Beautiful Bargain – 1971 280SE Sedan (W108)

Article by Blakley Leonard

_280SE01.jpgThe Star begins a new series highlighting desirable and affordable classics purchased by our members for their style, reliability and quality, and offering tips on how to make sure your next classic Mercedes-Benz is “well-bought”


Beautiful Bargain: 1971 W108 280SE

Article and Images Blakley Leonard


The Star begins a new series highlighting desirable and affordable classics purchased by our members for their style, reliability and quality, and offering tips on how to make sure your next classic Mercedes-Benz is “well-bought”


My name is Blakley Leonard and I’m a Mercedes-Benz enthusiast. After graduating from college with a degree in music business administration – an interest based on my performing interests in acoustic, folk and indie music – and starting my career with a management position at a regional bank, I’ve begun to occasionally indulge my enthusiasm in the marque. I’ve been looking for, buying, and occasionally selling models that are new enough to still be affordable, enjoyable and fun to drive – and if purchased with care – likely to appreciate in value.


Of the cars I’ve owned so far, I’m particularly happy with a 1971 W108 280SE sedan I bought last summer. I had picked out the W108s because I think of them as having a timeless elegance and beauty, as well as being very practical to own. The challenge has been that those I found were for the most part too deteriorated to restore – or too restored to afford. Many had passed through the hands of a number of owners who had mistaken inherent quality and a cheap price as excuses not to invest in maintenance; the cars were badly rusted, the interior wood trim was beyond recovery or they had just been parked when the cost of postponed repairs was more than the value of the car.

I am only the third  lucky owner of this beautiful blue 1971 280SE, found in Pennsylvania.


Then on Craigslist, I found the one pictured here. It was located in Erie, Pennsylvania, a day’s drive from me. It was blue on blue with that reliable 2.8-liter inline 6-cylinder engine. I was pleased to learn that it was the fuel-injected version of the model; I really don’t care for the finicky nature of the carbureted versions.


Talking with the man who listed it, I learned that he was only the second owner after buying it at an estate sale as part of a lot deal in about 2005. Once he got the car, he determined that the estate was that of the car’s original owner and had obviously been well maintained. The second owner replaced some mechanical parts. In fact, the car was clearly being repaired as depicted in some of the pictures in the listing. He said the car was roadworthy, but he hadn’t driven it very much himself and had since purchased another car that he preferred, so was selling this one. This was the perfect situation for a sensible purchase: Not a barn find, but one with only one or two previous owners and not so much neglected – just not driven very much in recent years.

 After a relatively modest investment of time and money, I can now enjoy this elegant classic every day.


The car was initially offered for sale at $7,000. However, after I saw it, I was able to talk the seller down to a final price of $4,200. I did this by pointing out the worn condition of the front seats, some rust visible around each wheel well and the fact that while the odometer only showed 71,500 miles, the condition of the interior suggested the actual number was 171,500 miles.


As soon as I got the car back to my home, I immediately took it to a local body shop where I knew the owners. The car turned out to be in better shape than I had expected, with the only surprise being a large rusted area in the trunk floor where the spare tire sat, a pretty typical problem because water can pool under the tire. They were able to fix the rust problems and apply a good undercoating for about $3,000. The purchase was looking better and better.

 Period-correct Nardi steering wheel adds a touch of sporting flair to the beautiful interior of the 280SE


Then I went to work. I first tackled the mechanicals to get the car reliable so I could use it as a practical daily driver. Of course, I did the typical oil and filter change and fluid flushes. Due to age, I replaced virtually all the fluid lines, hoses and gaskets. One of the front brake calipers was locked up; I replaced both front calipers and all four pads. I also replaced the fuel pump, which had corroded from the inside out. I replaced the majority of the front- and rear-suspension parts, and after carefully checking the wheels, put on a new set of tires.


The car still had all its original paint, so beyond the paint and blending where the rust repair was performed, the paint finish responded well to the detailing tricks I used while running a detailing service to earn money while in college. Multistep finish correction and buffing was all that was necessary to bring back its luster.

I replaced the worn leather seat covering with authentic blue MB-Tex.


Because the original leather interior was completely shot – the seats were worn through to the metal springs – I had the interior completely redone, replacing the leather with original color-matched MB-Tex material from Germany. I also found a really cool period-correct Nardi steering wheel on the Internet, which I think looks great with the original wood trim; that, too, responded well to careful buffing and polishing.

Capacious trunk was in good condition but could benefit from some detailing.


I’ve now had the car for about seven months and couldn’t be more pleased with it. I’ve spent less than $10,000, including the original purchase price, for a car that is now getting a lot of positive attention at car shows. I think I’d still be ahead of the game if I had to sell it for some reason, though I really can’t think of any reason I’d want to do that.


Instead, I’m thinking about installing a modern air-suspension kit so I can change ride height as desired. If I didn’t have two other Mercedes-Benzes – my E60 and E55 – I’d drive this car every day.

We carefully steam-cleaned the engine compartment and replaced the battery and hoses, but didn't do any meticulous detailing since the car won't be shown in senior concours events.



1971 280SE Sedan (W108)

BODY TYPE: Four-door, five-passenger sedan

ENGINE: M130 inline 6-cylinder 2.8-liter

HORSEPOWER: 180 @ 5,750  TORQUE: 193.2 @ 4,500

TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic

WEIGHT: 3,206 lb  WHEELBASE: 108.3 in

FUEL EFFICIENCY: 12.3 mpg  TOP SPEED: 115 mph


CURRENT VALUATION: $7,000-$14,000