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Mercedes-Benz W123

AS EASY AS W123 Published: 30th Jun 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Merc’s affordable saloon that has a touch of the R107s about it

Oh yes and it’s probably one of the best kept classic secrets. Produced between 1976-85, it’s the last of the true old school Mercs available as a four-door saloon, five-door estate (‘T’) plus also classy two-door coupé. The W123 had a 110in wheelbase and drew from S Class experience and DNA, making one a good daily driver.

GOOD TO DRIVE THEN?

Not especially and in many ways they feel a bit like a W107 SL but more adept for family use. As we said, it’s an old school Mercedes which means that they look and feel like they have been cast out of granite and so equally tough and long lasting. They were also grossly over-engineered, the type of car Mercedes-Benz prided itself on before the C-Class came along! Performance and handling is sober and secure but it’s the sort of car you know that you are going to make your destination in safely, whatever the terrain or weather.

WHAT ARE THE MODELS TO HAVE?

The W Series are no lightweights so unless you go for the top six-cylinder 280, where pace from its 182bhp engine still isn’t that startling, performance is mild at best. Another reason for their sedate feel is that the vast majority are automatics but it’s a good system whereas the manual transmission is none too impressive.
Our pick would be a post 1980 230 model; a four-cylinder ohc engine good for over 130bhp. Obviously, Mercedes make some of the best diesels and there’s two: 240D: a four-cylinder 2399cc diesel yielding a sluggish 72bhp or the five-cylinder 2998cc alternative offering 88bhp and 120bhp in turbo tune (the latter not officially sold in the UK, alas).

Crucially they were pretty refined for their era and last for eternity – no wonder you still see them used as taxis abroad!

BEST BODIES?

Depends what you want; the saloon is roomy and comfy and certainly family-sized while the yeoman-like estates make excellent family ferriers or attractive, practical second cars. If you fancy a touch of style, then look at the CE coupé. Not exactly head turners but handsome and cultured plus spacious all the same. If an SL is too small and restrictive for your needs then this is an ideal alternative, although we’d be more relaxed about the type of body and engine and go for condition and originality (with a solid service history) above all else.

HOW MUCH?

W123s are just starting to come into their own as modern classics and prices are starting to reflect this with concours examples touching five figures whereas average-to-good versions sell for more than half this. Wrecks sell for hundreds but not really taking on as projects although good for a source of spares – which given that new wings cost £250 a pop is worth considering. Coupés and the ‘T’  (T stands for Transporter by the way – not turbo) estates are worth up to a quarter more simply due to their desirability ditto the CEs.

EASY TO RUN?

Yes, although not as easy an SL but you can obtain certain parts from main dealers if your pockets are deep enough, but be warned prices will startle you. Check out W123 World http://www.w123world.com for parts prices and availability. http://www.mercedes-benz-club.co.uk is also excellent.

WHAT GOES WRONG?

It’s bodywork rust and repairs that are the main concern rather than the mechanicals and while the W123 was better protected than later Mercedes, they still rust badly if neglected – particularly the sills and rear arches. Parts are pricey; new wings sell for over £300 although pattern parts sell for £60 or so – but you can tell the difference. The engines are not the smoothest and timing gear rattles are common as are weeping head gaskets. Fuel tanks are said to be getting scarce. The transmissions are tough and so are interior fittings. The steering box inherently has play in it but shouldn’t be excessive – a new MB one costs over £2000 fitted!

Other jaw droppers include door seals at £400 and a complete set for CE models running at more than £1500! Thankfully routine service items are generally Ford-priced.

OK FOR DIY?

Yes, as we said, the W123 was over engineered and quite enjoyable to work on; most will have carbs so there’s no EFI to worry about (230 and 280 excepted). If you don’t fancy getting your mitts dirty then there’s an army of Mercedes independents who will do the necessary for you at very reasonable costs.

SO A GOOD BUY THEN?

Yes, but make sure you buy the best in your price range as projects simply aren’t cost effective. And while certain W123 values can now look surprisingly high, by and large, it’s a car that you get what you pay for although bargains do still turn up.

A good one will last for years and years and become part of the family; Car described it as “an excellent tool for the buyer who wants quality transport for a decade.” Hear, hear.



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