Rocket Scientist's Delight:

1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SE
2-Door Hardtop Coupé

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Back in the 1960s, Mercedes' three-pointed star graced a small number of extraordinary automobiles exclusively manufactured by Old-World craftsmen in Western Germany.

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A pre-1972 W111 Sonderklasse ("S-Class") Mercedes-Benz is a flawlessly engineered symphony of Krupp steel, triple-plated chrome fittings, hand-rubbed Glasurit lacquer, sustainably sourced, hand-polished burlwood, vat-dyed Roser leather and wool carpeting. In short, it's the diametrically opposite of today's drive-by-wire plastic appendages.

Among collectible post-war Daimlers, the classy W111 E28 Coupé, built in limited numbers between 1968 and 1971, occupies a special place. Designed with the discerning owner-driver in mind, this country club chariot represented all the best traits of a sporting but highly elegant personal luxury car in one -- expensive -- package, not unlike the vaunted Rolls Royce Silver Shadow or Bentley T-Series Mulliner Park Ward Coupés.

Today, half a century later, finding an original W111 Coupé survivor, let alone a rust free example from California, is an occasion truly worthy of celebration!

One of just 1,950 such Coupés manufactured during the 1969 model year, chassis No. *111.024-12-002213* was special-ordered for Tourist delivery. Intact data plate reveals the following options:

  • #491 U.S. Version
  • #180G Astralsilber paint
  • #243 Red leather interior
  • #426 Mercedes-Benz power steering and Automatic transmission with floor shift
  • #306 BEHR air conditioning
  • #519 BECKER Grand Prix 4-band stereo radio
  • #236 Electic window lifters front and rear
  • #503 Left outside rearview mirror
  • #531 Electric antenna
  • #602 Mounting for customs plate
  • #603 "300" wheel arch chrome trim
  • Power disc brakes on all four wheels (standard equipment)

Thusly hand-built for Mr. William. P. Bratton, a Gentleman of impeccable taste and considerable wealth from Bakersfield, California, the 280SE was picked up personally at the Sindelfingen factory, right after the 1968 Christmas holiday. The service booklet notes the first oil change on February 19, 1969, still in Sindelfingen. By springtime, the car was home in Bakersfield, where it shared garage space with Mr. Bratton's 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster.

On February 24, 1973, Mr. Arnold Nielsen, a veritable rocket scientist at the skunk works of China Lake Naval Air Base, with homes in Ridgecrest and Santa Barbara, entered the picture. He would drive and cherish the 280SE for the next 46 years.
Incredibly, all factory books and every single record from the car's 50 years of life in the Golden State have been carefully retained and are part of this offering.

100% documented, complete service history establishes a pedigree that is impossible to duplicate. Excactly 244 receipts for maintenance -- chronologically archived in clear sheet protectors and confirmed by corresponding entries in the two (!) service booklets as well as the owner's annotated logs -- paint a perfect picture of care and feeding, to the tune of $80,592.97.

Never seen before: the rocket scientist's approach to automobile maintenance. Forty-six pages of single-spaced, hand-written notes comprise not only a unique log book, but also a glimpse into the methodical mind of Mr. Nielsen, scientist, inventor and author of the acclaimed, "Nitrocarbons" tome.

To name just one example, when the battery voltage would drop inexplicably, Mr. Nielsen embarked on a major research quest. To read his notes and view his tables and drawings, all these years later, is a source of joy and wonderment.
More than ever, it's the comprehensive, verifiable history that turns an old car into a desired collectible. This wonderfully documented survivor has in spades, including vintage registration cards and assorted ephemera.

If you've read this far, you probably expected it: yes, this impeccably cared-for Daimler still proudly wears its irreplaceable, six-digit California blue-and-gold period license plates, front and back.

Let's now inspect this heirloom-quality Mercedes in more detail, starting up front.

Approaching the heart of the big Coupe, we find the engine compartment to be toothbrush-clean. It houses Mercedes' legendary M130 SOHC engine topped by the utterly reliable BOSCH mechanical fuel injection. The big 2.8-liter straight six produces 160 strong, Teutonic horses and is designed to to cruise effortlessly on the Autobahn at 100mph. Power plant is clean as a whistle and runs like a Swiss watch. As we established earlier, the car was always kept in prime operating condition.

Engine, transmission and front suspension look exceptionally clean and dry. There are no fluid leaks of any kind.

A healthy heart deserves an equally healthy body. Thanks to residing in a mild and dry climate all its life, Mercedes' unibody escaped the merciless rust devil. Best of all, the car still features its original, very attractive color, Astralsilber, factory code 180 G). Featuring a repaint dating back to 1985, the coachwork is straight and clean, with hardly any blems at all. Finish is smooth and glossy.

Lavish brightwork and weatherstripping remain in very good to excellent condition throughout. Lenses and lights are intact and, yes, they're all functional.

Pillarless design makes the W111 a true 2-door hardtop. It's easily the most elegant car on the road.
Let's take a look inside now!

Original, VAT-dyed Roser leather graces the door panel. Note talcum powder on door seal.

White, perforated headliner is well preserved and original to the car.

Mercedes' dash is a stunning work of art. Generously applied chrome fittings, combined with the finest natural materials available, provide an unmatched ambiance of luxury and wealth. Steering wheel is a very expensive, genuine NARDI wood-and-aluminum unit.

All of the gauges and switches are fully operational.

Factory BEHR air conditioning system blows cold.

Details show the under-dash BEHR A/C, original BECKER Grand Prix 3-band radio -- with power antenna -- which still sounds great and lends the Coupé an extra measure of originality, and the very desirable, extra-cost, optional floor shifter for the auto trans with its chromed shift gate.

Beautifully preserved, sumptuously comfortable red leather front seats.

Leather remains in stunning condition. Inner seat cushions were replaced at one time and have kept their shape perfectly.

With its contoured rear bench featuring a large, fold-down cener arm rest, 280SE seating has been described as 2+2 Grand Touring style.

Time to check out the luggage compartment!

Extra-spacious trunk features its original rubber mat -- and zero corrosion underneath!

Left: the complete, factory-supplied tool roll.
Right: 100% perfect, rust-free inner wheel wells (these are one of the known weak spots on any W111 Coupé.

Strikingly beautiful, original, untouched trunk floor.

A feast for the eyes of any true Mercedes connoisseur: the car's absolutely dry, clean, and untouched underbelly. What a joy it is to own a classic car that has never suffered the indignity of corrosion or rust repair!

To be rust free: a collector car's most valuable asset, dramatically elevating its appeal and value. Remarkably, this prime example of the marque features its original finishes throughout, including a factory-applied coat of Cosmoline wax. It has not been painted-on or undercoated since it rolled through the Sindelfingen factory gates.

100% rust free after half a Century spent in the dry Mojave Desert and Santa Barbara, this is simply the best unrestored W111 undercarriage we've ever seen.

Monday, December 2nd was another sunny autumn day in beautiful San Buenaventura and we were looking forward to our test drive and photo session.

This 280SE starts easily, runs smoothly, drives spiritedly, handles with aplomb, shifts precisely, stops straight and fade-free.

On the 101 Freeway, the Benz hummed along happily at 75-80mph, thanks to its advanced 4-speed automatic with fluid coupling. Admiring looks, "thumbs up," and many smiles along the way confirmed: everybody loves this car!

Perhaps more user-friendly than any other Milestone car designed during the 1950s, a 280SE Coupe can be employed daily in today's sometimes hectic traffic, with no limitations at all. Available passing power and braking capabilities are absolutely on par with modern cars; its supple suspension is a revelation.

If you would like to own a luxurious Mercedes Benz Coupe, one of a mere handful of survivors from the classic period, the time has arrived to treat yourself. This rust free, fastidiously maintained and almost obsessively documented, life-long California Coupe obtained from its caring, nonagenarian owner most certainly is one of the healthiest remaining examples in captivity.

Here's a tremendous opportunity to acquire a rare six cylinder Grand Tourer that is every bit as lavishly equipped as the V8-powered 280SE 3.5, quite fast, too, but more economical to operate. Undoubtedly, this bold German Coupé -- presented in the most desirable color combination -- will steadily appreciate in value while you enjoy driving it.

It sure feels good to own a Mercedes-Benz that was pampered by a real rocket scientist for forty-six years . . .

We sold this extraordinary Mercedes 250SE Coupe in 2020 to a customer from Los Angeles.

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