By on March 19, 2015

15 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 280C Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThere’s a lot of talk going around about how every restorable example of the Mercedes-Benz W114 coupe is worth plenty these days. Five grand? Ten grand? The junkyard tells me that the real-world prices for these cars in non-perfect condition is still quite low, because I see them regularly. Here’s a solid, fairly complete ’73 without a speck of rust that I saw in a Northern California junkyard a few weeks ago, and this car comes on the heels of this ’71 250C, this ’73 280CE, this ’74 280C, and a bunch of W114 sedans that I haven’t even bothered to photograph. I’m sure that the cost to restore one of these things is just breathtaking, which is why those in the know rarely take on such projects.
12 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 280C Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn their time, these cars made just about every conceivable competitor look like a shoddily-built, frivolous rattletrap, built for idiots who didn’t understand the value of a Deutsche Mark.
04 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 280C Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow’s this for dignified air-conditioning controls?
10 - 1973 Mercedes-Benz 280C Down on the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car listed at $11,530 new, which was about 61 grand in 2015 bucks. Meanwhile, the much bigger, cushier, more powerful 1973 Lincoln Mark IV cost just $8,694 (just for fun, how about a brand-new Citroën SM— about the least sensible car you could buy in 1973, yet also the most beautiful— for $13,350?), while the Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado— with five hundred cubic inches under the hood, no less— could be purchased for $7,360.

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52 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1973 Mercedes-Benz 280C...”


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    An austere all black interior.
    A dashboard that looks like it is from a family hauler.
    A relative lack of chrome.
    No coach lights.
    No opera windows.
    No landau style vinyl roof.
    A relatively undersized engine.

    How could this possibly compete with a Cadillac, let alone a Lincoln Town Car or the majestic Mark IV, the ‘the king of the American roads’ in the early to late 70’s?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      This was the era when Lincoln and Cadillac started chasing volume, and the decline in material and build quality first became noticeable compared to earlier luxury cars. Benz, on the other hand, was still built like a tank, and the higher prices conferred the air of exclusivity that the domestics were quickly losing.

    • 0 avatar
      insalted42

      Yes. But to be fair, these Benzes probably lasted twice as long with style that aged half as quickly.

      A well-taken care of 280C would still look look pretty classy today, whereas the elegance of the Lincolns and Eldorados still around today is more “pimp fabulous” than classy….

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        This.

        This is one of the ultimate road roaches. They just don’t die.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          My 300D was built like a *tank*. Seriously, sturdily and well constructed.

          And this thing (not my slug of a diesel) would do 0-60 in 9.9, says the internet. The internet claims a 1974 Mk IV has a 10.3 time.

          I’m pretty sure the 280C sucks a lot less gas doing it, and is more fun to drive, given the blast I had in my W115 (especially after rebuilding the suspension to not-worn-out).

    • 0 avatar

      I recall going to car shows in the past….this car was built like a brik sithouse. The american cars down the way had sloppy shutlines, and a few other cars, shoddy plastic.

      The gap today between MB and the “normal” cars is less, because normal is better and some mb has gone downhill….

      Back then, it felt carved from a block of steel…compare that to any maliase era domestic.

      You knew it was good for ten years, not three and trade….

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Pfft, I’m going Lincoln all day. That model Eldorado was too baroque, and the front was too chunky.

    Those climate controls make me confused – I cannot decipher them. O – C O L? Left-right red-blue defrost?

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      The knob is 0 for off and COOL with an arrow you can’t see, to indicate “turn for more cold”.

      (It’s insane – there’s a vacuum actuator off the 0 position to turn the flaps in the air box, and the knob itself works with a freon-filled tube that slips into the air box by the heat exchanger, to control the duty cycle of the compressor. This is … rather expensive to replace when you break the tube.)

      The other controls are heating level left and right (red sliders) and airflow control top and bottom (blue sliders).

      The little diagram under DEF shows the pattern to engage for defrosting.

      (The center console vent, by the way, blows only A/C or outside air, NEVER heated air.

      It’s … “quirky”, I believe is the polite term.)

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        (And of course, you can’t have the AC on while doing heat, unlike a modern vehicle.

        The AC was an afterthought to the 114/115 body, with an add-on air box if you had the option, and an extra bracket on the engine for the compressor.)

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      I never liked the pre-75 Cadillacs, especially the ones with weirdly spaced headlights.

      Make mine a 75 or 76 Coupe de Ville or 75-78 Eldorado.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    In 1973 I went with my father to look at Mercedes-Benz. He had a hard time wrapping his mind around a small spartan German car costing 30% more then a Cadillac. He decided on a 1973 Sedan De Ville for $7600 and was quite pleased with his choice

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      We had a 1973 Sedan de Ville, lasted us till around 1990 or so, when we sold it. We really enjoyed that car.

      Ours was the only one I ever saw without the electroluminescent thingies on the front fenders, I always wondered why it didn’t have them. I’m guessing maybe a material restriction issue when it was assembled…

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Murilee,
    If you are going to recommend/suggest an SM why not go ‘whole hog’ and suggest/compare these to a Lagonda of the mid 70’s?

    For those devoted to automotive oddballs, the Lagonda has to be the ultimate production model.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Where are the wonderful Lincolns and Cadillacs of this model year? Not in a junkyard to day – you needed to check 25 years ago, when the flapping fenders and completely sagged springs had finally annoyed their owners to the point of distraction.

    Cadillac had 190 blazing hp from 500 cubic inches – I remember these zombies as limos at Toronto airport back in the late 1970s. So badly made the door trim never lined up with the B and C pillars. I much preferred the Caprice limos. Smoooooth ride, almost silent engines – the best American cars ever made, IMO. I’d take one of those over the noisy Mercedes six.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      The BIG reason you don’t see the 1973 vintage Lincolns and Cadillacs is because recyclers paid by the pound just when gas prices spiked and killed resale value. Many of those cars were solid road cars when they were scrapped, and many of the survivors were still road-worthy when cash for clunkers came along. I just saw a 1970s Coupe De Ville at a car wash, and people were gawking at it like it was a space ship.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    The American market 5MPH bumpers really take away from the looks of these cars. OTOH, you could actually tap something with them without a trip to the body shop to have the bumper repainted.

    These things were clearly built to last. In other markets the sedans were popular as taxis where they would run for hundreds of thousands of km (at a time when other cars didn’t have that kind of longevity). Their high price in the US probably had something to do with currency exchange values, their low volume business model, etc. But these cars were about the steak,not the sizzle. No vinyl roof, just a car that runs and runs.

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    These cars were dignified and well-thought-of, because rap music didn’t yet exist to sully the good name of Mercedes-Benz.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I think it was reunification that ruined West German cars.

      I’m surprised that the Lincoln MK IV cost more than an Eldorado. Is that really true?

      • 0 avatar
        OneAlpha

        Or it could be like PJ O’Rourke said – that the way you sell anything is by convincing the people with money that the people with taste wouldn’t be caught dead without whatever it is that you’re selling.

        The Range Rover was crap – but the Queen had one!

  • avatar

    I did not realize that gated automatic gear selectors dated back that long…

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Mercedes has had them as long as they’ve offered console shifted automatics. That being said, I still think this is a 1974 model at earliest, based on the bumpers.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Neat cars indeed, but you have to take a gamble with junkyard parts to afford anything, just selling a random cluster I found for a W123 fetched a nice $100 profit on ebay.

    On my local craigslist there are tons of fine old Benz, most if not all projects that don’t run, have bad titles, or failed grease runners.

    These cars just suffer from Volvo syndrome, lots of owners that want them but not enough with the will to actually buy them and fix them up.

  • avatar
    hawox

    here in europe those mercs were a status symbol. a relative had for many years the w123 that came after this one and pple looked at it like a sort of “miniature rolls royce”.
    it was super expensive and the base engines were slower than competition, parts were expensive but…. a 200 could outlast every other car, end even the owner.
    i mean, the 200D could go flat out (80mp/h….) all day long. many other european cars strugled to reach 100.000 miles without major repairs, taxi benzes were pushed up to 2-300.000 and then sold in africa (were they replaced the peugeot).

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      That’s the Merc that really turned the tide for M-B in the US. Even though it was small it had a very stately presence

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        W123s are great cars, but will absolutely run one’s bank account dry if they want to keep them well.

        These cars are immense repair bills(or days long project after days long projects) waiting to happen, and that’s why they’re easier to junk while still in decent shape.

        I had to abandon my 1979 w123 with 155k miles because the A/C seized and sheared off the mounting bolts. That, coupled with the problematic vacuum system, the algae in the fuel system– the huge service bills from what I didn’t want to touch, the weak electrical system etc etc.

        It went from pristine to money pit in 3 years of very pampered driving. It sure was pretty, though!

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          My ’76 W114 had the interesting vacuum operated features. The power locks seemed possessed, since passengers would unlock their doors only to have them immediately relock if the engine was running. A/C was dead when I bought it.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I was about to opine what a nice Sunday car this should have made, but then you chimed in with some reality.

  • avatar
    craiger

    My dad considered a W115 which as I recall was more than $13,000. He went with the ’73 Fleetwood instead for $9,000. A majestic car and I miss it, but it was a crap wagon.

  • avatar
    millmech

    HEY!!!! CRANK-UP WINDCOWS!!!!! What next? Shift your own transmission?

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Those were very nice but , that M116 engine was a thirsty beast and not really long lived like most other M-B engines .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Weren’t there head oiling issues with the DOHC engine?

      • 0 avatar
        Ron B.

        No inherent problems at all with the m110 DOHC engine. We bought a W126 280SE years ago and managed to cover 700,000 kms before we sold it ten years ago. it was still running around the town here 2 years ago .I’ve read rumours propagated on US Merc web sites about problems with the M110 but I think that is all they were,rumours and nothing else based on fact. Also,I have owned W114,W123 aqnd a few W126’s all powered with the M110 (which was based on the M130 SOHC engine) and all were high mileage engines but only one ever had problems and that had a broken piston cuased by a overheat situation,which in turn was a result of someone punching a hole in it’s radiator. I bought the car cheap because of the damage and got it going cheap.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          Thanx for the correction ! the M116 was the V-8 with SOHC’s .

          Yes , this M110 engine had poor oiling and when driven aggressively , it likes to spit the cam adjusting shims out , breaking the well in the (!! MEGA $ !!) cylinder head as it does so .

          W-123’s are nice cars , I love ’em ~ not fair to neglect the routine Mtce. issues then whine and say the car was crap ~ they’re dead simple and parts about everywhere .

          I nearly pulled the trigger on a ’74 Couple like this , Chinese Red , one owner , a nice Japanese Fellow who never smoked in it but didn’t want to come down on the price until the week after I bought my current W-123 Diesel Sports Coupe .

          It turned out I was the _only_ person who even showed up to look at it and it was *very* nice ~ drove _perfectly_ with it’s unmolested Bosch D-Jetronic F.I. .

          -Nate

          • 0 avatar
            Ron B.

            I’ve never heard of valve adjusting shims in a Mercedes engine. Jags had them in their ancient XK engine though. Unless the American versions had them ,which wouldn’t surprise me.All M110’s I have worked on had tappets with adjusters you work with a 14mm tool. I have seen the weird emission control exhaust manifolds they had on the California versions so anything is possible.
            What needs to be remembered is that the W114 was a 128mPH car in 1972 …having worked on cars for a living for the last 40+ years It’s hard to think of any caddy etc which could honestly reach those speeds and keep doing it all day as a W114 could. And it was only a 2.8 liter engine. As for driving aggressively…they were made for it. Our W126 280 was often driven by the local Aboriginals who worked for us and they weren’t known for pampering anything mechanical…

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Denver

        The reports are very spotty. Some people (those who haven’t had any problems) swear that it’s a very long lived engine. Others (those who have blown theirs) report otherwise. Even if the overall failure rate is say 10%, if you are an individual owner it is either 0% (love it) or 100% (hate it).

        I wonder whether the difference could be accounted for by (lack of) maintenance or driving style. These are dignified cars and should be maintained and driven in a dignified manner. Of course maintaining these things gets expensive and by the time they are on their 3rd/4th owner corners are getting cut, the kid is thrashing it, etc. This is not to say that you can’t go fast in these – you could drive on the autobahn at 200 kph all day. In a dignified way.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    These aren’t the valuable coupes. Even though the W114 is a bomb proof wagon if cared for ,it is the W111 coupes which are rising in value. Especially the cabrio’s. a 300SE cab sold for $300,000 plus at goodings last month.
    I have a customer whose W114 would rank among the best,with only 2000 miles in 14 years being added to 30,000 on the clock since new and he is struggling to find a buyer at $30,000. if it were a 220SE W111 coupe he could ask $40,000 or more and get it straight away.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Mentioned this before on other commentary threads here, but since the article is about this particular car.
    A New Zealand friend of mine bought one of these new, picked it up and drove it around in Germany then shipped it to NZ. It is still going strong with some 560,000 Km on the odo. The clutch is original, the owner knows how to drive stick! The clutch did need a master cylinder last fall.
    The interior smells exactly how I remember a friend’s 1959 VW Beetle smelled when he had one of those back in the 60’s.
    My friend ordered his Merc with a red interior and a light pastel forest green exterior, something I could never used to, but hey, it is a Christmas car one might suppose.
    Riding in it, I was comparing it in my mind to my parent’s 1997 Camry. The Toyota has a far more refined ride, quieter motor, less road noise, similar dimensions. The Merc feels crude by comparison. That said I doubt even a Camry is likely to last 40+ years and 560,000 Km

  • avatar
    Joss

    Neh I can’t imagine William Conrad curb bouncing & tire squealing around in one of these. He likely investigated an owners homicide.

    Quality job 1. But how well did that a/c & slush box work compared to caddys & Lincoln?

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    I worked on a 107 450SLC last month which has also been sitting for over 20 years,it has a motorola built in phone with the handset on the console. It still comes alive when the car is started although the little screen (sadly) says’ no service available” . The W114 has the usual Mercedes 722.xxx auto trans. easy to repair and very long lived . The 107’s had a three speed but all 114’s were 4 speed automatics and few 4 speed manuals. I have seen one 5 speed manual which once belonged to a rock star. (a faded star…). What I have been meaning to mention is that the German Mercedes VDH club visit America every year to buy cars such as this and take home. They have a shop where members can buty used parts .

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Ron :

    Are you sure you’re not thinking of the prior single OHC 6 ? .

    I have seen many many M110’s in the junkyard with the DOHC cam cover off and the the broken bucket….

    You are correct : Mercedes are made to run flat out all day long @ 120 + MPH ,I’m too chicken to go that fast but they’ll easily do it although fuel economy simply tanks and these never got above mid teens anyways .

    My (technically SWMBO’s) 1981 240D slushbox base model Mercedes Diesel Sedan tops out @ 83 ~ 86 MPH , I don’t like driving it that fast as the 300,000 + mile engine needs rebuilding and it pisses out oil when run to hard / fast but just for sh*ts & giggles I pinned it and waited in the airless Desert late at night a few times .

    It’s steady as a rock at that speed , only the screaming of the tiny engine gave me pause .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    wolf_walker

    I drove a 73 280 sedan daily for two or three years not long ago.
    Averaged about 13mpg.
    Solex 4v we were cursed with in the US in an abomination, but otherwise
    it was an outstanding car. Tank like or vault like only scratches the surface.
    It was amazing how well that car handled and braked for a stock, original, 1973 sedan. Better than the later w123’s I’ve owned in a lot of ways. I’m a fan of domestic cars of that era and they had nothing on many aspects of the w114. That car got looks and thumbs up everywhere. The M110 dual cam six was a sweet motor even if it was an odd match for a sedate four door sedan, one could manually shift with the awesome gated shifter and move along pretty quickly. Interstate speed cruising was a little noisy with the gearing but that motor was perfectly content to rev, and it was rock solid, especially in the rain with the skinny tires. I think my two favorite things were the outer mounted wipers that swept rain into the water channels and magically disappeared off the rear of the car somewhere without impeding the side or rear window visibility. That and the little round turn knob for the opening quarter windows in the front doors which felt like as precise a machine as has ever been made by man. Plenty of old Mercedes quirks, the weird hvac as was mentioned (but was plenty functional), the 73 had an add-on shoulder belt of sorts but it worked. Funky springy seats that you’ll either be ok with or not (assuming they aren’t worn out). It was the first “modern” Mercedes in a lot of ways, and the last of the old school vintage looking models. I miss that car a lot and I’m afraid it will likely catch on and become expensive before I can buy another one. Every time I get another Mercedes I find myself asking “why the hell have I not been driving a Mercedes all this time?”. I buy other cars, I enjoy them, but Mercedes back in the day was a breed apart. There are some interesting advertisements videos on youtube of Germans thrashing them offroad for some reason if you go look.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    CC Effect ~ recently I’ve been making many parts runs to the local O’Reilly’s FLAPS and often is an old W-114 four door sedan with many ripples in the body but the old guy who owns it , keep the re spray highly polished .

    The interior is always clean and tidy .

    I think he’s a local curb side Mechanic .

    -Nate

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