As previously mentioned in my monthly round-ups of Tokyo CCs (e.g. this one), there are a fair few W123s about in Japan – pretty much like anywhere on the planet, it seems. It was getting to the point that I was ready to give up taking photos, but then this one showed up more of less on my doorstep. How could one resist the appeal of the first Benz-branded production wagon?
The W123 saloon was launched in September 1976 and was followed by the coupé, unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1977. The Frankfurt IAA show in the autumn was to be the debut of the wagon, though deliveries only really took place from spring 1978. The wagon was therefore a bit late to the party, but it also had the honour of leaving the scene last: the saloon, LWB limo and coupé were produced until December 1985, whereas the last couple dozen wagon rolled off their assembly line in January 1986. This one seems like a JDM model all right, with those extra back-up lights.
This is a 280 TE – the top of the wagon range, with the fuel-injected 2.8 litre straight-6. Being a JDM car, it has the European-style body but the US-spec engine, which in this case means 140hp (DIN), about 40hp less than the Euro-spec cars.
The first-ever Benz wagon came in a variety of flavours besides the 280 TE. There were two Diesel wagons (240 TD and 300 TD) and two 4-cyl. gasoline models (200 T and 230 T/TE), as well as the rare 6-cyl. 250 T, only offered in Europe until 1982. the T allegedly stands for “Transport” or “Touring,” though I’m not sure Mercedes themselves ever called it anything but the T-Modell. Confusingly, the T-modell’s alphanumeric production code starts with the letter “S,” so this is the S123. All of the 200,000 or so S123s made came out of the Bremen (ex-Borgward and ex-Hanomag-Henschel) factory.
The colours of Mercedes-Benzes in those days were really something else. This one, I believe, is what they called “China blue,” available on the W123 range from 1979 to 1982. Some cars nowadays have colours a bit like this, but they’re all in the kei car / Fiat 500 size. Forty years ago, big car buyers were a lot more adventurous than today.
It was drizzling quite a bit when I photographed this car, so the interior shot was even worse than my usual pitiful attempts. No amount of Photoshop trickery (not that I claim to know how to really use it) could salvage this shot, but I’m including it just the same. The last W123 I had the pleasure of riding in was an Indonesian market 280 saloon in RHD and it was nowhere near as luxurious as this wagon. This one even has power windows and what looks like a blue leather interior. Maybe it even has A/C, it’s hard to tell.
I’m wondering if this isn’t the ultimate W123. The colour’s not my absolute all-time favourite, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I hadn’t seen the wagon variant in a while and I really like it. It suits the classic Mercedes shape so well – why they took so long to do these in-house will always be a mystery. And the car looks so clean, it might as well have been built last year. That Tokyo time-warp effect again.
I’m positively smitten. Pity about the US-spec engine, but you can’t have everything.
CC Outtake: A Mercedes-Benz W123 Taxi in 2016, by Robert Kim
COAL: 1980 Mercedes Benz 300D – Slow and Steady Wins the Race, by Importamation
COAL: 1984 Mercedes Benz 300D Turbodiesel – One More Time, With Feeling, by Importamation