Piston Slap: W123 Love in 2013?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

M.D.K. writes:

Sajeev,

Over the years I have come to appreciate vehicles that are built to last for a long time versus the disposable appliances. I drive a 93 Land Cruiser that fits the former while my wife’s 07 Hyundai Tucson seems to fit the later. It is a fine appliance and has given us no issues over the first 60,000 miles of use but The three years I spent stationed at Fort Drum are taking a toll. The body has a couple rust spots and any work underneath is an adventure thanks to the road salt doing its thing Plus my boys have really taken their toll on the interior.

I am a Warrant Officer in the Army and due to retire in 4 years. So right when I retire the Hyundai will be pushing 10 years old. It has been my experience that appliances start to nickel and dime at this stage plus if the body is already rusting I can’t help but think it will be nearing the end of it’s life at a time I’ll be cutting back financially. The Land Cruiser should be good as I have rebuilt everything other than the trans and transfer case to include a new from the Toyota mothership in Tokyo 1FZ-FE short block and everything rubber under the hood with OEM Toyota components. I am O.C. with the Cruiser and refreshed it as such. I did all the work myself.

My question goes to the Hyundai. Since I will likely be needing a new car at an inconvenient time and I really dislike new appliances combined with the fact I am fairly competent at turning a wrench I have considered another option. I have a nice 90 Miata I’ll be selling when I get back from Afghanistan. I am thinking of taking that money and putting it towards an old school Benz 240 or 300D. I am really drawn to the quality of these things. Plus I’d like to be able to run bio diesel or waste veggie oil as multiple deployments have made me no fan of depending on foreign oil. My plan would be to get one in good shape and drive it myself some for the next 4 years while I get it into top notch shape (This would have the double effect of helping with the fuel bill for the Land Cruiser). Then whenever the Hyundai becomes a pain my oldest son can begin to learn to wrench and take over insurance on it as he’ll be getting to that age and my wife can slide into the Benz (or the Cruiser if she likely has her way) and hopefully I can spend my retirement keeping them tip top rather than paying for another appliance.

So are the W123 Benzes really the be all end all of durability or am I digging a hole in my driveway to dump my money into? And oh yeah, I know someone is going to suggest a Panther. My best friend, whom I believe you know has hauled around a trailer full of band equipment with one for years. (I think I know who you’re talking about. – SM) While they are certainly durable rides I really want to do a diesel and I want old school 911 type durability…something that is built to last indefinitely with proper care and feeding. What say you?

Sajeev Answers:

Old Skool Benzes were the Gold Standard of durability. Until rubber bits degrade, parts are hard to find/expensive and the talent needed to repair them retires. And yes, you are good with your toolkit, but that doesn’t mean you want to fix the impending issues of a W123 in 2013. Your phrase “proper care and feeding” is true to an extent, but age isn’t a meaningless number. My point: old cars suck.

Let me rephrase: as the owner of multiple old cars and one new truck, I know that old cars suck. And I’m a single dude with plenty of time for my beloved hoopties. Is your wife aware of this replace-the-Hyundai-with-a-Hooptie plan of yours?

When the time comes, buy your wife something she’d actually want. If she wants an oil burning W123 that smells like the ass end of a McDonalds, that’s fantastic! But I’ll assume she’d like something with modern fuel injection, catalytic converters so she doesn’t smell like hydrocarbons, a decent stereo, a cutting edge HVAC system, modern weatherstripping to keep the cold out, ABS brakes, etc.

Enjoy your old hooptie toys, I know I do. But draw the line somewhere: everyone needs a later model vehicle that won’t be plagued with every unfrickin-believable malady you’ve yet to consider. Everything goes wrong with old cars, you can only have so many of them lying around before your head explodes.

What’s better than a W123? Any 5-15 year old car, even if you and I both hate them for a plethora of valid reasons. I think you and your wife would love an older Lexus LS. They kinda totally rock.

Or a Panther. Obviously. Duh.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Sbshafer2 Sbshafer2 on Feb 28, 2015

    Whooaa. I am aware that this thread is a bit old, but I figured I'd chime in for anyone interested in the w123. I am 24, single and own 4 of these beautiful cars. An '85 as the newest. They have been wonderful cars through the years, requiring minimal maintenance and some patience to drive daily with pleasure. If found, a rust free candidate with a strong drive train and good suspension is ideal. They ride very smooth if well kept plenty of get up and speed with a turbo diesel model. Things I haven't had to worry about (yet) with 320k miles that you do on a newer car: stupid electrical gremlins, extreme rust through thin body panels, check engine codes, any error lights effecting driving conditions at all. These cars are simple. They need little maintenance to keep in good shape. Adhust the valves! Change fluids, filters, and wash them like any other car. Show me a 30+ year old Toyota with that many miles that doesn't burn any oil. Of course these cars are at least thirty years old and rubber does need to be replaced at some point. (Drivetrain bushings, engine mounts, ball joints, etc.) If you find a good one or want to invest a little money (parts and cars can usually be had inexpensively) in a classic these babies won't let you down. I'd drive my w123 over a new car any day. Good luck (:

  • -Nate -Nate on Feb 28, 2015

    . _WELCOME_ holder of the truth , keeper of the flame . Ride on in comfort , safety and economy . Don't forget that all important tranny service , there's a 5 MM drain plug in the Torque Converter too . -Nate

  • GregLocock Not interested at all. Apparently I've got Apple car play but I've never used it in 3 years. The built in nav is ok.
  • Corey Lewis Probably worth about what they're asking, given its condition. The color combo isn't a desirable one, they look sharper in non-beige shades. Like two-tone green, maroon, navy, or gray. The end of the time when MB built its cars properly. No shame in turning up in a clean W126, they'll always command respect.
  • Lou_BC Another way to look at this is the upgrading of hardware and software. ...............The average length of car ownership is 10 - 12 years ....................The average lifetime ownership of a cell phone is 2.5 years. ................................................................... My phone will remain up to date, my vehicle won't. Especially if you buy a new "end of run" model.
  • TheEndlessEnigma "...we could be seeing a foundational shift in how Americans and car buyers see Stellantis products." yeah, I view Stellantis products as being off the cross-shop list. Stellantis is doing an excellent job of killing the Chrysler and Dodge brands and turning Jeep into something it isn't.
  • 2manyvettes 495 hp in a base C8 is more than enough. 800+ hp in a ZR1 is not worth the extra $60k (plus dealer markups). Unless the buyer is going for bragging rights. I remember when the C7 Grand Sport came out, and a reviewer got his hands on one and put it on the track at Lime Rock. His conclusion? Save yourself $15k and skip the Z06 and get a Grand Sport.
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