Glen Coe? Nathan says, ‘no sweat!’

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Driven -

Bis­cuit had very dif­fer­ent roads to con­quer when Calum and CCW con­trib­u­tor Martin Domoney joined the ac­tion the fol­low­ing morn­ing. Our fi­nal des­ti­na­tion – Glen Coe – was still a long way off, but we were off the beaten track and tack­ling some of the de­light­fully twisty stretches of as­phalt that criss-cross the Scot­tish High­lands. Just to make things in­ter­est­ing my col­leagues had brought along a tweaked Saab 9000 and a much more mod­ern BMW 330Ci Club­sport, so the Mercedes-Benz was go­ing to have to call on ev­ery trick in its dy­namic book to keep up with them.

I needn’t have wor­ried. The straight-six de­liv­ers a not-in­con­sid­er­able 182bhp and its peak 173lb ft of thump comes in at a use­ful 4500rpm. There’s more of a rattle un­der kick­down, but the en­gine is gen­er­ally re­fined, if not par­tic­u­larly sweet­sound­ing. It doesn’t rasp like a BMW ‘six’ or bur­ble like a V8 – it just sounds like an en­gine busy­ing it­self with the im­por­tant jobs, rather than such triv­ial dis­trac­tions as au­ral tit­il­la­tion.

But that also sets this car up for one of the old W123 bug­bears. It’s well built, beau­ti­fully en­gi­neered and – most of the time – ut­terly re­li­able. It’s so good at be­ing a car, in fact, that it lacks any form of ex­cite­ment or pulse-rac­ing vibe. Then there’s the worry that the steer­ing box-fed han­dling will be about as en­ter­tain­ing as wrestling a pig in jelly.

For­tu­nately, this car’s cus­to­dian – Leigh Hol­brook of mar­que spe­cial­ist The Only Way Is W123 – is a dab hand at set­ting these cars up so Bis­cuit’s steer­ing is nowhere near as vague as it can be in some ne­glected W123s.

It’s true that the driver has to fac­tor in a se­cond for steer­ing in­put to register fully at the front wheels – and then another to dis­cover what the rears think about it all – but Bis­cuit proves to be a stead­fast and com­pli­ant com­pan­ion with which it was very easy to build up a rap­port.

Even the body roll – of which there’s plenty… W123s are built for long-dis­tance cruis­ing, not hair­pin har­ry­ing – gives no cause for alarm and not once does the hag­gis I’m bring­ing back to Eng­land fling it­self into the footwell. In fact, it turns out that the one thing W123s are sup­posed to lack – driv­ing fun – is there in abun­dance when I start to thread a set of sweep­ing turns to­gether.

Not only does Bis­cuit make it to Glen Coe – and our ren­dezvous with Fea­tures Ed­i­tor Simister and his MGB GT – she seems to have barely bro­ken a sweat, and seems more than up for the re­turn run.

It’s been an epic drive – and amaz­ingly, my back still doesn’t hurt.

It’s not all good news, though – a lack of lowend urge makes progress on some of the hillier stretches a strug­gle and forces me to slip the floor­mounted gear-shifter into ‘S’ to help ease things along. There’s noth­ing to worry about once I’ve crested the hills, though – it doesn’t mat­ter how hard I push the brakes, or how of­ten, they just soak it all up with aplomb and no hint of fad­ing,

As dusk falls and the last leg of this marathon bit of motoring – back onto the mo­tor­ways to­wards

Eng­land – beck­ons there’s just enough time to pull over and savour the W123’s ex­te­rior de­tails. There was a time, not that long ago, when it was deemed far too func­tional, but surely the chrome bumpers, vast grille, sub­tly curved de­tail­ing and sim­ple shape have now earned gen­uine clas­sic sta­tus? I cer­tainly think so.

If the def­i­ni­tion of a clas­sic car in­volves a dose of char­ac­ter, then the W123 280E has it in spades – it of­fers a a truly clas­sic ex­pe­ri­ence. Hav­ing spent a week­end in this 280E, I can think of no other car I’d rather get lost in.

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