1967 280SE Low Grille Prototype
Monterey week is virtually upon us so we thought send along teaser of what will be offered during the week’s frenzied auction action. RM Auctions will offer this one-off factory 111 cabriolet originally shown at the Brussels Salon in January 1968. As any 111 detective will notice this very early 280SE looks quite different than the high grille cars in production at the time of this car’s showing.
This six cylinder cabriolet debuted the ‘low grille’ nose and rubber cushioned bumper faces eventually found on the end-of-series six cylinder coupe/cabriolets and all the 3.5 liter 111 series two doors. These features would not be found on any production 111s for almost two years. A very rare car indeed and produced in a typical European specification lacking AC, featuring power front windows only, and fitted with a 4-spd manual gearbox.
Our friend Henry Coelho owns the car and we wish him good luck when the car rolls over the RM ramp Saturday night the 18th of August. We reprint RM’s auction catalog description below. We’ll have a special Monterey preview newsletter coming soon.
Chassis No. 111025-10-000041
Engine No. 130980-10-000015
Estimate: $150,000-$200,000 US
AUCTION DATE: Saturday, August 18, 2012
180 hp, 2,778 cc SOHC six-cylinder engine, Bosch mechanical fuel injection, four-speed manual floor-shift transmission, independent front suspension by unequal length A-arms, coils springs and sway bar, single low-pivot swing axles with trailing arms and coil springs, and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 108.3″
• The factory prototype, matching numbers ‘low grille’ 280SE
• Built for the 1968 Brussels Salon, which is photo documented
• In private ownership since 1970, and imported to the U.S. in 1974
• Fully restored by marque expert Mark Passarelli from 1999–2000
• Factory supplied with four-speed manual transmission and features fitted luggage
Cars built for major motor shows have always held special value for collectors, as they represent the best of the manufacturers’ and coachbuilders’ art, and are frequently one-off models. Rarer still are factory prototypes, which foreshadow the next generation of a particular model. Most automakers, especially Mercedes-Benz, retain these first examples for their museums, which makes the Mercedes-Benz 280 SE Cabriolet on offer today quite a remarkable find.
This cabriolet is a late variation of Mercedes-Benz’s 1960s mainstay, which began with the ‘Fintail’ 220 sedan in 1959. A coupe followed in 1961 and a cabriolet at the Frankfurt show later that year, though neither of these had the sedan’s characteristic fin. The SOHC six-cylinder engine was gradually increased in size, with the 2.8-liter being introduced for the 1968 model year. In the mid-1960s, Mercedes-Benz Chief Designer Paul Bracq had designed a lower and wider grille to replace the outdated, more upright style.
In December 1967, he ordered that these modifications be implemented on this very car, number 000041, using the fifteenth 280 engine built, number 000015. Built in 1967, its style foreshadows the penultimate generation of the 280, the 3.5-liter ‘low-grille’ model, which wouldn’t be launched officially until the 1969 model year. This 280 SE cabriolet ‘low-grille’ prototype was built for the January 1968 Brussels Salon, and its history is documented by a Mercedes-Benz data build sheet and a second production sheet with specifications for Brussels.
Originally finished in red metallic with parchment leather interior, this cabriolet was also fitted from new with a four-speed floor-shift transmission. This option was not offered on later 3.5-liter cabriolets, which it otherwise resembles. The car remained in Mercedes-Benz’s collection until 1970, when it was reportedly sold to one Werner Munz Backnang. It was then imported to the U.S. in 1974, first to Los Angeles and later moving to Phoenix.
Marque specialist Mark Passarelli was browsing the local newspaper classifieds in 1999 at his home north of Scottsdale and discovered the car advertised for sale. Expecting to find a 1969 model, he was puzzled by its configuration and lack of VIN on the radiator crossbeam. Passarelli began extensive investigative work and was able to identify the cabriolet precisely via the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, California. Documents from an enthusiastic Classic Center employee accompany the car, confirming its identity and highlighting its origins and importance.
While the investigation was going on, and before the car’s original color combination was accurately determined, Passarelli performed a fully photo-documented ground-up restoration. This cabriolet is now finished in a very handsome and period correct Middle Blue Metallic with cognac leather, and includes a lovely set of fitted luggage. Even now, the car only indicates 39,500 kilometers (24,850 miles) and features the then-new telescopic steering column, power windows, and its original Becker Europa radio. With its superb and unique provenance, spectacular restoration, and status as one of the few Mercedes-Benz prototypes existing outside museum confines, this unique automobile is the subject of considerable interest and great desire.
Roy Spencer, editor MercedesHeritage.com
Vehicle description from RM Auctions
Photography from RM Auctions
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