COAL: 1980 Mercedes Benz 300D – Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Note the inside lights are smaller. They are fog lights, not headlights. It’s a two headlight system.

While the 450SEL was fun, it wasn’t intended to be a long term keeper. I was driving past a small, one man used car lot several times a month. And one day, he had something that caught my eye.

It was a 1980 Mercedes Benz 300D, in this color. I think they called it Orient Red. It had the painted wheelcovers instead of the bundt wheels you see here. And it wasn’t shiny like this either… was chalky, almost white. I guess you could say the very weathered condition is what caught my eye.

The interior, however, looked pretty good. It was tan MBTex, which is a quality vinyl that’s pretty impervious to sun damage or wear for the most part.The carpet was rough and stained, but WalMart carries cheap car carpet in black and tan. They did then, anyway, and it is on their website now in “Prairie Tan” for $39.92, 40 inches wide and 15 feet long. I recarpeted the car with the tan which was conveniently a good match color-wise. I covered the floor and sides of the trunk in the black carpet for good measure.

The 1980 300D was a nonturbo 5 cylinder diesel, basically the 2.4 liter four from the 240D with another cylinder added on. Power was about 77hp as opposed to 62hp for the 240D. So, we’re talking small numbers here but every bit helps. And that’s about a 25% increase if I am doing that right in my head. The legendary 300D and 300SD 5 cylinder turbodiesels were born for the 1979 model year, and increased output to a NASCAR worthy 110hp, relatively speaking.

The 1980 300D, while motivationally challenged, was quite a nice car when new. Some cursory looking on Google says the MSRP in 1980 was about $21,000.00, or over $62,000.00 today!  A lot of things we take for granted today were standard, at a time when they were truly “luxury” and they were usually optional at extra cost on most makes. Power windows; power antenna; genuine wood trim; landing strip-quality fog lamps, vacuum central locking for the doors, trunk and fuel flap; rear defroster; 4 speed automatic transmission when more than 3 speeds was exotic; AM/FM stereo; and automatic climate control were included. The few options included electric sliding steel sunroof, AM/FM/cassette player, leather, metallic paint, and cruise control.

And of course, the build quality of the W123 body is legendary to this day. Sold in the US as diesels (the 240D, 300D turbo and nonturbo) and gasoline (230 briefly, and 280E), it was sold in coupe, sedan, and station wagon form though not all engines were in all bodies. And the rest of the world outside of the US saw even more engine choices. I think the coupe is still a looker! Especially a black 1985 300CD turbodiesel like you see here, with the Bundts that were standard by that time.

Not the actual lot, but one like it, that dot the USA

Back to the one-man car lot though. He was a retired franchise car dealer from Florida, who moved to our more temperate clime to retire. Out of boredom, he opened a little used car lot and filled it with this and that, which he would bring up from his contacts in Florida. There usually were 8 or so cars. And if he wasn’t there, the door was locked and you’d just have to come back later. He was doing it for entertainment, not income.

One day, the door was standing open so that meant he was there. I pulled in to look over the 300D. It had low miles, about 80,000 and this was 2000 or so. It was so chalky and weathered because of being in the Florida sun for 20 years and apparently never being waxed. The interior had held up, but the paint was thought to be shot. It ran pretty well overall, but had a rough idle and a hesitation from a standing stop.

He didn’t want to buy or trade for the 450SEL but he would consign it, so I bought the 300D for $1,800.00 and left the 450SEL on consignment.

The wax I had been using on the 450SEL that had done wonders was KLASSE. I don’t recall how I found it, probably a paper catalog back in the late 90’s. But it seemed like a miracle product. And in fact, as an aside, I still use it. It has no abrasives but cleans and removes scratches, bird dropping marks, etc., like you wouldn’t believe. I used it today on the door handle cups of my latest COAL, a 2016 slightly used somethingorother I bought 48 hours ago, and I’ll write about once I log some miles. The red bottle is the cleaner/wax, and the silver bottle is a polish that can go on second. I keep them both on hand, but use the red bottle for the most part, for all purposes (cleaning as well as a protective coat that beads up very well).

Three or four coats of the red bottle Klasse made the weathered orient red paint shine up pretty close to the Orient Red car shown above! It was amazing. Erma Bombeck said dust was a protective coating for furniture, and maybe the chalkiness was a protective coat for the rest of the paint that laid there, waiting to be rediscovered.

Another product that came to the rescue was Power Service Diesel treatment. We had used this in mom’s 1979 240D at the suggestion of the dealer, and it always ran like a top. Running the silver bottle at twice the suggested dosage for a couple of tanks, together with an “Italian tuneup” or two on the interstate, cured the rough idle and hestitation from a stoplight. It’s at WalMart too, and probably a lot of other places as well. Sea Foam is another, similar product that I have used regularly over the years to cure similar symptoms. You can use Sea Foam in gas or diesel, but I seem to reach for Sea Foam for gas engines and Power Service for the diesels.

After the all the paint buffing, the new carpet, and smooth running restored, I had a pretty good looking, low mileage 300D for not a lot of money. I kept it until we moved into the new house we built, right about the time of 9/11, coincidentally. Why sell such a creampuff? Well, of course another beater COAL caught my eye. Think the same car, but with more gusto this time.

Have you ever sold or traded a car for the same make and model?