The Mercedes-Benz W123 succeeded the W114 in 1975, taking over the role of mid-sized volume-sales leader. The fresh, modern styling by Friedrich Geiger and Bruno Sacco was a hit with buyers, who waited up to a year to get their hands on one from the moment production commenced. Demand was so strong that some customers resorted to buying gently used examples for several thousand Deutschmarks above the original sale price to avoid the long backlog from the factory. Part of the delay was that Mercedes-Benz gradually increased production to ensure strict quality control, but the W123’s popularity meant that the waiting list lasted clear through to the end of production in 1986. While Mercedes buyers of today pay for the latest technology and technical wizardry, the W123’s premium price reflected its almost obsessive levels of quality and refinement. Over-engineered, meticulously built, and extremely durable, the W123 found favor with everyone from families, to executives, to heads of state. Base models served as taxis on nearly every continent and are still on duty, particularly in places where the car’s ability to handle the harshest environments is necessary. Professional drivers so loved the W123 that when its replacement, the W124, arrived in 1985, German taxi drivers took to the streets to protest the perceived drop in quality!
Between 1976 and 1986, Mercedes-Benz produced nearly three million examples of the W123 chassis, firmly establishing it as the best-selling Mercedes to date. Along with the sedan, the lineup also included a stylish 2-door GT coupe, long-wheelbase limousine, a chassis variant, and a handsome four-door estate. The four-door sedan made up the overwhelming bulk of production, numbering over 2.3 million, with the next closest being the wagon at just under 200,000. Petrol options started with a 2-liter inline-four, going up to a 2.8-liter twin-cam inline-six. Diesel engines were the popular choice, beginning with a humble 2-liter, 55 hp four-cylinder at the base, up to the superb OM617: A sophisticated 125 horsepower 3-liter Turbodiesel inline-five, which made light work of the hefty W123 body. Thanks to their superior economy and near bomb-proof reliability, diesel engines made up the vast majority of production. The W123 is indeed a car for every occasion, built to withstand the harshest conditions, yet remain solid, smooth, and exceptionally comfortable. Equally at home in the Sahara Desert as it is rolling up to gates of the country club, this legendary Mercedes-Benz could handle any task with understated Teutonic grace.
This highly desirable 1983 300TD Turbodiesel wagon is a splendid example, cherished since new and treated to a comprehensive restoration carried out between 2015 and 2018. This marvelous W123 was delivered new in Oklahoma City, OK, in January 1983. It would soon find its way to Houston, Texas, where it lived the majority of its life. The wagon was one of the more expensive models in the regular lineup, and most came very well equipped. This car is no exception, featuring Bosch fog lamps, power windows, sunroof, Becker AM/FM cassette stereo, automatic antenna, cruise control, tinted glass, and roof rails. In the care of several long term owners, the most recent caretaker acquired it in 2012 and commissioned its restoration shortly after.
Perhaps because of their near-bulletproof reliability and exceptional longevity, we rarely encounter W123s so beautifully and comprehensively restored. This superb wagon received an engine-out, glass-out, interior-out repaint in the period-correct shade of China Blue. The color choice suits the station wagon particularly well, and thoughtful additions like the factory steel wheels with iconic color-keyed wheel covers accentuate the car’s timeless, classic appeal. The paint quality and the overall attention to detail are superb, with fittings such as the anodized body trim, chrome bumpers, black rubber bumper extensions, lights, and lenses all presenting in outstanding condition.
While the body underwent its restoration, the interior received a full re-trim using correct Mercedes-Benz materials. Cream leather (code 455) replaced the original MB-Tex on the front and rear seats, and the headlining and correct-style carpeting is all new. The upholstery work alone totaled nearly $15,000, reflecting the owner’s commitment to having the best W123 this side of Stuttgart. The original instruments and switchgear are in good order, and the factory Becker cassette deck still sits in the dash. In the interest of efficiency and reliability, restorers updated the original air conditioning system with new, modern-style components from Vintage Air. The work included a new compressor, condenser, electric fan, fan clutch, and subtly integrated controls in the center console. Extras include the original tool kit, period-accessory sisal floor mats, and a pair of vintage American Tourister suitcases.
In its day, the OM617 turbodiesel, as fitted to this 300TD, was renowned for its smoothness and refinement. Arguably one of the most significant passenger car engines produced by Mercedes-Benz, the OM617 revolutionized the use of diesel power in luxury automobiles. The engine and transmission in this car are the original, numbers-matching units per the data card. Under-hood presentation is tidy and clean, showing some light signs of use since the restoration, but is otherwise well-detailed with correct painted and cast surfaces, and yellow zinc-plated fuel lines and hardware. It runs beautifully, as it should, with smooth shifts from the automatic gearbox and the signature 5-cylinder soundtrack.
Few cars in history match the Mercedes-Benz W123’s combination of versatility, dependability, and timeless design. This highly desirable wagon exudes charm, with a level of restoration rarely seen on similar examples. Practical, reliable, and fun to drive, this superb 300TD is the ideal family-friendly classic, and a fantastic choice for Cars & Coffee, Radwood, or just for taking the whole family out for ice cream on a summer evening.
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