When I was in high school looking for a classic motor car I was crazy about small British cars. These cars, however fun and timeless, did not have the reliability I needed as a student. Enter the Mercedes 300TD, a tank of a car, ’80s icon and future classic.
The 300TD was built on the storied W123 platform, and served as the “E Class” from 1977 to 1985. The lines on W123s are timeless: Straight and clean with tasteful chrome, the W123 sits upright and looks equally suited to taking on unpaved back roads and corporate parking lots. This is a cruising car in the purest sense, as it will wallow through turns but provide absolute comfort on the bumpiest roads.
The choice model of the W123 is the 300TD, the classic shape powered by a 5-cylinder turbo-charged diesel engine. The 300TD reminds us why Mercedes was once the gold standard — it is not uncommon to find these cars pushing 500,000 miles. The OM167 fitted to the 300TD is one of the most reliable engines ever built. Truthfully, these engines don’t need exceptional maintenance, but servicing them at regular intervals will help keep them ticking for decades.
As an older diesel, it is a bit loud, shudders and generally clatters its way down the road. It is woefully underpowered by modern standards, barely making 125 hp on a very heavy body, which translates to 0-60 mph in 13 seconds. The engine is versatile enough to take any number of fuels, and conversion kits for biofuel are fairly common (veggie oil and other kitchen byproducts may be used as well). A gasoline version produces 142 hp, sacrificing the diesel’s legendary reliability for power and smoothness.
When buying, keep in mind that the drivetrain will outlive the other components of the car. The rubber seals on the car should also be looked at, along with rust. The car will run from $3,000 to $5,000 in good condition, with high mileage and/or other issues knocking the price down to $1,000 to $2,000. For a solid old cruiser, the 300TD is a perfect choice. Though it won’t get you there quickly, it will make the journey in style.
Joseph Dillon is a college student and longtime car aficionado.