The W123 series (1976-1985) 


What to say about the W123? Beautiful? Na ja, Reliable? Yes, every fault can be recognized by its noise 5000 miles before it breaks down. Rust? Not so bad compared with the W116 model. But it is a peace of history and the last proper Mercedes...

like with every model :-)


The /8 Model become a huge success in the 70th also because of its reliability. But next to it you have had a wide choice of engines, colours and interiors.  This concept was quite successful and Daimler Benz continued the story with the W123 Model in 1976. Quite after the car was released it became a huge success and you may have to wait more than 2 years to get your "dream car". Sometimes you could get your car much faster but also more expensive as the list price. Amazing and this never happened again in the history of Mercedes Benz. From the technical point of view there are only some minor changes made between the /8 and the W123 series. Thanks to the bad steel produced in the 70th (enclosed oxygen in recycled steel) most of the cars between 1976-1980 are gone. This was the first series with engine from 200,220,240 and 300D, 230, 230E 250, 280, 280E. The second series runs from 1980-1983 and the last from 1983-1986 (T Model). The first official build Mercedes Estate is also released with this series. And there are other milestones with the car. You could order your Merc with ABS first time. It was a very new system and after more than 10 years of engineering the system became place in the W123 Series like the Airbag. As ABS can be found more frequently on the later Models the Airbag in the W123 was very rare. But it is not a problem at all because we all don't know how a 20 years old airbag will behave whilst a crash. And missing such a security feature is not really a big problem. Your big steering wheel is quite efficient holstered. And a winner in a modern crash will always be the Merc as the metal is still a couple of 10/mm thicker than new cars.         
And don't forget, Mercedes was the only vendor with good and reliable diesel car engines those days. Just from the middle of the 80th other vendors faced the potential of a diesel engine in a saloon car and new concepts for faster diesel engines where made. With the 3L Turbo engine in the W123 estate Mercedes proved also the diesel as a economic but also fast comfortable car.  I would love to say the diesels are by far the most reliable cars in the world. But other vendors did also produce very good cars in the pre electronic area. But  beside to this it's reliability is proved by lots of Taxi drivers around the world an also a German chap who has driven the car for 700.000 Kilometres around the globe with a 2L Diesel engine with astonishing 55BHP's :-). It is now in standing in California and it is waiting for the owner to come back into the USA .  They are still driving in all hotter areas around the globe like e.g. Gran Canaria , Greece , Marocco etc... And of course in UK where they becoming more and more looked after.    



Driving a W123

And now letís get in and drive it. It still feels a little bit like grandmas living room.  The seats are still fitted with springs rather coated with foam . They are soft and sometimes badly worn that you feel like sitting on a metal plate whilst watching a film named "My Life" goes by. But you may drive the W123 a touch more spotive.. The 280E is a nice driving machine if the suspension is not worn out too badly. Driving the same body with a different engine is quite a difference. The 200D with 65 BHP is the slowest car next to the 2CV (Duck). But driving with this means you are not in a hurry and enjoy cruising. Who needs a bit more power take the 2,4L or the 5 cylinder 3L Diesel engine. They are well known to drive half a Million Miles without opening the head. But again compared to modern Diesel engines it is digital driving. Pedal down-- drive. Pedal up-- no drive :-)  But let's talk about the petrol engines. First of all the 2L carburettor engine. A very sweet engine and build with the latest in carburettor technique. Start with half of a turn . 109 BHP / 165 Nm will accelerate the car faster than the 5 cylinder diesel. It is also quite economic. Sometimes fitted with an auto box it is a good start. Next on the list is the bigger 2,3L engine. It was available also as a carburettor version till 1980 and later the K Jetronic injection Model. This was the latest in Engine Management those days. Good fuel consumption and 136BHP with 205Nm is also by modern standard something you can easily life with. And this was also the reason the M102 2.3L was the most ordered fuel engine in the W123 series. But we can make it a bit faster. With the old M110 V 6 block known also from the S-class. There is no difference at low revs compared with the M102 engine but if you exceed 3000 rpm you will get a real smile on your face. The body, breaks and everything else fits excellent and you will find out the W123 can also be driven faster as expected. Unfortunately this engine does not like driving in town where the fuel consumption is getting worse. But on the highway you can drive this engine also with 25mpg ish. But saving money in fuel was not the intention of the buyers of this top W123 model. Fitted with different Bumpers and wood inside this car was top of the league. And you can feel it also inside.   

Maintenance and restoring

As these cars are now also getting 25 years old rust is topic #1. If you are looking for a used car to buy donít bother so much about the engine. Look for the bodywork Welding can be quite expensive and time consuming.  Look for the interior. As we had also a wide variety of leather, velours and cloth in 3 different varieties it is imperative the interior is complete. All mechanics can easily maintained by you. But there are some points you must understand. All the engines need to have checked the valve clearance every 10.000 Miles and adjusted properly. Starting problems with the diesel is a cause of denied maintenance. Oil change every 5000 Miles! But thatís it really..   The only thing which is going wrong all the time is the power steering box. You will feel the gap on the steering wheel.  Check while the wheels are standing in a straight line and the engine is off. There are other things you need to look at before changing the box. But it is a well known problem and a new one will be 300£ in exchange.    

Here some nice pictures of rust in all variations:

Sills not only at the jack points                             Wheel arches

Underneath the front and back window                       boot sill

Frame around sunroof                                         Doors (this was the drivers door)

Front wing (this one is scrap)                              Tailgate estate model

And always think about it: 30 minutes driving means 3 hours cleaning :-)



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