Auto-xing a Big Blue Benz–and a Diesel to Boot!

Racing Diesel Mercedes

Conventional wisdom would suggest that a big, old, heavy and diesel-powered car is not the ideal auto-x weapon. Conventional wisdom in this case was not wrong, but I nonetheless brought out my 1970 Mercedes-Benz 220D as part of my plan to make maximum use of it–that, and also because at times I rather like being unconventional. While no one would accuse it of being fast, it did do better than I thought it would thanks to some solid handling.


There is some pretty serious sporting machinery here … and one elderly Benz in the lineup to go. Admittedly, that Subaru STi in front of it has been modified, but it makes more than double my total horsepower (for the record, 59 hp when new) in just one of its cylinders. The Corolla GTS in front of the STi features wild fender flares, a gutted interior and a Lexus V8. My not-so-rigorous preparation consisted of removing the floor mats and spare tire, as well as adding a little more air to the tires, to about 40 psi.


The old 220D felt surprisingly agile through the cones, especially given the car’s age, condition and size. Braking was equally strong, thanks to discs all around. I think I held my own on the curvy bits of the course, but lost a massive amount of time on the straight bits. The heavy sedan oozes, rather than bursts, out of the corners, and accelerates with the utmost reluctance. I suppose it is rather like asking the queen to compete in a 100-m sprint; while theoretically she could hike up her skirt and run, she’d probably rather not. The old girl can dance but not run.



A large-diameter steering wheel and no power steering means you get a bit of a workout behind the wheel. Since the flat, slippy MB-Tex seats offer no support whatsoever, you’re left to hold onto the wheel as tightly as possible and angle your non-accelerator pedal leg to keep in place. The seat belts often came undone mid-corner, so attempting to use one’s bracing leg to operate the clutch while trying to shift through the turn is likely to put you in the passenger’s seat.

I managed to get a ride along in that LTD later in the day. An ex-police special, it had a V8 and was extremely fast and well driven.


I did manage to produce some dramatic looking body roll, but from the inside it honestly didn’t feel too bad. With some proper horsepower, this car might do reasonably well.

Honda S2000 2

Here are a few of my competitors, including a much more auto-x appropriate Honda S2000…


and a Mazda Rx-8, to which I came closest in the final times…

Volkswagen Golf

a modern and turbocharged Volkswagen…

Hyundai Accent

a Hyundai Accent gaining speed…

Subaru STi

and a savagely fast Subaru STi.


After the first set of runs I removed the color-keyed hubcaps so that they didn’t escape during cornering. It gives the Benz a Beirut-taxi sort of look, don’t you think?


Not surprisingly, the Mercedes and I ranked dead last in the best-of-the-day raw times, although I did get consistently faster as I became more comfortable with the car. I might not have been fast, but I know who had the most fun–and also probably got the best mileage!