The Mercedes W123 series of 1976-85 has become a cult classic in the United States, in particular the diesel engine models that Mercedes emphasized in response to fuel economy concerns but decades later became trendy as a biodiesel burner and as a supposedly indestructible lifetime car. The W123 evolved differently in the rest of the world, with a wider range of gasoline and diesel engines, still with a high degree of cachet by virtue of their high quality and the three pointed star atop their grilles.
With many owners willing to pay for their inevitable repairs, a well maintained W123 can last a very long time in a dry and rust-free climate, such as that of South Africa. W123s are a regular sight on the streets there, mostly the gasoline four cylinder 200 that was the base model outside of North America. They are so common that the Cape Town beach town suburb of Camps Bay has at least two serving as taxicabs in 2016, over 30 years after they rolled off the assembly line.
Both 200s spotted were in apparently excellent condition, in their original base model glory with body colored wheel covers and shiny paint whose color resembled that of the beach a few yards (or meters) away from their usual stomping ground. They most likely were built in South Africa, where local assembly of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars has occurred since 1958, with W121 Pontons. The W123 taxis that were ubiquitous in Germany decades ago disappeared long ago, but over 5,000 miles to the south, some are still going strong.
Curbside Classic: 1985 Mercedes 300D Turbodiesel — More Than A Fashion Statement
I know of TWO 240D’s here in the Texas Gulf Coast area that are still on the road each with well over 400,000 miles. One is still with its “original family” – first purchased by the college professor father and passed to one of his daughters.
The other was purchased by a former neighbor on the European delivery program. He was a mechanical engineer who visited project sites all along the gulf coast and averaged 60,000 miles a year with the car. Just before he died he gave the immaculate, meticulously maintained automobile to his grandson.
Rust and neglect are pretty much the only things that will kill these.
Some of the soft parts are getting hard to find =8-( .
I own three W123’s and love them all and drive them hard , one has 403,000 +miles , one 304,000 and the last one I’m not sure because it shows more than the indicated 130,000 but runs like new still .
I believe the base model four cylinder gasser W123 was the 230 , not the 200 .
Until just a few years ago Los Angeles had a taxi company (Taxi!Taxi!) that ran almost entirely old Mercedes Diesels , mostly W-126’s .
You could definitely get a 200 in the UK.
My best friend’s next door neighbour had one in the early 90s- in black with black colour coded hubcaps, (later replaced with Bundts) Northern Irish reg number, and illegal black number plates.
Correct, there certainly was a W123 – 200 (gasoline, carb).
Just click on the link + chart I posted below. Everything you want to know about the W123 is there. It’s in German, but the chart with all the specs speaks for itself.
There was a thriving gray market for Canadian 230’s into the U.S.A. , they had four cylinder fuel injected engines , kinda slow and pokey but very good cars .
The few Canadian imports I saw here all had ABS .
Plenty of 123’s doing sterling service as taxis in the Middle East, specially Lebanon and Egypt when I was last there. Plenty in the Mediterranean states as well. In many places these are regarded as cars that will last a lifetime.
With regular maintenance, these cars WILL last a lifetime!
These may be the best all-around cars ever made.
Can some one name a better one?
Maybe not better, but at least on par: Volvo 240.
I got to ride in a Mercedes-Benz taxi when I was in England 10 yrs ago.
Nice find, the W123 was a very worthy W115 successor.
One thing though. The W123 didn’t “evolve differently in the rest of the world, with predominantly gasoline engines”.
W123 sedan production numbers: approx. 1,095,000 with a gasoline engine and approx. 1,285,000 with a diesel engine.
Scroll down to “Typentabelle, Technische Daten und Stückzahlen” and click on “Ausklappen” after
Limousine (W 123).
Which automakers churned out diesel cars in the seventies ? Only Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz, no one else.
Thanks for that, which confirmed my guess on the breakout between diesel and gas w123s. I meant to look it up last night, but didn’t get to it.
Also, the reason Mercedes pushed diesels so hard in the US was fuel economy and CAFE, not emission regulations, as they also sold gas versions in the US. They did drop the four cylinder gas engine, but it wouldn’t have been hard to federalize.
MBZ saw diesels as a marketing strategy, given their efficiency and durability. And since their V8s were gas guzzlers, the diesels allowed them to meet CAFE, which first took effect in 1978.
I have corrected the reference to the reasons for diesels predominating in the US. I meant to say that fuel economy was the reason, but somehow ended up typing and pasting in a statement about the other the 1970s/80s worry, exhaust emission standards.
By saying that the W123 evolved differently in the rest of the world, I probably phrased the point badly — saying that the W123 evolved differently in the US would have been clearer. In the US, the W123 model range started with both gasoline and diesel engine versions in the 1970s but was all diesel from 1982 onward. The rest of the world kept a broad range of gasoline and diesel engines.
I see. The fact is that I rarely saw a W123 with a gasoline engine in its days. In the late seventies and early eighties I enjoyed many rides in two W123s. One was corn-yellow, and the other had that typical (and popular) Benz-shade of light green. Both were 240Ds, and of course both had a trailer hitch.
Right now the W115 and W123 are popular and widespread classic cars. Plenty of W124s can still be seen on the roads being used as daily drivers.
Probably the biggest reason Mercedes dropped the 230 gas in the US because at the time, diesel was hot, and driving a low-end gas four cylinder Mercedes probably wasn’t compelling, even if it did make sense logically. But during the Great Mercedes Mania, logic wasn’t generally at the top of the list.
And they dropped the only other gas engine, the 280E six, because that engine became quite feeble and thirsty after being federalized. The 300TD really did make more sense, in this case.
” Which automakers churned out diesel cars in the seventies ? Only Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz, no one else.”
You’re _kidding_ , right ? .
Just the ones sold in North America off the cuff :
Oldsmobile , Chevrolet and GMC trucks , Isuzu , Nissan , Toyota…..
I was working for an Oldsmobile dealer during the 350 Diesel engine fiasco .
I’m talking about sedans, passenger cars, family cars. Like the almost 1.3 million (!) W123 diesel sedans that Benz “churned out”, in immense numbers that is. Year in, year out.
O.K. , got it ~ I missed the intent of your post .
(driving my beloved European Spec. Diesel W-123 Sports Coupe)
Got a picture of your diesel coupe ? With a nice lady next to it ?
I have a suspicion that a lot of the remaining W123 taxis that Ashley mentions were originally from Europe. I’ve seen car lots in Beirut, for example, full of old LHD BMWs and Mercedes which have disappeared from European roads – once they get to a certain age they’re magically transported to other countries where they’re appreciated. UK-market ones go to RHD countries like Nigeria, I’m told.
Actually Nigeria is a LHD country despite once being a British colony. They changed from RHD in the early 1970s because its neighbors were and are LHD. Kenya and Uganda I believe are RHD.
Thanks for the correction, silverkris.
I remember an article in the early 2000s about the huge trade in used Mercedes from Germany to Lebanon, by Lebanese expats living in Germany. It showed everything from Pontons and Fintails to new W140s in use in Lebanon, young Lebanese traders buying used W124s and W126s in Germany, and even an elderly “godfather” of the Mercedes trade living in comfort in Germany shining his Ponton with a feather duster. It stated that re-exports from Lebanon to elsewhere in the Middle East were quite common because the Lebanese dominated the trade so thoroughly. It was quite a well done story, and I wish that I could post it here, but the link for it went dead years ago when I tried to find it again.
Robert, this extends to date not just to private cars and a familiar sight on the road from Haifa, Israel, to the border crossing with Jordan are ex-EU trucks on their way to the Kingdom for a second life.
I’ve a W124. Apparently it’s nickname in the british motor trade is…’the beirut taxi’.
This Mercedes W123 was about to cut-off the Toyota Avanza Taxi next to it.
There were one or two still running as taxis in Vienna until recently I believe and the famous Josef Strobl who had a /8 a only retired last year (http://www.krone.at/Oesterreich/Wiener_Taxi-Legende_Peppi_Strobl_hoert_auf-Nach_ueber_41_Jahren-Story-489224). Also in Palestine there are a few lwb 240 and 300Ds still in service.
Wow. I have never seen so many cars of the same model and same body style in the same color in one place before! I believe that the only setting that would exceed it would be a Ford factory making only black Model Ts.
To me that color says ex-German taxi.
Check out any car park in Hong Kong……acres of mercedes everywhere!
“Got a picture of your diesel coupe ? With a nice lady next to it ?”
I guess you’ve seen my older one then , the Oriental red one taken on vacation on ‘Vegas some years ago .
That one was a naturally aspirated one and too slow so I sold it .
FWIW , SWMBO was 65 years old in that photo , few have an ‘ old lady ‘ who looks that good at that age =8-) .
I’m locked out of my office this morning so no , no photo to share .