Mercedes 280 SE

This one-owner, low mileage, shorter-wheel­base W116 has to be one of the best cur­rently on of­fer, says Nathan Chad­wick

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This is one of those rare gems that comes along ev­ery so of­ten. The shorter wheel­base ver­sion of Mercedes’ W116 S-class, it was bought new from Mercedes-benz dealer Maloney and Rhodes in Cam­bridge and ser­viced there un­til the Nineties. Fas­tid­i­ous ser­vic­ing has con­tin­ued since it was passed on to the orig­i­nal owner’s son, de­spite the car hav­ing clocked up just 48,948 miles in its 43-year life – all con­firmed by the stamped-up his­tory, of which there’s a vast amount.

The ex­te­rior is ex­quis­ite. The gold paint is per­fectly matched all round the car and the shut­lines are fac­tory tight. We spot­ted no dings or rip­ples in the paint­work, and no cor­ro­sion bub­bles any­where. The chrome has some minor pit­ting here and there but noth­ing ma­jor. The win­dow rub­bers are all in good con­di­tion, as are the hub­caps. The match­ing bud­get-brand Mar­shal tyres are fairly re­cent and all have a good level of tread re­main­ing.

The in­te­rior barely looks used – af­ter a long time try­ing to find faults, it turned out that we couldn’t, so we just re­laxed and en­joyed the am­bi­ence. There’s plenty of room in­side and the com­bined MB Tex and cloth seats are su­per-comfy. The wood pan­elling is un­marked and all the con­trol sur­faces look as if they’ve just been formed in the Sin­delfin­gen fac­tory. The di­als all work cor­rectly, as do the fans. Once the en­gine had warmed, the oil pres­sure sat healthily at just above the half­way mark at idle, while the tem­per­a­ture gauge never rose above 180˚ Fahren­heit.

As is the Mercedes-benz way, this 280 SE fires up in­stantly and with­out fuss, set­tling to a light and re­fined back­ground bur­ble from the straight-six. Though this is a heavy car to haul, with 185bhp it is far from un­der­pow­ered and would still make a great long-dis­tance tourer. Kick­down en­gages calmly and the steer­ing, though cus­tom­ar­ily light, ex­hibits no dead­zone or slop. There’s a lot of body roll, but that’s just typ­i­cal of the era – we didn’t hear or feel any­thing un­to­ward in ei­ther the driv­e­train or the sus­pen­sion. Brakes are sharp yet pre­dictable, and ride com­fort is ex­cel­lent with a waft­ing smooth­ness.

The vast bon­net opens to re­veal a wellkept unit, with no signs of the cor­ro­sion of­ten found around the damper tur­rets. There’s only minor sur­face cor­ro­sion on en­gine com­po­nents and the brake servo, with a few ar­eas hav­ing lost ar­eas of their orig­i­nal black fin­ish, but that’s be­ing picky and is eas­ily rec­ti­fied. All flu­ids were up to their max­i­mum marks and none ap­peared to be es­cap­ing. All the un­der­bon­net sound­dead­en­ing is in place too.

It’s hard to imag­ine a bet­ter W116 on the mar­ket for this money. True, this is the small­est en­gine in the line-up, but it’s more than quick enough – af­ter all, this is not sup­posed to be a track war­rior. Over­all it is one of the finest W116s we’ve en­coun­tered and it wouldn’t take much to make it a con­cours con­tender.

Flaw­less paint­work on this hand­some 280 SE sets the gold stan­dard

We couldn’t find any faults in­side

Few signs of age here

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