Five Clas­sic Tri­als

This coupé is as be­guil­ing to­day as it was in the 1970s – but not for the rea­sons you might think

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - WORDS David Simis­ter PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Lau­rens Par­sons

Mercedes-Benz 280CE

Pick up The Big Book of Mo­tor­ing Jour­nal­ism Clichés and you’ll find plenty of ref­er­ences to clas­sic cars feel­ing like build­ings on wheels. But you won’t find one here be­cause this Mercedes is un­apolo­get­i­cally fo­cused on sim­ply mov­ing you and three pas­sen­gers about, al­beit rather more sump­tu­ously than most of its Seven­ties coun­ter­parts.

Pulling the driver’s door shut elic­its a heavy thud, let­ting you know that you’re in some­thing rather more sub­stan­tial than a Mor­ris Ma­rina. You don’t sink into a leather­bound throne – this 280CE’s seats are clad in MB-Tex and they have a de­light­ful springi­ness to them, but you def­i­nitely sit on them rather than in them, and they en­cour­age you to take up a com­fort­able up­right pos­ture as you grasp the huge two-spoke steer­ing wheel.

It’s the same story with the dash­board fit­tings. A lovely slab of wood ve­neer creeps across to the pas­sen­ger air vent and the bank of in­stru­ments im­me­di­ately in front of you are beau­ti­fully made, but oth­er­wise it all feels de­cid­edly aus­tere. The three-dial af­fair up front has a speedome­ter on the right, a tiny VDO clock in the mid­dle and a cir­cu­lar dial on the left neatly com­bin­ing the fuel, wa­ter tem­per­a­ture and oil pres­sure read­ings; the fact that there’s no rev counter gives the first clue to this car’s char­ac­ter.

Flick the ig­ni­tion key and you’re greeted with a dis­creet, dis­tant mur­mur from the 2.8-litre straight-six. Slot the chunky gear se­lec­tor into Drive, re­lease the dash-mounted hand­brake lever and you’re im­me­di­ately made aware of the car’s heft as it creeps gen­tly for­ward.

Once you’re on the move this W114­gen­er­a­tion two-door re­ally be­gins to pile on the charm, with the plump seats work­ing in tan­dem with the cos­set­ing ride from the coil springs and gas filled dampers at each end. It won’t be re­motely im­pressed if you try any press-on shenani­gans, re­spond­ing with a gen­tle amount of body roll and a touch of un­der­steer to sternly re­mind you that you’re miss­ing the point. But keep things at the ’Benz’s pre­ferred pace and it han­dles road un­du­la­tions ef­fort­lessly. Sail grace­fully into a bend at sen­si­ble speed and let the feather-light power steer­ing and the straight-six’s seam­less mid-range torque do all the hard work, car­ry­ing you out the other end. Re­peat as nec­es­sary. It’s un­can­nily smooth and re­laxed.

Once you’ve got all this go­ing-around­bends malarkey out of your sys­tem – it def­i­nitely feels like a means to an end in the 280CE, rather than its rai­son d’être – you can con­cen­trate on the ge­nius of the W114’s pack­ag­ing. Its in­te­rior was vir­tu­ally as spa­cious as that of the con­tem­po­rary S-Class, and while the Paul Bracq-penned shape has two inches lopped off its roofline it’s still roomy enough for four adults to lounge about in­side in com­fort.

Twist the strange levers mounted ei­ther side of the cabin – Mercedes liked to charge for ex­tras like elec­tric win­dows – and all four win­dows sink into the shell to re­veal a pil­lar­less vista onto the land­scape around you. It’s enough to trans­form any Bri­tish A-road into a bit of the Rive­ria, and for that the 280 CE com­pletely wins you over.

This ut­terly be­guil­ing two-door Benz isn’t a build­ing – it’s a bal­cony.

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