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Car Tales: Smell The Leather, Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet

‘If you feel obligated to ask about the price you not only will never understand the car, you have branded yourself incapable of ever appreciating its virtues even if someone gave you one.’ So in September 1970 decreed Car & Driver magazine of the Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5.
1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet for sale
And at Beverly Hills Car Club we have a fine example of this wonderful car, about which the great Jay Leno, himself an owner of a Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Coupe, has been known to loudly extoll its virtues on his YouTube channel.

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He proclaims the 280SE 3.5 to be the last of the really coach-built Mercedes, with a 3.5 engine that, says Leno, Mercedes-Benz billed as ‘the engine of the future,’ a ‘wonderful driving car.’ This car, proclaims the great television host, is comparable with a Rolls-Royce in its luxury, but much cheaper, with a timeless style that still looks ‘reasonably contemporary.’
1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet side view
And the rare and desirable 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet we presently have at Beverly Hills Car Club simply exudes sophistication and style, making it a coveted collector’s item for automotive enthusiasts.
Originally finished in the highly sought-after Moss Green Metallic (834) from the factory, this exquisite Mercedes-Benz is now offered in a breathtaking white hue that accentuates its graceful lines and iconic design.
This California car is equipped with automatic floor shift transmission, BEHR air conditioning, power windows, fuel-injected V8 engine, power steering, four-wheel disc brakes, black convertible soft top, boot cover, twin exhaust finishers, VDO instrumentation, side marker lights, chrome trim/grille, chrome bumpers, 2-spoke steering wheel with a horn ring, white-line tires, Mercedes-Benz branded hub caps, a jack, and a full-size spare tire fitted in the trunk. Convenience features include a center console, glove box, sun visors, dual-side rearview mirror, and a JVC radio.
Do not miss the opportunity to own this highly coveted 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet that is mechanically sound.
Jay Leno adores his own 1971 280SE, which he picked up in Las Vegas with some 82,000 miles on the clock – though due to sun exposure, the vehicle wasn’t in great condition.
‘It was pretty worn out. The wood was buckled from the heat, but the body structure was sound. The drive-train was solid.’
1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet rear view
Leno then restored it to mint condition. Jay loves everything about cars: loves buying them, loves repairing them, and loves restoring them to their former glory.
And it is when you appreciate that Leno himself, one of the world’s great automobile collectors, has 161 classic cars to chose from that you realize just how great the Mercedes-Benz 280SE really is. Leno himself is worth $450 million. His car collection, meanwhile, has been valued as high as $100 million. All these valuables are stored in his garage in Burbank, California, which started out as a 17,000-square-foot space in 1991 and today is almost 122,000 square feet.
1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet interior
Long before he was the anchorman for the Tonight show, even before he was a stand-up comedian, Jay Leno worked from 1969 to 1973 as a salesman for a Mercedes-Benz dealership. And he loved the 280SE 3.5 cars, being especially fond of that era of Mercedes cars. But, he admitted, ‘I never thought I’d be able to afford one of these cars.’
What is it that Jay Leno loves so much about the Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5? Above, that is, a car with a top speed of 120 mph, making the 280SE an ideal autobahn cruiser, and with such timelessly elegant styling? ‘It’s just very solid,’ he says, comparing the car to a handbuilt watch. ‘A fantastic car to drive, with that high roof inside. When you put your foot on it, it kicks down. And I Iike the stack headlights: it looks more substantial to me.’
In fact, Jay Leno loves the interiors of the Mercedes-Benz 280SE: ‘The texture of the leather has a rich aroma. It smells better, this rich leather: you can use hide food on it. There’s plenty of leg room. The glove-box is a solid piece of wood, beautiful wood that you can use furniture polish on.’
The 3.5-liter version of the 280SE typifies the resurgence of larger-engined Mercedes-Benz models that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the progressive easing of fiscal constraints, which had dissuaded customers from buying cars with large capacity engines, encouraged the German manufacturer to offer bigger, more potent power units.
Thus, the ultra-luxurious 280SE Coupé/Cabriolet and 300SEL saloon were the models chosen by Mercedes-Benz in September 1969 to launch its magnificent new 3.5-liter V8 engine.
An over-square design with cast-iron block & aluminum-alloy cylinder heads, each equipped with a single overhead camshaft. The new V8 had particularly smooth-running characteristics, which endowed superior performance to that of many out-and-out sports cars.
This all-new, state-of-the-art power unit produced 200bhp courtesy of Bosch electronic fuel injection and transistorized ignition.
280SE 3.5 Instagram
Car movie buffs may also remember the 280SE’s role in the 1978 movie The Driver where Ryan O’Neal’s character drives it to destruction in a car park scene to prove his getaway driving skills.
But don’t do that at home!
-Alex Manos, Owner
Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Cabriolet buyer Alex Manos

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