Capsule Review: 1981 Mercedes 240D

Mike Solowiow
by Mike Solowiow
capsule review 1981 mercedes 240d

Mercedes-Benz sold more diesel fired sedans than petrol in North America to the tune of 4 to 1. While the 300D turbo models put out a decent power curve, and proved the more popular car in power obsessed America, the 64bhp 240D models found their place as the “entry-level” Merc for the masses. Crank windows, M-B Tex interior, and even a passenger side mirror as an option, the 240D was built for mass transit Europa instead of plush luxury Americana. However, the requisite Merc-ness still pervaded the car from the real wood trim, to the solid thunk when closing the doors (that’s still there, 30 years later). In 1981, a Mercedes, no matter what price level was still a Mercedes, anything less would be unimaginable.

The 4-speed manual, 101ftlb torque combination results in a VW Beetle like 0-60 lurch of 20 seconds, or so. I stopped timing it when I got honked at and dropped the stopwatch. However, once at speed, the Merc will hold 80mph all day while returning a respectable 27mpg. But dismiss the paltry performance as that factoid misses the point. The ride still impresses as the fully independent suspension floats over anything, while still giving a remarkably poised handling setup should the road start twisting. The Merc will roll noticeably, yet retain composure and grip in all but the most severe avoidance maneuvers.

The most defining element of the W123 chassis remains its reliability. From the shores of Pensacola, to the deserts of Namibia, you will find 240D’s with mileage counts way past 400K, yet they are still on their original engine plying backroads and highways through boulevards and combat zones alike. You can’t kill them, and with over 1 million of the things built, parts are still plentiful and cheap, as well as some interchangeability with Benzes all the way from 1968 to 1994. Ask somebody to draw a Mercedes, and the first thing that will pop in their mind is this model of Merc. Probably the finest example of Stuttgart design, the 240D’s remain an icon the world over, if only because they etch a memory into passerbys, and they usually aren’t going very fast.

Mike Solowiow
Mike Solowiow

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  • 240D007 240D007 on Nov 28, 2009

    Hello All. I have had many W123 240Ds and 300Ds for over 2o years. To bad I was not old enough to purchase one new when they first came out. They're excellent automobiles and always will be. Those who are complaining on this post don't really know what they're complaining about. Its seems to be over their wasted dollar on a status they were trying to achieve in society by purchasing one of these fine automobiles and never taking care of it. Too bad there are many in our society who are the neuvo reach, lazy, wealthy people who don't appreciate much of anything. I've seen it in front of my own eyes as some family members have been that way. All of my W123s ran perfect always, and got myself and my friends there safely, and with a lot of character and comfort, style and design. I still have one of my favorite 240Ds and it only has 164K miles on it now and it runs perfect and sounds and looks great. I've taken care of it well and it's lasted well. My others I have sold to friends and they still have all of them! The W123 was meant to run for hundreds of thousands of miles and to last the test of time. It has a perfect timeless design with lots of character along with a finely engineered heart. It has my vote along with many of my friends. I have had no troubles on the freeway for speed nor around town from new or to current. I have no running troubles. It's called change the oil. Get the transmissions serviced. Put Diesel additive into the fuel tank when you fill up. Just take care of the mechanical side of it as scheduled. It's just like a living plant. With water, it will survive, with mulch and food it will last for years to come. I would have to say kudos to the author for commenting on such a fine piece of "artwork" that's concept, design and completion far surpasses that of most cars on the road today. Cheers

  • Carlson Fan Carlson Fan on Nov 28, 2009

    My dad had one of those(1981) and then my sister drove it for awhile. I thought it was an absolutely dreadful car in pretty much every aspect. It was stressful to ride in as no matter what was behind you they were always on your butt as it struggled to accelerate away from a stoplight. Sitting next to my '81 Olds Cutlass Supreme in the driveway I though it looked absolutely pathetic. Now there's a car I wish I still had!

  • ToolGuy "Mr. President, no government agency, no think tank, and no polling firm knows more about the automobile customer than us. We talk to customers every day. As retail automotive dealerships, we are agnostic as to what we sell. Our business is to provide customers with vehicles that meet the needs of their budgets and lifestyles.”• How many lies can you fit into one paragraph?
  • Spamvw Three on the tree, even Generation X would have a hard time stealing one of those.
  • ToolGuy This trend of cyan wheels needs to end NOW.
  • Kwik_Shift Interesting nugget(s) of EV follies.
  • SaulTigh I've said it before and I'll say it again...if you really cared about the environment you'd be encouraging everyone to drive a standard hybrid. Mature and reliable technology that uses less resources yet can still be conveniently driven cross country and use existing infrastructure.These young people have no concept of how far we've come. Cars were dirty, stinking things when I was a kid. They've never been cleaner. You hardly ever see a car smoking out the tail pipe or smell it running rich these days, even the most clapped out 20 year old POS. Hybrids are even cleaner.