Mercedes 280 SE
This one-owner, low mileage, shorter-wheelbase W116 has to be one of the best currently on offer, says Nathan Chadwick
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