By on November 26, 2012

Mercedes-Benz W123 coupes aren’t so easy to find these days, though I was able to spot this Crusher-bound ’78 280CE last year. Last week, in a different Denver-area yard, I ran across today’s find: an oil-burning ’78 300CD.
With the 3-liter OM617 five-cylinder diesel engine, a strong contender for the Most Reliable Car Engine of All Time Award, these things usually get scrapped only when they get too ugly to be worth fixing. 236,529 miles isn’t much for one of these cars.
The W123 coupes were sort of frivolous purchases at the time— if you wanted just two doors in your German luxury car, you were expected to get a BMW 6 Series and maybe a gold razor-blade medallion to get tangled in your exposed chest hair.
This one isn’t rusty and the body is pretty straight, but fixing the trashed interior wasn’t worth the cost to its final owner.

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35 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Mercedes-Benz 300CD...”

  • avatar

    I remember riding in the back of one of these on the way to soccer practice as a lanky 10 year old. I remember thinking at the time as my friends successfull rich mother was STABBING AT THE GO PEDAL and the car was lurching forward WHY would somebody spend all this money on a ‘Mercedes’ expensive car if it drove SO MUCH WORSE than my mother’s 3.8 v6 buick century rear drive wagon.

    The car was dog slow and noisy.

    I think it turned me off to diesels and Mercedes for life. Nice coupe shape though.

    • 0 avatar

      A friend of my dad had an 86 300SDL and I remember having the same thought about the rough shifting.

    • 0 avatar

      77 horsepower was not a lot (0-60 in about 18s); those things got a lot peppier with the turbo 3L in ’81/’82, and 120 HP.

      Though if she was stabbing at the pedal, she’s doing it wrong. Just floor it and hold until you’re at the desired speed. This is especially vital from a stop, since hitting the kickdown switch makes it start in 1st rather than 2nd.

      The rough shifts? Yeah, that’s how MB made the transmissions. I don’t know when they stopped being rough, for that matter.

      (As an aside, I notice the same top speed and nearly the same shift points as my ’76 300D… unsurprising, since it’s the same engine.

      Another reason for the scrapping might have been a dead AC system – see the dye all over the compressor? At that point only a fool – like me – would plow $1000-1500 into an AC refit.

      I am struck by how clean the engine is, though. Plainly someone paid a lot of attention to gasket fit on the valve cover, because otherwise you end up with black oil all over everything.

      I second comments below about the interior actually looking like it’s in good shape – I think it was trashed by salvagers taking the good bits.)

  • avatar

    Neighbor of ours in Germany used to buy and sell these in the 80s by placing his name early on lists for new cars, then “selling” his spot to somebody in the States for the latest and greatest coming out of Stuttgart. He had several coupes…a used gas variant came through his hands that my father very nearly bought from him. Yeah, the diesel was hopelessly slow (I had a 1985 300 TD for a while), but talk about dead-cold reliable and dependable! I always felt like I was driving a bronze colored Panzer when I was behind that huge steering wheel!

  • avatar

    Wow this brought back memories. A very close friend of mine had one of these only faded red with beige int. He passed away almost 3yrs ago. RIP Steve.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    I suppose these weren’t built for fickle owners. Sounds like it had one though.

  • avatar

    They used that same instrument cluster design for such a long time! Barely a modification between this and something like a 94 300E.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    The interior may have been in good shape. Otherwise, why rip out.

    Of note is how rust-free the factory-issued license plate screws are (nice of the person who removed the license plate to leave them there – wish I could grab them). As a comparison, my wife’s 2008 ML550’s license plate screws have become unremovable chunks of rust. Which says a lot about MB’s quality of twenty years after this vehicle was built…

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly, these things mostly left the factory with MB-Tex, which is to say those interiors will most likely outlast the sun. Somebody salvaged the seats right off the bat, so it wasn’t a trashed interior that did it in.

  • avatar

    Unless I’m mistaken, a 2-door M-B 300 like this one was the cover image from Jackson Browne’s “Lawyers in Love” album. Too lazy to Google, but it was a pretty iconic cover at the dawn of the Yuppie era.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Imagine putting 14in. wheels on a car this size nowadays? even subcompacts are getting 15 inchers, that speedo looks band-new! They sure don’t build them that well anymore.

  • avatar

    Sad, but as W123s go, it was not the most desirable of the lot. Despite the incredibly low mileage on this, the owner just may not have been able to take the “acceleration” anymore. Without the OM617 Turbo engine, this thing really was a slug – even back then.

    OTOH, a W123 TDT wagons are still floating around in the land of old money. Beyond that, the tuners have had a lot of fun with these old turbodiesels – especially since early 80s are now cheap. They can scoot with a little fiddlin’ and one can go just as stupid tuning as the guys with Cummins’ do. I’m sure there’s hundreds of videos of the Czechs and Swedes drifting 123 diesels on YouTube…

    The W123 in NA diesel trim used to be the preferred taxi of the world, especially in third world ME war zones.

  • avatar

    This would have been worth saving in California, where diesels of the era are exempt from the CARB nazis. Keep the diesel title, swap in a carbureted SB2 and you could put 800 hp on the street with the benefit of MB brakes and suspension instead of the Conestoga wagon stuff that came under American cars old enough to be exempt from SMOG checks.

  • avatar

    I love the C-pillar on these coupes, and the thick chrome trim around the pillar and sill. They look so rich.

    • 0 avatar

      Very sumptuous design. I have a soft spot for these and similar vintage SLCs. All the niches MB has chased, its a mystery why they haven’t brought back the SLC. And no the SLS doesn’t count, it’s a freaking boat and is ugly as hell. A fixed roof SL would be so awesome.

  • avatar

    how about a 240d with <50 hp, is enuf to give u stomach ulcer.
    I had a 4spd then auto. they do test your patience thats all.
    u do feel good when get caught in these stop n go traffic, u go as fast as the lambo or 500 ho M3 next to u!

    200 k miles is nothing on these, my both sd s have about same mileage 350 & 330 km.

    these should get 30 mpg, and the benzene version u may get 15 on a really good day.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      With the turbo 300D you can just about outrun the neighbourhood school bus. It’s a fantastic car as long you’re not in a hurry. And if you have one of these of course you’re not.

      But a 240D without a turbo – no thanks. Electric wheelchairs would be passing you.

      • 0 avatar

        When i was a kid the 240D was either the putt-around the upscale neighborhood car that never had to accelerate past 40 anyway, or the car of a couple of aero-engineers who commuted and were incredibly, umm, frugal.

  • avatar

    Seems like a shame to send one of these to the crusher, especially with it being a coupe.

  • avatar

    It would have made a good lemons car.

  • avatar

    Lovely old chugalong. Can’t you just smell it coming down the road?

  • avatar

    Oh dear. This looks just like one I had some years ago. But it was a mid-80s (I can’t remember what year. Am I getting old or what?) I absolutely loved mine. It had some wind noise on the highway, but with the turbo it accelerated well enough and the handling was actually quite reassuring. And the styling is classic. Much more tasteful than later MB’s, at least to me. But it was niggling me to death. Vacuum leaks — you can’t stop the engine without opening the hood and pressing the lever. The odometer stopped working, along with the gas gauge. Minor stuff, but it just kept on coming.

  • avatar

    I had two of these NA Diesel Coupes , they were fine cars once you got them up to speed .

    The # 1 cause of scrappage nowadays is the wretched ‘ Klima I ‘ HVAC , a terribly overcomplicated system built under license from Chrysler Copr. , it their old ‘ Air Temp II ‘ system , it has an evil servo that no matter how you treat it , dies every so often , rebuilts are about $300 , new made in Mexico are a bit more , ALL suck and when it dies , there’s _ZERO_ ventilation in there .

    I now have a vastly better turbo charged Diesel Coupe and it’s faster than most think as I keep it sharply tuned , all stock , no racer-boy crapola .

    The firm shifting trannies last longer , this is a plus in my book .


  • avatar

    I’ve owned two 300DTs in my life. They were slow but great cars built like a Tiger tank and got great mileage. My only issue was the drawback of diesel fuel. Smelly and corrosive. All 300Ds started to leak and if you didn’t track the leaks down you were in for trouble. I still have potholes in my asphalt drive way from my last leaker.

  • avatar

    Hi all! I registered so I could talk about the 300CD. I owned a couple built about a month after the one pictured: same blue colors. Those who talk about the slow start are absolutely right, but once you got the beast up to 85 miles per hour you could drive 700 miles before stopping for fuel.

    I picked up my aquablau ’78 300CD in late 1977 and drove more than 725,000 miles without a major repair – yep, the transmission was just fine in 2006. I bought more batteries, starters and alternators than you can shake a stick at, and replaced an annoying number of pneumatic controllers for the A/C and cruise. But, if you cared for these engineer-designed cars, kept the fluids and filters changed regularly and scrupulously, they would outlast you.

    Mine was stolen out of our garage in Florida. We didn’t know it was gone for 4 months – and by then it was too late to track down: she was in pieces. Few days go by that I don’t think about replacing her, but there’s no way another would live up to my expectations.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Thank you for contributing!

    • 0 avatar

      c-bird. I just registered so I can reply to you. I recently bought a 157k 300cd that had a single owner for 30 years in Palm Beach. Then I found one closer to me and don’t want to ship the Florida car. This one would live up to your expectations. Silver with blue interior. 1985 300cd for sale in Miami.

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