Throwback Tuesday: Mercedes W123 240D

Looking for some quality, dependable transport that will outlive humanity? Get yourself a W123 240D like this one – proof that not all classic diesels are inferior

As a weapon of choice come the nuclear apocalypse, the Mercedes-Benz W123 has its place firmly set as one of the most unbreakable cars ever made. So unbreakable, in fact, that Mercedes cherry picked one of the many hundreds of thousands with the highest mileage and gave it a worthy retirement in their museum, with that particular example showing 2.8million miles.

W123’s have popped up in the most unlikely of places, such as featuring in the remake of Mad Max and even as a prop in one of the most famous video game series of all time; Call of Duty. The W123 is a car that you could position anywhere, and no one would question it. A crater, a taxi rank, a desert island, or even in the car park outside Jay Leno's garage.

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So what makes is special?

With the speed and power of an amputated fish, no one really cared that the W123 had less than 70bhp in the 240D, because you literally couldn’t break it. It was both utilitarian and stylish, subtle but instantly recognisable. It even clattered its way into pop culture, ironically featuring as the villains compadre in both The Sweeney and The Professionals in the UK, and The Rockford Files and Starsky and Hutch. Some pragmatic flexing of the cars abilities dismissed, it does look rather cool.

Demand for the W123 was strong worldwide, with German buyers having to wait a full year after placing an order before theirs was delivered. The W123 settled into its career as the world’s taxi with grace, and in the decades following its release W123’s didn't find themselves going to the big car park in the sky, but rather being exported to Africa for continued use as taxis, as they literally refused to die.

This was assisted not only by the asthmatic diesel, but also by the steel construction which was rumoured to be the same grade as prison bars. What an absolute weapon.

What’s this one like?

The example we’re featuring here is what we would describe as ‘perfect’, the 240D. It really is a brilliant old tractor, with barely any electrics to go wrong besides the clock and radio. The central locking is vacuum operated, and even the oil pressure gauge is mechanical using an oil feed directly from the 2.4.

The central locking is sadly inoperable at the moment, but without electrics – who cares? Take the alternator and battery off it, and you would struggle to notice due to the mechanical injector pump, especially as this particular example is the boggo-spec apocalypse edition, with next to no options what so ever – what’s the point in a rev counter anyway, how tacky...

Having lived a charmed life travelling around the world, one can see this particular car has lived in dry conditions, and clearly is ready for another trip to the moon and back, if not breaking out of the milky way entirely. Despite 178,000 miles, a number that would make most snowflakes over here wince, it’s clearly just had its run-in service. With the invulnerability of a cockroach wearing a pin stripe suit, we can only conclude that the W123 is proof we live in the Matrix, or that when we colonise Mars we’ll know what to take with us.

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