Glen Coe? Nathan says, ‘no sweat!’
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.