The W123 series Mercedes-Benz 280 TE was the company’s first production estate car. Mercedes peaked early.
Regarded by some as the best load-lugger on the planet, it’s hard to believe that Mercedes-Benz was reluctant to build an estate. It was concerned that a bodystyle with a reputation for blue-collar duties would ruin its carefully honed executive image.
But as Mercedes was busy throwing everything including the Spüle into the development of the W123 saloon, research suggested that the estate car had the potential to remove its blue overalls and slip into something more comfortable.
As families found themselves with more leisure time, they needed vehicles that suited their lifestyle. Mercedes knew this, so work on the W123 wagon started in 1975, three years ahead of its debut at the 1978 Frankfurt Motor Show.
To distinguish it from the proletarian estate cars of the past, the names Kombi and Universal were shunned in favour of the ‘T’ suffix. ‘T’ stood for Tourism and Transport, although internally it was known as the ‘S’ for Stationswagen.
Although it was technically similar to the W123 saloon, the estate had the feel of a bespoke model. Self-levelling hydropneumatic rear suspension meant that ride comfort was maintained when carrying a load, while carpeting throughout was almost unheard of in estate cars at the time.
Options included chrome roof rails, 15-inch wheels, upgraded springs and shocks, and a child bench in the boot. For the increasingly affluent and time-rich motorists, it was a case of ‘just add lifestyle’.
It was an instant success. Faced with high demand for left-hand-drive vehicles, it would be two years before right-hand-drive versions arrived in the UK, where it soon became the estate car of choice for the stockbrokers of the home counties.
Production of the W123 saloon ceased in November 1985, although the estate car lived on until January 1986. Of the 2.7 million W123 series cars built, just under 200,000 were station wagons. Of these, 19,789 were the highly desirable 280 TE, powered straight-six-cylinder twin-cam engine. With a top speed of 130mph, this was the fastest and most expensive car in the world.
Which makes it the most desirable version of the world’s best estate car. What would you pay to own such a car? £5,000? £10,000? How about £25,000?
Silverstone Auctions has slapped a £20,000 to £25,000 pre-auction estimate on this 1983 Mercedes-Benz 280 TE. A lot for an ageing wagon, but there are many reasons why it could be worth spending your children’s inheritance on this Thistle Green beauty.
Have a look on the Mercedes website and you’ll see that £25,000 doesn’t get you an awful lot of Stuttgart metal. Choosing between entry-level versions of the A-Class or GLA is like a choice between being hit on the shins with a crowbar or a baseball bat.
Seriously, why some people spend the equivalent of a small mortgage on PCP deals for such vehicles is anyone’s guess. It’s not like you have anything to show for it at the end of the contract. Purchase one outright and you’re left with little more than a heavily depreciating asset.
The 280 TE on offer at next weekend’s NEC Classic Motor Show Sale has more class in its chrome bars than the entire Mercedes range put together. It’s a big range, too – like the automotive equivalent of a UB40 Top of the Pops appearance. Seriously, how many people did Birmingham’s finest reggae band cram on to one stage?
Ali Campbell and crew could have toured in this car as it comes with rear-facing seats. Other options cruise control, alloy wheels and, the perennial PetrolBlog favourite, headlight wash-wipe.
The fact that it has air conditioning and ABS means there’s no excuse to find yourself locked into a PCP deal when this is available. Heck, this thing has covered a mere 30,000 miles since it was supplied new by a dealer in Birmingham in 1983.
Not convinced? It happens to come from the private collection of famous hat enthusiast Jay Kay. The man may have questionable taste in headgear, but he knows a good wagon when he sees one. Cosmic.
Images © Silverstone Auctions