Buyers Guide – 1961-1971 Elegant and Exclusive W111/W112 Coupes and Cabriolets

Gary Anderson • Graham Robson • Richard Simonds

Buyers Guide 01 (1).jpgBuilt in small numbers from 1961 and 1971, these graceful coupes and cabriolets – available with both 6-cylinder and V-8 engines, air suspension and disc brakes – embody an attractive blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology


Elegant & Exclusive


ARTICLE Gary Anderson • Graham Robson • Richard Simonds

IMAGES Daimler Archives • Denis L. Tanney    DATA Richard Simonds • Daniel Stahl


W111 & W112 220SE, 300SE, 250SE & 280SE Coupes & Cabriolets • 1961-1971


Built in small numbers, these graceful automobiles – available with both 6-cylinder and V-8 engines, air suspension and disc brakes – embody an attractive blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology

Mercedes-Benz introduced a new model range in 1959 as the eventual replacement of the Ponton-styled sedans, coupes and cabriolets that had re-established the company so successfully in the 1950s. Built on a new W111 unitized-construction body/chassis platform, the lineup eventually included two distinct collectible categories – the finback sedans and the more luxurious, stylish coupes and cabriolets.

In a nod to contemporary U.S. styling, the 4-door sedans sported small fins above the taillights, while coupes and cabriolets had rounded rear fenders, and other exterior body panels smoother and less angular than the finbacks. The differences were more obvious on the inside, with the Finbacks built to a price for the family market, and coupes and cabriolets crafted in small numbers for the carriage trade.

Today, the difference for the collector can be measured in tens of thousands of dollars. The W111/W112 cabriolets are among the most popular of classic Mercedes-Benzes, and the less-costly W111/112 coupes are still significantly more valuable than the finback sedans.



When the W111 models were introduced in 1959 and 1961, Mercedes-Benz made it clear that the era of body-on-frame chassis was over. Henceforth, all the company’s new automobiles would be built around the safer and sturdier unitized-production structure.

As sales and production rose to meet demand in a growing European marketplace, Mercedes-Benz engineers did their best to embrace economies of scale while preserving the distinctions necessary to appeal to both taxi drivers and the very affluent. This was achieved by using a common finback body style for both the low-powered W110-family 190s and 200s, and the more powerful W111-family 220b, 220Sb and 220SE sedans; the same W111 platform underpinned the more expensive 220SE coupes and cabriolets.

Automotive stylist Paul Bracq and his team rose to the challenge, designing stylish luxury coupes and cabriolets on the same chassis and wheelbase as the sedans, not only by smoothing the rear fender and deleting the fin, but also by subtly rounding the top front fender and reducing the height of the distinctive radiator. For the two-door cars, designers also removed the B-pillar and increased the C-pillar and rear window angles, lines that were echoed in the convertible top.

Changes were more obvious on the inside. Instead of the sedan’s vertical speedometer and utilitarian instrumentation, coupes and cabrios offered an elegant and more traditional circular speedometer and tachometer flanking a central stack of auxiliary gauges. Considerable decorative wood was on display – an extra challenge for restorers today. Extensive hand finishing at Sindelfingen assured very high quality for these prestige cars.

Thanks to the use of six-layer soft tops, the cabriolets were comfortable and quiet with the top deployed. Putting the top down was easy; once folded and tucked under the tonneau cover, the top was smoothly stowed without detracting from the vehicle’s lines. Putting it up quickly, particularly during an unexpected downpour, was a bit more challenging, especially for one person.

At launch in 1961, only one engine was available – the 134-horsepower, 2.2-liter, 6-cylinder M127 – which was shared among the sedans, coupes and cabriolets. With the introduction of the 300SE in 1962, the 3-liter M189 engine, rated at a very respectable 185 SAE horsepower, was also made available. Although chassis and body panels are the same as the W111, the introduction of air suspension justified the use of a new chassis designation, the W112.

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

To maintain demand for a design that was now aging (after all, it had already transported both The Beach Boys and The Beatles), Mercedes-Benz upped the car’s power the last two years of production, offering the 280SE with the new 3.5-liter, electronically fuel-injected M116 V-8 engine: This was only the company’s second V-8, smaller than the unit fitted earlier to the 600s. To distinguish the higher-powered models, they were designated as the 280SE 3.5 and had a restyled radiator grille and additional interior amenities. With the new V-8 putting out 230 horsepower, the big cars could now reach 60 mph in 10 seconds and top out at 130 mph. Because of the increased power – and their rarity – these versions are now the most desired among collectors, with prices for 280SE 3.5 Cabriolets trading well into triple digits.

However, by mid-1971, with stricter U.S. emission regulations and sales of the two body styles too low to justify further investment, Mercedes-Benz withdrew the 280SE and 280SE 3.5. Although the sporty R107s were about to be introduced, these could never replace the grand style of the W111s and W112s. Only decades later would Mercedes-Benz once again launch a new four-passenger cabriolet.


Reasons to buy a W111/W112

Today, the two-door models are the most bankable of the 1960s automobiles, with good investment potential and superb show appeal. Their distinctive classic modernist design represented the zenith of two-door 1960s motoring; they were favored conveyances for movie stars and royalty. Size, comfort and power make them practical choices for today’s collector.

Because the two-door models shared major mechanical components with the sedans and were popular in their own right, these cars are quite reliable and aren’t difficult to maintain. The ride is comfortable, and with 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 a real issue; if it exists, the size and complexity of the vehicle can lead to a not-cost-effective restoration. Factor in expensive interior trim and vehicle size, and these may be challenging cars to restore if they haven’t received proper care during their lifetime.

The W112’s air suspension was a delightful feature in its day, but if it goes bad, replacement parts can make repairs extremely expensive. If the system has been replaced by standard coil springs, the car’s value drops greatly. Many small components and trim pieces were unique to these types: They are almost impossible to replace if missing.

The difference in value between coupes and cabriolets means that what is cost-effective to repair on a cabriolet may not be on a coupe. Beware the coupes that have been decapitated to be resold as cabriolets; these conversions are nearly worthless.



The quality of the body shell is paramount in these models; structural rust may be terminal. In particular, check the condition of the lower quarter panel behind rear-wheel arches and trunk floor.

The presence and condition of the myriad knobs, chrome fittings and emblems is vital, for many are now unobtainable. Similarly, top pieces and the tonneau cover will be expensive to replace if missing or unrepairable. Good condition of wood interior trim, chrome moldings and surrounds is important. Although many good pieces can be refurbished – at a price – replacement costs may be very high.

On W112 cars, check the operation of the air suspension carefully; the system is complex and time-consuming to repair. In general, replacement parts and repairs can be very expensive.  Suspension systems require regular maintenance and lubrication. A neglected front suspension will affect the feel and enjoyment of driving; refurbishment can make the entire restoration uneconomic.

Check the engine for smooth operation. The original mechanical fuel injection 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 relevant experience.

 Check VIN plates and data plate (except on earliest models, this is adjacent to the hood latch). Check the data card on expensive examples as well as the vehicle identification number stamped on passenger frame rail in the engine compartment: Missing plates or stamped numbers are a huge red flag. Evidence of incorrect engines and of coupe-to-cabriolet conversions significantly reduces  value. With the introduction of the 280SE, factory cabriolets had odd-numbered suffixes (W111.023, W111.025), while coupes had even-numbered prefixes (W111.024 and W111.026).



The W111 coupes and cabriolets shared their model-number designation with the 220SE sedans, as well as their M127 2.2-liter iron-block engine. The engine’s 5-main-bearing crankshaft is a weak link. Performance of the 2.2-liter cars was just adequate, due to the weight of coupe and convertible body reinforcement required to increase structural rigidity to compensate for the pillarless design. Mechanical parts are generally shared with W111 sedans, but body panels and most interior trim is unique. The early Dunlop-Girling disc brakes can be unreliable; the more reliable ATE brake system should be fitted.

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

Air suspension used on the 300SE offered a smoother ride than coil springs without sacrificing handling. This suspension was susceptible to leaking around the seals, a problem that is difficult to eliminate. However, if the system has been properly maintained, with the alcohol reservoir filled periodically, the system may still be fine. Poor cooling-system maintenance may have caused cylinder-head damage, especially on alloy engines, and will be expensive to rectify.

To lend the 300SE more visible prestige, it was given its own distinctive styling touches, with chrome trim side strips and burl-walnut interior. The road wheel diameter was increased to 14 inches to accommodate larger disc brakes and the rear axle was upgraded. Damaged rocker chrome is costly to straighten and replate.

In 1965, the 250SE was introduced with the M129 2.5-liter engine, with its seven crankshaft 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 cars to get the new 3.5-liter, V-8 engine – the company’s second V-8 design – developed to compete with U.S. brands, though the 2.8-liter 6-cylinder engine remained available. To confuse things, the V-8 model retained the 280 designation, originally introduced to identify the 2.8-liter engine, with the number 3.5 appended to indicate engine size. A Bosch electronic fuel-injection system replaced mechanical fuel injection on the V-8. As specified for North America, in order to meet emission requirements, the engine was much reduced from its optimum settings. If exempt from emissions testing today, it can be tuned for better performance.

Note that 280s built after mid-1969 are occasionally found with bundt-style alloy wheels, which could be ordered instead of the steel wheels with their stainless-steel wheel covers.


Buying tips

Across the board, cabriolets are significantly more desirable than coupes – there’s no substitute for a dramatic top-down arrival at a car show. Rarity also drives value, with the 300SEs and 280SE 3.5s more valuable due to their limited 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 might be a close second in terms of potential appreciation.

Like nearly all luxury cars of this period, overall condition is critical. Full restorations, especially if extensive replacements are required, can be prohibitively costly – and lengthy. 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.

Many optional components and accessories could be ordered, including manual gear boxes and rear axle ratios, seats and luxury interior appointments. Such accessories, if in good condition and working order, add value; however, if they are in bad repair, they can make the car worth less than the standard specification.

The bottom line is to buy carefully.  Find a car in good condition rather than assuming restoration and repair costs can be covered by appreciation. With coupes, that balance is easily upset; even cabriolets can turn into pools of red ink if too much has to be done to put a car into show condition. Even so, if you buy a good example and keep it for a long time, it will reward you many times over.


Chronology:  W111 & W112 Coupes & Cabriolets • 1961-1971

1959    August:       W111 sedans introduced, replacing Ponton models

1961    February:     Introduction of  W111 chassis and coupe

1961    August:        First offering of the Mercedes-Benz 4-speed automatic transmission

1961    September:  Introduction of cabriolet model

1962    March:         W112 300SE, with 3-liter engine, introduced

1965    November:   Introduction of 250SE model, with new 2.5-liter engine

1966    January:       End of  220SE production

1967    December:   End of 1967 250SE and 300SE production

1968    January:       2.5-liter and 3-liter engines both replaced by the new 2.8-liter engine

1969    February:     New-generation 3.5-liter V-8 introduced, originally on the coupes and

1969    June:            Introduction of revised gearing in 4-speed automatic transmissions

1969    September:  New-type 5-speed overdrive manual transmission with overdrive available
                                 as option with 6-cylinder engine cars

1971    May:              Production of 6-cylinder-types ends

1971    July:              Production of V-8-types ends


Coupes       28,918

Cabriolets     7,013

Grand Total 35,931 units


SPECIFICATIONS: W111& W112 Coupes & Cabriolets • 1961-1971       

Model                         220SE            300SE/C          250SE/C          280SE/C          280SE/C 3.5

Coupe Chassis   W111.021       W112.021       W111.021       W111.024       W111.026

Cabrio Chassis  W111.023       W112.023       W111.023       W111.025       W111.027

Years Produced     1961-1965       1962-1967       1965-1967     1968-1971       1970-1971      

Total Produced     16,902               3,127                6,213             5,187               4,502

Engine                M127.984        M189.985        M129.980        M130.984        M116.990

Engine Size           2,195cc            2,996cc            2,496cc            2,778cc         3,499cc

Horsepower        134hp at 5,000  185hp at 5,200  170hp at 5,600 180hp at 5,750  230hp at 6,050

Torque at rpm     152 lb-ft at 4,100  205 lb-ft at 4,000 174 lb-ft at 4,500  193 lb-ft at 4,500  231lb-ft at 4,200       

Transmission*      4-speed man   4-speed man    4-speed man   4-speed man   4-speed man **

   Option               4-speed auto   4-speed auto   4-speed auto   4-speed auto    4-speed auto

REAR AXLE RATIO      4.10:1      3.92:1 or 3.69:1      3.92:1            3.92:1                   3.69:1

BRAKES (F/R)              Disc/drum     Disc/disc       Disc/disc       Disc/disc       Disc/disc

TIRE/WHEEL                7.25x13        7.35x14          185HR14         185VR14         185VR14

Zero TO 60 mph        14 seconds    12 seconds    12 seconds    11 seconds    10 seconds

TOP SPEED                107 mph         115-121 mph  117-120 mph  117-120 mph  130 mph

FUEL EFFICIENCY       17-23 mpg      15-17 mpg      17-23 mpg      19 mpg           15-17 mpg


* A five-speed overdrive manual transmission could be special ordered on the 220SE and 300SE; it became available as a regular option as of September 1969 ** Coupe Only



280SE Coupe (W111) • 1968-1971


280SE Cabriolet (W111) • 1968-1971


280SE Coupe (W111) • 1968-1971


Just as beautiful and well built as their flashier cabriolet cousins, the restrained and luxurious W111 coupes represent the range’s best value for the contemporary collector. 


280SE Coupe (W111) • 1968 -1971


280SE Cabriolet (W111) • 1968-1971


Hand-built in tiny numbers, and chosen by pop stars and tycoons, the W111 Cabriolets – particularly the rare V-8 powered 280SE 3.5 – represent the pinnacle of 1960s style.


280SE 3.5 (W111) 1970-1971