A timeless, elegant and increasingly rare W108 Mercedes-Benz classic long wheelbase saloon, lovingly restored, from the golden era of Mercedes-Benz.
At a glance:
1971 Mercedes W108 280 SEL with the factory fitted 4.5 litre V8 engine.
Rare floor mounted automatic gear change
Lovingly restored at a cost to date of over £20,000
Mileage believed to be circa 45k miles
Car tax free
MOT until 8th March 2021 - and now MOT exempt - No more annual MOTs required
An increasingly rare sight on our roads
This is a magnificent Mercedes-Benz; German over-engineering from the time when Mercedes-Benz built their cars to the ultimate specification, rather than to a budget. In its day, this car was probably the most luxurious and most expensive large saloon money could buy, possibly even the best saloon car in the world when launched. These cars were the preserve of royalty, presidents, (occasionally dictators) and captains of industry in their time, and represent the era of the genuinely over-engineered and well-built 'money-no-object' Mercedes-Benz.
The Mercedes-Benz W108 were produced from 1965 to 1973. The cars were very successful in West Germany and in export markets including North America and Southeast Asia. During the seven-year run, a total of 383,361 units were manufactured. The car's predecessor, the Mercedes-Benz W111 'Heckflosse/Fintail' (produced from 1959 to1971) helped Daimler develop greater sales and achieve economy of scale production. The upgrade of the W111 began under the leadership of designer Paul Bracq in 1961 and ended in 1963. The result was a visibly new car with a more sleek appearance and spacious interior. The car was premièred at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1965. The initial model lineup consisted of three W108: 250S, 250SE, and 300SE, as well as a sole W109, the 300SEL. Engines for the new car were carried over from the previous generation, but enlarged and refined. Later, the range included the 280S and 280SE, with production starting in November 1967. These replaced the 250S, 250SE and 300SE. In January 1968, the model line was joined by yet another car, the 280SEL. The car had the longer wheelbase of the W109, but lacked the complex pneumatic suspension, hence the chassis code remained W108. The American car production by the late 1960s has largely switched to V8 powered cars, and Mercedes-Benz had to produce its own eight-cylinder engine to stay competitive. Hence the increasing demand for the 3.5 and 4.5 litre V8 engines. The vehicle was an amazing success. Mostly, due its simple contours and a timeless charm, but it was also very well known for its reliability and durability, as proof of excellent German engineering. Thanks to the success of the W108 and W109, Mercedes-Benz went from a ruined post-WWII marque to one of European and World leaders in automotive industry. It was succeeded by the W116, a car which brought in the new nomenclature of S-Class or sonderklasse (special class), so this W108 can be considered to be the original 'father of the S-Class'.
This is a very desirable late model 1971 W108 280 SEL 4.5 coming with a host of optional extras; sunroof, electric windows, automatic transmission with floor mounted gearshift (as opposed to the majority of cars with gear selector on the steering column) and air conditioning. The exterior paint code is the original '181 Light Beige' and the interior is shown as 138 tex-leather sierra grey. The datacard shows that your car was built in October 1971 for the US market.
The history of this car:
This Mercedes-Benz flagship saloon was found languishing in a barn in California in late 2015 and shipped to the UK to undergo a complete restoration. There is little in the way of previous history with the car, as is often the case with 'barn finds' but the sellers did reassure the buyer that the mileage of circa 45,000 was genuine as the car had been stored for over 25 years without so much as turning a wheel.
If you are familiar with classic Mercedes-Benz, you will no doubt be aware that they are extremely expensive to restore properly. Parts are freely available, as many still can be found from Mercedes-Benz or specialists, but they are priced accordingly. Therefore, restoring a classic Mercedes properly is not suited to the faint hearted or those without deep pockets. Thankfully, this arduous and costly work has already been accomplished, meaning the new owner will simply need to enjoy the car. The majority of the work was carried out by Alec and his team at South Coast Vehicle Restoration - a very well regarded restorer. It's fair to say the car has had a tremendous amount invested in it, with a glass out, bare metal restoration, replacement or repair of a huge number of components, whilst many genuine original parts with light 'patina' were retained wherever possible.
Upon initial inspection, the body was found to be in excellent condition. The paintwork appeared to be original throughout with no accident damage. The only significant rust was discovered under the battery in the engine bay, which was cut away and new metal welded in. There was a small previous repair found on rear near petrol filler when the car was prepared for painting, so this was repaired properly.
- Front and rear windows were taken out for a full bare metal respray
- Resprayed in its original colour
- New front windscreen
- New headliner was fitted
- Sunroof was removed and refurbished with new seals
- Many new parts found and fitted. Many of these brand new parts were bought from Mercedes-Benz of Poole and from the SL shop
- Complete exhaust (supplied from Germany) from front to back
- New tyres
- New rubber seals for the front and rear windows (from Germany)
- New rear light seals
- All new rubber seals for all 4 doors
- New window seals for all doors
- New dash top and under part
- Wood dashboard components refurbished or replaced at considerable expense
- New carpets
- New front coco overmats
- New boot mat
- The car was converted to European specification by taking out the side repeaters and moving the rear number plate light to the bumper
- Engine was flushed, fully serviced and new oil seals
- Radiator removed and refurbished.
- New engine subframe mounts
The list goes on and on... The restoration took approximately 2 years, and is fully photo documented.
According to online sources, at the end of 2017 there were only 2 of these 280 SEL Automatics still taxed on being used on UK roads, which means this car is incredibly rare and subsequently highly desirable.
This car is estimated to have covered 45,000 miles having had the original odometer changed since returning to the UK. This was due to the instrument cluster ceasing to operate correctly at around the time of the last MOT in March 2018. It was replaced with another instrument cluster, currently showing 28,188 miles.
On the Road:
These cars drive extremely well, even by today’s standards, which is testament to their original high purchase price and exceptional build quality. The car starts swiftly and reliably, and cruises well, effortlessly wafting along to the muted burble from the beast of a V8 engine. The automatic gearbox changes as expected and operates smoothly. The car has a very solid German feel and is very engaging to drive, whilst easily keeping up with modern traffic. The speedometer appears accurate and the car is capable of covering long journeys with ease. It’s a very pleasing experience driving a car of this quality. The view over the bonnet of the Mercedes badge above the chrome grille gives a great degree of satisfaction when wafting from A to B in style. In 1971 this car would have been head and shoulders above the competition, and having driven many cars from that era, the high level of refinement and quality is evident. The seats are comfortable and supportive, suspension is very smooth and the car is a joy to own and enjoy. These cars can be used for everyday commuting if required, or just for pleasure as a weekend treat - by being capable of either these cars make for a wonderful ownership experience.
Original engine line-up spanned 2.8 litre six-cylinders, as well as the 3.5 and (only available in the USA) 4.5 litre V8, plus the range topping 6.3 V8. This 4.5 litre V8 is probably the most appealing choice, with the best balance of power versus fuel economy. The Mercedes-Benz W108 vehicles equipped with the 4.5L SOHC cast-iron block M117 V8 were produced from early 1971, with the 280SE 4.5. The 4.5 engine was released initially for the North American market, to get around the tougher emissions standards without killing the engine output and performance of the original 3.5L engine. The M117 4.5 is very similar to the 3.5, with a 30mm taller stroke. The heads were also given larger combustion chambers, lowering compression to 8.8:1 or 8.0:1, depending on engine variation and production date. Power was 230HP or 200HP, depending on compression. The D-Jet EFI system was tuned further for the 4.5, with a specific ECU that gave a 10% full-throttle enrichment. This (along with a taller rear-end gear) allowed the 4.5 to have similar efficiency to the 3.5, yet more power on full throttle. It starts and runs very nicely and runs at the correct temperature with good oil pressure; (45 psi on cold idle, under acceleration/load and 30 psi on hot idle). The car runs perfectly on unleaded fuel as Mercedes prepared for this in the 1970s for strict emissions controls in the US.
The three speed automatic transmission changes gear smoothly and quietly and performs as it should. This car has the rare and desirable floor mounted gear change, as the majority were fitted with the steering column mounted gear selector as was more popular in the USA market.
This car enjoys a long MOT until the 8th March 2021, and due to the new MOT regulations, as of the 20th May 2018 this car became MOT exempt - which means it will never need another MOT.
This car has been restored from the ground up and has had massive amount of time, money and care invested. The restoration is 99% complete, with just a few finishing touches left to do at the next owner's discretion - but due to the arrival of new projects, this wonderful car is now reluctantly offered for sale. It’s always difficult to express in words the condition of any car, and most people have differing opinions about condition, so the best way to get a true impression will be to view this lovely car in person. I’m confident that anybody with realistic expectations will be delighted to own and enjoy this stunning classic Mercedes-Benz .
These cars were astonishingly expensive when new, hence being the preserve of royalty, captains of industry and the very well-to-do. These cars are appreciating in value from £7,000-£10,000 for an example requiring significant restoration, up to over £40,000 for an example recently sold by a classic Mercedes-Benz specialist on eBay. The general value range for these cars seems to be rising by the month with perfect examples often nudging well over £35,000. However, this exceptional car is offered to sell swiftly at a very tempting £19,950. As prices have risen exponentially for classic Mercedes-Benz in recent years, this could prove to be a very wise investment.
This is fantastic classic Mercedes-Benz having undergone a comprehensive restoration with no expense spared. Prices are rapidly appreciating and the W108 saloon and W111 Coupe are rocketing in value as the SL Pagoda from the same era has done. There are so few of these cars left, and very few with such low mileage and having been lovingly restored, so this is a rare and exciting opportunity. These models were the ultimate luxury car in their day and many say these cars are from Sindelfingen's finest era - the heyday of 'proper' Mercedes-Benz.