CC Capsule: 1980 Mercedes-Benz 300D – The Ultimate Professor’s Car

1980 MB 300D f

Here it is: the ultimate professor’s car. At least, that’s what I thought of the Mercedes-Benz W123 when I grew up across town from the University of Notre Dame. My working-class neighborhood was filled with Chevys, Fords, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Dodges, Plymouths, and Buicks, in descending order of popularity. But when we ventured to the north side of town near the university, a W123 would sometimes glide by. 

Not every professor drove one. My dad’s best friend was a Notre Dame professor who drove a Vista Cruiser and then a Delta 88. Those cars spoke to values that resonated with Dad, I suppose, because we knew nary a soul who drove anything not assembled in the U. S. of A.

So it was in the Midwest in about 1980. But change crept in during that decade, and by 1990 even my dad had owned a foreign car, sort of: a Renault. It may have been assembled in Kenosha, but it was otherwise not even remotely a car of the American idiom.

1980 MB 300D b

I haven’t been paying attention. Just what kinds of cars do professors drive now? Accords, I suppose: conservative, roomy, reliable. But when I visited the campus of my alma mater last autumn, an engineering school down in Terre Haute, I came upon this 30-ish-year-old professor’s car. Such rough condition she was in. No bumper!

1980 MB 300D c

Whaddya know, this W123 is flanked by Accords, one older and one newer. And at my alma mater, professors usually park back here, behind the main classroom building.

1980 MB 300D g

Just check out all that rust. You’d think a professor could afford one a lot newer and nicer. Could this be a student’s car? But what student in this day and age would be charmed by a W123? Perhaps one who reads Curbside Classic?

1980 MB 300D e

The W123 is heralded for being long-lived, so maybe an aging professor bought this when it was much newer but then did only whatever was necessary to keep it rolling. And just check out that cassette deck in the dash. Any self-respecting student would have swapped in a head unit with Bluetooth or at least a USB port so they could listen to the music on their phone.

1980 MB 300D h

Whatever its provenance, it was refreshing to find this 300 diesel awaiting whoever drove it in.