Thinking of w123 – Reputation of a classic

Currently we think of the Mercedes-Benz w123 as the perfect Mercedes model which is pretty much a flawless classic. It is a car that resides in the super league of renown young classic cars. It is true they outlasted most other cars from that era and have a reputation for “superior” build quality and “reliability”. The w123 has indeed a large place in many people’s heart and often bring about memories and stories when nice examples roll by on the street. However the cult status of the w123 has maybe become a little skewered and starting negative discussions of the model is frowned upon in quite ideological ways. In hindsight this classic’s reputation might have become a little biased, as with most renowned classics (read: Ferrari).

Don’t worry I’m not trying to discredit the w123, but trying to convey a more realistic perspective of the model as a car looking away from the icon status. As any car or man-made object, the w123 is not perfect and comes with its quarks and weird engineering.

I was looking through an old review from 1977 of the 280E in Motor Sport Magazine written when the w123 was brand new. This is the perfect time to look into an unbiased opinion for the times and comparison to other cars at the market. If you want to read the full article, it can be found at https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/march-1977/37/mercedes-280e-w123

I’ll give some of the highlights opinion from the review under with my own comments on the matter:

Complaints

Complaint 1: One complaint is that the car is too expensive for the time, you could get more luxury and more performance in a Jaguar for less money. Also the extra equipment is expensive and 280 base model without electrical windows or sunroof starts at £8495 which is roughly £52700 in today’s money. Quite a lot!
Comment: This makes sense in 1977, but as time has shown, the Jaguar had many issues especially with QC and the electrical system. Mercedes is a better built car overall, but is not as sporty with smaller (more boring?) engines and less equipment in general. In hindsight when you look at how long many of these cars have lasted, maybe it was not so expensive after all?

Complaint 2: Another complaint in the article is the low power of the 280 engine (remember this early version had only 177hp compared tot he 186hp of later models) and the author misses a bit the V8 power for this top w123 model which only clocks in 0-100km/h in 10s. The kick down is pointed out to be bit slow and the author recommends to keep in S when overtaking. Fuel efficiency was also not the best at its time where the author also points out that the engine is quite thirsty with 16-18mpg (12-14 L/100km).
Comment: I quite can understand the lack of performance when compared to cheaper Jaguars and BMWs at the time, but Mercedes never wanted this to be a sports car. That was reserved to the SL and top of the line S-class. The upgrades to the M110 engine in 1981 did increased its power and probably lowered fuel consumption a bit. I run mine 280CE from 1984 usually around 10 L/100km. The kick down is indeed a bit slow to react, much faster to manually stick in S with the auto transmission.

Complaint 3: Plain interior and cheap plastic is used. The author points out the spartan interior, sparse use of real wood and really nasty cheap plastic used for the side door pockets. Also the boot has a cheap looking tool kit compared to a BMW.
Comment: The interior is very plain, but has kept the styling somehow timeless and looks nice too this day. I personally really enjoy the large air vents int the dash. The cheap looking plastic used on the doors rarely breaks. This is another story for the notorious glove compartment-lid. It always breaks and is definitely cheap plastic. The author credits the seats for being quite firm and good, but I think the seat comfort can be quite uncomfortable on long rides. I wonder how other cars were at this time?

Complaint 4: Road and engine noise. The complaint is that Jaguars are superior in this department. Especially the wind noise from the large and flat non-aerodynamic mirrors. Poor engine noise insulation is pointed out too.
Comment: Agreed, quite some wind noise especially in the coupe version. The wheel sills can clearly be heard on gravel roads. Also the engine valve tick is clearly audible in to the passenger compartment. They should have put a bit more sound proofing, but it does save weight in the end.

Recognition

Recognition 1: Rev happy engine. The straight six is very rev happy going up to 6500 before the red-line. The author also points out the engine has superior smoothness to V8s at the time.
Comment: A bit contradiction to the first complaint, but I see the point since you need to get the revs up since it lacks the low end power of a V8. I think the M110 feels fast and can keep up with modern traffic pain free. The straight inline 6s have perfect balance and are superior to any other engine configuration. It’s one among the economic reasons why Mercedes has reintroduced them in their new cars and is planning to discontinue V6 production.

Recognition 2: Brilliant suspension and road handling. The w123 utilizes the latest technology from the S-class at a cheaper standpoint. There is little body roll and the ride feels more comfortable than harsh BMWs while still being agile. Also the car has wet weather stability than the S-class. Super maneuverability with the recirculating-ball servo. Also impeccable braking with large disk breaks on all four wheels.
Comment: This I totally agree with! You can toss the w123 around mountainous roads at full speed without being daunted, there is a clear indication when you are pushing the limit with the classic wheel whine without the car going sideways. There is a reason why there were so many w123 Taxis going around back then, they can easily turn on a dime in the city. I was not aware that the ride was better than the S-class (w116) in wet. KUDOS!
NOTE: I should point out that you can get two different dampers to w123: Comfort and Firm. I will highly recommend the latter due to less body roll. I also recommend to go for the Bilstein dampers!

Recognition 3: Business as usual with effortless automatic door locks, boot and filler cap. Simple control of the functions such as lights, wipers and mirror adjustment. No fuzz about. The headlights can be adjusted with a single knob.
Comment: This makes Mercedes so easy to operate so you can focus on the driving without getting lost trying to find the door knobs. It makes the car a bit spartan and have a modern compared to other classic cars. Many do indeed enjoying the weird features and quarks of old Porsche and Italian classics.

There is much more details in the magazine. I hope this gives some more nuances of a classic car such as the w123. Happy reading.

Cheers, Robs out!

1990 Mercedes 230TE w124 added to the fleet

You might ask how can you go from 6.0L V12 to a 2.3L dull station wagon? Good question! This car will be a workhorse car for all year use, hauling trailers and transporting stuff.

It’s a bit scruffy looking when you get up close and have the impression of standing outside too long without a decent polish.

Lets start with the pros:

  • It’s a Sportline version – Oh yes Sport with 132 HP
  • It has ADS (automatic differential lock), so usable in the Norwegian winter
  • Mechanically the car runs fine, engine and breaks etc.
  • No significant rust to speak of
  • The black metallic color is quite nice and more easy to sell than for example green
  • No electric windows, so less things to break
  • AC seems to work OK
  • It has an electric sunroof that can be opened and closed
  • Comes with a DAB radio – FM is obsolete in Norway
  • It is face lift 1 – looks better than the 85 original and does not have the rust paint problems of face lift 2

And then to the negatives:

  • No electric windows – I need to please my luxurious ego
  • The sunroof tilting function is not really working at the moment – not the end of the world
  • There is a leak from the hose of the rear window washer reservoir – needs to be fixed
  • The cables and vacuum hose of the right front door have been cut
  • The driver seat is quite worn and needs a new sitting pad
  • Door check straps needs to be changed
  • Switch for the rear wiper needs to be replaced
  • Front plastic bumper has cracks – needs replacement
  • Fabric interior, where is the luxury?
  • Ugly unoriginal rims – Needs to be changed for sure. Good thing I have some original w126 rims that can be bolter straight on
  • Worn winter tires
  • The key for the door and ignition are different

So is this a lemon car? Not really, but not a show car either. It has some issues and the age shows. The price also reflected that. The mileage is not low either at above 350.000 km, so at least its driven in properly.

Many of will might ask how I can drive 3 cars simultaneously around. Well obviously I don’t. Mostly my father will use it as his daily driver. I can though see some nice articles come out of it. And having the opportunity to drive a classic w124 can be fun!

This is just a quick teaser. A full review will be posted at the end of the summer! So stay tuned.

Cheers, Robs out

Why the not so Sporty or Leicht (SL) R129 is the next car you should get

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Why is the R129 SLs so cheap these days and the R107 SL so expensive in comparison? The R107 has already become a true classic since it started production back in 1971. The oldest R129s are already passing 25 years and becoming a classic fast. But they are ridiculously cheap compared to what you get. This is a common trait among luxury sedans aged between 20-30 years old before the prices start to go up again, but the SL is supposed to be a sports car and it is a convertible. These types of cars normally have quite higher prices than the aging luxury sedans.

The funny thing is that you can get a V12 SL600 fully equipped for just around 15k Stirling pounds. That’s crazy for a car that nearly cost 100K£ new back in the olden days, especially considering the inflated currency and the value of money back. Why would you even consider buying  new car when you can get this luxury three pointed star of rolling ludicrousness for absolutely less than a single cruise holiday to the Caribbean? Also if you want one R129 in red, they are the most expensive ones, not many came in red and for some reason they are highly valued.

The R129 SLs are also reliable cars where the bigger engines have super strong dual overhead cam axles. Buy it, drive it and don’t bother opening the hood in between services. The only major thing you need to take care of here is the soft top that will deteriorate quicker than the rest of the car. But you probably have a garage right? You can even get them with a hard top which can be used for other seasons than the summer, perfect for northern Europe. Although my personal opinion is that you should avoid driving around in a convertible with the hard top on, what if the sun comes out!?!?

The styling has become timeless yet still feels modern even though it’s a 30 year old design. I have never heard anyone said that the R129 SL looks bad, and in the end that’s what matters right? To drive around in a cool car is first priority. Power, speed, comfort and reliability usually comes second when having a 2-seated mostly unpractical convertible. If you get the R129 you will get all of these except the practicality. Although you will probably fit your unused golf clubs while impressing your business friends that most likely are not good at gold either. (I would rather hang my muddy mountain bike off the back, throw in my diving gear in the boot along with the boots and back pack for hiking, but that’s just me)

So what are you all waiting for? Get out there and buy a cool R129 and drive it!

To be inspired check out these videos about the R129 from Harry’s garage and The Smoking Tire respectively:

W140 S600 added to the collection

Before the summer I acquired a 1996 w140 S600 (Japan spec) as an addition to my w123 280CE, hence the updated site main picture as of July 2017. It is actually the same car I did the review on last year and the offer was simply too good to refuse. The car is an extremely good find with under 70.000 km original km in its 20 years lifespan.

The car collection is now actually beginning to be a collection rather than a car! My plans with this car is to keep it completely original and use it mainly for long road trips with extreme comfort, silence and v12 power on-demand. I also hope the value for this flagship will increase significantly since the 600 version is rarer than most production vehicles and the value is now around the lowest it can be (I hope).

I will be posting maintenance DIYs where possible with this car, which are extremely hard to find by the way! And I will be looking into doing car related videos, starting with filming the S600 and then the 280CE. I did some camera tests now in the summer, which I will post almost immediately under the Videos section. I am though planning to making better videos with use of external mic for excellent sound quality which so many car videos lack except high end production.