The price of the W123’s over-engineering
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