CC Capsule: 1989 Mercedes-Benz 300 TE – Still A Classy Alternative


The venerable 1985-1996 Mercedes-Benz W124 series is commonly regarded as one of the greatest cars of all time. With its engineering prowess, safety advancements, and technological marvels for its time, the W124 is oft named as one of the last “over-engineered” Mercedes from an era when money, time, and competition were less significant constraints to new car development.


A testament to its precision engineering and craftsmanship, the W124 has backed its reputation through its durability and longevity. Designed to withstand German taxi use from the start, with proper maintenance, it’s not uncommon for these cars to continue running for many hundreds of thousands of miles. Finding one of these Benzes on the streets of Boston is not an abnormal sight, though the S124 wagons, like this 1989 300 TE are significantly more sparse. Several 300 TE models were sold from the 1986 through 1994 model years, with several engines in rear-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations. This 1989 is a rear-wheel drive model with a 3.0 liter inline-6.


Although the natural inclination is that all 300 TEs would feature engines with a displacement of 3.0 liters, somewhat confusingly, this wasn’t always the case. Originally, the 300 TE was powered by Mercedes’ M103 single overhead cam 12-valve 3.0L inline-6. This engine was used in the 300 TE and 300 TE 4-Matic through 1991 and 1993, respectively. Beginning in 1989, the dual overhead cam 24-valve 3.0L M104 began supplementing the older engine in rear-wheel drive S124s, with these models badged as “300 TE-24”. In 1993, the 3.0L version of the M104 was replaced with two new versions of the M104: a 2.8 liter (badged simultaneously as “280 TE” or “300 TE 2.8”) and a 3.2 liter (still badged as just “300 TE”). Things would make more logical sense again from 1994-1996, as along with Mercedes’ new naming structure, these two models were badged as “E280” and “E320”. 


Even when new, the wagons were never as popular as their sedan counterparts. Out of the over 2.5 million W124 series vehicles produced worldwide, only 340,503 of them were wagons and only 41,775 of those were rear-wheel drive 300 TEs with the 3.0L inline-6, like this featured car. Regardless, these vehicles still found a loyal following among the old money types who to this day still prefer a classy wagon over a blingy SUV.


This 1989 300 TE has seen better days, but nonetheless, appears to be doing just fine as a city driver. A true argument to naysayers who shout blasphemy at “fake leather” in a Mercedes, this car’s original MB-Tex is flawless, without any of the ripping and tearing commonly found in genuine hide of this age. The windows were wet, so I didn’t want to put my phone right up against the glass, making for this poor quality interior image. In any event, the reflection of the vintage-1927 Boston Park Plaza Hotel presents an interesting backdrop against the window of this notably historic Mercedes-Benz.

Photographed: Back Bay, Boston, Massachusetts – October 2015

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1985-1996 Mercedes-Benz W124