Rarified Air: Jimmy Uria’s European-spec 1972 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5
To be considered rare is an interesting characteristic in the automotive community. The word rare by definition denotes uncommonness, which in this case can be due to few examples left over as time passes, or a limited production run from the outset of a car or part. Rarity is a factor that makes certain parts and cars worth more, because they are more desirable than similar examples which may perform the same tasks.
When pertaining to parts, it generally means you’re going to pay an arm and a leg to procure an example, and in the process you’re likely going to have a difficult time finding it. However, there’s an extreme sense of satisfaction when you work hard to find a rare piece, and you’re the only person with it. It’s automotive treasure hunting at its finest. When it’s not just parts but an entire car that’s rare, the benefit is two-fold, as in the case of Jimmy Uria and his original right-hand-drive imported 1972 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5.
I first met (well, made contact with) Jimmy back in the mid-‘00s on a well-known internet forum called Honda-Tech.com. In its heyday it was ranked in the top 15 most active forums on the web. His username there was rare_eg2, and at the time he owned a distinct gold-hued Honda del Sol, which appeared constantly in the threads I frequented, and was outfitted with many rare parts. It was always sparkling clean and photographed in a new location with new wheels. In short, his del Sol was a complete standout on a forum with tens of thousands of active members.
It wasn’t until I made the trip out to California for the Eibach Honda Meet in 2008 that I actually saw the car in person. I’ll admit, the trip was basically one big blur to me at the time. You see, I was still very young, and spent the majority of my time drooling over West Coast-built Hondas online. When my first experience came to see these “celebrities” of Honda-Tech in person, it was a lot to take in.
I met a bunch of people, put a lot of faces to usernames, and also took a large amount of car photos. After the show I dumped almost all of the images onto my Powerbook G4, which decided to implode itself that very night. Coincidentally, the same night I learned about the importance of external hard drives. Only one memory card of photos survived the corruption. I returned home to Philadelphia and uploaded my photos from the trip onto my Flickr page. Sure enough, the images began populating on the forum from the car’s owners, including Jimmy Uria. It was fulfilling to see my photos of cars I idolized being posted by people I’d never met.
Irvine Cars And Coffee
At that point, I still had never actually met Jimmy, but followed him on Instagram. Fast-forward to 2014—I was now working for Front Street—and going on company trips to events all over the United States, including the Los Angeles area. During one of the trips, my coworkers and I took an early morning excursion to the Irvine Cars and Coffee gathering. It was here that I would finally meet Jimmy in real life, and see his Mercedes.
I had noticed on social media that he now owned and was modifying a vintage Mercedes-Benz. However, I didn’t quite know the extent of what he was planning to do with it. As I scanned the lot at Irvine Cars and Coffee, his car stuck out like a sore thumb. I mean, how many other spotless silver right-hand-drive vintage Mercedes are out there? We chatted for a couple minutes, but I was cramped for time and continued through the car meet.
The next time I talked to him was four years later, to discuss this feature. He kindly offered to drive over an hour away from outside Los Angeles to meet up with me in Long Beach. Before I keep rambling, let me discuss his history with the car…
Shortly after I had initially glimpsed Jimmy’s del Sol in 2008, his desire to “slam an old Benz” had already begun. It was then that the vision of this particular car really started; after seeing a few of them in person, he finally found a suitable example to modify in 2010. He purchased a clean and well-maintained left-hand-drive (LHD) W108-chassis Mercedes-Benz, and commenced the search for parts to bring it to life. Like anyone diving into a project with a new-to-them chassis, tons of research was required to determine which parts to look for and where to find them. For a few months in 2010, he daily-drove the project, but it wasn’t practical and he was forced to get a new daily. This allowed in-depth work to start on the project car. He sourced a few rare parts as he began to envision his perfect Mercedes, but kept looking for different options.
It was through all of this research for the LHD W108 that Jimmy stumbled onto this 1972 right-hand-drive (RHD) variant online.
“This one needed a lot of work and restoration, but the fact that you don’t see RHD ones for sale, and it was already California-registered, I had to have it,” says Jimmy.
It was a 1972 Mercedes-Benz 280SE, in an uncommon color combo, and equipped with a rare 3.5-liter V8 engine from the factory. And if there’s anything to know about rare_eg2, it’s that he seems to enjoy rare things. This was exactly what he’d been looking for—he’d finally be able to complete his vision of the perfect W108. While most people would be satisfied just cleaning up the uncommon chassis, this wasn’t nearly enough for Jimmy. Instead, he sought out a laundry list of rare accessories and long-forgotten factory optional parts to put the cherry(ies) on top of this new build.
Because Jimmy already owned a LHD W108-chassis Mercedes-Benz, he was able to scrounge a few parts from his spare chassis. Although this was hardly the case for most of the parts. In order to source the majority of those he really wanted, he’d have to resort to more in-depth methods.
The Exterior Parts
Finding rare accessories for newer cars has been made easier since the inception of the internet. However, finding uncommon pieces for vintage automobiles is still quite a tedious task. A lot of the enthusiasts in the classic car culture haven’t made the migration onto a computer. Jimmy found himself attending car meets, swap meets, answering ads, and meeting as many vintage Mercedes-Benz owners as he could find. All the while, he was asking whether they had parts for sale, if they knew the whereabouts of certain parts he was trying to track down, or if they’d take desirable examples off of their own car to sell to him. I can’t even imagine how those conversations went. It almost becomes its own job when you take it to the level that he has. The work required appears to be worth it when looking at the incredible reward of the finished product.
“With a lot of time and patience, I was able to restore and revive it by adding all the optional parts and accessories that I wanted for my left-hand-drive W108,” he says.
So what kind of parts are we talking here? Well, let’s start with something as minuscule as the radio antenna. It’s just a radio antenna, right? How complex can it be? Well, you see, it’s not just a radio antenna; it’s a vintage Hirschmann red tip radio antenna. Go ahead and google it, you’ll be inundated with tons of links for “Hirschmann-style” antennas but you’d be hard-pressed to find an actual one. And so was Jimmy, so he scoured the Earth to find a new-old-stock example, only to disassemble it. All of this just to create one worthy of being on his car. It’s a level of dedication that isn’t limited to the antenna; it extends into each and every part on the car.
To the uninitiated, this just looks like a nicely restored old Mercedes—which it is. It’s only once you start to count all of the new-old-stock (NOS), and brand-new pieces affixed to the vehicle, that the picture starts to become clearer. Just how much work it took to get the vehicle to this point.
Additions like the OEM European headlights with their yellow fog lights intact, or the OEM optional European rear fog light. The vintage thermometer, and OEM convex mirror, too. Even the window visor/vent shades, grill guard, and various new-old-stock vintage European Mercedes decals all have their own story. And it’s not just the additional parts which are impressive. It’s the overwhelmingly spotless exterior trim, moldings, and emblems. All of these were all painstakingly re-chromed, re-polished, restored, or re-conditioned to their current magnificent state.
To tie together the incredible exterior would require the perfect finishing touch. He tore the car down from a relatively finished state and had the alluring factory Silver-Grey paint resprayed. Following that, an application of XPEL Ultimate paint protection film keeps it preserved. The result is a spectacularly reflective finish that looked like I could sink my hands into it.
The Interior And Suspension
One of the reasons he decided on this particular car was the interior. Fortunately for Jimmy, he did not have to source the rare original Parchment interior. However, that’s where the list of non-sourced interior goods ends. Crucial pieces required finding like the OEM-optional long armrests, and front center seat adapter. A newer-condition ivory steering wheel was found to replace the cracked factory version, while the original shifter was also discarded in favor of a matching ivory iteration.
To locate the rear speakers, C-pillar reading lights, chrome door sills, first aid kit, tool kit, wheel aid tool, and European optional spotlight required a hefty time investment. Since all of these parts were discontinued from production decades ago, and some were only available in Europe to begin with, it was that much harder to find them in this condition.
Believe it or not, none of those items on that extremely long list are even his favorite part on the car. That title is held by the Universal Air Suspension air bag system. This includes a 5-gallon tank, dual VIAIR 480C compressors, and their accompanying pressure gauges.
“The fact that the car can completely change its look just based on the ride height is cool to me,” says Jimmy.
It really is fascinating how drastically the car transforms with the ride height. As he approached my hotel with the car raised up to avoid treachery on the roads, I saw it as a vintage Mercedes that survived decades with no aftermarket influence. The abundance of interesting parts adorned upon the classic German sedan only became noticeable once he lowered the car down.
He’s very particular about the ride height being precisely level and perfectly aligned with the road. It is a noticeable extension of his tremendous attention to detail—and the reason he was able to execute his own interpretation of this stunning W108 Mercedes-Benz.
“[My vision of the car is] pretty much exactly how the car looks now. It took a few years, but it’s safe to say that I’m happy with the outcome, he says.
“I’d like to thank my family and girlfriend for the support, and for recognizing that the long hours online, and in the garage, have paid off as they’ve seen the progress all along,” he says.
Jimmy has already opened the eyes of other vintage Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts with his one-of-a-kind build. After years of searching for everything, he’s excited the search is over. He plans to simply maintain it, and continue to enjoy it in the future.
The next time you see an unusual item in the automotive realm you don’t normally see, just know that a dedicated automotive treasure hunter sacrificed countless hours to find that one single piece. That for some, it’s not okay to settle for what’s available at the time. Endlessly searching for the perfect piece to advance their build into a rarified air that only few purists understand is what it’s all about.