The Mercedes-Benz 380-Series has a history nearly as long and storied as that of the Mercedes brand itself. The Mercedes-Benz name first appeared in 1926, years after the company was first founded. Just seven years following the name change, in 1933, the newly minted Mercedes-Benz Corporation released their first entry into the 380 series. Revived in the 1980s, the 380-Series has always represented the best of Mercedes-Benz: power, luxury, and performance. Looking at any vehicle from the broad range offered in the 380-Series, it is easy to tell why Mercedes-Benz is considered one of the premiere luxury automakers in the world. Even today, over 20 years after the last model of the legendary 380-Series was released, the cars still serve as a testament to the power and prestige of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
Developed in the early 1930s during those early, heady days of car-making, the 380 set out to be one of the most advanced automobiles on the market. It nearly succeeded too. Launched at the Berlin Motor Show in February of 1933, the V8 380 initially stunned the world with its impressive performance and attractive styling. However, in the end, only 154 of these cars would go on to be produced. After only two years in production, Mercedes-Benz, ever innovative, replaced the vehicle with the more powerful 500K. Despite this fact, the 380 remains prized among car collectors as a paragon of early auto production.
The 380 was revolutionary for its day and age. The high-performance engine was unmatched in the world of automobiles, and the sophisticated independent suspension was years ahead of its time. In addition, the stylish exterior body was widely praised. With handling leaps and bounds better than its competitors and several different body configurations, the 380 should have sold tremendously well. However, the improved handling led to calls from the car-buying public for more speed, and the 380 was soon replaced by a Mercedes with a larger engine.
However, the legacy left by the 380 was not forgotten. In the early 1980s, Mercedes-Benz decided to revive the 380 line, taking cues from the original car. With such a royal heritage, it’s no wonder that modern 380s were popular. As part of the second-longest series of cars Mercedes ever produced, the newer 380s are considered by many to be among the brand’s most attractively styled vehicles. Today, many 380s can be found on the used market at various price points, and they still command attention for their stunning looks, impressive performance, and luxurious kit.
There have been many engines installed under the bonnets of the 380s over the course of roughly 80 years. The original 380, offered in 1933, featured a powerful 3.8L in-line V8 with or without a compressor or supercharger. The base model (engine code M22) came without the supercharger and had an output of just 66kW. Using an integrated compressor, the top-of-the-line vehicle could reach up to 103kW at 3600rpm and achieve a top speed of 145km/h – quite impressive for its day and age.
In the 1980s, the legendary line was revived. Introduced in 1980 and on offer until 1985, the 380 SL had a 3.8L V8 engine with 160kW of power and 299Nm of torque. This particular vehicle was also popular as a convertible. Another popular version of the 380 was the 380SEC. This car, launched in 1981 and phased out by 1985, featured a 3.8L V8 engine with 145kW at 5500rpm and 295Nm of torque at 3750rpm.
In general, the trims and equipment offered on the 380-Series live up to Mercedes commitment to luxury. The original versions (built in the 1930s) featured brakes operated by a hydraulic control mechanism, Carl Zeiss headlights on either side of a radiator grill, and chrome Rudge Whitworth wheels. Of course, that was 80 years ago. Modern versions featured all manner of luxury kit, including leather seats, full electrics, power windows, memory seats, tinted windows, cruise control, and sunroof. Furthermore, many versions found on the used car market today have been modified with contemporary equipment, such as CD stereos.
Since its founding in the early 1930s, the 380-Series has faced stiff competition from a wide range of luxury automakers. The main competition has come from fellow German automaker BMW. In the 1980s, during the revival of the 380-Series line-up, BMW introduced the E30 as part of its 3-Series. The range-topping E30 featured a 2.3L V4 engine with an output of 158kW. Audi models also competed with the Mercedes. A comparable Audi model was the Audi 80, which featured a range-topping 2.0L engine with 101kW of power and 181Nm of torque.