Mercedes 220 SE Coupé and Cabriolet, two timeless classics

by Bernd

in Mercedes S-Class

The date of the introduction of the Mercedes 220 SE Coupé was carefully chosen. It was not as usual an international automobile show, this time it was the opening of the Daimler-Benz Museum in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim on Feb. 24th, 1961 and the celebration of the company’s 75th anniversary.

First sketches of the new car’s shape appeared as early as 1957, when the design was closely following the sedans styling. This was somewhat logical, as the car was to share the chassis and wheelbase with the W111 sedan. Daimler-Benz needed to get away from the expensive production of small volume cars such as the 300S and the Ponton Coupés and Cabriolets, which shared very little with their sedan counterparts. They also wanted the interior of the new cars to be larger, so that four to five passengers could now be accommodated. This, they assumed correctly, would increase the car’s sales potential.

Mercedes 220

This Friedrich Geiger sketch dates from 1964 and shows a slightly different rear part

During the design process the much debated fins of the W111 sedan changed to more acceptable proportions and Friedrich Geiger, in Karl Wilfert’s design department in charge of the new coupé’s and cabriolet’s styling, presented a coupé with particularly clean lines. With its pillar-less side glass, a hallmark of almost all coupés coming out of Stuttgart in future, and wraparound front and rear windows, the car was a statement of exquisite taste and should remain in production till 1971. Underneath, the running gear was adopted from the sedans, with which they shared the internal code W111.

Initially the coupe and its open counterpart should have complimented the 300SE W112 Sedan and were seen as replacement for the 300Sc. But as the launch of the luxury three liter car was two years after the introduction of the Mercedes 220 b series and the Ponton Coupé and Cabriolet looked already somewhat dated, it was decided in 1958 to use the new design and replace both the 300Sc and the Ponton two-door models with a single new design. First studies showed the coupe with the front design of the 300SL roadster, but as sales & marketing and also the board objected this concept, it was changed later to the more traditional front of the Mercedes 220 b sedans.

The chassis had to be strengthened on the sides due to the coupe’s pillar-less design. Both sedan and coupe had roughly the same length, but the coupe was 5 cm (2 in) wider and 8.5 cm (3.3 in) lower. Next to chassis and engine, the only other parts that were shared with the sedan were the head lights and the radiator grille.

Mercedes 220 SE Cabrio

You could order sport seats either only in front or also in the rear

Everything else was different. The doors were long and heavy and the hardtop profile promised solidity and style. The trunk was huge for a coupe and the interior generous for a two-door vehicle. Seats were thick, wide and covered with leather. From the beginning the coupe had an aura of class and dignity and for the first time it was possible to travel in a Mercedes coupe with four passengers in comfort, provided the front seats were not pushed all the way back and the rear passengers were not too tall. Due to the roof design, rear head room was somewhat restricted. From the rear the Mercedes 220 coupe appeared more elegant than the sedan. The main reasons were slightly smaller bumpers and less dominant looking tail lights.

The interior of the car was a feast for the eyes (and the nose). Not only the seats were covered with top quality Roser leather, also the door trim, the dashboard cover, the rear shelf and even the inside of the glove compartment used the same material.

Mercedes 220 SE Coupe, dashboard

Many US cars had air-conditioning either from Frigiking or Behr, this one is from Frigiking

The dashboard fascia, the instrument housing and the loudspeaker cover were made of wood. Like in the ponton coupe models one could choose between walnut, macassar or burl walnut veneer. The instrument-layout was a departure from the sedan version, it was copied from the 300SL roadster, with speedometer and odometer to the left and right and secondary instruments for oil-pressure, fuel and water in the center.

When the Mercedes 220 SE Coupé was launched, it was just 100.- DM ($25.- ) more expensive than the Ponton Coupé it replaced. But at 23,500.- DM ($5,880.- ) its price was higher than the one of the 300SE Sedan with its high-tech equipment and more powerful engine. Exclusivity had its price. The cabriolet was launched a bit later at the Frankfurt International Automobile Show in September 1961. Unlike the previous Ponton Cabriolet it was 2,000.- DM ($500.- ) more expensive than the Coupé.

Both cars could be equipped with the new automatic transmission. But while the manual transmission could be ordered which a floor mounted stick, the automatic had in the early years only the column-shift option. The automatic gear indicator was placed in the only place left, which was under the instrument housing. So it could hardly be seen by the driver without leaning forward.

Mercedes 220SE W111

The front axle of a W111 Coupé

The Mercedes 220 SE got in 1962 a more powerful and even more expensive sibling in form of the 300SE with alloy engine and air-suspension. In 1965 it was followed by the 250SE and in 1968 the 280SE. The epitome of the series proved to be the V8 280SE 3.5. Launched in 1969 it is today the most thought-after of the entire series.

After the introduction of the 350SL and later the 350SLC in mid 1971, the W111 Coupé and Cabriolet were discontinued. Despite their undeniable beauty, they clearly showed their age and especially the V8 made the limits of the suspension fairly obvious, when driven fast. After a successful career that span the better part of ten years, it was time for a younger, different generation to take over.

Both the coupé and cabriolet had been developed in the tradition of Daimler-Benz to offer a special and elegant two-door version of their six-cylinder executive cars. Although they were produced alongside the sedans, many parts had been manually assembled, so that one can say these cars were the last semi-handbuilt cars of Daimler-Benz, taken the 600 aside. They offered a quality unmatched by its rivals and even successors. This two-door tradition was only re-established with a coupé version of the W126, known as C126, in 1981.

If you want to read the whole story of the W111 and W112 Coupés and Cabriolets and how it was to drive a 280SE 3.5 Coupé, all of it can be read in my book and e-book. They come with a buyer’s guide and plenty of unique color pictures, most of them have never been published in a book before, this includes their suspension. The link will lead you to the US Amazon site. The book title is the same on Amazon in other countries.

A German version of this book can be found here.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Gilles August 17, 2019 at 6:27 am

If I remember the designer was Paul Bracq and not Friedrich Geiger.

Bracq also designed w108 and Pagoda



Bernd August 28, 2019 at 11:41 am

Hi there,
many thanks for your comment. Paul Bracq once mentioned in an interview that design at Daimler-Benz was very much a team effort, so neither Geiger nor Bracq ever claimed to have designed a specific car from ground up. The pagoda roof of the W113 for example was designed by Bracq, based on a concept study done by Bela Barenyi. But he car itself was designed by Geiger. It was the same with the W100 and W108, where both had their shares in the design, Bracq less so on the W100, but then a bit more so on the W108. The reason that most journalists today claim that Bracq was responsible for various Mercedes cars of the 1960s, comes I guess from the fact that Bracq is still alive and today a quite famous figure within the design world. Geiger on the other hand is hardly known anymore, which is a pity, as he succeeded Karl Wilfert as head of corporate design and can be credited for cars such as the iconic 300SL, R107 and W116. Bracq was never in charge of overall corporate Daimler-Benz design; he was head of forward design, which was responsible for the earlier design studies. He was later in charge of BMW corporate design, before he moved in the 1970s to Peugeot, to become head of car interior design. The one Mercedes car, where Bracq had a major design share, was the W114/115.


Pitso Mokhanye January 10, 2018 at 8:48 am

This unbielavable beauty has always captured my attention surprised by the highest level of technology which you did not dwell much upon that, that is portrayed by the Germans. Merc truely seem to rely on a rich traditional background not shaping the future of their modern produce. The 220se coupe goes down history lane as exquisite contribution . Fact. Thanks for your dynamic article.


ELIAS April 13, 2016 at 7:07 pm



el June 24, 2016 at 11:49 pm



Harry Julius July 29, 2016 at 12:57 am

Bonjour ,
Nous sommes intéressés par votre Véhicule.
Merci de nous donner plus d’informations.


Ricardo Peralta December 22, 2012 at 8:59 am

Really nice articles… I put some comments about your books and some photos in your Facebook page.

Greetings from Mexico City


Bernd December 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Hi Ricardo. Many thanks for your comment. It’s appreciated. Greetings from Muenster, Germany


Bernd November 26, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Great article about your Princess Michaela, Byron and thanks for sharing


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