The price of the W123’s over-en­gi­neer­ing

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Driven -

It’s of­ten said that the S-class is the car that helped to de­fine Mercedes-Benz’s sta­tus as the maker of some of the safest, best en­gi­neered and most re­fined cars avail­able. But while the S-class – even the cheaper mod­els – pi­o­neered tech­nol­ogy that we all now take for granted, it is the W123 that per­haps did more for the three-pointed star’s rep­u­ta­tion than its big­ger brother. The W123 was sim­ply more vis­i­ble, more at­tain­able and a more prac­ti­cal demon­stra­tion of Mercedes-Benz en­gi­neer­ing.

You’d only see an S-class in the pricer parts of cen­tral Lon­don,but the W123 had more down to earth ap­peal, es­pe­cially when you re­alised that it has the S-class’s front sus­pen­sion, com­plete with an­tidive and cen­tre point ge­om­e­try to aid sta­bil­ity un­der heavy brak­ing or in poor weather.

The W123 also has a wide track to help sta­bil­ity, and power-as­sisted steer­ing was stan­dard on the larger-en­gined mod­els. All W123s have all-disc brakes and anti-lock brakes and airbags were op­tional ex­tras. Fur­ther crash pro­tec­tion comes in the form of a steer­ing col­umn de­signed to crum­ple and move to the side in the event of a col­li­sion – thereby pre­vent­ing it from en­ter­ing the cock­pit – and an en­gine and gear­box that break free from their alu­minium mounts in a crash and there­fore go un­der the cabin rather than through it. Front seat­belts were fit­ted as stan­dard from the out­set, with stan­dard rears fol­low­ing in 1980.

En­gi­neer­ing like this can save lives, as demon­strated by one Christo­pher White, who sur­vived when his W123 slipped off a South African moun­tain road and crashed on to rocks 100m be­low. Mercedes-Benz even used the story in an ad­vert.

But all of this came at a cost. The 280E we’re driv­ing would have re­tailed at £8000 at launch, and that was be­fore any costly op­tions were added. Con­sid­er­ing the op­po­si­tion, in the form of the Rover SD1 3500 (£4750) and Jaguar XJ6 (£6660), £8000 prob­a­bly seemed a bit steep. The Rover, after all, has con­cept car cool in­side and out and a bur­bly V8 for the driver to play with, while the Jaguar takes a more ret­ro­spec­tive an­gle with lash­ings of wood and well­cush­ioned leather. The W123’s stark ra­tio­nal­ity must have come as a bit of a shock by com­par­i­son, but it’s served the W123 well. Few cars are as me­chan­i­cally re­li­able as this, and here’s the proof – which of the three is still be­ing used as a taxi in Africa and the Far East? It’s the Mercedes-Benz. Lit­tle won­der pe­riod road tests reck­oned the price pre­mium was worth it.

It still is – and with prices al­ready on the move for the best ex­am­ples, now’s the time to get into a low-mileage W123. Coupés and es­tates are the most de­sir­able and are al­ready get­ting pricey, with the very best al­ready head­ing be­yond £15k. The more com­mon­place saloon can be had from as lit­tle as £2000 (for a worth­while rolling project) up to £8000 -£10,000 for low-mileage minters.

The saloon bowed out in 1985, fol­lowed by the es­tate in 1986. The baby of the range was now the W201 190E, with the W124 E-class a fur­ther step up. Both were sig­nif­i­cantly more mod­ern than the W123, but couldn’t quite match its qual­ity. Ru­mour even has it that taxi driv­ers took to the streets to com­plain about the W124’s in­fe­rior qual­ity.

Given the W124’s rep­u­ta­tion for so­lid­ity, that’s quite some com­pli­ment.

See the Mercedes ad­vert for your­self: www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcHoc­s4CA8A

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