Oh Lord, I’ve bought a Mercedes-Benz W123

“Look at that classic car, daddy,” said the small lad to his father when crossing the road to school. His father didn’t even look up from his mobile phone, but this was the moment I realised I owned something a bit special. PetrolBloggy cars aren’t generally appreciated by the man (or in this case, lad) in the street. But the W123 is something different.

Yes, that’s right, I’m the proud owner of a very gold Mercedes-Benz 230E, more commonly known as the W123. If this news comes as a shock to you, try sitting where I am. Me? The owner of a bonafide future classic? Surely there’s been some mistake?

Well given there’s a huge chunk of German metal quite literally filling my garage, it must be true. And believe me, this is a whole new world.

Rear of Mercedes-Benz W123

For a start, the W123 is a car that seems to attract almost universal acclaim. From classic car nuts to non-car people, everybody seems to love this thing. For someone who is well practised in the art of defending their choice of motor to anyone who will listen, this is completely alien. Everyone seems to get the W123.

Of course, everything that could be said about the Mercedes-Benz W123 has already been written. The best engineered car of the 20th century. The high point in Mercedes-Benz history. Built to a brief, not a budget. A car to survive the apocalypse. That kind of thing. PetrolBlog is about championing the obscure and the mundane. So what on earth is a Mercedes-Benz W123 doing here?

Quite frankly, I couldn’t let it leave the village. Even though it cost more than I’d usually spend on a car, I just had to have it. All of which means the Citroën AX GT restoration will have to wait another few months. More on that another time.

So what can I tell you about this particular W123? It’s a 1982 car that was supplied new in Exeter. The history suggests it has spent its entire life in Devon. As a 4-cylinder model it has the lower-spec, but in my opinion, lovelier, twin-lamp headlights. It’s still running on its original steel wheels with those glorious colour-matched hubcaps and it has the most relaxed and leisurely automatic transmission I’ve ever experienced.

I thought the Honda Accord was slow, but the Japanese saloon is positively whippet-like compared to this lethargy-enriched saloon car. Not that this matters, because the W123 is an absolute master at going slowly. It rolls, it pitches, it wafts, but it never does anything in a hurry. Time stands still when you drive a W123. And that’s a very good thing.

Aside from the Saab 9000, this has to be the most comfortable and cosseting car I have ever owned. In fact it puts many new cars to shame. The Rolls-Royce Wraith and new Volvo XC90 are the only cars that manage to beat it. And I’m comparing the 33-year-old Mercedes-Benz W123 to cars with some seriously expensive air suspension.

Inside it has electric windows, an electric sunroof, wood-effect trim, a Blaupunkt Melbourne radio-cassette player, the original carpet mats and a brilliant heating and ventilation system. It’s such an old school thing to be able to blow cold air at the same time as directing heat towards your feet. I’d go as far as saying the interior is almost mint. It’s as though it hasn’t been sat in, which highlights just how well these things were built.

Mercedes-Benz W123 interior

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of a W123 novice, having only previously experienced them from afar. But through articles, books and videos I’m learning fast and beginning to appreciate just what it is I have bought.

It’s far from perfect. The electric aerial doesn’t work, which as PetrolBlog’s regular reader will testify, is a big thing. There’s some surface rust at the front. The engine is pinking under heavy load. And she’s running a bit rich. But a winter hibernation should give me the chance to sort these issues. I get the feeling that this is one car where spending money could actually be a wise investment. Time will tell.

So treat this as an introductory piece. A warm welcome to the PetrolBlog family, if you will. I’ll be using this page to provide updates on living with a Mercedes-Benz W123 and will be launching similar sections for other members of the fleet.

Am I happy with my purchase? Put it this way: I’ve hardly looked at the classifieds since I bought it. And that really is saying something. The question is, where does the W123 rate on the PetrolBloggy scale?

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

15 comments

  1. October 15, 2015
    Ben Day

    Wow. Seriously impressive. I look forward to following the story with this one.

    My uncle used to have a Diesel W123 that had covered huge mileages across France.

    Reply
    • October 15, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Hopefully it will be a happy story, Ben!

      Taking it across Europe sounds like a grand idea.

      Reply
  2. October 15, 2015
    Kenny Smith

    “Look at that classic car, daddy,”
    – The future looks bright.

    Reply
    • October 15, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      It was a lovely thing to hear.

      Bless the little lad, he tried twice to get his father to look up. But he didn’t look away from his mobile phone. Shame.

      Reply
  3. October 15, 2015
    Ant

    Fantastic stuff, Gav. I think I was away on holiday when you actually made the purchase, so decided to wait until I saw the PB introduction before I commented on it. Rather jealous though, the W123 is one I’ve long been tempted by to one degree or another. Can’t wait to see it in the metal at some point.

    Reply
    • October 15, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Thanks, Ant. Had no plans to buy a W123, but kind of fell in love with this one.

      Twin-test with the Accord is on the cards!

      Reply
  4. October 16, 2015
    Darren Leslie

    That does look the business. Cracking colour too. So how many does that make at Petrolblog towers?

    Reply
    • October 17, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Yes, I’m a huge fan of the colour.

      As for the number of cars, it’s now up to six. But don’t tell anyone.

      Reply
  5. October 17, 2015
    npw99

    Bloody lovely.

    I’ve had two. A red 230E (70K) that mysteriously disappeared outside my old South London flat – the coppers said it was Nigerians with a flat bed truck, and that it would be broken up and shipped home for spares. It was a manual and once had a few fuel line leaks. The second was a blue 230E (46K) that had a few teething problems that I believe were due to fuel pressure – that meant it conked out mysteriously several times, and my missus insisted I sell it rather than definitively fix it. It was then used on some ITV cop show and I saw it for sale for around 8k (I sold it for less than 2k, but for more than I’d bought it for). The blue one in particular made me feel like a dictator of a minor African country.

    I’d sell my soul for an estate, but prices are getting silly.

    Enjoy!

    Reply
    • October 17, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Thanks for commenting. Have heard many stories about these being stolen to order. Hence why this secured the garage space!

      I love the reference to the dictator. It has that feel to it. The way it moves along the road is unique and quite lovely. Driving slowly has never been more fun.

      Any idea which TV copy show it was? Might be possible to track it down.

      As for the estate, I’m with you all the way. Also fancy a coupé. But I’ll console myself with the fact that the saloon is perhaps the most PetrolBloggy!

      Reply
      • October 19, 2015
        np99

        It was on ITV’s Doc Martin – You can still find photos of it although it’s obviously sold to some lucky bugger.

        I just hope they’ve sorted the fuel pressure problem, or the lucky owner will end up without power on the North Circular (as I did once).

        Reply
  6. January 3, 2016
    Gavin Brereton

    Hi, good too read your blog. I bought a 230ce just over a year ago and I’ve just got it back after some welding and paint work done.
    How are you getting on with the dreaded vacuum system? Mine has just failed it’s mot ,on the front seats not being able to lock in position, not had a chance to investigate yet, I guess it’s something to do with it!

    Reply
  7. March 15, 2016
    Trevor Nightingale

    I owned a 1980 base-spec 200 back in 1998 that I bought for £250 and ran for two years until the tin worm took over and I donated her to the local fire station so that they could practise opening up cars in an accident (it felt like a more honourable way to go rather than a crusher).

    Your story got me thinking again about W123s and after a bit of searching I’ve managed to bag myself another base-spec 200! This one’s a two-owner, 110,000-miler that is packed with history and a few parking dents and I’m already in love. Everyone should get behind the wheel of a 123 and the world would be a much calmer place.

    Reply
    • April 1, 2016
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Hi Trevor.

      OK, so a couple of weeks on, how is life with the W123 treating you?

      Reply
      • April 12, 2016
        Trevor Nightingale

        So far wafting around in my W123 has proved to be fairly pain free. As with any new motor the first couple of weeks have revealed a few little niggles but they are pretty minor considering the ol’ girl is 34 years old. I’ve learnt not to brim the tank completely with fuel as there is a problem with the filler neck somewhere as the cabin quickly fills up with fumes, and this smell doesn’t disappear until you hit the three-quarters of a tank mark. Also one of the brake calipers is sticking slightly but that’s because the car has barely been used in the last three years and is an easy fix.

        Apart from that the ol’ dear is working her way nicely into the family. My two little girls have nicknamed her ‘Midge’ (as soon as they give a car a name it means it’s staying around for a while), and I love the fact that the W123 works with the expected German efficiency yet it is still bursting with character and warmth. A rare balance I think.

        Is your 230E out of hibernation yet?

        Reply

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