By on March 16, 2010

There’s a powerful sense of urgency in getting this Curbside Classic written. It’s to document the remarkable horde of old Mercedes W123 diesels hereabouts, most of them proudly sporting a biodiesel sticker.  But the biodiesel fad was already waning substantially when I shot this car a year ago. And since the $1/gallon federal subsidy for biodiesel disappeared with the new year, biodiesel itself is at risk of becoming a CC (canola classic?). Congress is currently considering a renewal, but regardless, Mercedes W123s will still be around. In fact they may well be the last internal combustion engine cars running long after Peak Oil is a distant warm and fuzzy memory. Without being uncharitable, these cars are the automotive cockroaches: they’ll eat the grease out of your dirty frying pan, and you can’t hardly kill them.

It’s hard to put the old Mercedes biodiesel wave in towns like Eugene into proper perspective. The run up in oil prices two years ago was the grand blowout of a trend that had been developing for quite some time. Environmentally-responsible car drivers were torn about which way to assuage their CO output/guilt, and two main factions emerged: the Prius camp and the old Mercedes bio-dieselers. Clearly, income was a factor: buying a new Prius was more expensive and dramatically less troublesome. But a new Prius still uses the evil dino-juice, even if it sips it. For the hard core COncerned  drivers, only a renewable organic source like biofuel would do, to be burned in a recycled old car. Enter the W123, which descended on Eugene like a plague of noisy locusts.

Wholesale buyers scouted the land (California and Arizona, primarily) and waves of tired old Benzes showed up in Eugene, not unlike the first exodus of hippies that left SF and LA and ended up here in 1969 or so. There are (were?) even two dedicated used-Mercedes biodiesel car lots (see photos) whose stock of cars is not moving much these days, and we have a dedicated biofuel station whose owners also own a (struggling) biodiesel plant nearby. They started out using only the old cooking oil of a large potato chip plant, but eventually had to augment from virgin stocks. And they’re fingering their prayer beads in hopes that Congress delivers that tax credit.

Anyway, at its peak, clattering old Mercedes were as common as Tibetan prayer flags. But there’s been a precipitous decline, and exhausted old Benzes sitting idly in driveways and curbside are becoming an epidemic. But fear not; old Benzes don’t die, they go into hibernation or dormancy, to be awakened when the next oil shock hits. Suddenly, they’ll be hot commodities again, selling for handsome prices, and the mechanics who know how to keep them clattering will be busy again. I’ve seen this happen a few times in my life: the first boom in 1974, when this W123’s predecessors and Peugeot  504 diesels were the ticket in Southern California. The hot set up then was to put a big auxiliary tank in the trunk, and drive down to Tijuana once a month or so to fill up for 15 cents a gallon  of subsidized Pemex.

In the second crunch of 1980-1981, I saw new diesel Rabbits selling for $11k, almost double the sticker price. And you wouldn’t believe some of the obscure vintage diesel iron that appeared again on the streets in 2008. I’ll save them for a future CC, but I will reveal that none of them were Olds diesels. They lacked the other old diesel’s ability to weather an extended hibernation and magically spring back to life. But then big Detroit iron tends to be out of favor with this particular crowd, except for some very early old Ford diesel pickups. Probably just as well.

The irony of financially-challenged youthful idealists driving old Mercedes is not totally lost on me, because of my associations of these cars when they were brand new. I was in LA at the time, running a tv station. And a 240D was the cheapest way to buy the hot Mercedes cachet. So I inevitably had at least two General Sales Managers who fell under the spell of the three-pointed star, and bought themselves Stuttgart taxi cabs for highly inflated prices. And I could barely keep a straight face every time I heard them coming (two blocks away), or even worse, rode with them to a sales call.

Don’t get me wrong, these Mercedes 240’s are the best damn diesel taxi cabs that drivers in third world countries ever got their hands on, even with a half million miles on them. But they were not exactly the executive car to impress other folks with, unless they were under the spell too. The whole cowl would vibrate when the big four rattled to life, after waiting half a minute or so for the old glow plugs to warm up. And then they quivered their way down the street as if a slug with the DTs.

My most memorable ride in my GSM’s pristine yellow 240D was four or five of us going to meet some ad agency folks for a lunch up at a new golf course built on top of the old dump where I vividly remember taking my rain-soaked rotting couch a few years earlier. It was way up a steep slope on top of Mulholland Pass, off the 405. The Mercedes’  65 horses barely topped 40 or 45 up the freeway, and I truly wondered whether it was going to chug us up the winding road to the upscale club house. This is a luxury car? I kept asking myself. I shouldn’t have worried though; W123’s always make their destination, sooner or later.

It reminded me of riding in hired 180D and 190D taxis in Austria in the fifties for family outings, but somehow a diesel clattering along in first or second gear up a scenic Alpine road was more authentic or culturally appropriate than a 240D hauling a load of suits to a power lunch in LA. No matter; the biodieselers of Eugene are thankful for all the Sales Managers who unloaded their wallets to drive a gen-u-ine Mercedes (with vinyl upholstery) in 1982.

If you’re getting the impression I’m somewhat disdainful of these cars, don’t. Perhaps some of the folks that bought them, though. Old Mercedes Diesels have my utter respect, even if I’ve never had one. In another life, I could have immersed myself in them, like my brother did for years. Aren’t siblings in some ways alter-egos? Anyway, he would scour the ads and later Craigslist for old Diesels in Arizona and Texas that seemed to have an expensive impediment to further service, take a one-way trip with his little bag of tricks,coax them back to life, and resell them them to embracing new young owners in Iowa. He singlehandedly created his own little swarm of oil burners in Fairfield. And he drives his with free almond oil that was used for massage and colonics at the ayurvedic spa there. Leaves a nice smell.

What more can be said about the absolute integrity of these cars, in terms of their material and build quality? All the superlatives have long become cliches. Their heavy dull steering; seats as hard as a wooden pew but yet comfortable; their jerky-herky transmissions; the suspensions that drink up pot-holes as if they were a tonic for eternal youth. And of course that reassuring throb of the engine, a device more akin to a perpetual motion machine than a mere mortal internal combustion engine.

The W123 was the end of the road of the old school diesel Mercedes that started with the 260D in in 1936. The W124 was still  very well built, but was a quantum jump in dynamic qualities, and featured a new generation of diesel engines. The W123 is a living piece of history, of a time when a Mercedes implied such superior quality and workmanship that its shortcomings were duly embraced: consciously by those that bought it for its practical virtues; willfully denied among those that bought it for its implied prestige; and celebrated by its recently rediscovered biodiesel devotees. The cult of old Mercedes diesels may be temporarily in decline, but its not likely we’ve seen the last of them.

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70 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1977 Mercedes 240D Diesel (W123)...”


  • avatar
    brettc

    I almost bought a 300D back in 2001. The guy that was selling it knew I was coming, but it was partially buried in a snow bank and I could see heavy rust around the wheel wells. So I didn’t end up with a Mercedes diesel. I instead bought an ’89 Jetta TD off Ebay (which I sold 4 years later for $25 less than what I paid originally).

    Looking forward to the obscure diesels you’ve taken pictures of. I still want a Rabbit truck mit diesel motor. Maybe someday…

  • avatar
    educatordan

    I occasionally get bitten by the diesel bug too but I’ve never succumbed yet. I LOVE torque (driven too many 70s and 80s Detroit sleds) and diesel has that, but I’ve always been scared away by the fact that diesel usually cost more than premium and I’m not the kind of guy who is going to make his own home-brew bio-diesel. If diesel consistently cost the same as premium gasoline, I’d have much more trouble resisting for the high fuel economy and the torquey, overbuilt, power plants.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I’ve got bad (or good news) for you: these old diesels don’t have any torque to speak of either; that only came with the turbocharged ones (300 TD) and up. These 240’s were (are) remarkably gutless.

      • 0 avatar
        TJSears

        Hi Paul, enjoyed the article as well as the beautiful pics of my property and a good friend of mine’s first Mercedes diesel! Someone just pointed this old posting out to me and I got quite a kick out of seeing the photos. I naturally am a biodiesel advocate (specifically when you live in Oregon and can purchase a consistent product from Sequential Biofuels which is made from 100% used cooking oil collected here in Oregon – this is true of their B99 product) and have been in the game since 2003, so I’ve seen the rise and fall of the “fad” portion of biodiesel interest, as well as bore witness to those stubborn, staunch and bullheaded ones like myself who never give up :) Of course I don’t see biodiesel as THE solution, but it’s certainly the best option in my opinion for a multitude of individuals looking to burn something other than petroleum in their cars. Thanks again for an entertaining article, as well as a walk down memory lane – Tony
        PS: Although certainly a few cars were runners, the majority of the vehicles pictured on that particular lot had unfortunately been run low on oil and had reached their end. In other words, they were parts-cars. You could say I had a Mercedes diesel organ-donor business :) Take Care!

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      I was thinking more of the newer automotive diesels, but my fiance will be happy to hear that this is one more old barge I can cross of my list of potential “restoration projects.” It’s gonna be a few years before I can afford a money pit as a hobby but none the less I’m sure she wouldn’t be smiling at a slow old diesel Merc.

    • 0 avatar

      The one to get Dan is the W124 300D 2.5 turbo from 1990—93. It’s got a great little E-class body with the OM602 5-cyl turbo. 121 HP/165 lb-ft @ 2400 RPM. 26—40 MPG. Same W124 chassis as Paul’s favorite benz.

    • 0 avatar
      gasser

      I had one of these in the ’80s. It was an ’83 300 SD…. S class body with the 300 5 cylinder turbo engine. It had about 85 hp off boost and 125 on boost. Acceleration was frightening if you had to enter a freeway at non-rush hour. The 240D was only really drivable with the stick shift. Then it was just dog slow instead of deadly slow. Remember that these memories are from 1983 when 10 seconds was a reasonable 0-60 time. As far as durability (I drove mine for about 140K miles over 9 years) I’d have to say it was good, but not mythical as touted above. These diesels had no vacuum system for braking so they had a separate vacuum pump that died about every 60K miles. Also the automatic transmissions were good for only about 100K. The engines, however, would go 300K plus without repair. My mechanic loved to work on these diesels and serviced dozens of them. They were highly dependable in an era of GM 4.1 liter aluminum engines, Audi “change the turbo yearly” sedans and Ford/Lincoln “why won’t it start” build quality.

  • avatar

    Pouring refined BioDiesel into a W123 seems like wasting good booze on your buddy who prefers PBR and cheap bourbon. These old OM616 engines will run on literally *anything*. You could pour used 10W40 and ATF in the tank and it will run just fine. A little smoky sure, but fine. And it will still get 25-30 MPG while burning garbage.

    There are very few cars that genuinely deserve the “they don’t build them like they used to” cliche, but the Benz machines of this era are truly the exception. The build quality of these machines is mind blowing. If the Wehrmacht had a division of W123’s in 1941 they would have driven all the way to Vladivostok – slowly – using borscht and Stalin’s hair gel as fuel.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      “a little smoky” probably will not meet pollution requirements from the District of Control.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      >25 years = exempt from federal smog standards?

      Plus, IIRC they haven’t applied to diesel passenger vehicles until very recently. I’ve had my car registered in 3 states and _never_ had an emissions test, both before and after I had the particulate filter replaced by a length of pipe.

  • avatar
    tced2

    Suppose the whole world switches to bio-diesel, I’ve always wondered where all the bio-diesel would come from. Isn’t this just a form of turning food into fuel a la ethanol? – which is not a workable proposition.

    • 0 avatar

      This is not a zero-sum game. Biofuels are NOT “replacements” and never can, nor ever will be. The ONLY trait that BioDiesel and Ethanol share are plant origins. Period. It is therefore an absurd straw-man question.

      Instead ask “by inserting X percentage of biodiesel into the petroleum economy, how far does that extend the utility of the petroleum economy?” That is the far more reasonable line of thought because every gallon of biodiesel produced is one less gallon of petroleum needed to move products and people.

      This isn’t about replacement, this is about extension.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      But I always get the “vibes”, anyone who uses petrol is a fool and should switch immediately to bio…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Chuck raises a good point. Biofuels aren’t either/or, but they do make a reasonable supplement, if done in a smart way.

      I would like to extend by throwing net energy and carbon gain/loss into the equation: if you live somewhere that sustainable or at least reasonably clean electric power is available to you for refining biodiesel, then it can work and is a good idea. If you’re somewhere that burns a previously locked carbon for power, then it’s not such a smart move. In either case you’re probably ahead of a modern EV for net energy use if you’re converting something like an old Merc.

      There’s a lot of work to do with regards to sustainable power and biodiesel could be part of it. Food into fuel isn’t often a good idea, but food waste (or waste in general) almost always is, assuming you’re net-energy positive.

  • avatar
    Garak

    With our Finnish Diesel taxation, you have to pay a fixed tax sum every year, but the fuel is much cheaper than gasoline. In other words, the more you drive, the cheaper it gets.

    And man, did they drive these cars. Some of these barges went over a million kilometers before finally succumbing to rust. There is still one old W123 taxicab operating in my home town, it has over 2 million on the clock. It is a strange sight among newer cars, a relic of build quality long gone.

    Despite their slowness and overboosted steering, W123’s are really good cars to drive even today. You just put it in highest gear, turn the cruise control on, keep the hood ornament between the white lines and rattle down the highway without hurry.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I grew up in of of these, an ’83 W123 240D, pre certified owned, bought at the factory in Stuttgart. It was brown, and not the beautiful shade of brown either, more like the shade of crap. Slow and gutless, but the best car I’ve ever driven or taken a ride in. The tank-like quality is duly deserved, it just oozed a mark of quality and perfection never seen before or since. I hate to refrain to phrases like, they don’t build them like that anymore, but it’s true, they don’t. The W123 is to me the pinnacle of car perfection, real quality over substanceless percieved quality.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    I’m rather fond of my 1987 300SDL… It’s reliable, good in the snow, gets about 25-30mpg on the highway and a few less in mixed driving, can still be wrenched at home or by indie mechanics (very little proprietary ECU/electronic crap), and is big enough for a 6’5 passenger to sit behind a 6’5 driver with room to spare.

    All I’d ask for would be to hack in seatwarmers from the 560SEL.

    ps: just tick’d over 422k mi.

  • avatar

    the aching yearning for an ’80s Merc Biodiesel is pretty strong, even though I do have a classic 900 Turbo in the driveway. I’ve never driven one of the iconic W123’s, but I do have experience with two others:

    1987 W124 300D Turbodiesel (I6): right before they started using the TD 2.5 I5. This car was a HOOT. It had NO power off the line, so to get it moving you’d have to just apply foot to carpet. You’d wait for it to start creeping along, and somewhere north of 2000 rpm the turbo would start to spool up. Clatter, clatter, clatter, phwoooosh – better back off the gas pedal or you’ll hit the guy in front of you! There didn’t seem to be a smooth way to drive this car, but it was fun nonetheless. The passing power on the freeway was impressive – a downshift to third and you were spoolin’. GREAT highway car.

    -1986 190D 5-speed. This would be the first year of the 190E diesel in the US. tiny 4cyl non-turbo diesel, 5-speed manual, and like 412k on the clock. Felt like it was new. Slower than frozen dogsh*t rolling uphill in February, but that car was a little tank.

    • 0 avatar
      BostonDuce

      Not to pick nits, nut the first year for the 190’D’ in the US was 1984. Ours was red. The W123 ended production with the 1983 model year, ours was blue.

      After that we went to the 300SDL, then the 350SDL which was ordered with every factory option including the 4 seat package and obsucue things like ortho seats and heavy duty seat springs. It was “D”licious!

      BD

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Yup, the 3.0l turbo 6 (with Al head) is probably the one to have, it was in the 300SDL, 300E and (probably my fave) 300TD.. IIRC there were no 300SDLs actually sold in Germany, they were brought to the US for CAFE reasons.. the 350SDL was IIRC 3l stroked out to 3.5l, and the rods were never beefed up to compensate so they can bend, leading to oil consumption and eventual engine destruction. Merc has never taken responsibility for that as far as a recall goes but they did correct the problems in later engines (not sure if/when w140s got the reliable 3.5l OM603 variants).

      Just routine maintenance, and watching the temp gauge, and the OM603 should last forever.

    • 0 avatar
      Geeky1

      James, have you seen this?
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S31vCdcW1QY&feature=related
      10.6s 1/4 in a 124 diesel (looks like an OM606 swap though) and if you look at the tach in the in-car shot it looks like it’s hitting about 6500rpms, too.

      I’ve got an ’87 300D; I love it. Averages 26mpg, I’ve seen just a hair over 40 on the freeway and it’s fast enough to thwart most attempts to get in front of me. Hell, just a few days ago some stupid kid in a 1.8L Nissan Sentra decided he was going to beat me across an intersection so he could cut into my lane to make a turn. He managed to keep up fine-until the turbo woke up about 3/4ths of the way across the intersection. It’s slow, but it’s not as slow as the s***box you’re driving, dumba**. Ehem.

      For the record, yanking the back half of the exhaust system (leaving it with about 5ft of pipe and what i believe is a resonator) gets the turbo on the ball about 500rpm sooner than it with the exhaust intact.

      I just wish I still had my 560SEL… apparently any old Mercedes-especially one that’s been de-badged-qualifies as a diesel in most people’s minds. Rice hunting with that thing was fun. >_>

      As far as the 240D goes… When I was a service adviser, I had a customer with one that drove it very little and only on short trips on surface streets, so it never really got warmed up; between the resulting carbon buildup and the need for a valve adjustment it smoked pretty good and didn’t run all that great. We did a valve adjustment on it, and then I dumped a bottle of diesel injector cleaner in it and took it out for a drive. Figuring that since top speed in the thing was about 85ish on a good day, I decided I’d take it out on the freeway and let it run for about 10 miles. Got on the freeway just fine, had a nice, long on-ramp and managed to merge at about 60. Eventually (and I do mean eventually) got it up to about 70-75 and just let it sit there (actual speed varied with the road grade; I’d never noticed that freeway wasn’t flat before I drove that car on it). Got off the freeway and turned around to come back. Problem: It was 3:00 in the afternoon, which meant the commuter lane enforcement was now in effect and there were metering lights at the bottom of the on-ramp I was staring down, which I didn’t see until I was already on the ramp.

      They left me with about 100ft to hit 60ish. In a 240D. With a slushbox. You can imagine what went through my head. So I sat there and brake torqued the poor thing until the light turned green, slid my foot off the brake and held on for dear life. I hit the freeway at a whopping 35mph. I had to drive on the shoulder for probably another 300ft before I was going fast enough to be able to merge. Yeah. On the up side, by the time it got back to the shop it was the smoothest-running 240D I’ve ever seen. Not quite “is this thing on?” refined but as good as or better than any of the gas i4s I’ve seen from that time period.

      And they are indeed probably the most durable cars ever made. Problem is, in my estimation even the 4spd ones are too slow to safely drive in today’s traffic, at least here in the SF bay area. I’m not even sure I’d drive a NA W123 300D around here anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      All I can say is, don’t do it. Especially not if you want a wagon. Prices for W123 wagons are still out of control due to the biodiesel crowd. IMO (and yes I owned one, a grey market gasser wagon) these are the most overrated cars around. They are all cramped and noisy. The diesels are bog slow and the gassers slurp premium fuel at a surprising clip. The auto trannies are jerky. The engines do indeed run forever — exactly how many miles who knows, because the odometers all break. If you want anything else on the car to work — the climate control, the overengineered hydropneumatic rear suspension, the cruise control, the door locks — take out a second mortgage. I do not understand how these were sold as luxury cars. A Buick Century of the same vintage is quieter, roomier, more comfortable, more efficient (vs. a gasser) and less of a drain on the wallet.

    • 0 avatar
      Geeky1

      MadHungarian:
      I have to politely disagree with you.

      “They are all cramped and noisy.” How big are you? I’m about 5’10/~200lbs and I fit just fine in the cars. If you’re 6’3 or something then yes, it might be a problem as the seats don’t go down as far as they could, but you’re the only person I’ve ever seen or heard call a 123 “cramped”. Noisy… Well, yes; they’re louder than American luxury cars. They’re supposed to be, it’s a different philosophy.

      Many of the rest of your points leave me wondering about the age and mileage of the particular car you owned-doubly so since it was a gray market car, and my experience (I was a service adviser for a German car shop for 3 years and I own a gray market 350SE) has been that gray market cars are almost always in worse condition than USDM cars.

      I’ll concede that most of the diesel models were gutless-because, well, they were-but the OM617 turbo was reasonably powerful for its day (125hp out of a 3L 5cyl diesel when ~6L American V8s were struggling to break 200) and in good shape (i.e. ALDA properly adjusted and not plugged, valve lift and timing and injection timing all properly adjusted) they’re fast enough to not be a road hazard in modern traffic, which is all you can really expect from most cars of this era. I mean I recall reading somewhere that the average 0-60 time of a car in the late EIGHTIES was about 12 seconds; I’m sure it was no lower a decade earlier when the 123 was new, and a properly-running 300D Turbo will do it somewhere in the ballpark of 12-13 seconds. The fuel mileage on the gas models is nothing to write home about, no, but it is hardly heinous if the car is in good working order; a 280E should see 17-20mpg around town and 22-26 on the freeway in my experience, which I don’t consider unreasonable for a 3500lb car.

      The problems you mention-odometer issues, lock issues, climate control, etc.-are all a function normal wear and tear, with the exception of the odometer, which is driver error. The odometers on these cars are perfectly reliable, they just don’t take kindly to being reset while the car is being driven; it strips one of the nylon drive gears in the mechanism. If you operate it the way it was supposed to be operated it works fine. All of the other issues you mention only pop up (in my experience, at least) once the cars are approaching 200,000 miles (or more) and 30 years of age; it’s not like the door locks failed 3 years after the cars left the showroom floors. And one of those issues-the self-leveling suspension on the wagons-is not typically the fault of poor design OR age, but a lack of proper maintenance. Nobody ever changes the fluid in that system.

      And I’d hardly call a Buick more comfortable; I own a ’73 Riviera. I also own a ’73 Mercedes 350SE. The 116 is a far more comfortable car than the Buick could dream of being, and so are the 123s that I’ve driven. And the 116 doesn’t rattle at all (something the Buick specializes in). The steering is better, the braking is better, and the handling is better. The quality of materials used in the Mercedes is higher and the overall build quality is better. I like the Buick for what it is, but it is in no way, shape, or form a serious competitor to the Mercedes.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      @Geeky1 — I simultaneously owned a ’93 Olds Cutlass Cruiser wagon (3.3L V6) and an ’85 280TE and drove them back to back.

      1. Cramped — I am 5’4″, long torso and short legs for that height, and wear a size 8 1/2 shoe. Getting out of the car with the seat adjusted at the right fore and aft position, I had to turn my foot to fit through the space between the front of the seat and the door opening. In the Olds, just swing out, no need to plan a maneuver. Also, front legroom much less in the Benz. Exactly one place to put your left foot. Less ability to change positions on a longer drive. Also less legroom in rear and less storage area under wagon cargo floor.

      2. Noisy — once again, I drove them back to back. The weatherstrips in the Benz were in reasonably good shape, not dried out. Plus the Olds had a bit of wind noise at the drivers door that I could never get rid of after replacing a broken window. Benz still noisier.

      3. MPG — the Olds got 18 in town and 24-26 on the highway on regular. Getting at best similar MPG on premium in the Benz is a disadvantage in the pocketbook.

      4. Repairs — you can replace the ENGINE in a GM A-car for what you will spend to rebuild the rear suspension in a W123 wagon. Also, I think there are some kinds of cars that are good to buy new and some that are better to buy used. New GM cars can be a crapshoot — some are OK, and some are trouble from the get go. I’ve had both kinds. But the ones that survive the first 5-7 years are the good ones and with reasonable care they will give lots of very reliable service. OTOH, Benzes of that era started out at the top of the reliability rankings but as the age they are more and more likely to be hopeless money pits.

      I really wanted to like that 280TE but ended up feeling like I fell for the hype.

    • 0 avatar

      @BostonDuce: “The W123 ended production with the 1983 model year, ours was blue.”

      This is not true, the W123s were produced until 1985; the w124s started in 1986. I had a 1985 W123 300D for a couple of years, they’re nice highway cars, all turbo of course and the gearing is different than the ones produced through 1982 or 1983.

  • avatar
    BostonDuce

    There was a way to if not cure, at least mediate the cowl shake and jerky upshifts.

    There was, at least in the 240D a series of air restriction inserts you could change in a vacuum line. They looked like small golf tees and were color coded by orifice size.

    I bought a set and they went a long way to smooth out the shakes

    BD

  • avatar
    obbop

    Will those early model diesels shrug off the EMP from the nukes atmosphere-exploded that will immobilize the many conveyances with the resultant burnt-out electronics that control critical components of modern diesels and gas-burners?

    • 0 avatar

      In a word: yes. There are no critical electronics.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Dunno about ECU, but wouldn’t you have to change fuses, such as the glow-plug relay (80A blade fuse)?

      I mean, you could use a bit of coathanger wire for the glow-plug relay in a pinch..

      (ps: ABS computer would also be destroyed by EMP?)

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      In fact, sometimes the engines would not shut off by turning the key to the off position. Modern day Toyota/Lexus problem,?, not exactly. There was an emergency cutoff lever under the hood to use if the electric one failed. Once the engine stars, as long as there is fuel in the tank, it runs without electricity at all.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      Yes they will.

      Magneto ignition gas engines should be fine without shielding as well.

      Most ECUs are completely enclosed in metal cases, which serves as a Faraday cage – thus generally being protected from most EMP scenarios.

      Of course it isn’t quite that simple: all those wires serve as an antenna, and it gets a little complicated.

    • 0 avatar
      OM617

      These diesels can be started without the starter. Push it down a hill in neutral and after you’ve got a bit a speed, engage D and she’ll start up! No electricity is required…except to run ABS, airbags if you’ve got a w126, w124

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      @nikita: Yep, that’s why there’s a ‘STOP’ lever on the fuel rail. Diesels will run unless they lack fuel, air or compression. That’s why you don’t have to worry about, say, moisture in a distributor, but instead whether or not your fuel cut-off valve has vacuum.

      That said, I’d rather have a motor I have to pop the hood to shut off than one I can’t start, since I know how to shift into neutral or park ;)

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I had a really lovely ’79 Peugeot 504D that spent it’s life in Palm Springs that had one of those giant tanks installed. I removed it, but always wondered why it was there – now I know! Lovely car, not a speck of rust. I used it for five trouble-free years of high days and holidays here in Maine before selling it to a fellow Peugeot Club member who is a collector. This was from ~’98-’03. Of all the cars I have owned, this is my biggest regret, never should have let her go.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “Sales Managers who unloaded their wallets to drive a gen-u-ine Mercedes (with vinyl upholstery) in 1982″

    Brooks asks how much the car will cost – including everything. Dealer prep, license, sticker, add-ons, extras, everything. The dealer names a price.

    “That’s everything?” Brooks asks.
    “Except leather,” the dealer says.
    “For what I’m paying, I don’t get leather?” Brooks asks, aghast.
    “You get Mercedes leather.”
    “Mercedes leather? What’s that?”
    “Thick vinyl.”

    -Lost in America, 1985

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      And MBTex was the right call to make.. Stuff is great, and lasts forever..

      Incidentally, at least in the S-class, the seats are the comfiest I’ve ever been in in a car.. Seat springs ftw.. IIRC they were shared with the same gen of 300TD, so presumably that generation 300D as well..

    • 0 avatar
      OM617

      “MB-Tex” is the best! If you look at 20 year olds benzes, MB-Tex looks brand new, unlike leather which fades and cracks much easier. Most people can’t tell the difference and its still standard on many MBs today

  • avatar

    Not into the biodiesel thing, but I love my 1983 300D. 476,000 miles, 3 high mileage badges, and still going strong. The car that made me feel comfortable opening up the valve cover and wrenching away.

    The only problem – rust rust rust. My car’s actually in pretty good shape, spending most of its lifetime in a garage, but just a few years of my winter driving are starting to show up as little spots on the wheel wells. I finally had to garage it this past winter. Looks like I’m going to need to invest in an angle grinder this spring…

  • avatar
    geozinger

    This model of Merc was the first one I ever spent large amounts of time driving over 100 MPH in. My cousin who lives in Wiesbaden, agreed to do some road trips with me and visit all of our relatives in southern Germany back in the late ’70’s. We were able to borrow my uncle’s 300TD and cruise the Autobahns and the lesser roads throughout Bavaria and Hessen.

    I can attest to the turbo lag, having grown up in the States, I rarely saw cars with turbos back then, with the odd exception of a few Buicks. Once you were on boost, wow! But until then, it was a long hard slog up some of those hills. It still sticks with me to this day how such an unassuming box of a car could be so good. For someone in their late teens at the time, it was an eye opener.

  • avatar
    xyzzy

    Thank you for this. Next to the 1998 LS400 that I own, these are my absolute favorite cars. Call me stodgy but I love their classic good looks and still don’t think anyone has made a sedan that looks better.

    When I bought my LS400 in 2001 I almost bought one of these instead. 1983 300D was the pinnacle of this car, IMO. I live in a rural area and drive 2 lane roads almost 30 miles to work. I knew these were tanks but they were 1980’s tanks and I looked into the safety of them and they couldn’t hold a candle to a more modern car. Didn’t bother me too much but my wife commuted with me and she was concerned about it. Lots of log trucks and dump trucks coming the other way on my local roads. Plus I’m just not a “wrench your own car” kinda guy and where I live getting a car to the mechanic is a major logistical undertaking so I need bulletproof reliability. I’m thinking in 10 more years the late 1980’s LS400s may have a cult classic status as these Mercs, it was the Merc sedan of its day.

    I still admire these Mercs when I see them on the road and drool when I see one for sale. Of course now they are nearly 30 years old, when I last looked to buy a car they were less than 20 years old. And it is showing, sadly.

    There is a guy near me who bought the old volunteer fire station and turned it into a shop that only works on 1980’s Mercedes cars. I love driving by his shop and slowing down to admire the lot.

    • 0 avatar
      xyzzy

      I forgot to add, my favorite car dealer story was around this type of car. I saw one of these on the used lot of a Mazda dealer and asked to drive it. The salesman said sure, and got the key but he couldn’t get it started. The other salesmen heard the attempts to start it and wandered over until we had a mini-crowd. Finally he smiled and gestured toward his peers (who were trying to contain their laughter) and said “if you buy this car, three of us come with it to help you push it.”

      I appreciated the sense of humor and willingness to laugh at himself in that situation. He also told me the car wasn’t really in their inventory, it belonged to one of the salesmen and the manager was letting him put it on the lot as a favor (it did really stand out from the rest of the inventory).

      Someone else who works at my company eventually bought it and I sometimes see it in the parking lot at work. A nice white one. Stands out because the plug from the block heater hangs out under the front fender.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      I still think the W126 S-class was the best-looking of the lot, except possibly for the Grossers. I wonder what an S-class wagon would look like.. Only thing that bugs me about W126 is the 2-tone and plastic cladding, I wonder what mine would look like if I painted it to match the sheetmetal..

      (yes, I like tall, low-beltline views with lots of glass and few impediments..)

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    The W123 is getting scarce in the UK these days. Good ones , both diesel and petrol , are commonly stolen and exported to Africa, where they fetch very good money either complete or as parts.

  • avatar
    postjosh

    still miss mine:

    http://tinyurl.com/yb84mhc

  • avatar
    davejay

    I just had one of these in my driveway for about six months; a friend had gotten sick of moving it back and forth to avoid parking tickets, and was planning to donate it. The clutch slave cylinder was bad and the interior was in need of love, but it always started and ran well after you slammed the car into gear. Shifting without the clutch for the win!

    Was going to work on it this summer (toyed with the idea of making a LeMons car out of it, actually) but the owner’s cousin came and picked it up, ready to fix the clutch and use it as a daily driver. Ah, well. I won’t miss the huge cloud of diesel smoke it kicked up when I started it each week.

  • avatar
    findude

    The 240D was a fabulous, gutless wonder–though more than tolerable with a four-speed and a sunroof, and I never had a problem with the MB-TEX, er, vinyl.

    THE 123 series car to have was the 300TD wagon. In the late seventies and early eighties no self-respecting family would drop their kids off at prep school in any other vehicle unless it had a chauffeur. An extra tank in a W123 would allow phenomenal ranges: I once drove one from southern California to Cheyenne, Wyoming and only stopped for a lousy night in a roadside motel in St. George, Utah and a few roadside pit stops. We never put fuel in it over the entire 1,200 miles. And, yes, they vibrated a lot at low speeds and on acceleration from a standstill, but they were awesome highway cruisers and had the best cruise control of the era–that little stalk at about 2 o’clock on the steering column.

  • avatar
    Disaster

    Hey, I loved my gutless, Mercedes 190D. It was super reliable…always got me there….eventually.

  • avatar

    From the original thread —

    Ah, memories of my 1985 300D… 245,000 on the clock when it was traded in by the original owner at a local Chrysler store (for a new 1998 Plymouth Breeze — don’t let that thought settle too long, it tends to hurt your head after awhile.) I beat out three salemen who were eager to curb it. Beautiful maroon paint and tan MB-tex interior, chrome factory wheels, hardly looked like it had more than 70K on it.

    All it needed was a rear half-shaft, and conversion to R134-A. Total investment: $1800. I drove it three months, loved every minute of it, then sold it to a friend (whose father had owned one very much like it in Germany) for $3500. Wish I would have held onto it!!!

    • 0 avatar

      I neglected to add, the 300D was dog-slow from a stop (though quicker than the non-turbo 240D) but sure built speed quickly once above 45 or so with a little inertia on her side. Very much like a freight train, with far better brakes.

      The mechanic who fixed the half-shaft said it appeared the motor had never been opened up, and the turbo housing looked the same.

      Man, memories. Loved that car.

  • avatar
    George B

    Chuck Goolsbee is right about the Mercedes 240D and Biodiesel vs. vegetable oil. The reason to put up with the 240D’s lack of power is free fuel. It will burn midnight discount vegetable oil “liberated” from fast food restaurants and filtered to remove chunks. Just use waste heat from the engine to heat the vegetable oil. Interest in vegetable oil fuel wanes as the price increases from free toward the price of petroleum diesel.

    My boss at my first job had a green 240D. A coworker, who actually liked that car, remarked that it sounded like a tractor.

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    I had one, ballistic mileage on it. Best part was that even at 300K miles it really did drive like it was new. The 300TD wagon was far more desireable though, with the turbo-diesel 5-cyl it wasn’t really that slow. It wasn’t fast either! I did have to say goodbye to it though when I found a super-rare BMW 524td… 6-cyl turbo diesel was far better of a drive, and frankly the fuel mileage was about the same… you didn’t have to push the BMW as hard as the M-B to get moving!

  • avatar
    97escort

    I am glad to finally see a reference to Peak Oil in a TTAC post. Bio diesel is not evil nor is ethanol, despite at all the ethanol boondoggle posts on this site.

    TTAC can not tell the truth about cars without acknowledging the dilemma presented by Peak Oil. And repeated attacks based on junk science like energy return on energy investment do not help. Nor does criticism of subsidies for biodiesel and ethanol.

    Crude oil is subsidized to the tune of $500 billion per year worldwide and that does not count the cost of Wars for Oil Security and all the American lives lost and injuries. Some think it was Peak Oil that was behind the collapse of the auto industry last year.

    Yet the supply of crude oil does not increase even with rising prices which shows we are at Peak Oil. The implications are profound for anyone who likes cars.

    The infrastructure of vehicles and the fuel distribution system demand a liquid fuel compatible with gasoline/diesel. Ethanol and biodiesel fill the bill until something better comes along which for now is unlikely.

    Rejecting biodiesel and ethanol means that car lovers face a bleak future sooner than otherwise. If auto makers and car buyers do not wake up to the reality of Peak Oil pretty quick both are in deep do-do.

    It should be part of the mission of TTAC to tell the true story of the Peak Oil situation just as it does with other car related issues rather than concentrate on putting down partial solutions like bio diesel and ethanol.

    Follow developments and the debate surrounding Peak Oil at theoildrum.com. But be careful. You may become a doomer over there if you reject alternatives to crude oil.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    I’ve got one of the rarest of W123 birds – a 280CE gas-powered couple. Nearly 300k and refuses to die, although it’s currently parked because it won’t pass a smog check. Only think I really don’t like about it is the design of the window switches. Guaranteed to fail.

  • avatar

    There is a taxi company in P’town on the end of Cape Cod that uses these.

  • avatar

    krhodes1 — is there still a peugeot club in Maine? Can you get me contact info? EMail me at motorlegends@aol.com. Thanks!

  • avatar
    CC_Stadt

    I’ll never forget the lovingly ridiculing German nickname for the W123 200D (never available in the U.S. and even slower than the 240D): “Wanderdüne” (i.e. “Wandering Dune”). The reference, quite obviously, was to a 0-60 time somewhere in the high 30s.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    I had 2 of these Stuttgart Taxi, both 240d, the first one had the engine from 114 which requires to pull the cable to kill the engine, also if I use a small 8 mm fork to hold the cable out the power do increases. i never figure out why, it has something to do with enrich the fuel. That car was real slow auto too. The 2nd 240d was 4spd, a bit more power. I drove her from Prince George to Calgary and back, it was OK, except when going up mountain passes, if got behind a slow truck she will never pick the right speed, if cruising up a hill un-impeded she is not as Escargot pace as one would think.

    I also owned 5-6 of the 126 300sd, they’re fun, and fast when u spool her turbo up.
    One 116 300SD I had only to find out after I sold her to a distant neighbour the speedo do register 10 MPH slower. If doing 65 then the real speed is 75MPH. ANd thank God I was very Looky to never had her recorded by any Gendarme/Police.

    Say if u mix 50% filtered oil and diesel then your mileage is 60 as u only pay 1/2 with diesel. The work is kind of messy, and needs to go suck up these greasy spoon Chinese restaurant for oil. Some oil can be very dirty too.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    I just wish I still had my 560SEL… apparently any old Mercedes-especially one that’s been de-badged-qualifies as a diesel in most people’s minds. Rice hunting with that thing was fun. >_>

    A fnd who bought one of these 560sel, it was very fast too, except it can down $80 worth of fuel in no time.

    Did owned a 300sel 126 for a while too, it was pretty thirty too, the best I can get is about 20 MPG, average 17 MPG, so my fuel bill will be almost double to my sd when not using UVO.
    If there’re more folks who started to drive these UVO cars then the oil from any restaurants will be a high priced commodities,. They used to pay someone to take oil away, now they get paid.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    These old OM616 engines will run on literally *anything*. You could pour used 10W40 and ATF in the tank and it will run just fine. A little smoky sure, but fine. And it will still get 25-30 MPG while burning garbage.

    Hi Chuck
    I would to like to know more about putting filtered ATF or motor Oil into my diesel.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Geeky1, you own a 350SE?

    Wow! I thought I was one of maybe twenty people who owned one of those until recently. Bought mine for $250 from a very good friend of mine who knew I was a 116 enthusiast. Automatic, 200 hp, high end stereo system and the smell.. nothing else ever smelled quite like that Benz.

    Everything, and I mean everything worked on it except the air. All fluids were perfect and all electronic interior components were perfect due to their not being any. If I had just a minimal commute for my work I would have never sold it.

    If you’re ever in Atlanta please let me know. I want my car back :)

    • 0 avatar
      Geeky1

      Steven,

      Yeah, I do [there\'s a \'79 6.9 in the family too ;) ] you’re the first person I’ve run into (at least in this country) that owns/owned one besides the PO of my car.

      Mine’s a fairly unusual car; no sunroof, manual windows, manual climate control with no a/c, cloth interior (not velour like what I’m used to in the 126s, some kind of houndstooth-ish patterned cloth), and a 4spd manual. Unfortunately, it’s in need of a transmission rebuild, some work on the d-jet system, a brake master cylinder and booster and enough rust repair/halfassed body work (by the PO) repair that I might be better off swapping all of the good parts into a 450SE donor. But then it’s not a 350SE anymore, is it? It’s a 450 with a bunch of 350 parts on it. It’s going to get restored eventually one way or the other, I just can’t decide which way makes more sense.

      What happened to yours-did you sell it? I recall seeing a blue one with an auto on ebay a few months back… (almost bought it for parts/to swap the trans & interior into but it was a later model with the k-jet)

  • avatar
    blowfish

    I just picked up a 83 240d, auto, nice body from Oregon, some surface rust bubbles but no issues with jagged wheel wells as the ones we normally see in these vintages.

    One thing I also discovered is the wheels look steel rims to me but was Alloy, when my German friend told me to pick one up, is as light as the other mags. I knew a steel rim weights a ton!
    It came with hub caps, looks can fool u.
    Is not running badly, not with standing the speed, but driving in Heavy Vancouver traffic, a slow car gives u less aggravation, when your car hits the next light usually u dont need to wait much before it will turn green, sooner u get there long er wait!

  • avatar
    Joseph Evans

    My daily driver to this day is a 1985 300TD.  It won’t pull a greasy string out of a cat’s ass when it’s cold.  It coughs and belches and sputters and creaks…and gets me where I’m going EVERY time.  I (or my 5-year-old son) will drive it until the wheels fall off.

  • avatar
    afterdark

    I’ve owned a number of these old diesel mercs over the years, in fact it’s what I primarily drive these days. THey are great cars, if you are willing to be patient with them, as they are old and always need some maintenence work from time to time. But that being said, they are extremely reliable cars and they have never failed me in all the years of use.

    I had a 200D from 1966 and that thing made a 240D look fast. IT was a fintail model and the car that got me hooked on diesels! I remember doing cross country trips in my 300SD doing 85 mph all day long. It was a ratty old thing and had nearly aquired 300k on the odometer but she was a sweet old car.

    Currently I have a 95 E300D with 278,000 and this car runs as new, and a 85 300D turbo with 252,000 and ditto. These are my babies and I intend to keep them forever.

    I played around with a W210 gasser car for a while and ended up hating it. It paled in comparison to the W124’s quality, driving dynamics and appeal.

    I would say the W124 and W126 were the last of the true all out overengineered Mercedes and we will never see cars of this calibre come from Stuttgart again.

  • avatar

    I drive my 1983 240D 90 miles a day to work and back, love it! No problems.

  • avatar

    i’ve got a w116 nicknamed the Silver Bullet. Everything has been rebuilt, restored … it is smooth, safe, fun, and when full of 100% biodiesel … smells like crayons. Here is a picture album, after she’s been lowered with H&R Sport Springs and generation 1 AMG penta wheels: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76267949@N08/7043744639/in/photostream/lightbox/


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