Capsule Review: 1981 Mercedes 240D

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.

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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!

  • Islander800 That is the best 20-year-on update of the Honda Element that I've ever seen. Strip out the extraneous modern electronic crap that adds tens of thousands to the price and the completely unnecessary 400 pd/ft torque and horse power, and you have a 2022 Honda Element - right down to the neoprene interior "elements" of the Element - minus the very useful rear-hinged rear doors. The proportions and dimensions are identical.Call me biased, but I still drive my west coast 2004 Element, at 65K miles. Properly maintained, it will last another 20 years....Great job, Range Rover!
  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Corey. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.