Mercedes-Benz Diesels

(W123 Chassis)

I drooled over Mercedes-Benz automobiles for as long as I can remember but never thought I would be able to own one. Little did I appreciate how reasonably priced these old diesels are and how much fun it is to own one. I have come to appreciate both the reliability and the longevity that these cars offer.

My car is a 1977 Mercedes-Benz 240D, with the “D” standing for diesel. I “purchased” it in a three-way eBay trade involving the car I owned at the time, a 1989 Acura Integra.

The short version of the story is that I listed this Benz on eBay for a friend and the person who won the auction for the Benz was offered the option of taking title to either the Acura or the Benz for the same price. He -- actually, his wife -- decided that they would prefer the Acura. And given that they were looking for a sporty car, they made what was the correct decision for themselves. It wasn't easy to do, but I was somehow able to suppress my grin until they had driven away in the Acura. 

After factoring in car values, I paid about $2500 for my Benz. In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I paid about $500 too much for the car. But I didn't know then what I know now, so no use beating myself up about it, right? I have probably spent another $1000 on my Benz bringing it up to daily-driver status (new parts and new tires). So, for about $3500 I now have a very reliable car that sips diesel fuel at the rate of 35 mpg, has a nice “that is a cool car” factor to it, and should last me at least another decade.

I will be the first to admit that this is not the car for everyone. If you answer 'yes' to any of the below questions, then steer clear of a diesel W123-chassis Mercedes.

Do you find the idea of black oil on your hands to be repulsive?

If you find a spot of soot-laden Mobil 1 on the leg of your jeans, do you view it as a tragedy instead of a normal part of maintaining your car?

A Benz diesel does not start up as quickly as a gasser. One must wait for the glow plug system to heat the prechambers. Will you view this pause as a moment to reflect on the life of Rudolf Diesel or will you feel that this brief delay cuts unnecessarily into your limited discretionary time?

Do you mind being passed by other cars whenever you encounter a steep incline?

Do you object to being defeated by a bicycle in a drag race away from a stop sign?

Are you willing to bow before the Holy Shrine To Mobil 1 15-W-50 at WalMart?

Will you be offended when a high school student working part time at the gas station “warns” you that you are putting diesel fuel into your car? [Hint – act surprised and yell “I am so gonna sue you guys for this!”]

Ok, did you pass the test? If so, you might qualify as a potential 240D owner.

The W-123 chassis diesels seem to have an almost unlimited life span. Mine has well over 200,000 miles and just keeps chugging along. With routine maintenance (including Mobil 1 15-W-50 oil changes), occasional parts replacement and a proactive approach toward rust, one of these diesels should give you years of reliable service. And if the engine should go out, don't worry – there is a new (rebuilt) engine readily available mail-order for less than one year's car payments on something new and much less reliable.

For more information on owning and maintaining an old diesel Benz, visit the website. This is my second home. The mailing lists there are staffed (unofficially) by individuals with years, if not decades, of hands on experience in these vehicles. All of the advice is free and 99% of it is well worth the $50 per hour you would pay a professional mechanic.

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