The most biased review ever..
The 280CE model from w123 is one of the most under appreciated classic from Mercedes, maybe because w123 was so common and people didn’t really notice the rarer coupé among the numerous sedans. Now most of the sedans are rusted away and the luckier coupés are left so people start noticing these cars again. While the 200 is absolutely dull, the 230 quite modest, the 280 is nothing but boring with a big 6-cylinder twin cam! As you might notice this will be the most biased review ever since I’m reviewing my own car. Run now if you are looking for objectivity and rationalism! Or bare with my endless ranting about the 280CE. I don’t really care if this article will be too long either.
It is still light years ahead in road feeling compared to American cars of the same era, which has as much feedback in the steering wheel as when steering an oil tanker.
This particular model from 1984 is pretty much premium in the amount of extra equipment you could get. We are talking automatic transmission, direct fuel injection, leather seats, air condition, Electric sunroof and windows. Makes it more like a modern car in terms of comfort. What it doesn’t have is the rare ABS brakes and airbag that was optional on late w123s.
The first impression of getting in to any w123 is the large steering wheel. Although power steering is standard equipment, the big steering wheel makes for even more effortless steering and comfort while being true to the era. It is still light years ahead in road feeling compared to American cars of the same era, which has as much feedback in the steering wheel as when steering an oil tanker.
The trunk on this car is huge which is a good thing if you are transporting dead bodies, guns or just bringing lots of beer..
The second impression is the front seats, they are quite comfy and nice, but the adjustment is not perfect. The adjustment height wise is quite small, making things difficult for not that tall people that wants to look over the large steering wheel. I actually like the back seats more in the coupé, although I don’t sit in it anymore after I got the license. They are surprisingly high quality for the relatively small space. It even has an armrest, two headrests and have seat belts for all 3 passengers in the back. Although I would not recommend to put 3 adults back there, the car fits nicely 4 adults with their luggage. The trunk on this car is huge which is a good thing if you are transporting dead bodies, guns or just bringing lots of beer to a barbecue, and seriously drink the beer at the party and not while driving!
Third impression is when you turn on the engine. It starts immediately with a nice 6 cylinder orderly roar. M110 is the engine designation for the double camshaft 2,8L engine and comes with direct fuel injection when the letter E (Einspritzung) following (hence the E-class was named when they ditched the carburettor altogether in later models). The M110 is which makes this car fast from the other options.
The Mighty M110
The good things about the M110: It always starts. It is very powerful and rev happy. Smooth running even when badly maintained (this is not perhaps a good thing since people become lazy with maintenance). Never have problems with overheating. Bulletproof cast iron block that will outlast the car if serviced properly.
higher RPM = better acceleration
The bad things with the M110: It is quite thirsty (~10L/100km) when driving on country roads. It requires manual valve adjustments at regular intervals for optimal performance, also the valves can be quite loud if you want complete silence. It can use some oil under harsh conditions.
I am quite impressed of what Mercedes done with the exhaust system on this model. It will be smooth and semi quiet on normal use, but still with a hefty sounding engine when stepping on the throttle. Makes things more interesting when the windows are down and entering a tunnel full throttle.
Compared to modern cars this car is not fast, but the sound of the engine combined with the sensation of accelerating when stepping on the throttle actually make it feel faster than it really is. The car is quite light at under 1500kg which makes a big difference to heavier modern cars. The automatic transmission have the highest gear (4th) running at higher revs than what is normal on modern cars, it will be at quite a lot higher RPM than most people are used to. It is around 3500rpm at 100km/h, so it can get a bit noisy at highway speed and also the fuel consumption goes more up. What is the reason for this? Before they wanted better throttle response (higher RPM = better acceleration) and made the cars for the drivers rather than being so constrained by environmental regulations (which is a good thing btw). So I think with this car you have an insane throttle response where the car accelerates so good so you don’t need to shift down unless you are really in a hurry. This is actually a drivers car for people who likes throttle responsiveness and fun in overtaking situations down the country road.
Just open the sunroof and enjoy the sunburns as you cruise down the road on a warm summer..
The feeling of speed is a cool feature since it will make you appreciate the drive more at “relatively lower speeds” and keep you from loosing the license. I have driven the S600 which is of course much faster and more powerful, but which feels a bit dull and somewhat slow before reaching 140km/h, due to the silent engine and heaviness, there is about one tonnes of difference between these cars! I actually prefer the 280CE over the S600 in terms of drive feeling.
Read the review on the S600 here: Mercedes Benz S600 W140 Review
When driving the 280 for a while it is impossible to not appreciate the drive comfort on this car. It is a country road cruiser that takes you to the destination in a stress free environment. Just open the sunroof and enjoy the sunburns as you cruise down the road on a warm summer day, or simply keep the windows shut and get some colder air from the air condition unit and avoid sunburns all together.
The interior is quite Spartan in terms of few buttons and simple design, there is no unnecessary swag like a Rolex clock in the dash or silly cup holders. There are 4 big round vents in the dashboard which can blow warm or cold air in your face. The two middle ones are just for fresh outside air while the two on either sides doubles as the warm or air conditioned air vents.
Did I mention the heating unit is two zoned? I really got surprised when I got this comment from friends which are also car enthusiasts, that grew up with newer cars of other brands than Mercedes that didn’t have this “luxury”, I didn’t even think of the feature before since I just took from granted that every car had it. Apparently not, and now I appreciate it a bit more.
..you become over confident and suddenly one day you actually run out of fuel.
I really love the instrument cluster and the dash. It gives you all the information you need and nothing more, like the RPM and time in glorious yellow and orange colors on top of a black background. I really hate the ambiguous check engine warning light you get on modern cars, and you can’t even tell what’s wrong. Sometimes it is just nice to know basic stuff like engine temperature and oil pressure indicator.
What I dislike about the w123 instrument is the fuel gauge. It can become unreliable after 30 years unless you cleaned and serviced the gauge sensor in the tank. Also the gauge seem to be very slow in the beginning and then suddenly drop down to half in a seemingly short period of time, then you can drive on empty tank forever thinking it will never run out because you did this so many times and the tank can in fact hold up to 80 liters when full, and you become over confident and suddenly one day you run out of fuel.
..the passengers like to control the music from their flashy smart phones so I let them.
What do I use this car for? Well it has become a car I use in the summers due to all the road salt they use in Norway, if I lived in hotter climate I would be using it all year around for sure. I have even been using this car as commuting for some months, and it was a bit stressing because I this car is teasing me to drive faster. So I wouldn’t recommend this as a commuters car. I am mostly using it when I’m going on vacation and with that doing long road trips, even going to the mountains and around fjords, even if that means going on gravel roads. No problem, it is not mint condition and the car is meant to be used, not stored in some clean room somewhere. The dirt can always be washed off.
The car also doubles as the spare car in the family which is used when the modern daily driver cars break down, which seem to happen rather a lot these days when the modern car AI decides that it doesn’t want to be used that day.
Some people like to keep it original and still have the original radio and cassette player, although I like nostalgia I appreciate high quality sound and installed a more modern sound system to make the car more usable. Actually all the original speakers are also replaced because the original ones were absolute crap. In some aspects of technology things have come very far! Also the passengers like to control the music from their flashy smart phones so I let them.
The 280CE is definitely a DIY mechanics car..
Old Mercedes are not the easiest cars to do your own maintenance on, but not the hardest either, which is why I’m going such lengths with this web page to show you how it can be done. The 280CE is definitely a DIY mechanics car if you do some research and will bring the budget down on owning these cars significantly. I could even afford owning a w123 when I was a student since I did most of the maintenance myself, implied I din’t drive every day due to the fuel costs. So nothing should stop you owning a 280CE if you like fiddling with your own car. The parts are still stupid cheap for w123s, but it is also starting to rise and getting harder to find rare parts like the chrome bumpers.
Why own a 280CE?
If you want to have a cracking time driving in comfort and style then it is worth a shot! It is not super special and there are quite some to be found out there, so the entry price is doable for any car enthusiasts not willing to put a mortgage on their old cars.
Now the low point in price has passed for the w123s and the prices are increasing super fast especially for the coupés and the wagons, time to get on the w123 train before it becomes overpriced like the cruder and less refined BMW E30. Go for it!