Home > Retro > Euro Sports > 50-Year-Old Transformation: 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Mechatronik M-Coupe Conversion

50-Year-Old Transformation: 1970 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Mechatronik M-Coupe Conversion

At first glance, this vintage Mercedes-Benz looks like either a mint well-preserved 1970 280SE 2-door coupe or a meticulously restored one. From the outside, the car seems to be what it’s supposed to be. There’s the elegant W111 coupe shape and twin stacked headlamps that has the car often mistaken for the Paul Bracq-designed W108. There’s an abundance of chrome trim around the windshield, windows, the front and rear bumpers, rocker panel trim and hub caps. Even the side mirrors are old-style, manually adjusted ones that have chrome housings and are mounted on elegant and slender chrome stalks.

When the engines starts and purrs into an idle, it’s a correct guess that this classic Benz doesn’t have an inline-6 under the hood but a healthy V8 motor. Perhaps, you’ll guess that there’s a 3,499 cc M116 V8 engine underneath the massive hood, which will make this classic car a Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Coupe. Your eyes might wander towards the 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, which are larger than the original 14-inch factory-installed wheels, shod in meaty 225/60R15 tires that are a lot wider than what the Stuttgart factory mounted in 1970. You might think this German classic was subjected to a subtle restomod – restoration and modification – with the slightly larger wheels and tires, and your guess won’t be far off.

Flying Cathedral

If Gothic cathedrals have flying buttresses, then this classic coupe massaged by Mechatronik and called the M-Coupe can be likened to a flying cathedral. The 200-horsepower 3.5-liter V8 was replaced with a naturally-aspirated 345-horsepower  5.4-liter AMG V8 from the 1999-2005 Mercedes-Benz S55 AMG (W220). Mechatronik mounts the modern V8 engine and 5-speed automatic transmission without drilling new holes or cutting into the vintage metal, and the drivetrain fits so perfectly you’ll think that the engine-and-transmission combo from the late’90s was designed for the engine bay of this Mercedes-Benz from the late ’60s.

Mechatronik also claims that it’s possible to return the car to its original specs, but we doubt that anyone will ever want to put the old M116 V8 and 3-speed automatic back into this car. The modern AMG V8, which is equipped with modern emissions controls, starts almost immediately, does not spew out any smoke or any large amount of carbon particles from its exhaust pipe, idles quietly, and is docile in everyday traffic. However, when the road clears and you have the urge to step on the throttle, all the engineering that Aufrect, Melcher, and Grossaspach stuffed into their AMG V8 breaks loose and catapults this cathedral-like classic from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.9 seconds and the quarter mile (400 meters) in 13.6 seconds at 168 km/h.

Classic Good Looks

There’s an American saying that advises, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and Mechatronik, a German company founded in 1997, has wisely adapted to that adage with the M-Coupe. Other than the 15-inch wheels and wider tires, there is little to distract the eyes from the timeless W111 coupe body. Because Mechatronik specialized in rebuilding and restoring classic Mercedes-Benzes, they kept the exterior of the M-Coupe as original as possible. From the chrome nacelle of the vertically-stacked headlights, to tombstone front grille and Tri-star hood emblem, to the “double stack” front bumpers, to the round period-correct fog lights, there’s nothing that will warn drivers ahead that the “old Benz” in the rear view mirror will not only keep up with modern sports cars in the Autobahn but blow past lesser sport coupes like they were standing still.

Similarly, drivers sneaking up from the back of this 280SE will have no inkling whatsoever that this last stalwart of Daimler’s Heckflosse (fin tail) era will be a hard car to catch, much more overtake, if its driver isn’t inclined to give in to eager young drivers and their modern plastic bumper sports coupes. The three-fourths rear view of the car with the large greenhouse, subtle fin tails, small tail lights, stacked chromed rear bumper, and 280SE and Mercedes-Benz Tri-star chrome emblems seems sedate and unthreatening, especially without the “3.5” emblem. It’s only when the tailgating driver realizes that they cannot come close to this sleeper that they might notice the winged Mechatronik sticker at the right edge of the trunk lid and the burbling exhaust note from the dual-tip tail pipe.

Retro Interior, Modern Amenities

As with the exterior, Mechatronik kept the interior as close to original as possible. Of course, the warmer climate nowadays is not the same as it was in the ’70s, thus technical upgrades were made including a modern Behr air-conditioning system and other interior comfort, convenience and safety improvements. Since this Mercedes-Benz coupe was made before the advent of modern crash and rollover standards, it is blessed with a vast and clear view out with its thin-rimmed steering wheel, slender pillars, upright windshield, low cowl, and sweeping hood with pontoon-like fenders on either side. It feels exactly what the interior of a classic Benz should feel like, especially with the Tri-star emblem at the front acting like crosshairs aiming towards your next destination, or your next moving target.

However, don’t let the classic interior fool you. You sit on horsehair-filled leather seats with contoured cushions and extra bolster padding to provide better comfort and support while the perforated leather inserts in the middle section are intended to imitate the factory MB-Tex seat covers to keep the interior looking period-correct and cool. Even the Becker Mexico radio looks like a vintage AM receiver but it is actually a modern infotainment unit with AM/FM radio, navigation, USB, Bluetooth and hands-free smart phone connectivity and a minimum of 8 speakers spread discreetly across the interior.


Exclusivity is Expensive

Mechatronik employs a cost-is-no-object approach to building each M-Coupe and an obsessive attention-to-detail in finishing each one to ensure that their cars all look, smell and perform factory-fresh. Of course, having a 50-year-old restored classic that runs better than new and comes with a new-car smell doesn’t come cheap. If you want to order a complete M-Coupe, Mechatronik will locate a 1969-1971 MB W111 280SE 3.5 Coupe, perform a complete nuts-and-bolts restoration, paint it to your desired classic Mercedes-Benz color, replace the old drivetrain with the AMG V8, 5-speed automatic, rear differential, brakes and steering, and add modern driver aids like power steering, anti-lock brakes (ABS), and electronic traction control. You can also choose between classic 15-inch steel wheels with body-colored and chrome MB hub caps or 15-inch Bundt alloy wheels.

Ordering a complete Mechatronik M-Coupe will set you back anywhere from $400,000 to $485,000 (roughly P20 Million to P24.25 Million) depending on the options. However, if you have your own 280SE 3.5 and you want to turn it into an M-Coupe, expect to pay around $150,000 (P7.5 Million) for the AMG engine conversion and anywhere between $50,000 to beyond $100,000 (P2.5 Million to beyond P5 Million) for the complete restoration, depending on the condition of your car. If you own a 6-cylinder 250SE or 280SE, expect to pay more because of additional modifications to the chassis. Of course, shipping from the Philippines to Germany and back, plus the Custom duties and taxes, and the LTO registration update are other expenses you should consider. But then again, if you have the capability to afford this sleeper classic V8 Benz, these additional expenses and fees will just look like chump change. We can only envy you.

One of the rare Mechatronik M-Coupe restomods can be found in Kuwait…

…while one was reviewed by the American motoring magazine Car and Driver back in 2012.