1995 meets 1971: The 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet


So there I am picking up my 11-year old son from an overnight stay at a friend's home. The father, in his late 40's, comments on my Cabriolet and mentions that his father had one back in the mid-90s. Then he motions me towards his garage to show me what's inside.

Before that door opened, I had already guessed he was a Porsche guy. Probably a new 911, or perhaps a pristine Speedster.

I was only partially right. Inside that tidy detached 3-car garage was a new Porsche, but also something a lot closer to home for me—a restored triple-black W111 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet. His father's car from 1971-1981, this Cabriolet surfaced  on ebay over three decades after the family sold it. It was recognized by a friend who noticed a description that sounded familiar. It was a needle in a haystack find. (But, in all fairness, it's a pretty small haystack considering there were only 1,232 units made of the 3.5 Cabriolet.)

He promptly bought the car, which was now tired and in need of a complete restoration. He then launched into a 3-year, full-body restoration, including new top, interior, and paintwork, along with restored wood and chrome. (I'm guessing the engine was rebuilt as well, but I never asked.)

Today, this 3.5 Cabriolet has an impeccable undercarriage, engine bay, interior, and, of course, exterior. It's driven, but just enough to exercise it. With these cars trading in the range of what was once Gullwing territory only a decade ago, that's understandable.

It was a treat to see the spiritual ancestor of the E320 Cabriolet—the last 4-passenger Cabriolet made by Mercedes until the A124 Cabriolet a good two decades later.
Restored engine bay just shy of show-quality 
Acres of leather and restored Macassar Ebony
The 3.5 now stands in the Pantheon of Mercedes' greatest vehicles. It's not only gorgeous, but it's rare, beautifully made, and surprisingly drivable by today's standards. Prices on this substantial vehicle have always been strong, but they are now certifiably kooky. Consider the 2016 sale of this other 040 black 3.5 Cabriolet (ex-Sinatra) in Monterey for a cool $297K. It's clear the market loves these cars. A highly coveted icon of German engineering, it's arguably the archetypal open European touring car from the late 60s and early 70s. The 3.5 has withstood the test of time and prevailed.

It must also be said that it's a delight to see someone who is emotionally attached to a collector car for the right reasons. Yes, it's a valuable machine, but I suspect it would be just as important to the new-old owner if it weren't the icon it is today. He values it for reasons beyond its financial value and would never part with it. It's his dad's old car and a touchstone to a special time in his life.

Dare I ask if the mid-90s E320 Cabriolet will ever attain this kind of status in hearts and minds?

Only time will tell.

Comments

  1. a very nice article, thanks. I have noticed an $ increase in W124 cabrio's this summer. I spayed my top a couple of weeks ago an it came out really well. Specialist diluted PPC paint was used.

    Titus Johnson owner of a 94 W124 cabrio 78k miles black/grey interior. I also won third place in the Washington DC Deutsche Marque concours (1990's convertible category). I really enjoy and value your blog. Cheers Titus Johnson Washington DC Titus@airspantj.com

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    1. Thank you, Titus. I have been to that concours, but it was years ago. I love the idea of spraying the top to get a few more years out of it. In fact, my top would be a great candidate for this. It has some discoloration from bird droppings, but no holes in it (yet). You'll have to tell us more about how you did this job. DIY? Professional? If so, what shop and how long did it take? Thanks in advance for your insights.

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  2. I have 95 w124A convertible. This beautiful car is so nice to drive and take care of. I have small problems with it ...
    my rear window bow is broken too at both ends and I want to replace the top and not sure how to resolve this issue
    ( I was thinking of fabricating one with wood) also the interior light switch assembly is cracked- I'm on my second $700 replacement and sun visor mirror won't close. My e320 cab is dark green and I'm thinking dark green too to replace the black

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    1. All classic issues. I think fabricating the window bow from wood is a great idea. I see no reason why that wouldn't work. Those other parts you mentioned are typically available on ebay. The plastic on these cars is not great, but anything subjected to UV is bound to have issues eventually. Wood, plastic, leather . . . it's tough on all these materials. Green on green was something you would occasionally see on the Pagoda SL and the W111 Cabriolet. German green canvas is available.

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