Junkyard Find: 1978 Mercedes-Benz 300D

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

After finding a couple of Mercedes-Benz W123 coupes for this series, I decided to shoot the next four-door version of this legendary machine that I spotted. Here’s one in solid, stolid brown.

It’s pretty tough to beat the diesel W123 for sturdy construction and utter lack of corner-cutting in the build-quality department. These cars cost plenty, and their owners (usually) got their money’s worth. The price tag for a new 300D in 1978 was $20,911. That’s close to 75 grand in 2013 bucks, for a slow car that was reasonably luxurious but utterly bling-free.

This one made it to just 216,623 miles during its 35 years on the planet. Not bad, but a bit low for one of these cars.

Once it got a little battered and its interior was no longer so nice, this car’s days were numbered. Most likely, something broke that would cost more than a couple hundred bucks to fix, and the owner just gave up on the car.

Here it is, the legendary OM617 five-cylinder diesel. Not a lot of power, but ready for Armageddon!

Some junkyard shopper thought about getting the grille, but then left it behind.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Benzaholic Benzaholic on Apr 12, 2013

    Note the single, double, and triple square dots in the speedometer. Simple but effective engineering solution showing maximum shiftpoints. These cars were full of thoughtful engineering touches like that.

  • PSAutomobilist PSAutomobilist on Apr 12, 2013

    This makes me sad, partially because my one previous owner (he ordered it new) 1983 240D just turned 217,000 this week and still glistens like new. They all leave the factory the same. I love diesel 123s- this is my fifth. It wakes up every morning with a cheerful chortle and teaches me to appreciate every tenth of a horsepower. And it's fun to play crazed Parisian cabbie.

    • Cfclark Cfclark on Apr 12, 2013

      All this talk makes me want one again. I could use it to go to IKEA and buy some nice sofa cushions, which I would need after my wife, who was not in love with my first W123, banished me to the sofa for a month. ;)

  • Dave M. IMO this was the last of the solidly built MBs. Yes, they had the environmentally friendly disintegrating wiring harness, but besides that the mechanicals are pretty solid. I just bought my "forever" car (last new daily driver that'll ease me into retirement), but a 2015-16 E Class sedan is on my bucket list for future purchase. Beautiful design....
  • Rochester After years of self-driving being in the news, I still don't understand the psychology behind it. Not only don't I want this, but I find the idea absurd.
  • Douglas This timeframe of Mercedes has the self-disintegrating engine wiring harness. Not just the W124, but all of them from the early 90's. Only way to properly fix it is to replace it, which I understand to be difficult to find a new one/do it/pay for. Maybe others have actual experience with doing so and can give better hope. On top of that, it's a NH car with "a little bit of rust", which means to about anyone else in the USA it is probably the rustiest W124 they have ever seen. This is probably a $3000 car on a good day.
  • Formula m How many Hyundai and Kia’s do not have the original engine block it left the factory with 10yrs prior?
  • 1995 SC I will say that year 29 has been a little spendy on my car (Motor Mounts, Injectors and a Supercharger Service since it had to come off for the injectors, ABS Pump and the tool to cycle the valves to bleed the system, Front Calipers, rear pinion seal, transmission service with a new pan that has a drain, a gaggle of capacitors to fix the ride control module and a replacement amplifier for the stereo. Still needs an exhaust manifold gasket. The front end got serviced in year 28. On the plus side blank cassettes are increasingly easy to find so I have a solid collection of 90 minute playlists.