The 3.5-liter iteration of the 280 SE epitomizes the revival of larger-engined Mercedes-Benz models that commenced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. During this period, the gradual relaxation of financial constraints, which had dissuaded customers from opting for cars with substantial engine capacities, prompted the German manufacturer to introduce more substantial and powerful power units.
In September 1969, Mercedes-Benz selected the ultra-luxurious 280 SE Coupé/Cabriolet and 300 SEL saloon as the vehicles to debut its impressive new 3.5-liter V8 engine. This state-of-the-art power unit featured an over-square design with a cast-iron block and aluminum-alloy cylinder heads. Equipped with a single overhead camshaft, the engine produced 200bhp through Bosch electronic fuel injection and transistorized ignition.
The innovative V8 engine boasted exceptionally smooth-running characteristics, propelling the 280 SE 3.5 to performance levels surpassing many contemporary sports cars. The Coupé/Cabriolet, outfitted with automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows, and a stereo radio as standard, achieved a top speed of 125mph (200km/h), reaching 60mph (97km/h) in just 9.5 seconds—a significant improvement over the six-cylinder version.
While the equivalent SEL saloon featured the ‘New Generation’ bodyshell, the 280 SE Coupé and Cabriolet retained the elegant coachwork introduced in 1959 on the 220 SE. Noteworthy refinements included a lower and wider radiator shell, resulting in a flatter front end to the bonnet, earning these cars the moniker of ‘flat radiator’ models among enthusiasts. The bumpers were also enhanced with rubber strips.
Remarkably, the 280 SE 3.5 marked the culmination of this long-established and revered body style. Today, these final iterations are highly coveted by discerning Mercedes-Benz collectors, representing the epitome of automotive craftsmanship from that era.