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Growing up with the brand.

Kay's father was a man who loved limousines. He drove a “stroke 8” and several 123 series, from the model 200 D, lovingly termed the “shifting sand dune”, through to the more agile 230 E. After a few years, however, he moved up the scale to the luxury class. It must have been around 1979 when Mr Paffrath senior bought his new, white 280 SE from Mercedes-Benz in Hamburg-Wandsbek. His son, Kay, was thrilled by the amazing, almost excessive, amount of room, the comfort level of the blue seats and the silky soft whisper of the double camshaft in-line six. Since the limousine was to bring in money later, Kay’s father had it resprayed and used it for a part-time taxi job in Hamburg until 1986. 

Kay Paffrath in his Mercedes-Benz 280 S.
Kay Paffrath and his Mercedes-Benz 280 S.

A completely new class.

Indeed, the family was in possession of a completely new class, referred to for the first time in the sales literature as the “S-Class”. Like all other German schoolboys in the 1970s, Kay had at least one toy car of this type or a larger plastic version with a cable remote control system. These toy cars and the fond memory of Daddys white limousine were firmly embedded in his heart and, once he grew up, he felt the urge to relive those memories. In 2012, he found an S-Class on the Internet that looked almost exactly like his father’s – but without the E after the S, so “only” the small in-line six-cylinder with a carburettor instead of the injection system under the bonnet. And with a manual gearbox, which was incredibly rare.

What memories.

The car had been in use in northern Germany and was fully serviced until 2002 by a Mercedes-Benz partner in Elmshorn, Schleswig-Holstein. Since the engine would not start, the coveted machine changed hands for a relatively low price and Kay isolated the problem only a week later: the series resistors of the ignition coil were faulty. He replaced them and the engine – built to last a lifetime – came to life at the first revolution of the starter motor. What a sound. What memories!

Kay Paffrath and his Mercedes-Benz 280 S.
A Mercedes-Benz 280 S at the Port of Hamburg.

Luxurious but ageing vehicle.

Over the course of half a year, all the small jobs required on the luxurious but ageing vehicle were completed. The slightly corroded rear wheel arches were replaced with new ones, as were the lower lamp housings. The front cross members had not withstood the winter road salt of more than three decades and were recreated in fresh steel, the rusty right-hand rear door was replaced with an original. The sunroof was saved by the application of a little cosmetic effort. Inside the car, no compromises were made: the driver’s seat, which had suffered from several decades of use, was fitted with a new spring frame, all the missing or broken trim parts were patiently replaced by Paffrath and all the seals on the windows, doors and boot were replaced with new ones.

A new definition of “upper class”.

None of this was uppermost in anyone’s mind when Daimler-Benz AG launched its status symbol cut from the solid in 1972. At that time, Germany was being shaken by social upheavals and the oil crisis.

The new Mercedes-Benz appeared on the scene as solid as a rock. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt always sat on the right in the rear of his official limousine – this was a model series W 116. 

For the first time ever, a luxury saloon was awarded from the reviewers of the magazine “auto motor und sport” with the title “best car in the world”. And when Helmut Schmidt drove up to the Chancellor’s Office in such a car from 1974 on, it was easy to believe that he would somehow be able to cope with all the turbulent tasks ahead. 

The gearshift of a Mercedes-Benz 280 S.

Unrivalled sum of features.

At that time, the S-Class was still unrivalled in the sum of its features. Chief Technical Officer Hans Scherenberg and Chief Designer Friedrich Geiger equipped this technology flagship with both passive and active safety features and heavily emphasised the horizontal lines – after a long period of vertical lamp design – by means of the broad radiator grille, chrome-plated twin bumpers, wide, oblong headlamps and the extended rear lights. Even today, this is still an impressively wide, harmonious design.

Courageous shift towards the future.

The courageous shift towards the future continued with new suspension engineering featuring double-wishbone front suspension (taken over from the prototype C 111) and a rear diagonal swing axle. From 1978, the W 116 was the world’s first vehicle with a fully electronically controlled ABS anti-lock braking system. The combination of a technically sophisticated chassis with powerful engines and wide 215/70-VR14 tyres meant that this heavy car had such good driving characteristics that the S-Class could also be used as an “official” vehicle in the Federal Republic of Germany.

 The engine of a Mercedes-Benz 280 S of the 116 series.
 The interior of a Mercedes-Benz 280 S of the 116 series.

A diverse range of equipment trim.

In the 1970s, it was, of course, possible to get from A to B with cheaper modes of transport. Nevertheless, there were many well-off individuals, managing directors of medium-sized companies and even well-paid heads of families who were able to park a generously constructed S-Class in the drive. As the starter model, the 280 S cost 23,800 deutschmarks, while the top-of-the-range model, the 450 SEL 6.9, with the fabulous big block V8 with its mechanical injection pump, cost around 70,000 deutschmarks by the end of the 1970s. However, this car accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in only eight seconds, which meant it could hold its own against a number of other contemporary sports cars. But, on the other hand, who would want to do that since it was so relaxing just to cruise?

Back to the family.

In 1978, Mercedes-Benz went a step further in terms of its export business and offered the 300 SD, the first turbo diesel engine in a luxury saloon, which was particularly popular with the Americans and reduced the strictly regulated fleet average fuel consumption in that otherwise free country. Almost 80 per cent of the cars sold by Mercedes-Benz in the USA were diesels and, even today, you can still see many W 116s cruising around in areas such as California where the rainfall is extremely low. In 1980, the successor was launched, the W 126 series, which continued to represent the technical peak in the luxury car segment.

Kay Paffrath’s 280 S is now a firm member of the family. A fresh coat of white lacquer rounds off the modest outlay, and what we see today parked outside the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie in the light of the evening sun is the ideal time machine for a young man in his forties. In contrast to Hamburg’s prestigious building project in the background, the costs for the 280 S project remained well within the budget, and Hamburg’s Senate is a long way from the dream of completing the concert hall in the docklands of Hamburg as planned in just under a year.

 A Mercedes-Benz 280 S of the 116 series.

A firm member of the family.

Kay Paffrath’s 280 S is now a firm member of the family. A fresh coat of white lacquer rounds off the modest outlay, and what we see today parked outside the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie in the light of the evening sun is the ideal time machine for a young man in his forties. In contrast to Hamburg’s prestigious building project in the background, the costs for the 280 S project remained well within the budget, and Hamburg’s Senate is a long way from the dream of completing the concert hall in the docklands of Hamburg as planned in just under a year.

How dreams can come true.

Almost half a century after its debut, the W 116 has lost none of its eminence and still glides almost silently through its surroundings as a reminder of its heritage, which Paffraths father was, unfortunately, no longer able to experience. But Kay did invite his mother to an extensive ride immediately after registering the car with the same registration number as the original had had before. While mother and son reminisce about the old times, they cannot suppress the occasional tear. The white 280 S has become a favourite with the whole family and causes everyone who sees it to pause and reflect.

Kay Paffrath has shown us how dreams can come true. 

 A Mercedes-Benz 280 S of the 116 series.
Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert Stromverbrauch im kombinierten Testzyklus

1 Die angegebenen Werte wurden nach dem vorgeschriebenen Messverfahren ermittelt. Es handelt sich um die „NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 1 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

2 Die angegebenen Werte sind die „gemessenen NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 2 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153, die im Einklang mit Anhang XII der Verordnung (EG) Nr. 692/2008 ermittelt wurden. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Aufgrund gesetzlicher Änderungen der maßgeblichen Prüfverfahren können in der für die Fahrzeugzulassung und ggf. Kfz-Steuer maßgeblichen Übereinstimmungsbescheinigung des Fahrzeugs höhere Werte eingetragen sein. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch und die CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

4 Angaben zu Kraftstoffverbrauch, Stromverbrauch und CO₂-Emissionen sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe des WLTP-Prüfverfahrens ermittelt und in NEFZ-Werte korreliert. Eine EG-Typgenehmigung und Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.

6 Stromverbrauch und Reichweite wurden auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind abhängig von der Fahrzeugkonfiguration. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.