By on November 2, 2011

Yesterday’s Junkyard Find was a completely used-up Detroit hooptie, of mild historical interest but not really deserving to be spared the steel jaws of The Crusher. Today’s Junkyard Find, however, is a different story: a solid, completely rust-free W114 Benz with a straight body and very nice interior. Did I mention that it’s a coupe?
This is just how things are in California, where I found this staid-yet-slightly-sporty German. Just about every car in this Oakland self-service yard went through an auction process in which the minimum bid is— last time I checked— 200 bucks. That means that none of the cold-eyed car-wheeler-dealer types (nor the rose-colored-glasses-wearing car-hoarders) at this Mercedes-Benz’s auction felt willing to cough up two C-notes for the car.
These things were expensive— $9,994 list, at at time when $7,765 would get you a far plusher Cadillac Sixty Fleetwood and $8,475 could purchase a vastly sportier Jaguar XK-E V12 convertible— and they were expected to last forever. In this W114′s case, “forever” was 38 years.
My heart is pretty lump-of-coal-ish when it comes to seeing doomed cars in the junkyard, but this is one of the few that makes me shake my fist at the Car Gods and demand to know why? I may have to start shopping for W114 coupes, before the last one gets melted down to make Chinese bathroom-stall partitions.

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37 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1973 Mercedes-Benz 280C...”


  • avatar
    acuraandy

    Wow. That’s pretty cool.

    If one were to buy it however, good luck finding parts. Or a Merc shop that could make it roadworthy for any less than a new C-Class.

    I digress. Still, very cool.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Parts supply is no issue. Mercedes will cheerfully sell you just about anything you would ever need for that car, up to and including a factory restoration. You might not like the price however.

      I would infinitely prefer an as-new 280C to a new C-class.

  • avatar
    70Cougar

    Nice car, but not cool enough to pour money into it.

  • avatar
    TR4

    Malaise era, hardtop, and back seat limit the collectible appeal. Parts cost and availability probably discourage use as a daily driver. Too bad…

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      This, ^^^, Is why every r107 ever sent to the US is hidden in a garage, waiting for dad to die.

    • 0 avatar
      svenmeier

      Wrong.

      Mercedes’ offers original spare parts for all their cars dating from the 1950s onwards. It’s part of the reason what makes owning a classic Mercedes-Benz enjoyable and fun – the abundance of spare parts as well as technical know-how from qualified factory personnel.

  • avatar
    Wagen

    Check out the blue MB-Tex. Almost as good as the day it was made. They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to. I’m glad I’m old enough to remember when car interiors came in colors other than black, grey, beige, and now brown-ish.

    • 0 avatar
      svenmeier

      MB-Tex lasts forever – literally.

      If this were leather it would not have stood up to the test of time. Many Mercedes’ were ordered with MB-Tex because of its durability and due to the fact that it is easier to clean than leather.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    A buddy had one in his driveway for 10 years. His ahole brother stole the carb and sold it on ebay. It was rusting away and I convinced him to sell it to a M-B shop specializing in restos. It went to a better place.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Its a 1974 model, check out the bumpers. Great cars for the time, roomy comfortable, fast enough. Easy to find reasonable service at the time, many independent MBZ shops and few MBZ models. Relatively expensive to fix when something broke. Remember that in 1974 MBZ owned this price/size slot. BMW 5 series didn’t come in until 75 or 76. No 7 series at all. Honda had no Acura (or even Accord ). Jaguar even then had no reliability even when new. American cars were cheaper, even though the dollar was strong. The American luxury cars were all bigger, but had no “feel” to them. These MBZs far outlasted any American models in similar circumstances. (Spare us the story about your Uncle Fred driving his Caddy 300,000 miles without even an oil change.)

    • 0 avatar
      Verbal

      The “Unleaded Gasoline Only” placard on the instrument panel indicates it’s a ’75 or ’76.

      • 0 avatar
        linkpin

        The VIN tag shows a manufacture date of 6/73, so it’s either a very late ’73 or very early ’74. Not sure when M-B had their model-year changeovers then.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I believe it is a 1976, and that is why it must die. If it were a 1975, the owner would now be exempt from CARB’s tyranny, and buyers would line up. As a 1976, it is totalled every two years by our emissions tests. So many people drive to work in cars every day that are nowhere near as nice as this one. Thanks you California voters!

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      I agree with Gasser. When I learned to drive, my parents had 1972 and 1973 sedan versions of this car. (The cars were 13 and 14 years old at the time.) The picture above is definitely newer than 1973. The bumpers are the “new” US spec ones. That steering wheel is nothing like a 1973–it looks like it is from a W123. Maybe that was the upscale wheel? (Greatly prefer the older wheel with the thin-rim horn loop, though.)

      Wikipedia has a bunch of pictures of W114 and W115: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes-Benz_W114 The picture labeled “220″ and the pictured labeled “250″ and the picture labeled as a 1973 220D look like they are 1972 models or earlier judging by the bumpers. The 1973 bumpers are on display with the white coupe picture. Your car has bumpers like the picture labeled “1976 red 240D”

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Before you beat me over the head with your keyboard, I know, it’s a pillarless hardtop, but even I wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole!

    A former co-worker had a habit of owning these, but even they got too expensive for him to continue to swallow.

    No thanks, I’ll take any opera/fixed window coupe over this any day! A lowly Cobalt or other “Cockroach of the Road©” would be a better option!

    (©geozinger)

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    I think this particular car was one of the best looking cars m-b ever built. what a pity at it’s ignominious fate. i’m shaking my fist too!

  • avatar

    From what I remember of these the carbs are flaky complicated things that take some money to put right or swap out. It would however make an ideal candidate to swap in a mild Chevy V8. The interior looks fantastic on this one.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    This was built quite a few years after Mercedes-Benz gained the reputation of letting its engineers figure out the most expensive and complicated way to build a car. It’s no wonder that no one wanted to spend the time or money to keep one of these in usable condition.

  • avatar
    benzaholic

    Let’s agree that it’s likely to be a 1976 model, so it’s only 35 years old.
    Consider the condition of:
    - the seats
    - the door panels
    - the headliner
    - the chrome

    Compare those to recent junkyard finds featured and discussed here, with peeling wood stickers, worn out seat fabric, draping headliner, flaked chrome, etc.

    Note the details like:
    - the REAL wood
    - rear disc brakes
    - the angled armrests on the doors
    - the automatic transmission gear selector that can’t accidentally slip out of park

    They are expensive to maintain in large part because the parts were designed and built to last 10 or 20 or 30 years. If the parts were designed and built to be replaced every other year, they would be cheaper.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, “Engineered like no other car in the world” once meant something. There are some systems they didn’t quite get right, or that they engineered into needless complexity, but they sure did think through a lot of details.

    • 0 avatar
      Wagen

      +1

      The condition of the wood and brightwork (no plood or plasti-chrome here) is very impressive.

      $10k in 1976 dollars is worth roughly $40k in today’s dollars. I seriously doubt any car purchased for $40k today will be in such good shape in 35 years. Though a new car may be more reliable in terms of lack of breakdown than this one ever was, it’d never have the same quality of materials/components. No marque builds them with such quality parts today, at least not at the $40k level.

  • avatar
    AlienProbe

    My god that is beautiful.

    I can only conclude that the auction had no attendees… or the motor in that car was full to the oilcap with sand.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Gotta love those old Benzes, I drove a W123 turbodiesel for 9 years and it served me well.
    However–
    My MIL had the 4-door version of the featured car, not once but twice. Once when my FIL was alive and as an executive could afford to keep it running when just out of warranty. Second time around, she bought one in a fit of nostalgia 7 years ago and it’s been since passed down and sold.

    The 2 worst things about this car were the Solex 4BBL and those hideous thermal reactors that cranked the underhood temps to the level of a smelter. Wiring harnesses cooked, plastic bits turned to glass, and smog inspections were white-knuckle events.

    Such a pity, because it was a stately old machine. I saw a coupe like this one in almost the exact same condition in a PNP in San Jose 4 years ago, and felt sad over it too-but the reality of California’s smog laws and 1974 technology just won’t work now.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Why would emission standards condemn the car. If it can’t cut the mustard in CA, it would have been moved to another state that doesn’t have such requirements if there was a market for it. I hate to see fixable cars get destroyed, and this really looks like a keeper. As the MB fans above mentioned, the material quality was superb and the engineering second to none, though they chose to ignore the horrid fit of the glove box door. The simple fact is that to keep a car like this running costs far more than keeping, say a 1970 Chevelle in useable condition. That, and the value of the finished product means it is not cost effective to keep it running. Despite its original high quality and durability, which was pretty much the best for its day, only a real MB classic car fan would be interested and I guess one was not at the auction. A real pity.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Without CARB this would be a couple thousand dollar car. Not a real collectible, but not scrap iron either. With CARB, it is scrap. The difference in value isn’t enough to justify shipping it to a state that isn’t already awash in cars the fled CA to avoid the crusher. More cars are scrapped because of CARB than anyone could ever keep abreast of. Just look at all the CA junkyard backgrounds that have been shown here through the years. Cars that would be on the roads of many an eastern state are chopped up and head to economies with futures, like China’s.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        It’s possible an emission test did this one in, but it’s also possible it has an engine or transmission issue that just isn’t worth fixing.

        My son is driving a W123 diesel – which has turned out to be a surprising cheap and practical car for a student. These old Mercs really were built to last.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        What is the requirement? That the car pass the emission standard from the year it was built, or a somewhat downrated value of that original standard? If so, if the engine was in good condition why would it fail? Carbs for a car like this would likely cost a fortune but converting to a modern TBI kit system should not prove to be that difficult. If the emission test simply means that gross polluters can’t be registered until fixed – or junked – I don’t think that is such a bad thing. Being stuck behind a car belching smoke always pissed me off but that is pretty damn rare these days. Most collector cars are driven very few miles, so is there no exception for a car that could be registered with historical plates and collector car insurance? Seems to me that since getting collector insurance requires having an insured late model car, this would be a do-able thing. I find it hard to believe there are no provisions like this but I’m not in CA so I don’t know. It just seems to me that you could write the laws to keep dirty cars off the road but allow for truly well maintained older rides…

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        FI might be nice, but you can’t change to it under the CARB regime. All emissions related hardware must be present and stock, no matter how clean the tailpipe emissions are. The visual part of the check must be passed before the actual emissions even become an issue. There are better technologies than the performance, economy, and often component killing emissions controls of the ’70s and early ’80s, but you can’t use them on a post 1975 car in California, because CARB is more concerned with pricing people out of car ownership than they are with clean air. Diesels from the same era are exempt, and you won’t find them in scrap yards. You will know when one is within a half a mile of you though, thanks to the smell, soot, and smoke.

        CARB scraps cars as new as 2003 Nissan Sentras, which all have short lived manifold catalytic converters. In other states, there are superior and inexpensive aftermarket substitutes. Under CARB, you have to buy the $1200 defective POS from Nissan. They don’t care that the aftermarket parts are as clean. They care about making car ownership expensive.

      • 0 avatar

        CJ, has anyone ever tried a takings clause lawsuit against CARB? Their policies and regulations devalue private property. The courts have ruled that in some case that’s akin to taking your property without compensating you.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I don’t know if it has been tried or not, but I do know that it hasn’t led to any changes in their policies. You’d have to go to the Supremes to get anything approaching a fair hearing, and that would involve years of expensive litigation in the name of working class victims of the totalitarians they elected.

  • avatar

    Ho ho, do I have a yarn for you guys.

    My father and I restored one of these (a 72 250C with the North American spec 2.8L M110 mill and the dreaded dual Zenith carburettors). Restore would be a kind word actually – blindly sunk money into would be a more appropriate description of that project.

    But it was a magnificent car. We had it for around 10-11 years. I cut my teeth and scarred my hands working on that car. It was a father-son project that taught me how to fix mechanical things, something I then applied to motorcycles and continue to this day (I have a penchant for 1990s Ducatis, the last of the bad-old-days of finicky, unreliable and character-oozing Italian motorcycles). It was stately and comfortable, and would waft over anything the road could throw at it. The motor was thrashy (see Clarkson on a similarly engined 230SL, the kickdown switch is just a noise increasing button) and the transmission a bit jerky (fluid coupling rather than torque converter meant fast and hard shifts), but it could get out of its own way and cruise with dignity while still being able to get around a corner.

    Here is where things get interesting.

    About three weeks ago my dad was showing the car to sell it. It was time to part with our beloved money pit. A group of three Saudi engineering students came to see it. They were quite enthusiastic and he went for a drive around town with them. All was well and it looked like the sale was going to go ahead.

    They asked to go on the highway. Dad obliged. No sooner had he merged onto the highway when the engine blew. Spectacularly. He didn’t get much chance to examine it, but it sounded like it either threw a rod or mashed a piston into the valves and cracked the head. Whatever the case, oil spewed out onto the headers. And promptly caught fire.

    So here they are, rolling down the highway with flames coming out of the hood. They pull over and my father is ready to let it burn for the insurance. He works in the insurance industry, by the way. He was almost happy for his good misfortune.

    The Saudis would not have it! They put out the fire with sand from the shoulder of the road. At this point, sale is over right? Wrong. They contact someone in Saudi Arabia and start sending him photos of the car and the damage via phone. He contacts his mechanic and starts discussing engine repair or swap options. While still on the side of the road, they make an offer. My dad declines. They leave.

    While waiting for the tow truck, they call him on his cell. They make another offer. He declines again. Then they counter offer. Finally he agrees to a (rather fair) price considering the paperweight motor and what it will surely cost us to fix (several grand). The Saudis return to meet him, cash in hand and a cup of coffee. He signs over the papers and they wait together for the tow truck. When it arrives, they load it up and leave with it, taking it directly to the nearest port town to be put onto a container and shipped to Saudi Arabia.

    That is how our beloved Merc died after 10 years of more-or-less reliable service, and found new life halfway across the world. We hope to keep in touch with the buyer so we can see what kind of shenanigans he has in mind. We hope a V8 swap is in the cards, because a hot-rod 250C was always our pipe dream but always out of our budget.

  • avatar
    delmer

    Timeless car even with the DOT headlights and 5mph bumpers, but Benz did an ugly job making the DOHC six a wheezing eunich with one carb and low compression. For the price it should have had a cutting edge fuel injection/engine management system designed by Benz. I doubt they put 100 hp to the rear. Also these cars had weak A/C’s that could’nt be used on grades and stop n go traffic. My parents had a 75 280/8. Had several head jobs before block cracked in mid eighties. Sold for $100-still looked good. Somehow it was still an awsome car. Turned me on to cars before I got my first 10 speed.

    I think the above 280c broke and sat covered somewhere for decades, the pedals are still fresh and the drivers seat is plump.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    Ridiculous random question:

    What, if anything, does the color of the nub on the end of the light switch mean?

    I ask because that one’s green.

    My w115 (from 1976, not a a coupe, and a diesel) has a yellow nub.

    Since it’s Mercedes, I’m reckoning it has a point, and perhaps some meaning, but I can’t begin to guess…

  • avatar
    FuzzyPlushroom

    That really is depressing. I couldn’t have passed it up for $200-250, whether to get it running and flip it, issues not withstanding, for even money or to part it out for a significant profit, ensuring everything of use was used before making most of my purchase price back on the shell.

    I believe in reusing everything, though – my rotted-out parts 244 left me with an engine, a gearbox, a radiator and cat (the former would’ve been a pain after years of sitting, the latter is unnecessary in NH), most of the steel panels, and most of the glass. The hood, as well as every cosmetic item on the car and anything salvageable in the interior, stayed behind, as I have a nearly-rust-free 244 project to keep up with…

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Why doesn’t anyone rescue this baby?

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    No one will rescue this baby cos it will cost $20,000 to restore an old Benz that will be worth (maybe) $3,000… been there, done that.


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