Mercedes-Benz History – Mercedes-Benz 300 SE Coupe and Cabriolet

Words John Clark | February 14, 2012
In the 1960’s, driving a luxury-class coupé was an expression of automotive culture that was as exclusive as it was elegant
Words John Clark February 14, 2012

In March of 1962, Mercedes-Benz celebrated the premiere of two luxurious premium-class cars at the 32nd Geneva Motor Show – the 300 SE Coupé and the 300 SE Cabriolet (W 112 series).

In terms of their styling, both the coupé and the cabriolet were based on the respective variants of the 220 SE (W 111). The full-length floor unit was adopted from the tailfin saloon, underscoring the stately presence of both two-door vehicles with their 2.75-metre wheelbase and overall length of 4.88 metres.

However, the new models did feature trim elements in addition to those of the 2.2-litre-engine model, as well as being equipped with engine and technology of the 300 SE saloon. Initially, the M 189 IV straight-six cylinder light-metal engine delivered 160 bhp (118 kW) at 5000 rpm, having an increased output of 170 bhp (125 kW) at 5400 rpm from 1964 onwards. Depending on the rear-axle ratio and the engine installed, coupé and cabriolet could reach top speeds of between 175 km/h and 195 km/h.

The vehicles’ standard equipment included a four-speed automatic transmission, power steering, pneumatic suspension and a dual-circuit brake system with disc brakes on front and rear wheels. The additional chrome decoration consisted of a continuous trim strip in the longitudinal groove running from the headlamps to the tail lights, and distinctive trim strips on the front and rear wheel arches.

Coupé culture and cabriolet fascination in their purest form

The two new models not only represented the summit of their model series in March 1962. They also set the general standards for two highly exclusive bodywork forms behind each of which a particular interpretation of the fascination for cars stood: the premium-class coupé and the cabriolet.

Driving a luxury-class coupé is an expression of automotive culture that is as exclusive as it is elegant: the two-door, closed touring car combined flowing forms and sporty ambience with powerful drive systems and fine appointments.

The luxury-class cabriolet, on the other hand, open to the sky, breaks down the boundary between passenger compartment and its surroundings. In particular with the top drawn back, this type of vehicle combines originality of automotive travel with distinguished yet sporty motoring. In addition, the sturdy convertible top offers the protection of a coupé if wished.

Luxury-class coupés and cabriolets from Mercedes-Benz realize these special values in an exemplary manner over and over again, for which reason the brand and model culture of Mercedes-Benz has given proof of understanding and appreciation for both vehicle concepts through a large number of models.

Luxury coupés and cabriolets of the Stuttgart-based brand are not just grounded in this great tradition, they always look towards the future as well. In the 1962 300 SE Coupé and 300 SE Cabriolet this particular aspiration found its expression in consonance with its time. This was understood by “auto, motor und sport” magazine in its 7/1962 issue, that hailed the two new 112/3-series cars as the “non-plus-ultra of modern automotive construction”.

Closely related to the “tailfin”, yet independent

For all their technical and stylistic affinity with the saloon, the two-door vehicles were convincing original, independent vehicle designs. Thus Mercedes-Benz did not use a single central body-in-white part from the four-door model for the coupé and cabriolet. And for the design the developers explored their own paths, for instance, the saloon’s tailfins were merely suggested in the coupé and the cabriolet.

On the other hand, the two-door vehicles were closely related to each other: except for the missing roof and the necessary bodywork reinforcements the cabriolet was similar to the coupé in all details. The coupé even offered the potential for further models, as shown by a modified version of a 300 SE Coupé in 1962: for this singular vehicle the Mercedes-Benz research department removed the rear roof edging together with the rear window and installed a retractable folding top, creating a particularly exclusive landaulet (landau). However, this version was never produced in series.

The two 3-litre models were modified in many details in the course of their construction period. For example, from March 1963 a 4-speed manual transmission became available for the 300 SE Coupé and Cabriolet. And January 1964 brought the replacement of the injection system by a 6-plunger injection pump, which increased the engine’s output by 10 bjp (7 kW) to 170 bhp (125 kW).

Already a timeless classic during the time of its manufacture

The luxury-class coupés and cabriolets from Mercedes-Benz already revealed themselves as classics in the 1960s. In the summer of 1965 the W 111 and W 112 “tailfin” saloons were superseded by model series W 108, and only the 230 S model, created by reworking model 220 Sb, continued to be built until 1968, among other things as the 230 S Universal estate saloon. The coupés and cabriolets, on the other hand, remained in the programme: these exclusive two-door cars appeared fresh and elegant, in no way outdated, even when standing next to the saloons of the more recent generation. For the two-door models there were, however, alterations in some details, based on the engineering of the new saloons. In the case of the 300 SE, these included, for example, larger-dimensioned disc brakes and 14-inch wheels.

Production of the 300 SE Coupé and 300 SE Cabriolet was discontinued in Dezember 1967. In September 1969 280 SE 3.5 series Coupé and Cabriolet were ready as their worthy successors, powered by an entirely re-engineered 3.5-litre V8 engine delivering 200 bhp (147 kW). With a total of just 708 units produced, the open version of the 300 SE is the most exclusive variant of all Mercedes-Benz coupés and cabriolets of this luxury class, while 2419 units of the 300 SE series coupé were built from 1962 to 1967.