Buyers Guide - 1959-1971 W111/W112 Coupes and Cabriolets

Gary Anderson, Mathieu Cama, Pierre Hedary, Richard Simonds


















Mercedes-Benz introduced a new model line-up in 1961 that would replace the Ponton-styled sedans, coupes and cabriolets that had pulled the company from the ashes in the 1950s. Built on the new W111 chassis, this series includes two distinct collectible categories - the finbacks, and the luxurious, stylish coupes and cabriolets.


1961-1971  W111/W112 Coupes and Cabriolets
Elegant, Collectible, and Practical

A Buyers Guide to the 220S, 300SE, 250SE, 280SE and 280SE 3.5 Coupes and Cabriolets

Article by Gary Anderson
Contributions from Mathieu Cama, Pierre Hedary, Roy Spencer, and Richard Simonds
(This article appeared in The Star Sep.-Oct. 2011)

Mercedes-Benz introduced a new model line-up in 1961 that would replace the W128 Ponton-styled sedans, coupes and cabriolets that had pulled the company from the ashes in the 1950s. Built on the new W111 chassis, this series includes two distinct collectible categories – the finbacks, and the luxurious, stylish coupes and cabriolets. The differences are simple. All of the 4-door sedans had small fins above the tail lights in a nod to the popular U.S. styling fad. The coupes and cabriolets had smoothly rounded rear fenders, with the rest of the body panels less angular than the finbacks. Inside, the differences were more had smoothly rounded rear fenders, with the rest of the body panels less angular than the finbacks. Inside, the differences were more obvious, with the finbacks built to a price for the family trade and the coupes and cabriolets built to appeal to the carriage trade.

Today, the difference for the collector can be measured in tens of thousands of dollars, with the W111/112 cabriolets among the most popular of classic Benzes, and the less-costly W111/112 coupes still much more valuable than the finback sedans.
When the W111 models essentially replaced the W189 300d models, Mercedes-Benz said goodbye to the body-on-frame chassis. Henceforth, all of its automobiles would be built around the safer and sturdier unibody chassis.

As production escalated to meet the demands of a growing European economy, Mercedes engineers did the best they could to develop economies of scale while preserving the distinctions necessary to appeal to a market that extended from taxi drivers to the very affluent. This was accomplished by using a common finback body style on both the low-powered W110-chassis 190s and 200s, and the more powerful W111-chassis 220b, 220Sb and 220SE sedans, and by using the same W111 chassis under the more expensive 220SE Coupes and Cabriolets.

Stylist Paul Bracq rose to the challenge of designing stylish luxury cars on the same chassis and wheelbase as the sedans not only by smoothing the top of the rear fender and eliminating the fin, but also by subtly rounding the lines over the top front fender and slightly reducing the height of the distinctive vertical radiator. With the freedom afforded by the lack of rear doors, Bracq removed the B-pillar and increased the C-pillar and rear window angles, lines that generally echoed in the convertible top.

Inside, the changes were more obvious. Instead of the vertical speedometer and utilitarian instrument panel, the coupes and cabrios had sporty round speedometers and tachometers on either side of a central stack of telltale gauges. Moreover, there was considerably more wood inside, a luxury amenity for the day, now a challenge for restorers. Extensive hand finishing assured high quality on these prestige cars.

With their six-layer soft tops, the Cabriolets were comfortable and quiet with the top up. Putting the top down was not difficult, and once folded and tucked under the tonneau cover, the top didn’t detract from the vehicle’s lines. Putting it up, particularly during an unexpected downpour, was a bit more challenging, especially for one person.

At the introduction in 1961, only one engine was available – the 134-horsepower, 2.2-liter, 6-cylinder M127 engine – shared among the sedans, coupes and cabrios. With the introduction of the 300SE in 1962, the 3-liter M189 engine and its very respectable 185 SAE horsepower also was offered on the sedans, coupes and cabriolets. Though the bodies are the same, and the chassis is the same as the W111 – except for the use of air suspension instead of springs – the change in engine justified the use of a different chassis designation, the W112.

The 220SE was marketed with the 2.2-liter engine until the end of 1965, when that engine was replaced by the 2.5-liter M129 engine, producing 170 SAE horsepower with fuel injection. This engine was used through 1967, along with the 300SE. In 1968, the 2.8-liter M130 engine replaced both engines, offering 180 horsepower and ending production of the W112 chassis. The W111 280SE with that engine would be marketed through 1971.

To maintain demand for a design that was now, admittedly, getting long in the tooth, and having transported both the Beach Boys and the Beatles, Mercedes-Benz upped the power during the last two years of production, making the 280SE available with a new 3.5-liter, electronic-fuel-injected, V-8 M116 engine. To distinguish the high-powered model, it was designated as the 280SE 3.5 and had a shortened radiator grille and additional interior amenities. With the big V-8 putting out 230 horsepower, the big cars could get to 60 mph in 10 seconds and top out at 130 mph. With the increased power, and the rarity, this version is now the most desired among collectors, with prices for 280SE 3.5 cabrios trading well into triple digits.

However, with stricter U.S. emission  regulations in the wings by mid-1971 and the low volume of the two body styles insufficient to support major changes to accommodate a new engine, Mercedes-Benz withdrew the 280SE and 280SE 3.5 from the market. Although the R107s were about to be introduced for customers wanting sporty motoring, nothing would ever replace the grand style of the W111s and W112s – only much later would Mercedes-Benz return with a four-passenger cabriolet.

Reasons to Buy a W111/W112

  • The two-door body styles are the most bankable of the 1960s models, with good investment potential and lots of show appeal.
  • The distinctive styling represents the zenith of two-door motoring of the 1960s and was a favored conveyance for movie stars and royalty
  • Sharing mechanical features with the sedans and popular in their own right, these cars are quite reliable and aren’t difficult to maintain.
  • Size, comfort and power make these practical cars for collectors with families or lots of friends.
  • The ride is comfortable, and with good power and amenities such as air conditioning and 4-wheel disc brakes on 250SE and later models, these cars are pleasant to drive.


Reasons Not to Buy a W111/W112

  • Rust can be an issue; if it exists, the size and complexity of the car can mean a not-cost-effective restoration. In any case, with the size, and expensive interior details, cars that haven’t been cared for can be a challenge to restore.
  • Air suspension on the W112 was a delightful feature, but if it goes bad, replacement parts are expensive. If the system was replaced with standard springs, the value drops significantly.
  • Many small components and trim pieces were unique to these cars and are almost impossible to replace if they’re missing.
  • The difference in price between coupes and cabriolets means that what is cost-effective to repair on a cabriolet may not be on a coupe. Worst are the coupes that have been chopped to be resold as cabriolets. These fabrications are nearly worthless.



  • Quality of bodywork is paramount; structural rust in these models may be terminal. In particular, check lower quarter panel behind rear wheel arches and trunk floor.
  • Existence and condition of knobs, chrome and emblems is important – many are now unobtainable. Similarly, top pieces and the tonneau cover can be expensive to replace if missing or not repairable.
  • On W112 cars, check the operation of the air suspension system carefully. These are time-consuming to repair, and because of the cost of the replacement parts, repairs can be very expensive.
  • Front suspensions require regular maintenance and lubrication. A neglected front suspension can cost enough to refurbish to put the whole restoration under water.
  • Condition of wood interior trim, chrome moldings and surrounds is important. Good pieces can be refinished at a price, but replacement parts will be very expensive.
  • Check the engine for start-up and smooth running. The mechanical fuel injection system is reliable and straightforward to rebuild, but the early D-Jetronic electronic system is a challenge. Troubleshooting and repairing either system requires a mechanic with experience on these systems.
  • Check VIN plates and data plate (adjacent to hood latch except on earliest models). Check the data card on expensive examples as well as the vehicle identification number stamped on passenger frame rail in engine compartment. Missing plates or stamped numbers are a huge red flag. Incorrect engines and coupe-to-cabrio conversions significantly reduce value. Factory cabriolets had odd-numbered prefixes (e.g. 111.023, 111.025), while coupes had even-numbered prefixes (111.026).



The 220SE Coupes and Cabriolets have the same model numbers as the 220SE sedans, as well as their M127 2.2-liter iron engine. The 5-main bearing crankshaft is a particularly weak link on this engine. Poor cooling system maintenance can cause cylinder head damage, especially on the alloy engines, which will be expensive to rectify. Performance was just adequate, due to the heavier weight of body reinforcement, especially in the floor pan, required to compensate for the pillarless design.

The W111 sedans are a good source for common mechanical parts, but all body panels and most interior trim pieces are different. The early Dunlop-Girling disc brakes can be unreliable and should be replaced by the later, more reliable ATE system.

The luxurious W112 300SE was introduced in the second year of W111 production. It has the M189 3-liter SOHC all-alloy, 6-cylinder, 7-main bearing engine with improved mechanical fuel injection. This engine and its transmission share few parts with other Mercedes-Benz drive trains. When in good condition, it offers exceptional performance, but parts are very expensive, and the water pump, ignition and valve adjustments are arcane.

Air suspension on the 300SE gave it a smoother ride without sacrificing handling. However, this suspension was susceptible to leaking around the seals, a problem that is difficult to correct completely, but if the system was properly maintained, with the alcohol reservoir filled periodically, it may still be fine.

The 300SE had some distinctive styling touches, with chrome trim strips on the sides and burl-walnut interior, for more visible prestige. The wheel size was increased to 14 inches to fit larger disc brakes and the rear axle was upgraded. Damaged rocker chrome is expensive to straighten and replate.

In 1965, the 250SE was introduced with the M129 2.5 liter engine with seven main bearings and mechanical fuel injection. The engine offers more torque but is less fuel efficient. The oil-to-water heat exchanger on this engine can be problematic as it ages.

In 1969, the coupes and cabrios were the first Mercedes cars to get the new 3.5-liter, V-8 engine – Mercedes-Benz’s first V-8 – developed largely to cope with North American emissions requirements, though the 2.8 engine remained available. To confuse things a bit, the V-8 model retained the 280 designation, which originally introduced to identify the 2.8 liter engine, with the number 3.5 appended to indicate the engine size. A new Bosch electronic fuel injection system replaced mechanical fuel injection on the V-8. As specified for North America, the engine was way off optimum settings to meet emission requirements, and exempt from emissions testing today, can be tuned for better performance.

Buying Tips
The value guide is a clear indication of relative desirability. Across the board, Cabriolets are significantly more desirable than Coupes because there’s no substitute for a top-down arrival at a car show. Rarity also drives values, with the 300SEs and 280SE 3.5s more valuable due to their small production numbers.
Perhaps the best value in the entire range, in terms of usability and potential for price appreciation, is the 280SE 3.5 Coupe. The 250SE Cabriolet also seems like a good prospect for appreciation.

Like nearly all luxury cars of this vintage, condition is critical to the value of the car. Full restorations, especially if extensive replacements are required, can be prohibitively costly. If the car has any major flaws, it’s better to pass, but an opportunity to buy a car that has been carefully maintained and loved should not be missed. Keep in mind that if extensive panel or interior work is required, a badly used Coupe may have more value as a donor car to a Cabriolet.

Optional components and accessories, including manual gear boxes and rear axle rations, as well as seats and interior appointments, could be ordered. Such accessories, if in good condition and working order, add to the value of any example, but if they have missing parts or are in bad repair, they will make the car worth less than if it had the standard part in the first place.

The bottom line is to buy carefully, waiting for an example in good condition and running order rather than assuming restoration and repair costs will be repaid by increased value. With coupes, that balance is easily upset, and even cabriolets can turn into pools of red ink when too much has to be done to put a car into show condition. But a good example, like the Brills’, will reward you many times over.


December 1957First concept drawings of four/five seat coupe and cabriolet by Paul Bracq
August 1959First W111 sedans introduced
February 1961

W111 Chassis and Coupe introduced at opening of Daimler-Benz Museum.

Production begins soon after.

August 1961Optional 4-speed automatic first offered
September 1961

Cabriolet introduced at Frankfurt Show.

Cabrio production starts.

March 1962W112 300SE introduced as top-line M-B model
November 19652.5 liter engine introduced on 250SE
January 1966Production of 220SE ends
December 1967Production of 250SE and 300SE ends
January 1968 2.8-liter engine replaces both 2.5-liter and 3-liter engine
February 19693.5-liter V-8 introduced, first used on the coupes and cabrios
June 1969Revised gearing in four-speed automatics
September 19695-speed overdrive manual available as option with 6-cylinder engines
May 1971

6-cylinder production ends, 8-cylinder two months later

28,918 Coupes and 7,013 Cabriolets produced

The bright metallic 280SE cabriolet shown above belongs to Bob St. John and Melanie Searle of the San Francisco Bay Area Section



220SE Coupe1960-1965$14,000$21,000$32,000
220SE Cabrio 27,20038,70055,600
300SE Coupe1962-196711,00016,00023,000
300SE Cabrio 42,50065,60030,000
250SE Coupe1966-196813,00020,00030,000
250SE Cabrio 25,00036,00052,000
280SE Coupe1968-197113,75020,25028,000
280SE Cabrio 36,00055,00077,000
280SE3.5 Coupe1970-197121,50030,00045,000
280SE3.5 Cabrio 75,000100,000185,000

Low value  is a safe driver but with visible flaws.
Medium value  is a car that is well-maintained or partially restored and could be in a local car show.
High value  is a car that is in top concours condition – as nice as a new car straight from the factory.



How We Found a 1971 280SE 3.5 in Bed with Our Sunday Coffee
by Mara Brill
To say that my husband and I like unusual cars is like saying that Lady Gaga’s outfits are occasionally a little out of the ordinary.

It started with a little DKW two-stroke that needed a home. Then there was the Austin A50 Cambridge that led to buying three more like it in the hopes that my husband could build one whole car out of the batch. That result is my cute and reliable 1956 A50.  Then we had to make room in the garage for an NSU-Prinz. Most recently he has spent every waking moment working on a Panhard with the French-English dictionary offering little help in reading the owners’ manual. Now, we have a hoard of about 15 such cars, and – no coincidence – we’re pack leader and den mother for the Arcane Auto Society.

So, it isn’t unusual for us to be sitting in bed with coffee on a Sunday morning, looking through the recent postings on Craig’s List on my laptop. What was unusual some months ago was finding a listing for a 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabrio. But there it was.

My mother-in-law gave me her 280SE coupe when it was old and tired, and I used it until my husband said we couldn’t afford to restore it to reliable condition, his typical excuse for selling any car with which I had fallen in love.

I told him we had to see this Cabrio (I had already made the phone call). He didn’t need to tell me to search price comparisons and values, and I already I knew I had a steal here. Not just a steal, but a steal on my absolute favorite car.

“Maybe we could go tomorrow,” he said.
“We are going today,” I said. “Now. Get dressed.”

In spite of a threatening rain, we took the 280SE for a spin and it was great. The elderly owner said he really didn’t want to let it go, but he needed money for urgent medical expenses. He used the car for occasional Sunday drives, he said. There was a headband from a cheerleader who sat in the back several years ago during a local pep parade. I loved the car immediately. My husband wasn’t as easily smitten.

“Let’s go home and think about it,” he said.
 “Not without leaving a deposit,“ I said.

Sure enough, the owner was getting offers the next day well over his asking price from across the United States, and even Germany. But the car owner’s daughter and I seemed to be on the same wavelength – I think she was glad to know the Cabrio would continue to be cherished.

So, after some negotiation, we agreed on a price well below the value of an average-condition sample, and this one was above average. Older paint job, yes, but a brand new top and the engine checked out in primo condition.  It wasn’t show-quality, of course – that’s not our playground – but I think it’s perfect.

Since purchasing the car, we’ve replaced some of the seals and hoses, as you’d expect, and installed a new carpet to match the exterior. There’s still some wood that could use a little TLC, a few knobs could be refurbished and I’d like an original radio, but none of that matters very much.

When I drive up into the California hills above Menlo Park where we live, I could only feel more alive if I was on the back of a horse.
1961-1971 W111/W112 220, 300, 250, 280 COUPES AND CABRIOLETS

MODEL220SE300SE/C250SE/C280SE/C280SE/C 3.5
COUPE CHASSIS NOW111.020W112.022W111.022W111.024W111.026
CABRIOLET CHASSIS NO.W111.021W112.023W111.023W111.025W111.027
YEARS PRODUCED1961-19651961-19651965-19671968-19711970-1971
TOTAL PRODUCED16,9023,1276,213 5,187450











HORSEPOWER@rpm134hp @5,000185hp @5,400170hp @5,600180hp @5,750230hp @6,580
TORQUE@rpm152 lb-ft @4,100205 lb-ft @4,000174 lb-ft @4,500193 lb-ft @4,500231 lb-ft@4,200

4-speed auto (opt)

4-speed manu std

4-speed auto (opt)

4-speed manu std*

4-speed auto (opt)

4-speed manu std*

4-speed auto (opt)

4-speed manu std*

4-speed auto

4-spd manu opt

REAR AXLE RATIO4.10:13.92:1 or 3.69:13.92:13.92:13.69:1
BRAKES (F/R)Disc/drumDisc/discDisc/discDisc/discDisc/disc
TIRE/WHEEL inches7.25x137.35x14 or 185H14185HR14185VR14185VR14
ZERO TO 60 MPH14 seconds12 seconds12 seconds11 seconds10 seconds
TOP SPEED107 mph115-121 mph117-120 mph117-120 mph130 mph
FUEL EFFICIENCY17-23 mpg15-17 mpg17-23 mpg19 mpg15-17 mpg

*Five-speed overdrive manual transmission could be special-ordered on 220SE and 300SE; it became available as regular option in September 1969.