(first posted 4/14/2017) Is it karma, for all of the risky, jail-baiting, high-speed driving I’ve done over the years? Because for some reason, I keep getting invites to drive the slowest cars ever sold in this land. One year ago, it was a Subaru 360, for which there are 0-60 times on the web ranging from 37 to infinity. Then the other day my friend Nick showed up for a visit in this lovely Mercedes 220D, and offered me the keys. Would it be any faster?
Obviously, I couldn’t resist, especially as it would make a fine counterpoint to my ’86 Mercedes 300E, which was the fastest production four door sedan when it first came out, and whose top speed of 140 mph and o-60 time of some 7.5 seconds was duly confirmed, by me, more than once. So now it was time to probe the other extreme of Mercedes’ performance envelope. With 57hp on tap, a trunk chock full of spare parts including a transmission, and two tall guys on board, the results were inevitably going to be very different.
Nick bought this car recently and is in the process of prepping it for a sale. He’s had some work done on it, including a full bumper-to-bumper evaluation by a vintage Mercedes specialist, who’s proclaimed it hale and hearty except for a needed minor structural repair near the steering box attachment, apparently a common issue on these W114/115s. And a wee bit of rust repair is in the works. But it’s a very attractive car, especially with that two-tone paint job. I’m not sure if that was an original color combo, but in any case, this car was obviously repainted at some point.
My immediate gut reaction to seeing it in front of our house was that it was originally a European car, even before I noticed the “CH” (Switzerland) sticker on the rear. But the full provenance of this particular car is still a wee bit of a mystery, and rather stumped me for a while.
Nick said this was a 1973 MY car, and initially, I had no reason to doubt that. For some reason I felt compelled to shoot the manufacturer’s tag on the front bulkhead next to the radiator, although I didn’t really take its information in at the time, as we were eager to get going. But it’s a good thing I did, as when I looked at this shot later, I knew there was something very inconsistent. It says very clearly that this is a “Fahrgestell” (Chassis) 114 015, and a “Type/Model” 230/8. Neither of those corresponded to a 220 D.
The 114 series is the six-cylinder version of these W114/115 cars, and the fours are 115s. And the 230 Model was a gasoline six cylinder sold other than in the US from 1968 through 1973 (the US got only the 250/280 sixes). The 230 was by far the most common of the W114 sixes sold in Europe.
Just to keep things a bit complicated, but not relevant to this car, there was also 230 gas four cylinder (W115.017), that replaced the 220 gas four in 1974. And since Mercedes still took their badging pretty seriously, it got a “4” added to it, to make sure everyone knew you were not deserving of the higher degree of prestige and status that a six cylinder Mercedes was so worthy of. Note how the “4” is affixed slightly below the level of the “230”. Four cylinders = lower status.
At that point, the six cylinder 230 became the 230.6, and got a “6” added to it its badge, to make sure everyone knew you were truly deserving of the higher degree of prestige and status that a six cylinder Mercedes was so worthy of. Notice how the “6” was affixed on the same level as the “230”, and even shared its underlining. In status-conscious Germany, this was like the difference of having a “Doktor” or “Diplom Eng.” as a suffix on your calling card or door bell name plate.
Back to our diesel, which by the way, were only driven by taxi drivers and affluent farmers back then in Germany. Seriously; no one that could afford a Mercedes back then would touch one of these stinky, clattering slugs. Leave that to those damn Amerikaner, who are so fad-obsessed and will pay ridiculous amounts for one of these lowly stinky diesel taxi cabs!
The affluent farmers bought them because the would cheat and use their non-road-taxed tractor diesel. The difference in price was very substantial, and the authorities finally took to putting dye in either the highway or farm diesel, and would go out on rural roads and stop diesel Mercedes and take a sample of their fuel to see if they were cheating. And slap them with a hefty fine if they were.
Ok; maybe there were a few other “civilian” oddballs who bought a diesel in Germany and most other European countries, but before the first energy crisis of 1973-1974, diesels just were…gross. One respected their efficiency and durability, but back then everyone in Germany was obsessed with how fast their cars could go on the Autobahn, or just wanted the Mercedes prestige that started (barely) with the gas fours, and then jumped significantly with the sixes. It also explains why Mercedes would not put any diesels into their S Class until the 1991 W140 in Europe, whereas the the W116 S Class 300SD was made specifically for the US stating in about 1977. And even then (1991), it was a big deal for Germans to consider a diesel S Class. But by then, the turbo diesels were a lot more powerful and refined, and of course we all know how the Diesel-Welle took over. And now it’s in serious decline.
Back to the diesel at hand. This manufacturer’s tag really stumped me. Would someone swap in a diesel four into a six cylinder gas car? That seemed like a real stretch, but it was all I could come up with initially. Stranger things have happened.
But then as I looked at the pictures of this car again, I realized that this was a post-face lift car (1974 or later), due to the missing front window vent windows.
Yet it clearly has the narrower “radiator” shell and other front end hallmarks of a pre-face lift car. Aha, Aha! It all makes sense now; this car obviously had a front end accident at some point in its life, and had the front clip of a 230 six grafted on, including the manufacturer’s build plate. Mystery solved; mostly.
The fact that this 220D also had air conditioning seemed odd. In Europe in the seventies, AC was very uncommon. And in Switzerland, no less? Whatever. I suppose it might possibly have been added later, although that’s probably a bit of an undertaking. For that matter, I don’t know whether this is even the original engine, or just what the complete history of this car is either. Nick just assumed it was a US car, although the CH sticker and the 250,000 km badge on the radiator shell are pretty clear tip-offs.
As are the European instruments on the left side, including “OEL” for the oil pressure gauge. Obviously, a US market speedometer has been swapped in. Note the markers for the top speed in each of the gears; that would be handy for my 0-60 run. pretty much all European cars had these, as tachometers were not common except for overtly sporty cars and/or some expensive ones. They are quite effective too.
The AC control is in English, as is the “Fasten Seat Belts” indicator. Love those Becker radios.
This is clearly a mix-and-not-match car, as the upholstery shows.
Yes, this is a stick-shift car, which coming from Europe, is only to be expected. And it will perhaps help a bit in our acceleration run, although the Mercedes four speed automatic really gave up little if anything to the stick due to its “tight” torque converter and four gears, which were very similarly-spaced as the manual, and did not have an overdrive top gear.
I wanted to shoot the startup of this venerable old-school Mercedes diesel, an engine that has built a reputation for being nigh-near indestructible, as long as it has some oil in it. It’s just so well built and so low-stressed, that these can rack up hundreds of thousands of miles without any issues.
Nick gave the glow plugs a 30 second warm-up, and then hit the starter. And it came to life with the inevitable clatter and shaking. If ever the term “agricultural” truly applied to a car engine, here it is. Might as well be a tractor starting up. 2197cc shaking out 57 or 59 net hp, depending on the source (60PS DIN), at 4200 rpm; and 93 net ft.lbs. of torque at 2400 rpm. Those are the vital statistics, assuming this is actually an OM615 engine. These are not direct injection engines like modern diesels, hence the need for the glow plugs to warm up their pre-combustion chamber, where the initial combustion takes place.
It was time for me to slip behind the huge steering wheel and let er’ rip. We headed out a few blocks, and then I handed Nick my iPhone and told him to roll a bit of spontaneous video.
Nick held my phone vertically, and I didn’t notice. That explains why it’s vertical, duh! But then this is not an attempt by me to break into the YouTube video business; just a way to document the drive. This first video starts out at the intersection of 28th and Chambers, where it heads up a pretty good hill, an opportunity for me to see how it does. Not so hot. I got it up to about 35, but then the hill steepened some, and its speed just melted away, and I had to downshift into second. It reminded me of many drives in diesel Mercedes in the mountains of Austria, slooowly chugging away.
These engines are just inherently very phlegmatic. Diesels love them some boost, and without it they intrinsically make less torque than a comparable-sized gas engine. On the level, the Mercedes was reasonably ok; of course we were driving on a quiet neighborhood with no traffic to speak of. But it will get you there, rowing through the gears and trying to avoid losing momentum, as untold thousands of diesel taxi drivers in Europe’s cities will attest.
Once we got over the hill a bit, and headed out Loraine Highway, Nick decided to roll some more video. We finally hit a stretch where I got it above 60. And that included some curves taken at well above the posted recommended speed. This old Benz is still as solid as a the proverbial bank vault. The steering is a bit ponderous, yet once under way, has decent feel and inspires confidence, as does the highly capable all-independent suspension and four wheel disc brakes. The fact that these cars were so far ahead of the state of the art, especially in the US, makes them feel a lot less “old” now than a typical American car from the late 60s-early 70s.
The W114/115 was a big deal when they arrived in the summer of 1968 or so, as they were all-new, and not a further evolution of prior Mercedes, except for the drive trains, of course. These cars may look similar to the W109 S Class of 1966, and share a 108″ wheelbase (the swb cars) but that’s deceptive. The 114/115 had a completely new chassis, with a new ball-joint front suspension and semi-trailing arm rear suspension that finally ditched the low-pivot swing axles. The W123 is just a direct evolution of the W114/115, and feels quite similar when driving: heavy, solid, yet quite willing to take a corner at good speed, or anything else that can be thrown at them. These cars inspire endless confidence in their abilities to take on whatever comes their way, fast or slow.
We pulled over on a flat section of Loraine Highway, and made our run to sixty. I didn’t know until I got home and timed the video how long it took. My comments are of course to be taken with a bit of salt (as almost always), but it did feel a wee bit faster than the 28.77 seconds I timed it at from the video.
Too bad Mercedes didn’t offer a turbo version of the 240 D; actually, there was an aftermarket kit, and I remember reading a test of one so equipped; the reviewers liked it even better than the the non-turbo 300D.
Automobilecatalog.com lists a 0-60 time of 26.6 seconds for the 220D, which considering the trunk full of parts including a transmission, and two tall guys in the seats, is probably just about right. And I read somewhere that the key to the best times on these are by dumping the clutch at 2200 rpm, which keeps the engine at about 1700rpm minimum on take off. Needless to say, I did not do that. But it did hit 60 in third gear, which is right where the marker is on the speedo. Top speed is 84 mph.
It all felt rather familiar of course, as the 40hp (34 net hp) 120cc VW Beetles I drove back in the 70s had just about the same 0-60 time, although that dropped considerably on one of them after I put on 1350cc barrels and pistons, and optimized the timing. And then there’s my ’66 F-100 six; I should do a 0-60 run on it some time. I’m quite comfortable behind the wheel of a really slow car. Or a fast one. I’ve got them both. It’s nice to have the choice, depending on the mood.
What about merging on the freeway in a really slow car? Folks always say that’s when they really need that 350 hp. But if you’ve ever driven a big truck or bus, you’ll know that they manage to merge into freeways just fine too. It’s not exactly magic.
Who knows where all this car has been? Has it climbed the mountains of Switzerland (slowly) for a driver who really liked to be frigid? And why are those tail lights not the ribbed version that was used from 1974 on? And that chrome horizontal trim piece below the star was longer on the 1974 and later versions. Did it get hit in the rear as well as the front? What’s the real story of this car? And how many hundreds of thousands of miles has it actually logged? We may never know.
And it’s ready for more; much more, actually. By the time Nick is ready to sell it, it will have been thoroughly gone through and ready for anything. If you’re interested in joining it on its next chapter, let me know.
Auto-Biography: 1986 Mercedes 300E and the Birth of Telemundo – Dreams Fulfilled; Dreams Dashed
Jeezo-Peezo it needs a tune up REALLY badly ! .
At the very least a valve adjust and injector pop testing, if any of my old Mercedes Diesels cranked that long before lighting off, I’d be worried .
As mentioned, this thing appears to be one more ” BITSA ” : made up out bits of this and bits of that someone had lying around or assembled piece by piece .
I think it looks just fine but a rusted out steering box mount is DEADLY, I hope he really does thorough rust repairs on this old lump .
My Citroen is a pre chamber diesel with recent (two years ago) new glo plugs it fires instantly after being glowed cold when it doesnt new glo plugs are the cure.
My point exactly Bryce ~ Diesels with glow plugs always start in one revolution or less when in good nick .
Plus, many Americans don’t know much less follow the proscribed cold starting drill .
I had one 1978 naturally aspirated Diesel Coupe that was a dog yet after I learned the proper starting drill it always lit right off in never more than two revolutions of the engine, even down to freezing .
That is seriously slow car. There are many hazards merging onto freeways in the Bay Area. One is that no one expects the car ahead of them to come to a stop if the driver is unable to merge safely. Then you take the chance of being rear ended by the driver behind you. While driving my 1975 Honda Civic station wagon with two speed Hondamatic transmission I sometimes had to stop on the ramp, to my immediate peril. A couple of times I had to pull over onto the right shoulder to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. This was almost thirty years ago, and drivers then weren’t as rude, impatient, hostile, and distracted as they are Today. I imagine that this car would be a rolling enticement to become a victim of road rage. With all of the long distance and lengthy (timewise) commuters around here, there are too many that are constantly on the razor’s edge of self control. No need to make yourself a target.
Merging is the first thing that I thought of as well. In fact, last week, I saw a Mercedes 240D (quick by comparison to the 220!) merging into heavy traffic on I-55 in Springfield, IL. It wasn’t quite an easy procedure, and I give the driver a lot of credit for trying. But if I were the driver, I think I would have taken secondary roads instead.
I like it, it has tons of character. Slow, sure, but still getting you there eventually. More time to enjoy the journey, that’s all. Looking forward to the next installment of “The fastest cars in the world, in reverse order…”
It may have been a parts car that someone finally put together again, but with different parts. The original car was probably scrapped for parts until the owner stood there with an empty body shell. Seeing that there were little actual rust and that the body was worth saving, the car was slowly put together with what was at hand. I’d say that the original car is a pre-facelift, with doors fitted from a post-facelift. If it says W114 on the bulkhead, that’s probably the original car, but with parts fitted from a W115. The black parts of the interior is one car, while the brown parts are the other. As the doors look better than the seats, I’d say the doors are W114 and the seats are W115. If it had a nice W114 interior originally, the front seats and the rear sofa was probably sold off, and the lesser seats from a W115 was installed as a placeholder.
Seems to be a bitza but it hardly matters, love the rattling diesel on startup my daily drive does that along with loud clacking from the automatic accessory belt tensioner the big difference is in the drive being turboed my car doesnt run out of puff so easily, however a school friends parents had a 190D years ago and on their turn for the return run to boarding school I distinctly remember the crawling on hills, wound up on the flat it wasnt a bad car to ride in and was definitely faster than the 1100 Beetle I had some access to, plus the Benz had lights and brakes the VW lacked.
Don’t think I want to drive one, but I certainly enjoyed the virtual ride.
Love it, thanks for sharing! I’m reminded of when I drove a Peugeot 504 diesel in college. Nail it and steer . . . It really wasn’t too bad on the streets of Charleston, SC, after all those streets were designed for horse and buggy! The cooling system couldn’t handle the SC summer heat though.
After living with that car for day to day transportation, nothing has seemed slow since. I frequently check a Prius out of the motor pool at work, it’s a rocket ship compared to something like this.
This is great! The best part is the video where you take off, the engine is sounding great, and we look up to see the 10′ skips on the centerline coming toward us at a trickle. It doesn’t matter, this car really sounds like it would be a richly rewarding driver.
Reading this did help reignite the old spark I’ve had for Mercedes since childhood. That’s a very good thing.
I daresay the York copied Air Conditioning compressor had more power than the engine attached to it?
I had a slightly older (mid 1960’s) finned version of this car for my 120 mile a day college commuter car. Manual (very stiff!) steering, 4 speed manual on the column, hand crank sunroof, “factory” (prolly port of entry added?) A/C which had all the subtlety & quietness & vibration control of a Western-Auto add on unit (but Man-oh-Man did it pump out some FRIGID air!), puke green exterior, dark forest green MB TEX basket weave seats. I bought it from my Father’s “foreign car mechanic” (as they were called wayyyyy back then) for a song because his wife could not deal with the bicep-building manual steering.
It took FOREVER (esp with the A/C on!) to get up to my cruising speed of 62 mph (about as fast as I could risk in the 55 mph days); but would sit there all day, quite contentedly.
In the brief winter time we have here in New Orleans, parked in the u-shaped, 3 story brick dorm parking lot, the darn thing was SO noisy when started up that my fellow students would raise their windows, shake their fists, yell obsenities at me and throw paper cups down at me!
The almost chair height seats were nothing special to look at; but quite comfortable for my 65 minute home-to-college- commute. Compared to my roomie’s hand me down Ford Falcon station wagon, the Benz was about as slow but MUCH more comfortable.
I drove it for 3 college semesters, the only maintenance was a can of 99 cent freon into the car, and sold it for $600 more than I paid for it.
Dull, comfortable and reliable it was.
Love the way the engine bounces around on it’s motor mounts on startup.
Also thanks for not having two minutes of putzing around before the engine actually turns over, with content like this I’m sure your YouTube channel will soon eclipse CC in generating tons of cash!
Engine bouncing at startup is typical. Much more modern diesels do it. Here you can see a 2001 Passat TDI doing it.
And actually that’s one of the things I love about them. I remember a 2006 SEAT Ibiza FR (think Spanish VW Polo) with the massive 1.9 TDi shaking like crazy at startup.
BTW, when most folks see a giant truck coming towards them they get out of the way, for the simple reason it’s much bigger than their vehicle. I’m not sure I’d trust the average driver to let a slow moving sedan merge onto a freeway.
Gotta admit, that while the paint job is….interesting(?), strangely enough the only other Mercedes-Benz of this vintage I’ve ever seen was my mother’s uncle’s 300SEL 6.3. After driving it a few years, it was traded in and a subsequent owner had the top painted when the Arizona sun damaged it.
Just this morning I looked at 2 different Mercedes diesels on Craigslist. Probably the only way I’d consider one of these cars would be as a later (turbo-added) model. Even here in flat as a pancake Florida you want a car that gets to 60 in under 20 seconds….quite a bit under 20 seconds, actually.
I’m thinking this is a US-market main body shell with a Euro front clip, evidenced by the fact that there are rear side marker lights but no fronts.
One of the houses I walked past on the way to middle school in the mid ’80s had a /8 diesel of some sort. I remember the winter starting procedure as a long, noisy, and if successful smoky ordeal that would sometimes take the entire time I walked the five or so blocks along that street. Really made me wonder what the fuss was about Mercedes. But then, for a car of that era to still be in use in Vermont and not rusted to nothing at that age was an accomplishment.
I think you’re probably right. Rear sidemarkers but no fronts…US headlamp assemblies…mix-‘n’-match upholstery. This car is a bit of a dog’s breakfast, which makes its apparently pretty sound condition all the more appreciable.
Driving this car in the Boston area would be a suicide mission. Merging during certain hours is complicated by the fact that breakdown Lane travel is permitted during the busiest hours of the day to help alleviate congestion. There’s a slim chance that older drivers might remember how slow such cars were and cut the old Benz some slack. Not a chance from anyone under 35 as they would probably not believe that such a car was ever built. There is just no place for something this slow in such a busy place nowadays. Road rage would follow this car everywhere.
The iconic “tuc-tuc-tuc-tuc” of these on startup will certainly be in my memories. Rode a lot of times in a blue 1976 (reg year, MY probably 1977), so it was a W123. Slow as heck, but a lovely car, with a matching blue cloth interior. Really liked riding in it. And never imagined I could see so few 123 as I do now.
But a light still shines. In a sea of new C class, E class and Citroën’s doing taxi services, a W123 240D still does its taxi services around here. Das Beste oder Nicht!
I have always had a strange desire to own one of these. There is something charming about a slow car, but a slow car with a manual transmission is much more pleasant. And you are right, this car has many mysterious elements. That interior is really fascinating. And when did M-B start using that steering wheel? I liked the earlier one with the huge hub.
That would make a great QOTD – what was your slowest car. I think mine was the 96 4 cylinder Odyssey. It is not as slow as this diesel Benz, but it made my later Town & Country with a 3.3 feel positively sprightly. I also remember driving a 77 LeSabre with the V6 back in the late 1970s, but I was used to 60s V8 cars so my scale might not have been fully calibrated yet.
Paul thanks for the insight into the one time German attitude about a diesel engine in a Mercedes. I did not know that.
I have been in Germany when many cars, including rental cars, were diesel and there seemed to even be a preference for diesel. But that was decades after this car was current. So times change.
My attitude about a diesel Mercedes has always been very bad – sound, stink, smoke and slow. My mind knows that those traits are no longer the case with modern diesel cars and I can admire some recent (turbo) diesels. Though I would like to buy a nice 124 wagon sometime, my anti-diesel Mercedes prejudice keeps my internet search limited to 300TE or E320 – no “TD” for me.
Having owned three W123 240Ds, and driven a number of older W114 220Ds, after yeas of age, wear & tear, and who knows who working on them, performance is all over the map on these. Usually, the automatic versions are the slowest, though one of the peppiest ones I drove was an automatic 220D. Perhaps that one had advanced injection timing or the tranny’s throttle shift-control rod was mis-adjusted.
My first 240D was a $200 tired, rusty automatic W123. It was pretty slow, though not the worst I’ve driven. It’s biggest issue was at speeds much above 60, when the road and engine noise was almost deafening!
OTOH, I currently own an ’82 stick-shift 240D, with a solid body and factory replacement engine. It’s relatively quiet at highway speed, and engine noise is more like an old four-cylinder Mercedes gas engine.
As for the steering-box mount on the 220D here, my ’72 W114 250 had that problem.
The unibody frame-rail developed fatigue-cracks at the steering box and started flexing, snapping one of the mounting bolts. This happened to me three times, fortunately, only at parking speeds, when strain on the weakened steering was at it’s highest. It was finally repaired with a 1/4″ steel plate and tube reinforcement to the frame-rail.
Happy Motoring, Mark
This is rather like the 1967/1968/1969 Hodge Podge Dodge Dart convertible featured a couple of days back, only much pokier and much less fun on sunny days.
At least that car’s Slant Six (since it is very likely a “Dart GTS” by virtue only of the emblem on the hood) can get out of its own way, assuming adequate condition and state of tune.
Per my COAL, I had a W123 ’77 240D. The trick to merging on the freeway when there’s a car behind you, dogging you, is this… Floor the accelerator pedal. This won’t make you go any faster, but it will put a thick cloud of black smoke between you and the offender, and you won’t be able to see him dogging you any more.
I remember this from Dad’s 190Db. I also remember building up speed going downhill to gain a bit of momentum for going back up. That worked only on little city and suburban hills, though, not in the mountains.
This clearly indicates your car was in dire need of service….
Huge black/grey clouds of smoke from any Mercedes Diesel is _not_ normal ! .
In 1947 Agatha Christie debuted a radio play called “The Mousetrap” which later in 1952 became a long playing mystery play also called “The Mousetrap” still being performed decades later in London’s West End. In honor and parody of Agatha, this ancient, pokey bitsa Benz should be called “The Deathtrap” due to the enduring mystery of how long (or rather, in reality, how short) it would be able to survive in modern brisk commuter traffic. Ahem. Belch on frightfully slow Benz, in a cloud of diesel smoke, however brief that may be!
This is a MB that would make me think “TAXI”!
A 1977 and up Caprice Classic with SBC would feel like a true luxury car after that to us “Amerikaner”.
o-60 in 26.6 seconds – wow that is SLOW! I think this would be a neat car to drive around town, but perhaps staying off the freeways. The interior is well laid out but a bit sparse looking, and those seats look pretty hard and uncomfortable. I miss colour-keyed wheel covers.
Looking at the side view of this car you can really see where Ford cribbed the styling cues for the Granada/Monarch from.
My friend Ben was a little older than I. He had one of these, with a custom licence plate “BNSBNZ”. We lived 1700 metres (about 5600 feet) above sea level, which takes a chunk out of an engine’s power. “Slow” does not begin to adequately describe that car. He let me drive it (despite my lack of licence or insurance) a short distance from the local high school to my house one day. It was “zero to 60 probably sometime toward the end of next month.” Really good brakes, though.
…and BNSBNZ was an automatic, too.
As an aside Paul, I noticed while watching the videos that you have no accent. My siblings, who were roughly your age when they came to the States from Poland also have no accents.
As for the MB, how much is your friend asking for it, considering its Frankenstein conditions?
You think this car is slow, I drove a Vanagon Diesel (hot rod mag says 41.1 0-60) for a while working for a VW dealership. I had to get on the LA freeways in the ’80’s in this beast, the good thing is the speed limit was 55 MPH in those days, the bad thing was people were actually still driving closer to 70. Some were even built as Westfalia Campers and with the added weight were slower still. The ’68 1600 CC Bus pickup I drove in the mid’s ’70’s for another dealership felt like a race car in comparison.
I would avoid any car that has had it’s front clip replaced unless I knew who did the job and was sure it was done correctly. Hopefully the shop that inspected the car determined the repair was properly done.
The 77 Rabbit Diesel C/D tested did 0-60 in 16.8. Dasher Diesels were in the 21 second range. I always thought the Rabbit Diesel had enough power to keep up with traffic, at least in the ’70’s and early ’80’s. Nice write up, I would love to get the chance to drive an old Mercedes Diesel (or gas).
There is a fuel station in Camas Washington that sells off road Diesel fuel, and it is indeed dyed red with a big warning sticker on the pump. As I recall at the time I last checked it was about a dollar a gallon cheaper.
Spraying the brown trim pieces with black vinyl upholstery spray paint, along with a coat on the black seats would help the interior’s looks quite a bit for only a few dollars.
0-60 is timed by however long it takes to finally kill one of these old Merc diesels! I have a strange appreciation for these things. Diesel Benzes can be seen chugging around the PDX area pretty often, and theres something to be said for a tank like car that can soak up all the punishment you can throw at it, smile and keep on coming.
My dad’s car was a 1961 190Db, so a quite different chassis, but the seats were supremely comfortable, the steering was manual but not unduly heavy, and the handling was really, really good. The ride was pleasant, too–nice and supple, and it dealt well with pavement irregularities. I sure got well acquainted with rowing through the gears (4-speed column shift). I think its engine was even noisier, though, than this one, and at highway speeds the din in the cabin was deafening. Yep, it would get up to highway speeds, but it took even longer than this one.
I remember well the starting ritual, warming up the glow plugs until the dash indicator showed they were ready, and adjusting the idle speed control on the dash as the engine warmed up. In the summer the glow plugs didn’t need to run as long, and if the car had just been driven, often they didn’t need to run at all.
When I first moved to Berlin in 1984 to attend university, the logical choice when looking for a cheap car that would be good for everyday use as well as Euro-travelling was to look for the mythical “old-school mercedes diesel, an engine that has built a reputation for being nigh-near indestructible, as long as it has some oil in it. it’s just so well built and so low-stressed, that these can rack up hundreds of thousands of miles without any issues.” Otherwise I knew nothing about diesels, besides having been indoctrinated by the dogma mentioned above (and the allure of owning a /8 was big – I still find them the most beautiful of the middle-class Mercedeses). There were plenty available and I bought a 1976 200D with “don’t know” how many kilometers behind it, since the odometers then went 000000 every 100000 km. Both body and interior were in very good condition, and it had neither minor nor major issues from late summer, when I bought it, until mid-november, when suddenly it refused to start. After being towed to the mechanic, I was told it’s engine had not enough compression to withstand low temperatures to get started, which meant it was worn out and either I should swap it for a refurbished one or wait until spring and sell it, which is what I did and that was it as far as being a true MB diesel believer – I went from Paulus to Saulus and never went back. My next car was a 1979 Honda Accord hatch and I lived happily thereafter. My last experience with a CC was a 1984 Golf I GL with 70000 km that I bought in 2000 for DM1600 and sold in 2006 for 400 euros. The paint was pristine, steel sun roof and everything else manual, it left me stranded only once (gas pump, 30 euro for a new one including the mechanic’s fee).
When the 60 falcon arrived with the 144 six the acceleration was probably accepted
as at least being better than a dauphine or some such I wonder how slow the
first Econoline was when it was full of cargo My four cylinder Ranger teaches me
about slow acceleration going to and from the flea market bed is loaded hauling
my small trailer People behind me on the two lane interstate are not happy with
me Sometimes I really think I am driving a VW bus
You are a lucky man – more bucket list motoring!
I guess every 40+ year old car with 250K on the clock will have a story to tell, and an accident is very likely to be part of it.
Going by the colour of the roof, was this a taxi somewhere in German speaking Europe, and maybe the black came the replacement front end (and/or rear) that Paul identifies? That performance could be quite acceptable for a city based cab.
And how good were these cars? It took the W123, possibly the best rear drive car of the 1970s (IMHO) to succeed it.
My ’82 240D’s 0-60 acceleration is in the 20 second range. The brakes are superb, and on four Michelins, it takes the curves like it’s on rails. The paint is shot, but it has solid floors & rockers, and extremely minimal rust – especially for an east-coast car.
I keep it at my parent’s place in Virginia Beach, where it’s mostly flat. If the ramps have a proper merge-lane, I have no problem on the freeways there. Otherwise, it’s a back-up vehicle. So I can choose the time of day or week to use the diesel, and have the patience to give myself plenty of room when crossing unregulated intersections.
Happy Motoring, Mark
I liked the real 220 Diesels. There were a few of them around the city where I grew up. Didn’t consider the engine noise too clattery.
This feature car is one to run away from. Hacked up with a mismatched interior. I always check body tags too confirm options, build date, etc when I’m researching a potential purchase.
Not diesel related, but a W115 question: in 1968 my best friend’s parents bought a W115 in Europe (Switzerland) and brought it back to California near the end of the year, to supplement their fintail 190. I rode in this car for many years, and even drove it after I got my license in the early ’70’s, but of course all this was a long time ago. Anyway, it was definitely 1968, definitely a W115, and definitely a 4 cylinder with 4 on the tree, but I’m 99% sure it was a 230 not a 200. Yet Paul – and Wikipedia, and every online MB reference I can find – states that the 230 4 didn’t show up up till the ’70’s. Any experts out there to say if I’m right or wrong? I have at least one picture of the car, but nothing with the rear badging.
The 230.4 did not arrive until 1973. Either it was a 230 six cylinder, or a 200 or 220 gas. Memories from that far back can be deceptive.
Well, after being reminded that you read every single comment, Paul, I’m a little hesitant to continue this off-topic ramble, so first – a big “Thank You!” for sticking with CC through thick and thin. But your confidence that there was no 230-4 that year, got me thinking some more and I think I’ve figured it out. See, my friend’s dad was a real practical joker. And I remembered that when their car finally arrived in the US late in ’68 (they had bought it in Geneva in the spring) the dad liked to brag about how this was a very rare model. Now, I know I have the year right, based on the grade and school where I met my friend, and I know it was a 4 cylinder. So I’m thinking the dad got a 230 badge for the trunk. In hindsight, that’s just the kind of thing he would do.
That would make sense, in a nonsensical sort of way. 🙂
Daily drove a 1970 version for 8 months or so. Loved the useful torque but starts from a stop were painfully slow. Once moving it was not so bad.
I even auto-x mine!
Out of sheer curiosity, can you wake these D-B diesels up with a turbocharger?
Yes, *BUT* ~ engine life will be very short .
Proper turbocharged engines have lower compression ratios and other changes .
Regarding tax free fuel, the typical practice was to put red dye into the untaxed stuff, hence request references in the UK and Europe to “red diesel”. The French and English were also fond of using the stuff while here in the US, No. 2 heating oil was a popular dodge. An friend also claimed to have run a VW Rabbit diesel on a mix of old hydraulic fluid and kerosene one winter.
It’s probably a good thing this car was stick, my cousin had a W123 240D with automatic and it was a total slug. I’m willing to believe this felt like a tractor since the non-turbo 300D I drove once in high school felt like a total truck compared to my usual Volvo 164.
A bit late on commenting on this post. But not sure the Mercedes W123 300E was the fastest 4-door in 1986? 1986 Australian Holden VL Commodore Turbo with Nissan RB30 Turbo motor could sprint to 0-100 km in 7.5 seconds both 4-speed auto and 5-speed manual and do the quarter-mile in 15.25 seconds. Top speed, not quite a match. Seriously fast for the time, but nowhere as stylish as the Mercedes, for sure.
I use the term “fast” for top speed, and “quick” for acceleration. I’m not familiar with that Holden, but it may well have been quicker.
I think the Benz would’ve seen off the VL Holden Commodore turbo in top speed, they were not very aerodynamic for their time, maybe top speed 200 kph/125 mph. My little Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo did about the same top speed as Commodore but very much more aerodynamic.
There was a nice VL Commodore on historic plates out for an early morning run the other day. Just a nice old car – then I saw it accelerate, scrabbling for traction, with a definite RB-engine soundtrack. Yep, VL Turbo, super-rare. Hard to think Holden actually offered this.
In February 1974, 2 years out of college and ensconced in my first (non-summer) job, a government job with decent pay and bennies, I decided to buy a new car for the commute. It came down to a used ’71 M-B 280 SL, or a new ’74 M-B 240D, ’74 Volvo 144, and SAAB 99. I went with the latter, and would do the same today if given the same choice. Though kinda miss having the experience of owning a pagoda 280, but it wouldn’t have been a very sensible choice as a daily driver! I drove the diesel and knew I couldn’t live with it, but then bought a used Peugeot diesel wagon 10 years later, and came to the same conclusion… D’oh!
PS The house behind it is as charming as the car!
Going against the stereotype of fast cars, my dad’s best friend, a retired Naval aviator, bought a well used 220 or 240D about 1980. He was used to idiot lights and didn’t notice when the oil pressure dropped from a leak until the engine seized. Perhaps the cigarette smoke and stains obscured his view, or years of drinking made him careless in his 50s. He and his BIL disappeared completely in his recently-serviced small plane while touring Alaska in ’92. Another pilot flying the same route close behind them crashed and died when landing.
A Mercedes sedan with a manual shift on the floor – that is cool as hell! Great videos. I recall a friend’s parent’s Mercedes, I think a mid 60s model – was a diesel (don’t know if a 6 or 4 cylinder) with a 4 speed manual shift on the steering column. The speedometer ‘graph’ was vertical, and would change colors as the speed increased, I believe to red.
I don’t know where they got fuel, in the 70s fuel stations with diesel were rare.
As far as merging goes, I mostly drove slow cars from ’71 to about ’85. Aircooled VWs, including busses, including a 36HP bus as a parts gofer for a bit. I tried drag racing a city bus in that thing one time, uphill, against a wind and was so much slower it was laughable. Of course I doubt the bus knew I was racing it… And my Simca 1204. A relatively portly 2000 pounds and 1204 low compression CCs.
But I never had a problem merging. I’d just stand on the right pedal, to or past peak or redline, then upshift and work my way in. Yeah, I worked them to an inch of their lives, but it worked. Always.