Established in 2012. RPR has bestowed a W111 280SE 3.5 coupe with a big V8 from a W220 S-Class.
Classic made modern – RPR W111 Coupe – the world is not enough. A powerful and comfortable car in its day, this W111 280SE 3.5 Coupe boasts new found acceleration and refinement thanks to a modern V8 and air suspension from a W220 S-class. The W111 coupe is one of the most highly regarded and desirable Mercedes-Benz car of all time. Carsten Ohlinger of Restoration, Prestige Cars and Racing.
The late 1950s to early 70S were a golden age of car design. This era - before the most onerous safety and emissions laws put their stranglehold on the industry and began to compromise creative styling - gave birth to some of the most beautiful cars ever designed. In sports car terms this meant #Alfa-Romeo
and of course, Mercedes-Benz. And during this period this last marque also produced some of the most elegant saloons and coupes in car history.
The W111 coupe, particularly the V8 powered #280SE
3.5 and its cabriolet sister, are two of the most highly regarded and desirable Mercedes models of all time, and their steadily increasing values bear testimony to this fact. The W111 range in general is also significant for being the first #Mercedes
line up to feature the passive safety cell developed by Daimler-Benz safety supremo, Bela Barenyi.
However, like all cars of this era, these three-pointed stars require more servicing and fettling than modern machinery, and were never designed to run reliably and stay cool in the kind of stop-start traffic conditions we face today. Features that we take for granted like air conditioning were options back then, and were not particularly efficient by modern standards. Air suspension was also in its infancy at the time, and the early technology was expensive and not as reliable as Mercedes-Benz would have liked.
While this cocktail of innovation was a serious draw for wealthy buyers, it was also a ticking time bomb for subsequent, less well heeled owners, and a veritable nightmare for those enthusiasts wishing to restore and drive these cars several decades down the road. As always though, where there is a will, there is a way. Over the years, a few canny specialists have come up with solutions to mitigate the impact of some of these sophisticated features going wrong. Common upgrades involve replacing the distributor points with electronic ignition and improving other electronic and electrical components, usually in a way that preserves the original look.
Driveshaft from W220 S-Class needed to be shortened.
Rear S-Class air suspension and Koni dampers all round.
Front axle given Firestone’s air ride suspension system.
The conversion makes it suitable for everyday use in modern traffic conditions and improves its all round performance.
Front and rear air suspension transforms ride.
The 302bhp, 24-valve V8 motor fires up at the first turn of the key.
However, the drawbacks of these cars from an engineering point of view arc the sheer weight of the 3.5-litre, iron block V8, a four-speed automatic transmission that is, by modern standards, slow witted and clunky when not properly adjusted, and optional air suspension that can be troublesome and is rather expensive to fix when it does go wrong.
Carsten Ohlinger started RPR (which stands for Restoration, Prestige Cars and Racing) in #2012
, setting up shop in Tamm near Ludwigsburg in Germany. RPR specialises in the restoration, service, sales and motorsport preparation of #Mercedes
cars, and Carsten is very clear about his objectives. “Although ‘Restoration’ is the first word in our name, I decided to handle these jobs sparingly, and only for good friends,” he explained. “As much as I love restoring old Mercedes, the number of hours you invest in a car makes it a marginal business even when you charge the not insignificant amounts of money that the top players do.
“I am a mechanic by trade, and it is the technical part of the job and racing that interests me most,” he continued. “I am always thinking of ways to improve cars, and I have evolved my own ideas for curing the issues that often let down owners of classic Mercedes-Benz vehicles.”
coupe I have come to drive today is a prime example of the kind of transformation RPR is able to perform for an enlightened client who wishes to treat his classic as far more than just a hobby car for high days and holidays. The conversion makes it suitable for everyday use in modern traffic conditions and improves its all round performance.
Putting the coupe on the lift in RPR’s workshop is most revealing, and it is immediately obvious that the car never left the factory with these underpinnings. The front subframe has been modified to take the smaller, lighter and much more powerful, five-litre #M113 #V8
and its matching gearbox. The air suspension units up front are aftermarket units, with airbags made by Firestone, working in conjunction with bespoke Koni dampers. The electronic control calibration is done by RPR.
Even more noticeable is the all new rear axle, which is from a #W220
-series S-Class, replete with its Airmatic air suspension units. Needless to say, new attachment points had to be created for the W111 and welded to the body shell, along with the requisite stiffening plates, but the finished result has the same clean and polished look as a factory solution. As the S-Class’s driveshaft is longer than the W111’s, it had to be shortened to fit.
A substantial amount of planning, measuring and modifying of the sheet metalwork had to be done to get the new components to fit exactly where they should, but the end result looks factory standard. With the car back on terra firma, the only external giveaways are the 8.5Jxl 7 #AMG
wheels wrapped in modern 215/45ZR17 rubber, and the 40mm lower ride height. Other than that, the car looks as it did when it left the factory in #1972
Five-speed auto also from a W220S-Class.
Tan leather for this pillarless classic coupe.
An increase of 105bhpfora total of 302bhp.
An original, 197bhp 280SE 3.5 motor cranks over a few times before it bursts into life with a stutter from its 1960s injection, and settles down into the slow, consistent idle of a Mercedes engine from this era. In contrast, the electronically controlled, 302bhp, 24-valve V8 fires up with the first turn of the key, with the signature sound just as you would hear in a modern #Mercedes-Benz
with this engine, and it instantly steadies to a rock solid idle while emitting a barely discernible purr.
On the fly, the V8 growl is subdued most of the time, thanks to the ‘waft-ability ’ factor engendered by the car’s relatively low kerb weight compared to the S500, which donated its engine. With 50 per cent more power on tap than the original V8, this car has gone from sedate to rapid in one fell swoop.
Snappy throttle response with good low end torque, and a responsive gearbox allow you to move quickly on minimal revs. The original V8 feels stolid and leaden by comparison and that is not just because it has only two-thirds the power of its modern counterpart. Older Mercedes engines simply did not rev as freely or as high as they do now, so it is no surprise that the modern drivetrain changes the character of the W111 quite considerably, turning it into far more of a driver’s car than its designers ever intended it to be.
A BEAUTY AND A BEAST
While the bespoke stainless steel exhaust sounds civilised, it does not hide the V8’s character under full throttle. So when you find yourself approaching a tunnel it is hard to resist dropping a gear or two along with the side windows of this elegant pillarless coupe, and making the most of the resident V8’s throaty singing voice. Given his penchant for transplanting the biggest possible motors in the Mercedes catalogue into unsuspecting models lower down in the range, Mercedes’ legendary development chief Erich Waxenberger may have approved of this car.
The rest of the time, the RPR W111 coupe is a smoother, more effortless and better behaved version of itself. There is no
question that the new powerplant is far more refined and less gritty, and the modern five-speed gearbox is seamless compared to the original and delivers quieter cruising and far better fuel economy too. The more modern air suspension, and adjustable hydraulic dampers controlling bounce and rebound, provide the coupe with better body control and a silkier ride than the original suspension system. With electronic calibration controlling the ride quality, it is a fairly straightforward matter to fine tune the ride quality to individual owner requirements.
While Mercedes-Benz purists will no doubt throw up their hands in horror at this extensive conversion, one must remember that the objective is to produce a car with the characterful look of the original, but the sheer usability, dependability and performance of a far younger Mercedes-Benz. Apart from its characteristically vague recirculating ball steering, the RPR Will coupe feels thoroughly modern, yet retains a compelling classic twist. I absolutely loved this car, both in terms of its looks, and how it drove. For my money, this W111 coupe epitomises the best of both worlds.
This 3.5 coupe proudly wears the #RPR
V8 had 339lb ft torque in the 220 S500.