Junkyard Find: 1981 Mercedes-Benz 300TD Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The oldest Mercedes-Benz W123 diesels are getting pretty close to 45 years of age, which means that— finally— they’re wearing out and becoming easy to find in the big self-service car graveyards that I frequent. Most of these proto-E-Classes sold in North America were sedans, but the wagons developed something of a cult following and I keep my eyes open for discarded examples.

Here’s an ’81 300TD turbodiesel that seems to have been going strong when it got crashed.

Crunch! In an instant, this wagon lost 95 percent of its resale value. Repairs could have been performed, but the price tag of all the extensive bodywork would have dwarfed the cost of another daily-driver-quality 300TD.

By diesel W123 standards, this car was just getting broken in when the crash happened. Junkyard shoppers tend to grab the instrument clusters out of these cars soon after they hit the yards (for later sale on eBay), so I don’t always get to see the final mileage figure.

Mouse poop and peach pits abound in the engine compartment, so I think this car sat outdoors for a few years after the crash.

This may be the most reliable car engine ever made, period: the OM617 five-cylinder diesel. This one is the frivolously powerful turbocharged version, rated at 119 horsepower and 170 pound-feet; the naturally aspirated version made… well, if you have to ask, you’re not sufficiently patient to drive one.

Because the seats have the immortal MB-Tex fake-leather covering, they show few signs of wear. If you had all your clothes made out of MB-Tex, you’d never need to get a new outfit as long as you lived.

Maybe 15 years ago, many of these cars got destroyed by attempts to convert them to run on waste vegetable oil; if you know what you’re doing, this conversion works very well. Unfortunately, most who took on such projects didn’t know what they were doing, and plenty of diesel Benzes met premature deaths.

If you want to check out more of these Junkyard Finds, you’ll find links to more than 1,800 of them at the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

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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