Junkyard Find: 1978 Mercedes-Benz 240 D

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The engine of the current Mitsubishi Mirage, much derided for its alleged slowness, must pull a bit more than 27 pounds of car for each of its 78 horsepower. That's underpowered, yes? Not compared to the Mercedes-Benz W123 equipped with a naturally-aspirated four-cylinder diesel engine! That's the car we're going to admire for this week's Junkyard Find.

junkyard find 1978 mercedes benz 240 d

I found this '78 in the same Wyoming self-service boneyard that gave us the 1938 Oldsmobile Touring Sedan Junkyard Find last August.

Under the hood, a 2.4-liter SOHC oil-burner rated at sixty-two horsepower (and a somewhat more useful 97 pound-feet of torque).

The car has a curb weight of 3,080 pounds, which results in a power-to-weight ratio of a miserable 49.68 pounds per straining horse (I couldn't bring myself to round that figure up to 50 lb/hp). I took my driver-training course in a dual-brake-pedal VW Rabbit Diesel, which I recall being terrifyingly slow… but that car had a comparatively muscular 40.73 lb/hp ratio.

At least this one has the four-on-the-floor manual transmission to make it slightly quicker and more efficient. I've found these cars with automatics, but the manuals are more common.

In Europe, diesel-powered W123s became legendary as long-lived taxis. With the endless two-lane blacktop drives in sparsely populated Wyoming, the big range of this car must have been useful.

Daimler-Benz didn't start using the E-Class name until later on, nearly a decade into the reign of this car's W124 successor, so we can consider this the E-Class's parent.

The odometer shows just over 130,000 miles, which seems ridiculously low for a diesel Mercedes-Benz of this era (I've found two oil-burner W126s with better than 500k miles: an '81 300SD and an '85 300SD).

Either the last owner couldn't do math (250,000 kilometers works out to about 155,342 miles) or this car's odometer is broken, swapped or rolled back.

Here's a nod to the W123 diesel's cab-driving heritage.

The interior is in very nice condition, which is consistent with low miles.

Of course, that MB-Tex faux-leather seat fabric is nearly indestructible, even under the searing Wyoming sun.

There's a bit of body rust here and there, not enough to keep this car off the road but enough to knock its resale value way down.

These cars were built to last forever, and they were priced accordingly. The list price for a 1978 240 D with manual transmission was $11,516, or about $54,687 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars.

You could get the 300 D version (with 3.0-liter five-cylinder diesel rated at 77 hp/115 lb-ft plus mandatory automatic transmission) for $15,967, around $75,823 now.

If you wanted a new American-market W123 sedan that ran on gasoline in 1978, you could buy the 230 ($12,447/$59,108) or the 280E ($16,467/$78,198).

These cars were in some demand for use in veggie-oil conversions, a decade or two back, but that fad seems to have passed.

The last model year for the 240 D in the United States was 1983.

[Images: The author]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.

Join the conversation
2 of 26 comments
  • ChristianWimmer ChristianWimmer on Feb 07, 2023

    The 240D was frigging FAST…

    …compared to the base 200D and 220D models which we had in Europe. The 200D had 55-horsepower and the 220D had 60-horsepower. Later the 200D got a power boost to 60-horsepower which resulted in Mercedes axing the 220D.

    It was a 60-horsepower 200D which I once got to drive. The car belonged to a friend and had the manual transmission. 0-100 km/h according to Mercedes was 33 seconds. Ok, it was surprisingly agile - from 0 to 80 km/h (could keep up with modern traffic), BUT 80 to 100 km/h took forever! At 80 km/h and in the proper gear you could be flooring the pedal and the needle barely moved upwards. So I guess for a city vehicle or roads limited to 80 km/h it’ll do fine - and we have many such roads in Germany.

  • Bob Bob on Feb 08, 2023

    My first Mercedes was a 78 300d, yeah that was slow. Then I had a 300sd and I thought it was rocket with the turbo despite being so big. Then in grad school got a 190e 2.3 now I was in heaven it was really fast. That was until I borrowed a friend's new 1990 corvette convertible. Yeah, none of those mercedes were fast!!! But all were very solid awesome safe cars

  • KevinB Starbucks for a doppio espresso and gruyere and bacon egg bites in the morning, and a salt caramel cold brew in the afternoon, because I am eating and drinking myself silly at my destination.
  • MaintenanceCosts The previous generation is one of the best ways in the last 20 years to enjoy flagship-level luxury in complete anonymity.This generation is all tacky ostentation and I'd feel embarrassed to be seen in one.
  • Gene I agree that sedans sell well. Kia, Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, etc. I was very disappointed when Ford and Lincoln dropped Sedans and coupes (other than the Mustang that I have for summer weekends). I don't know where I'm going to buy my next "car". Sorry, no pick-up, suv, cuv , pms or xyz's for me. Gone thru that already.
  • Inside Looking Out "it's a Bolt that has Ampera badging and the Ampera grille." EVs do not have grills.
  • Inside Looking Out "Dmitry Medvedev recently took a trip to China and praised the country’s cars as being on par with Mercedes-Benz."That's all you need to know about Medvedev. He is not trustworthy because it is lie.