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.
More by Mike Solowiow
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