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Mercedes-Benz W123 (1975 - 1985)

Last updated 1 April 2019


Honest John is invited to drive a spectacularly low-mileage Mercedes-Benz W123. With little more than delivery mileage, this minty-fresh 230E is a wonder to behold.

But does it stand-up today as a modern classic you could use like a new car?

Classic road test: Mercedes-Benz 230E

Mercedes W123 230E A F34

When Mark Cosovich of W123 World invited me to drive an unused 1986 Mercedes 230E I could not resist. We’ve all heard of cars being imported, then sitting unregistered for years, but not for 26 years. All this car has on it is a delivery mileage of 1948km (1217 miles).

They certainly don’t build them like they used to. Germanic solidity abounds everywhere. Yet this is no lumbering heavyweight. At 1360kg, it’s no heavier than a modern car the same size.

It doesn’t have quite the power we’d expect from a modern 2.0 litre engine, though. Just 136PS and 201Nm torque, enough to pull it up to 60 in 12.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 109mph. The strange thing was how natural and how good if felt to drive. I didn’t have to move the seat or the mirrors or anything. Just got in and shifted it around for the various shots in the film. Then took it out for a short drive.

The steering requires a bit of re-acclimatisation, because the wheel is massive and requires quite a lot of turns. But instead of electrically applied resistance, you can actually feel it turning the wheels and can feel the road under its tyres. It actually corners very well.

Mercedes W123 230E D Cockpit 

It doesn’t actually feel ‘tight’ as you expect a new car to. But the fact that a 26 year old Mercedes can drive and handle as it did 26 years ago is testament to Mercedes Benz old slogan, 'Built Like No Other Car In The World'.

Back in the early 1990s I had to commute fairly regularly to Amsterdam; sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week and W123 230Es were the taxis that used to take me to the airport. The drivers reckoned to change the oil every 5000 miles, and change the timing chain every 70,000 miles. Treated that way, the cars would be good for 175,000–200,000 miles.

Of course, they weren’t always treated that way. A friend wrecked the engine of his beloved 280TE and faced a massive bill. And it’s the diesels that clock up the mega miles. These were true compression ignition diesels. No electronics. The only electrics were the glow plugs used to get them started (and after that the only way to stop them was a kill switch).

They may not have been very quick. And in fact the four-cylinder non-turbo 200Ds were actually painfully slow. But they would go on for ever, and are still doing so in parts of Africa. Many showing several million kilometres.

Mark Cosovich has compiled the definitive book of the Mercedes Benz W123 to be published soon. More details of the book and of W123 World maintenance and restoration services at

Video road test

Mercedes W123 230E G R34

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