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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.