COAL : 1995 Mercedes Benz E200 (W124) – Meet Your Heroes, Part 2

The Mercedes W124 certainly does not need any special introduction on the pages of Curbside. Many of them have been featured over the years and the collective opinion seems unanimous. Our founder even went so far as to anoint it the best car of the past 35 years not so long ago. Several curbsiders have owned and driven them, and Paul’s Auto-Biography piece on his 300E and the enjoyment he got out of his eight or so years with it has always been one of my favorite pieces on this site, one that I must have read at least half a dozen times. All of this is a long-winded way of saying that a W124 was pretty high up on my “must own one day” list, and I’d been keeping an eye on and occasionally checking out examples that came up for sale for the best part of a decade, but the timing never really worked out.

The closest I came before was December 2021 when I was looking for a hobby car, and a base model 200 was on my radar. Unfortunately, that particular example needed more work than I could put in at the time, so things didn’t work out. As it happened though, around November, after things in the country had started to head back to some semblance of normal and I had parted with the Surf, the need for something to replace it as the second daily arose. Now since I already had the Subaru, I really did intend to buy something reliable and sensible, at first anyway. I was looking at a Toyota Prius C, which seemed to be an excellent and sensible choice as a family car, and it even had multiple airbags and electronic stability control. I had gone as far as to make an offer on a good example and was waiting for the owner to make a decision when that pesky little voice in the back of my head went “You know what, instead of spending all that money on a boring appliance, you could save some of it and pick up something like a nice W124! Go on then, you know you want to…”

Had I bought this, this episode would read “I bought a Prius C, it works.”


What I probably SHOULD have done was whack myself on the back of the head, ignore this voice, and bought the Prius C but instead, I paid attention and started looking around for W124s. After all, weren’t they reliable and solid cars? All I needed to do was find a well-kept one and it would make an excellent and usable classic car, of course it would, right? Our market, unfortunately, did not see many of the bigger petrol engine options, chiefly because tax was prohibitive, but we did have quite a few of the five and six-cylinder diesel models. Those however were in high demand and asking prices on good examples were somewhat higher than what I was able to spend at that point.

So I narrowed my focus to the petrol models and decided that I wanted to avoid the base model carb version if at all possible. This was because the car would need to be an automatic so my wife could drive it, and the 200-carb models were lethargic enough with the manual gearbox that I had no wish to see how slow an auto would be. It appeared that the optimum choice would be a facelifted late model with the electronically fuel-injected M111 four-cylinder engine that was available for the last two years of production. I looked at a couple of cars that weren’t in the best shape, and then stumbled on this car when browsing the classifieds late one evening. A 1995 model, it was apparently among the last German-built W124s (production continued in India for a few more years) and was an E200 automatic, so nothing particularly complicated, or so it seemed, anyway.

First look, covered in dust.


The car was located some distance away and co-ordinating a time that it was available for viewing turned out to be quite a hassle, as the owner lived in another province and had left the car with his mechanic to show to prospective buyers. After several calls, we finally figured out a date that worked and I went to see the car with a friend. Finished in grey over more grey, covered in a layer of dust, and with one tail light cracked, it didn’t look particularly impressive at first glance. The seats which were originally grey leather had been redone in similar hued pleather, but it was a pretty tidy job and the rest of the interior was actually in very good shape for the age of the car.

Interior was intact, which was the main thing.


A fairly long test drive didn’t throw up any red flags, except for the fact that performance was best described as leisurely; the car certainly took its own sweet time gathering speed, but it could be made to hustle if you really welded the throttle pedal to the floor with purpose. I did catch myself wishing it was a 300E or E320 though, if I’m honest. Since the initial test drive seemed ok, I had the car booked into a workshop for an end-to-end checking over to ensure it was not hiding any unpleasant surprises. Nothing except a few minor issues were highlighted, so I made an offer that was a fair bit lower than the asking price and was surprised to find that the owner accepted it without much hesitation.

So, a couple of days before Christmas, I became the owner of my very own W124, something I had wanted for over a decade! I couldn’t even sleep the night before I collected it and was at the seller’s house first thing in the morning, such was my excitement. The owner himself had a work emergency so he couldn’t be there, and I collected the car and the title from his wife instead. Driving away from the house at the wheel of my own 124 was definitely a great moment, let me tell you! Unfortunately (you knew this was coming, right?) my thrill was short-lived because barely 2 KM from the seller’s house I noticed the temperature gauge heading into the red. Uh oh, not a good start!

Looks good even when somewhat broken.


Pulling over and investigating revealed that the fans seemed to be working, but clearly failing to do their job. Switching off the A/C and keeping moving brought the needle closer to normal, so I put the windows down and limped the car over to the workshop for diagnosis. Figuring it out didn’t take long, it appeared that the thermostatic clutch that engaged the main fan had failed, causing it to not operate as required. This was a pretty straightforward fix, and within a couple of hours, the new part was in and the job was done. I wanted to have the car properly gone over by the workshop before putting it into full service, but since the shop would be closed for a few days over Christmas, I figured it would be ok to run it over the holiday and identify any niggles that needed putting right.

Things went ok for a couple of days, the family went to church on Christmas day in it (in the middle of a hurricane level rainstorm no less) and it got us there and back with no problems, although it did seem to be running a little hotter than ideal. I was slowly starting to become confident in the car and used it for most of the Christmas travel. My wife also liked how comfortable and smooth it was, so that was good news. This sense of well-being was sadly demolished on boxing day when we took the car for lunch at my parents’ house though. A few of my friends were also there and since this was their first time seeing the W124 we took it for a drive around the area after lunch. The low coolant light suddenly decided to make an appearance, prompting an immediate return to base. Checking under the hood revealed a leak from somewhere lower down, and quite a bit of coolant leaving the system as we watched. So of course there was no more driving, and the W124 was abandoned in my parents’ driveway for two days until the shop opened and I could get it carried there.

Getting the coolant flush done.


Once it got there, we decided to give the cooling system a full check-up and pressure test, as well as a flush. This revealed that the car was actually missing the engine thermostat, a fairly common “fix” employed by lazy mechanics in Sri Lanka. So a new thermostat and housing were put on, along with a new coolant tank, cap, and a couple of hoses. Then the coolant system was flushed a couple of times before new coolant was added. The rusty liquid that came out made it clear that it had been a long while since a flush was last done. Along with that, the brake master cylinder was replaced and the calipers serviced. I got the car out and then found that the AC, which was not too great to begin with had lost all cooling capacity. Since AC is an essential item in our climate, it went straight into a shop reputed for AC work on old Mercedes models. They did a pretty solid, if expensive job but they informed me that the idle control on the car was not working properly, and though they had done their best, they couldn’t sort it. The moment the compressor engaged, the idle would drop low enough to stall the engine. This was really very irritating, and it couldn’t really be lived with, so back again to the mechanical workshop it went.

This became so common they started joking about giving me a permanently reserved bay and lift!


Thus began a multiple week-long odyssey to figure out what was happening with idle. It turned out that this car too was a victim of the infamous “biodegradable” wiring that Mercedes used in the early 90s, and the wiring inside the throttle body had all basically disintegrated, as had some of the engine control wiring. That took more than a week to figure out, and then a couple more weeks to have the wiring rebuilt properly. It didn’t really help that this particular version of the M111 engine used a unique engine control system, which was VERY hard to find parts for. If you’re starting to spot a bit of a pattern about this car’s time in the workshop, you’d be right, by the way. No sooner had one thing been fixed than something else popped up that required attention.

I am sadly not the sort of owner who can simply ignore issues and just drive on, so everything that appeared, needed to get sorted ASAP. I’m not going to go into the list of issues, but let’s just say that by March of this year, I came to the rather painful realization that we had owned the car for three months and it had spent about two and a half of them being fixed in one way or the other. My wife was clearly not amused by this point and I was beginning to agree with her. As much as I liked the thing, the workshop time and attendant expense was clearly not sustainable long term. So one day I jokingly suggested to the owner of the shop that he should just take the car off my hands. He laughed it off at the time but a couple of days later asked if I was actually serious. I thought about it for a bit and offered him a deal that made sense to me, and it ended up making sense to him as well. So we shook hands on it and as April rolled around I waved goodbye to my W124 with a heavy heart as well as some relief.

I had it detailed just before deciding to let it go, so it really looked good by this time.


The new owner pressed the car into daily service, and believe it or not, it is actually thriving in use with far fewer issues than it seemed to throw up when I had it. This was not the first time I sorted a car out for the next owner, and it probably won’t be the last either, but hey, I’m glad the car is being well cared for by someone who knows what he is doing. So what did I learn from this adventure? First, even the immortal W124 is not immune to the ravages of time and poor maintenance, second, owning an old Mercedes means you end up getting really friendly with the folks in your chosen workshop, and finally, it is almost inevitable that you are going to take a financial beating at the end of the escapade. Surprisingly, when all was said and done, I actually just about broke even on it, which certainly shocked me.

I absolutely love everything about this driving environment. 


I still haven’t quite given up my hankering for a W124 though and I keep looking at examples that come up for sale. They really are lovely cars to drive and I just love how they feel from behind the wheel, as well as how they move down the road. Maybe next time I’ll try a diesel and see how that goes, but good examples of those are becoming more expensive by the day, and I’m pretty darn sure I’ll be looking for the very best example I can find if I go down this road again, so I don’t know whether my bank account will actually be able to support this.

Oh well, they say if you don’t win, you learn, right? And I still say it’s better to have had a W124 and lost it than never to have had a W124 at all. My wife, on the other hand, has a somewhat different opinion…

Further reading:

Curbside Classic: Mercedes-Benz W124 (1985-1996 E Class) The Best Car Of The Last Thirty Five Years