GALLERY: Go Behind The Scenes On Our 1968 Mercedes-Benz 280SE Film Shoot
Often confused for its four-doored siblings until you see the thing in profile, the Mercedes-Benz W111 Coupe is about as stately as cars come. The first of many a great pillar-less coupe with a three-pointed star on its nose, the W111s are arguably among the most regal automobiles ever produced; here is a car designed to be let into the driveway via remote-controlled wrought iron gates.
For the owner of this 1968 280SE 3.5 Automatic example, Jayesh Patel, it’s all about the luxury and the history embedded in this big coupe. It’s got an automatic gearbox, and while that may leave heel-toe enthusiasts wanting, you don’t buy these cars for their agility and sportiness. This is the ultimate cruiser, a leather-swaddled land yacht that is equal parts engineering triumph and sensory indulgence. As Jayesh puts it, “it’s almost ambassadorial.”
The W111 is a car built for a specific type of driver, and it took Jayesh years of searching before finally landing this gorgeous right-hand drive pre-production 280SE.
Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, Jayesh’s parents had established a few businesses related to photo processing in the country. His childhood was what one might describe as “outdoors,” which included the usual made-up kids games, cycling around, or just exploring the land in the backyard and beyond, but as Jayesh grew older the sport of rally driving captured his attention. A popular and prolific sport in Kenya, Jayesh also had a connection to this form of racing by way of an enthusiastic rally-driving uncle. He did plenty to stoke Jayesh’s love for the same, even arranging for him to be picked up from school in the rally car on one particularly formative grade school day.
That did a lot to stoke a young Jayesh’s passion for automobiles in general, but getting back to the 280SE, he credits his father for turning him onto the big Benz coupe. With Dad being a Mercedes man—he had a 220 Fintail sedan in the same blue over white scheme—Jayesh fell in love with the marque, and with the shape of the W111 coupes in particular.
The young boy who would compete with his sister for the front seat in the old Fintail grew up and bought some cars of his own, but the W111 remained elusive. After a few years of searching that turned out to be mostly fruitless, he settled for a W108 sedan and was happy to do so. Then, as it always seems to happen, this car more or less found him when he was barely looking.
“Only 245 right-hand drive 280SE 3.5 Coupes were manufactured. However, this particular example is possibly the only pre-production right-hand drive model in the world that I know of. It came off the production line in November of 1968 as a right-hand drive 280SE Coupe (a W111.24 to be specific) for the Daimler-Benz ‘experimental’ division.
“There, they removed the M130E straight-six engine and the rest of the drivetrain, and fitted the then-newly-designed W116 980 3.5L V8 engine and gearbox, as well as a lower ‘facelift’ bonnet.
“This vehicle was also fitted with an air suspension system for evaluation (which was later replaced with coil spring suspension) before production of the 280SE 3.5 Coupe started a year later in November 1969. The engine and axle numbers on this car all have the ‘V’ designation, which stands for ‘Versuch’, which translates to English as ‘Experiment.’
“The best part? This amazing history (including data cards, invoices, correspondence from Daimler-Benz) is fully documented.”
Elegantly pretty, sympathetically restored, and as rare as they come, this 280SE isn’t the most exotic or the quickest of Jayesh’s car collection, but for someone who grew up in the back (and sometimes the front) of his father’s Fintail and dreamed of the newer model, there’s no topping it.