By on April 10, 2017

1975 Mercedes-Benz 240D in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

During the 1970s, if you were sensible and had a fat bankroll, you didn’t buy an Eldorado or Mark IV or even a Toyota Crown. No, you bought a staid, humorless-as-Richard-Wagner Mercedes-Benz W114/W115 sedan, and then you kept it while the pages flew off many decades of calendars. If you were really serious, you got the naturally aspirated four-cylinder diesel, as the original purchaser of this now-retired-at-age-42 San Francisco Bay Area 240D did.

1975 Mercedes-Benz 240D in California wrecking yard, rust - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Unlike many elderly cars in California, this one has some nasty body rust. If you live close to the ocean — and by “close” we’re talking a few blocks at most — the salt spray and daily morning fog will cause this kind of top-down rust on outdoor-parked cars. This one isn’t all that bad compared to some examples of Pacific Ocean Body Rot we have seen, but it rendered this car not worthy of restoration.

1975 Mercedes-Benz 240D in California wrecking yard, RH view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

W114s are so well-built and their original owners so stolid that plenty of them still drive every day, 41 years after the final example rolled off the assembly line. This means they’re not hard to find in wrecking yards nowadays, as they reach the end of their half-million-mile roads. In this series, we have admired this ’71 250C, this ’73 280CE, this ’73 280C, this ’73 280C, this ’73 220, and this ’74 280C (plus this ’70 250 and this ’75 280C that I shot for other publications). Even though most of those are coupes, that’s just because I find the coupes weirder and more interesting; I have walked right by a dozen junked W114 sedans for every coupe I have photographed.

1975 Mercedes-Benz 240D in California wrecking yard, diesel engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Under the hood, we see 62 clattery, immortal horsepower, courtesy of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder diesel engine. If you’re thinking that 62 horses in a 3,080-pound car sounds miserable, you’re very correct. Chugging down a highway onramp in one of these cars took patience and a thick skin for the insults, upraised middle fingers, and horn-blasts from drivers trapped behind. I took my driver’s-ed classes in a 48 hp 1979 Rabbit Diesel, which was intolerably slow, and that car’s 37-pounds-per-horsepower made it accelerate like a Top Fuel dragster compared to the 240D’s 50-pounds-per-horsepower. This is the price you pay when you shed all frivolity.

1975 Mercedes-Benz 240D in California wrecking yard, engine start switch - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

In California, some old Mercedes-Benz diesels have been converted to run on vegetable oil by Burning Man types, while ten times that number have been destroyed by nimrods who started the conversion process and then ran out of ability/money/motivation. This car never suffered that depressing fate. We can’t say how many miles it had on the clock when it retired, because the instrument cluster was purchased by a junkyard shopper before I got there.

1975 Mercedes-Benz 240D in California wrecking yard, MB-Tex seat fabric - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

No matter how many miles you put on an old Benz, though, the MB-Tex seat fabric looks as good as it did when it was brand-new. This leather-influenced plastic isn’t what I would describe as luxurious, but it lasts longer than any other component on the car.

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53 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1975 Mercedes-Benz 240D...”


  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Arguably the best car ever made, the zenith of the era when Mercedes really was (over) “Engineered like no other car in the world”.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    How inglorious for it to be ass-to-ass in God’s waiting room with a Passat.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Ah W114 in black the perennial Bond baddie car of the 70s. Couldn’t of had the oil burner or maybe it did make the Aston look faster…

  • avatar
    hands of lunchmeat

    i remember one of these in my high school auto shop. completely rotted to shit, yet the doors still thunked shut as if they were new. To me benzes of this generation looked like a derby hat, not something i was remotely interested in. Being able to gawp at that old tub up close changed my opinion on them.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Ah, the sound of the doors. Mercedes doors from that era made a single sound when you closed them. Every other car door made the sound of two clicks– quick but distinguishable–but Mercedes made one. I didn’t quite believe it when I read about it in some magazine. It seems like a myth, but it’s the truth- I checked for myself when a Mercedes came in the shop where I worked.

  • avatar
    Edsel

    Our family owned a 1974 240D. Acceleration: 0-60mph took 19 seconds – on a good day.

    • 0 avatar
      SunnyvaleCA

      My parents sold their 1972 250 model about a decade ago–still going strong! The 2.8L twin-carb gasser hooked to a low-geared four speed automatic made the car quite peppy. 0-60 was probably quicker than 8 seconds. We had a 1973 “280” with the same displacement and transmission, but that one’s single-carb DOHC (but still 12 valves) was somewhat slower off the line. As this article mentioned, the seats looked practically new.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Built for eternity, no flashiness outside what an engineer can see, and pitiable performance that requires a level of self-flagellation to own despite it being a luxury car.

    Mercedes has changed.

  • avatar
    turf3

    Seems a terrible shame to scrap this given what I can see of the condition of the body panels.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      It’s what you don’t see that put this car in the wrecking yard. As noted, it’s not a great performer, it’s rotting from the inside out, at least one knob couldn’t find a replacement, and the dent in the trunk lid was probably the last straw. Otherwise, I’d say drop a small block V8 in it.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Murilee, sorry but no self respecting entrepreneur, mover & shaker, guy ‘on the make’, or TV ‘detective’ (Cannon and MacMillan for example), or wannabe/poseur/gangsta of that era would ever purchase one of these instead of a Lincoln or Caddy in the early/mid 70’s.

    It totally lacked the esthetics, luxury touches or Brougham style required to be viewed by the general North American public luxury vehicle in that era. And showing up with a 4 cylinder, let alone a diesel demonstrated that you were either an academic or a mechanic, not a ‘mover & shaker.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      You might be right about a certain class of people, but the kind of people Murilee mentioned as “sensible” had no need for appearances. It’s the difference between nouveau riche who say “if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it”, and the REAL rich who ALWAYS ask the price.

    • 0 avatar
      CaddyDaddy

      For the UC Berkeley Prof. Who lived 5 miles from the university and was blessed with a climate that never went south of 50F and never north of 80F, this car was tolerable. The prof never needed climate control at 105F, start at -20F or the need to cover long commutes or a family road trip.

      Yes the Mercedes was a statement for those quirky rich who wanted to make the I’m different and smarter statement. I’ll agree the bodies were better built. The mechanics, not so much. At 68HP not much Stress on the drive line allowed them to solider on for decades.

      Stepdad ordered an 83′ – 300D from the Fatherland. Auto & A/C. Took delivery in July in the San Franando Valley in So.Cal. Got on the 101 to get home and the acceleration was a stress filled event, about 1/2 way home he realized the A/C was not really cold and his butt was starting to glue itself to the MBTex.

      He returned to the dealership in the morning to insist there were serious mechanical and AC issues. The dealership assured him these are the unique expirences one must immerse themselves into for the full MB ownership experience.

      His 78′ Fleetwood was returned to him, the MB sales paperwork was thrown away, and it was considered an unsuccessful “Test Drive”. The MB was sold to another person that day. The Fleetwood served another 3 years of good service ’till 86.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        I think your Stepdad made the right decision!

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        I had a ’76 300D, and while it had many age-related problems, “AC won’t get cold” was never one.

        (It had an “AC won’t stay charged” problem until it was converted to r134a and rebuilt.

        But the AC was nice and cold even in 100 degree weather when it was charged.)

        So that’s … odd. I know the W123 from ’83 should not have had a worse AC system (and the turbo would be really nice).

  • avatar
    threeer

    Guy at work still regularly drives one…as well as his flying buttress Jaguar XJS. Ballsy…very ballsy. But they are two of the most interesting cars in the lot most days.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Many years ago, I had a boss that drove a ’73 240D. I got to ride in it a few times, and I would compare the acceleration to the movement of the tectonic plates (and this one had a/c, so you can imagine that 62hp was only theoretical during Texas summers, anytime the Borg-Warner compressor kicked on). The owner, Malcolm (RIP), was what I’d call an iconoclast, and he told me he’d been driving Mercedes-Benz diesels since the late ’50s, when he had a W120 180D.

    The funny thing is, this was the last of his diesels. After that, he bought an early Mercury Topaz; not something one would associate with durability and longevity. I never asked why he bought the Topaz.

  • avatar
    Pete Skimmel

    A buddy bought one about 10 years ago from a client for $800, the amount a dealer was offering as a trade-in. It’s always been a garage queen, condition is near perfect. Buddy drives it a few thousand miles a year when he parks his work truck. Otherwise, it’s in the garage. Oh, and it has an automatic transmission. He only drives it when he is really in no hurry to get anywhere.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    I remember seeing these idling in parking lots in -30 degree winter evenings while the owner was inside next door watching a basketball game or movie. It took about 5 minutes for the glowplugs to warm the combustion chamber in cold weather, and it was still iffy whether it would start or not on a cold Minnesota winter evening. Much better to let it idle with the heater on for 2 hours, probably used 15 cents of diesel and the car would be nice and toasty for the ride home.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      1) Block heater.

      2) I’m amazed it managed to heat up at all at idle.

      3) Long-term idle is not great for the OM61x engine.

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        Yes a block heater works great, but most movie houses and sports arenas don’t have outlets in their parking lots. Most of these idling Benz diesels also had a cover over the radiator opening to help the motor run hotter in icy cold weather. You also have to remember that back in the 1970s and early 80s all the “experts” were predicting global cooling and we had weeks during the winter in the northern states where it stayed -10 or colder.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    “The 240D, when you have too much money for a Volvo.”

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      “The 240D, when a Volvos just too fast for you”

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Awww, the poor old Volvo 240 wasn’t *that* slow. With the automatic transmission, they were comparable to any of the Detroit inline six “compacts” and mid size offerings in the late 1970s/early 1980s. With a manual, they were much better, almost as fast as contemporary Detroit family haulers with the 2bbl small block V8 option… which is to say nothing special.

        It was a really malaiserable time to be driving.

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          Okay then,
          “The 240D, when a diesel Volvos just too fast for you”

          No disrespect intended, owned several auto 240s and didnt mind the older Camry-level speeds (didnt exactly like the turbo 740 that was between them either).

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            *chuckle*

            I can’t remember if the Volvo had the five cylinder diesel or the six.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            *chuckle* I’d almost forgotten about those. One of the “slower” versions of the 200 series. There were smaller versions of the (gasoline) red engine meant for specific markets around the world. All of them had lots of space under the hood because the car originally was meant to have a V8 option (which is part of the story of how the PRV V6 came to be).

            I can’t remember if the Volvo had the five cylinder or the six cylinder version of the VW diesel.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Diesel 240s used both five and six cylinder diesels, the engines basically being VW diesel fours with a few cylinders added.

            RWD Volvos did have great engine space yes, except for anything behind the engine. Even the 7-9 series were pretty spacious.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Excellent point about the mild weather making the 240D much more tolerable.

    In 1973, Car & Driver tested the “new” 450SE vs the “new” colonnade Cutlass 4 door. With the Old optioned correctly, the overall results were quite close.

    Still, for me at least, if one could live without A/C, and without auto (the overengineer Benz 4-spd not as good as an American automatic), and power accessories, given the required maintenance, the Benz or that era (1968-86) was a solid car honest car that would last longer, and look less weathered doing so, than any other car.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    You know a 240D is tired when the driver asks for an engine rebuild…
    .
    I’m just getting into my ’82 240D, it was horribly slow the last year.
    .
    So far discovered recessed valve seats and low compression in cylinders # 2 & 3 .
    .
    -Nate

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    62hp in a smelly Caddy priced “luxury car”, I really do wonder how Mercedes managed to get away with that back then.

    Whoever got that instrument clusters going to get some good bread on eBay.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      They got away with it because there were things like a national 55mph limit, car magazines listing 0-50 times in their road tests (quarter mile times were irrelevant). Still, it is an extraordinary historic footnote that the 240D sold as well as it did, being as slow as it was, even in that environment.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      People who wanted fast got the 2xx-series gas engines, or a 450SL.

      People who wanted to show off “owning a new Mercedes” and perhaps “being sensible” got the 240D.

      (I drove a 300D for over a decade, and cannot imagine trying to live with 15 fewer horsepower in about the same weight.)

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      This was the era of gas rationing. Getting 28 mpg instead of the 9 mpg of a smog-control-strangled Lincoln or Cadillac was a big deal in 1975.

  • avatar
    readallover

    I always enjoyed it when a friend or neighbor would pay through the nose for the status of owning one of these, then travel to Europe and discover they were used as taxis all over.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    They were built like tanks, but I question how “reliable” they really were. I just know they all seemed to leak copious amounts of motor oil whenever they were standing still for a few seconds.

    And I never really understood why people with a lot of money in that era would want to fool with a diesel luxury car, if you’ve ever been in an old diesel without a turbo, it really is like 20 second 0-60 times. Plus the smell, the smoke, not every gas station has diesel, etc all to save a few bucks a month on gas. For someone that obviously has a lot of money.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Maintained? Very reliable.

      At least “before they were 30 years old and falling apart”.

      (Mine only ever leaked motor oil after the vacuum pump broke a bolt off in the block and I wasn’t going to pull the engine to replace that…

      Also slowly leaked ATF and diesel, from a pinhole in the fuel tank seam; never could get it to stop…

      But mine was 24 years old when I got it, and had been repo’d, which tells you about its maintenance history…)

      • 0 avatar
        whitworth

        I still think the Japanese completely changed how we viewed “reliability” when they took on the European luxury car companies.

        The sheetmetal may not have been as thick, but they ran forever and cost way less.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “it rendered this car not worthy of restoration.”

    No W115 diesel is worthy of restoration. Ask me how I know.

    (Also, on the odo, you wouldn’t know how many miles even if present.

    Because they were 5-digit, ANd tended to fail.

    The repair is actually easy and free*, but you have to know how and bother.

    * The driveshaft for the counter will slip on the “drive gear” that actually moves the numbers; pull it off, roughen it up with vice-grips or the like, and reassembler. Friction restored!)

  • avatar
    jpk112

    Learned how to drive on a 1975 240D, great car. It was all about maintaining momentum driving up mountain roads. I wish my new E43 was built as solid. I really, really do.

  • avatar
    Roadranger

    A friend of mine had one of these back when we were young chaps. A burnt orange 1976 model – The Thirsty Merc. It was, categorically, the slowest vehicle I have ever had the pleasure of riding in. This was a good thing, as we were all teenage mechanics with a tendency to sink the slipper.

    Jacob would have to drive an extra half an hour out of his way home every evening, as it would not make it up the hill to his house.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Where I grew up in the suburbs of NYC there were a few types of folks who bought these W114/115 or W123.

    Those who were tired of their landaus and broughams and soured on what was coming out of Detroit.

    Folks who moved up the income scale from Volvos, Audis or Peugeots.

    Geeks who in the OPEC embargo era appreciated the good fuel economy and the cost of Diesel which was a few cents less per/gal. Some even went as far to stop at the local truck stop to fuel up. Or they put a pump on their home heating oil tank to top off their car.

    Of course long time MB fans.

  • avatar
    FAHRVERGNUGEN

    I remember several family friends bought these specifically because they could take delivery in Europe and spend several weeks driving around their own car instead of bothering with a rental. Shipped them home while retaining the original Euro plates on the front.

  • avatar
    415s30

    Aww I have a 1983, I would love one in that color wow. Sad


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