Mercedes-Benz W123 300D Estate

If a shaven-headed no-necked gold-chained beer-swigging blue-collar worker walked into a car dealership, he'd ask for an Opel Astra Estate. That's right, a big-arsed version of a popular saloon car to carry all his painting-and-decorating tools around in. Or his fat wife and chubby kids. Or a load of old furniture to go fly tipping in. That's what estates are for.

Which is why the more, shall we call them, aloof manufacturers, don't make estates. Audi make an Avant, which is supposedly aimed at crating your latest wine purchase from Italy to Austria, whilst BMW make a Touring, which is better designed for being thrown sideways around the Nurburgring. Mercedes, on the other hand, just use the letter T. This can stand for Touring if you so desired, or it can be Transport, or even Towing A Horse, but it is not for esTate. Or Kombi either. That would just be too gauche.

That's not to stop people referring to them as estates, of course, because some people just don't know any better. And that's the universal appeal of the W123 - it was the Mercedes that people could actually afford, wanted to buy, and felt good doing so. It was a luxuriously large saloon with just enough chrome to back up the snobbery, but not enough leather to mark you out as a pretentious loser. And nothing oozed practical sumptuousness more than the estate, with its acres of glass, conservative upright stance and direct, crisp body lines. Just look at those alloy wheels - you wouldn't even know they were alloy if I hadn't told you. That's saved you getting down on your hands and knees to rub your moistened finger around the rim, waiting for that ringing sound.

The W123 is the Mercedes that doesn't mind mucking out the stables on a Sunday afternoon; the Shire horse that still looks good in front of the carriage, and in that case it puts the Avant and the Touring to shame, seeing as its as comfortable lugging gallons of Pinot Grigio over the Alps as it is hooning through Africa on the Safari rally. So what makes this such a thoroughbred workhorse?

If you ask most W123 owners, you'll hear lots of "lasts." Last of the handbuilt Mercs, the W123. Last of the true Mercs (before the Chrysler costcutters stepped in and cheapened everything.) But definitely last of the REAL Mercedes, which means hand-designed, hand-drawn, with no computer-aided moulding to take the edges off or smooth out the soul. No fine-line designing of eking the design specs out to the limit, this was the Mercedes with that little bit more. This was when the Germans said "yes, yes, vee haff made out preziess kalkoolations, but vee vill add a liddul more, juzt in case." And "a liddul more" in this case meant a whole extra cylinder. That's over-engineering for you.

However, 3.0 diesel lump under this bonnet would have managed less than 90hp without a turbo, but that was more than generous compared with the 2.0 diesel previously offered, which only yielded 55hp. Fifty-five horsepower, to shift 1400kg of steel. You must be joking. Compared to that, 88hp is a whinnying, snorting mustang waiting to leap out of the corral.

But even if you've plumped for the 200D or the 240D (which didn't have that fifth-cylinder advantage) that over-engineering added a majestic calm to rolling along the autobahn. Encased in your better-than-leather MB-TEX vinyl seats, floating on the nitrogen-charged self-levelling suspension, letting the undulations of the road and the rythmnic roar of HGVs overtaking you soothe you into aristocratic peace, that's what the W123 was for. A Gentleman's tourer. I've had a 200D, with all its spluttering and droning and heavy fuel consumption, and when I thought I'd save a few pennies by using biodiesel, which instead stripped out 30 years of accumulated gack from the fuel tank, how did the W123 respond? By filtering it out with TWO fuel filters. TWO. Unscrew them, chuck them out, swop in the new pair and rumble onwards again for another 2000km. That's over-engineering, and it's that philosophy that lets Greek taxi drivers chug more than a million miles out of their W123's.

For the Poles, the W123 was the most majestic motor you could aspire to own in the 70's and 80's, and was christened the Beczka, or Barrel; primarily because you needed to carry that much fuel around with you to keep it going. But if you need something to drive you to an OPEC country and back, the W123 should be just your cup of T.


Bárány said...

Great article, i have laughed at the german engineer part.You have a very good blog.