotive design — and I am a BIG fan of good design. Our car collections are “drivers”…except when they are “pushers” in which case we refer to them as “crossfit equipment”….
I rarely use the word “adore,” but I absolutely adore the instrument panels on Mercedes of this era. Real wood, heavy plating on the shiny bits, full gauges…they simply reeked of quality in a way that few of its competitors ever could.
Fast forward to last Thursday, when I test drove a C-class. Nice enough car, great tactile quality to the controls, much better executed interior than in its immediate successor – but aside from the walnut veneer, not much to delight the eye.
I’m not sure if the Mercedes mystique has died, or if it’s simply that the “everyday brands” have caught up.
About the Mercedes mystique, I think the problem is partly that the cars have lost the exclusivity they once had, in terms of numbers on the road. Seeing a Mercedes on the road was an Event when I was young. But once a car is advertised on prime-time television (as the E-class was here) I find it hard to consider it as something exclusively luxurious. Instead it seems pitched at everyman, as a slightly better product to aspire to. In chasing sales, it has lost that intangible prestige.
And back then, Mercedes had a distinct look, unlike any other car on the road. The new ones look disappointingly Hyundai-esque.
What a great car. That it is a white convertible with a red leather interior just makes it all the better.
The W111 is, in my mind, the quintessential Mercedes. Old-school stout, top quality pieces, and European touches like hand crank windows and a manual transmission. A mid-60s Cadillac may have been the more capable car, but there was just something about these. As much as the Cadillac of 1963-68 said “American”, the Mercedes of that generation proudly said “German.”
I miss the era when every country’s cars had an unmistakable personality and accent. Today, so many are morphing into a sort of universal average, much as a TV newscaster in Boston or in Houston sounds like a guy from central Illinois. A fabulous find.
Does the guy take his prized Blaupunkt radio indoors at night?
My favorite Mercedes, bar none. I find the coupe equally beautiful, but I’d much prefer the classic color-keyed wheel covers to the alloys on this example. Autoart makes a splendid 1/18 model of the coupe, as seen below.
With rear headrestraints???
KJ in Oz
Europeans were always way ahead of great
Neanderthal Land with safety features.
What would a Mercedes look like today if it were designed with a similar philosophy? It’s hard to even picture it because the brand has strayed so far into postmodern Italian taffyland. VW/Audi has done a much better job of maintaining a German quality to their designs.
Yes…I agree with all of what you’ve said. I love the ‘Teutonic’ elegance and restraint of current VW/Audi products. Especially the Jetta/Passat.
My father bought a dark blue 1968 280SE coupe and kept it until the late 80s. These pictures reminded me of the rich smell of the red leather seats and the wood trim.
I do love the little stubby fins on the rear of this design. It is a beautiful car but I do prefer my Mercedes to be grosser… love large sedans.
Wow! I’ve never seen one of those W124 cabrios in my life! Not bad. Oh and the W111 is nice too of course.
Is it fair to say that this cars headlights heavily influenced Pontiac designers with the 63 Grand Prix, actually the entire front end seems inspired by this when i squint my eyes.
I’d agree; that car is the embodiment of beauty and dispenses old myth that the Germans were only interested in the utilitarian aspects of automotive design, leaving the aesthetic criteria to the Italians and French.
I think of the German aesthetic as being quite no-nonsense, no-frills. That is certainly true of the Bauhaus movement that shaped so much of what we call “mid-century modern.” I have to remember, though, that the Baroque era in art, architecture, and music was very, very strong in Germany. Think of the reams of music written in Germany; the many, many Baroque churches and other buildings; and the incredible number of Baroque pipe organs with their elaborately decorated cases.
This car may be one of the prettiest of all the 1960s Mercedes-Benz cars.
The Classiest Mercedes-Benz? There is the 600. And there is no other. None. I’ll take a ’62 Cadillac Park Avenue with good AC, auto, and electric windows please, not to mention proper tail-fins as God made them, not the vestigial abominations on this thing (`sight-lines’ the company called them).
I’ve seen rusted out build `quality’ of Heckflosse Mercedes, and the best improvement one can do to them is retrofit an OM616 diesel. At least in this generation of MB cars, the quality is only as good as the owners’ maintenance of the car. For me, W124 is the vintage MB top form. Built to last. Of course now their quality is going down again.
Man, would I love to have some wheel time in one of these! Brings back my memory from early 1970 when I had an opportunity to buy a real nice 1953 M-B sedan, white with red interior.
Considering my airman first class pay, I could see it bankrupting me in no time, so I wisely waited until I found my beloved avatar, my 1964 Chevy Impala SS convertible.
I’m driving the closest thing to a M-B I’ll probably ever get right now…
You know, what that car really needs is some wire wheels with extended spinners….OK, just kidding.
Wow, what a gorgeous interior, almost nautical. I’d certainly refrain from eating fast food in that one.
Random thought: Why didn’t M-B style the shifter instead of just putting a straight chrome shaft?
Wait a minute: the shaft IS chrome.
I think I’d have to agree with you Paul, the other M-B I would put in a similar category is the 1950’s 300 sedan, but they don’t have the same character or ultimate elegance.
These are certainly nice.
The priest we had when I was growing up had an old 60’s era 4 door sedan version of this car, I believe.
It was a faded blue, the interior was getting ratty, as the piping along the edge of the headliner was getting frayed and tattered, but it ran and remember at least once, him coming over to see us once in it.
I believe he replaced it with a brand new, baby blue 71 Mercedes sedan and in ’72 or so, he bought a bright red Fiat 128 Familiar wagon.
He would be displaced from our church after 23 or so years there in 1976 and shortly afterwards ceased to be friends.
I understand he’s dead now, has been for several years.
Talk about the Curbside Classic effect! I saw one of these this afternoon after reading this article this morning. What a beaut.
The big MB cars of this era were, bar none, the best cars ever made. The quality of the materials was just superb, beyond reproach and lasted for years. Like stated before, the wood instrument panels were just gorgeous and they lasted for years without any delamination of any sort. The only problem with these cars was the heater control levers would break all the time and were a pain in the you know where to replace.
I have driven this exact drivetrain in a 1967 (I think) 250SE and it has, believe me, plenty of guts. Especially at like 90 km/h a downshift to third makes really good acceleration but also wonderful sounds, absent from today’s cars. These cars drove extremely well and were still light, too. They were real driver’s cars and even today would be seen as great road cars.
I also have a story of a 300SEL 4.5 with air suspension but that is for later!
Good to hear a positive experience about these cars. Cheers!
I think Tim told me this story once.
one of the very few Benzes I actually like for real, pure, uncut class !
There is a similar old Merc among the cars I shot in my friends repair shop… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wL4mN3eVEwU&list=UUHBMWqoKoNvMYoBSd61g_Pw&index=29&feature=plcp
last night i was watching a movie called hangover with a silver one in it.so cool.
This is definitely a high quality car. I wonder about the change to a V8 on these. Jaguar had sixes up to 4.2 liters. While I can see the need for more displacement with more emission controls and automatics, a V8 is too American for this very German car. A big six seems more fitting.
I wonder if the rollover standards in the USA kept the big coupes and convertibles from the W116, or if it was just more mass market.
About the front seats in the subject car: Did Mercedes
emulate GM’s early ’60s buckets – or did GM copy
Mercedes’? Either way they look like a mighty comfy
place to unwind some backroads in.
Mercedes had seats like this going way back.
The seats in Dad’s 1961 190Db were supremely comfortable. They somehow balanced being cushy with being splendidly supportive, and they did a better job of holding driver or passenger in place than anything I remember from GM. And they were more comfortable than a good many car seats today.
Old Mercs like this are getting very rare here even in sedan the convertibles were never here in any numbers that Ive noticed, beautiful car though and in mint condition. Benz built comfy cars way back in time.
Missed this one. Thanks for reposting.
When Mercedes really was a “Mercedes”, IMHO.
To me those headlights define classic Mercedes Benz at its ultra-prestigious best. When I was growing up in Moscow in the early 1970s, our neighbor, the famous singer Maya Kristalinskaya, owned a wine-red sedan of this generation. To me, that car was a spaceship among all the Moskviches and Volgas, just something unattainable at the very limit of imagination. Every other Mercedes since then has been a letdown.
Yeah, that tasteful triskelion hood ornament has
lately grown into a 12″ diameter illuminated(on
some models) obnoxious grille-mounted
This post reminds me of my one and only involvement with a Mercedes.
The car was a ’63 220 sedan, black. It looked as if it had been painted with a brush. The grey interior was kind of shabby and torn. It had a 4-speed manual shifter on the column, a manual choke, and I’m sure well over 200,000 miles on it. My dad bought it in non-running condition and he and my brother installed a new camshaft in it.
I had to drive it every day for 3 months, in the winter. It was utterly reliable. And it drove better than our then brand-new ’85 Ford Tempo.
Beautiful car. Think I prefer the wider, squat grille on the later models. Nice interior, those seats look like they’d hug you and be really comfy on a long trip. I do, however find the instrument cluster to be odd-looking, like it was just tacked on as an afterthought, and is it just me or is that steering wheel really as huge as it looks?
Yep, that steering wheel is huge. I’ll bet this car does not have power steering.
Don’t know much about MB but I did have one experience with one of this era. One of my friends was leaving Panama and asked me to sell it when he left. It may have been a 65 but it had this interior and front grill. When I think of it I am always left with the word Solid. It ran great and that big six would move it right along.
Should have dumped the MGB and kept this.
Perhaps there is no need to compare Mercedes to Cadillac, Lincoln, etc.! In a way, maybe the W111 coupe competed with brands from those American marques, but Mercedes-Benz gave you something totally different. Let me explain…
Older Mercedes-Benz (let’s say from 1960 to 1990) were exceptionally engineered, with very few flaws or irritating things about the overall design. It may not have done a couple or a few things extremely well, but it was a VERY well-rounded vehicle in terms of performance/capability/usability.
There were no gimmick features, and the styling was not trendy. The exterior and interiors were generally austere, but (in my opinion) there’s beauty in that for sure. Luxury doesn’t always have to be tacky or “overt.” Luxury can be timeless, simple, elegant, and yes, austere.
Also, I would like to note that even though Mercedes-Benz may not have been as fast as Cadillacs or Lincolns, the Mercedes would be WAY more sure-footed, would handle better (much more ‘taut’), and brake MUCH better. Food for thought…maybe having ‘power’ isn’t everything! It’s amazing how good these older Benzes were from the factory in terms of handling/braking, comparing it to (mainly) American brands.
And look at that picture below…showing the W111 coupe from a very attractive angle!
Just needs that ‘wart’ excised from the rear fender. 🙂
Man, I’m not a Merc fan in general but this car is Coolness incarnate. Pure poetry, just like the original Gullwing.
I’ll feel comfortable driving it to any occasions. It’s subtle, unpretentious, and yet stylish with classy lines and perfect proportion … reminds one of a young Kim Novak.
Pure class and elegance. Bracq is a genius–I looked up his info, he was born in ’33, so he wasn’t even 30 when he transformed the existing Heckflosse into this beauty. Quite impressive for a youngster–it proves taste is, while perhaps not inborn, instilled early.
Between him and Bruno Sacco, Mercedes had such styling talent for so many years. They could use someone of the same caliber today!
Another car that solidifies the theory that 1965-1966 was a period of beautiful automobiles.
I wonder how many people, at least of a certain age, see this car in their heads when they purchase a new Mercedes.
I never owned one of these but always wanted one. I had the opportunity not once but twice to get a nice one reasonably and screwed each one up. First I was a teenager it would have been around 1984 in Los Angeles and I was about to get my license. My dad took me to see one that was $3,000 yup just $3K in 1984. My dad and I went to look and he okayed it and then said to me “How are you going to pay me back for this?” It was a perfectly reasonable question and I was working and could afford the car. However my 16 year old ears heard it as harsh criticism that I wouldn’t be able to pay my dad back and was looking for a freebie.
The second time was about 1995 and I was living in NYC and earning very good money and there was one on Long Island for $15,000 in beautiful shape. I took it for a spin, top down and got onto the L.I.E. where it conked out on me. I took it as a sign. The owner pointed out factually that it was just out of gas.
There are just two dumb things I’ve done.
In 2001, an elderly friend passed away and left me her ’60 Fintail 220S. The car was ratty and rusty. I wondered if I could get used to driving this relic, with it’s drum brakes, manual steering and 4-speed column-shift. But after some serious TLC, including brake service, new motor-mounts, seatbelts, and installing a radio, it turned out to be an awesome example of what an early ’60s Mercedes was all about. Yes, it didn’t have the power and conveniences of an old Lincoln or Caddy. This car was about solidness and quality. Everything worked well, like it was designed to last forever. For something so ancient, the handling was impressive, like a modern car, with a taut, but still comfortable ride. At idle, the small six was so smooth, that except for a trace of valve-noise, you couldn’t tell the engine was running! Of course you could feel the pavement and there was noise at highway speeds.These cars were engineered to involve, not isolate, the driver. The only thing I would have changed if I could, would have been to add front disc brakes, as the drums had a vibration that I never could cure.(had it been a ’64 or newer, it would’ve come with front discs) However, the power-assisted drum brakes were responsive enough and reliable for the four years I drove it, until terminal rust, and the inability to find quality 13-inch tires to replace the previous owner’s Pirelli radials, finally retired the car.
The W111 cabrios are beautiful. However, I think the coupes are really gorgeous, don’t need periodic and expensive convertible-top replacement, and usually have the advantage of a lower purchase price. And around the time I was driving the Fintail, there was the coupe that got away. A ’63 220SE coupe was put up for sale near me. The car needed alot of TLC. The red leather seats were tattered, there was rust, and it had the wrong ‘bundt-style’ wheels. But it did have power-steering, front-discs, and a four-speed stick-shift. The car was straight, in running condition, and the price had dropped to a shamefully low $1800! But I was recently ‘self-employed’, and already had my ‘project’ Fintail to deal with. So I passed.
Ahh well. So much for the good old days!
Happy Motoring, Mark
My car is a 250se cabriolet which I bought in U.K. new in 1967. The car has only done around 70k miles and is RHD with four on the floor gear strick.
I have loved the car since 1967 and it is still like new but i am now 86 yrs old and might consider selling if the offer is tempting enough.
my phone number is 61 08 9495 4023 and i live in Perth Australia.
The “not at all benz wheels” and array of playing card decks ,in the console, are an interesting upgrade.
Mercs of this era give me a vibe of high quality and refined restraint. Although my heart prefers a pagoda. While RR and Bentley hung on to their pontoons, bloat and ignored reliability just so they could yell, Hey everybody IMDB! Funny how I haven’t heard of any RR or Bentleys hitting record highs at the auction block. They price them into the stratosphere and they come come crashing down to earth. While this merc started high yet still within earth’s atmosphere and just blew past Mars.
In 1976 I bought black with red leather interior 220SEb in beautiful condition with a somewhat tired engine (about 100k miles). It was hard starting but after a valve job by a German expatriate mechanic Herr Mettler ($$$) it it ran flawlessly, and tho’ low on torque it’d hum along at 90 for 10 hours at a time (I did it). Being an SE the seats were likely the same as the ones on this car and though initially hard-ish would support for many hours, and after 16 years the properly kept leather was still very nice. Body quality was tops and bank vault solid. That really was the era of MB at it’s best.