This is a 1982 Mercedes-Benz 300TD, but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s its real name. Oh no. 300TD fans- those who are really in the know- know to call it by the chassis code that Mercedes christened it with at the factory: W123. And no, I don’t know why they do that. Also, this one’s missing a turn signal.
There are many reasons I like the 300TD, and all of them are embarrassingly nerdy. Right off the bat, it’s a station wagon, which, as I have been saying for years, is an awesome thing to be. Wagons have developed a pretty bad stigma here in the states as cars for moms. To many, the station wagon represents the bitter end, the final nail in the coffin of youthful exuberance in favor of monotonous, soul-crushing, suburban life. And I think that’s unfair.
On the whole, the station wagon has been on a pretty steady decline over the past few decades. Coming off their peak as spacious family vehicles all through the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the wagon was replaced by the bigger, more spacious minivan in the 80s. Then that was replaced by the rise of the SUV in the early 2000s, and then the SUV was replaced by the smaller, efficient-er (boring-er) “crossover” SUV. All of which left the wagon a little out in the cold without a jacket. Today, there are only five new wagons to choose from on the market. I don’t know about you, but I smell the scent of injustice.
What makes the wagon so great? Well they’re obviously more practical, and practicality is sexy. They’re also easier to see out of, because generally they have more windows. But there’s more than simple convenience here. Many wagons are lighter than their four door counterparts, and more streamlined as well. That means they get slightly better mileage. Plus, if your wagon is rear wheel drive, like this Mercedes is, more weight is put over the rear wheels (pretty much the opposite of a pickup truck), which means that the rear axle has more pressure pushing it into the road and subsequently more traction. Finally, and correct me if I’m out of line here (I admit I’m about as versed in fashion as a cactus), I think station wagons have gone full circle and become trendy again. All of the sudden, having a old, boxy and preferably brown car is “cool.” Again, I don’t really know- I’m basing this off the sudden prominence of old Mercedes and Volvo station wagons in places like Brooklyn and Greenwich Village. Still though: food for thought.
300TD is also, crucially, a Mercedes-Benz. Now, Mercedes likes to tout their role as a “prestige” brand with their golf tournament sponsorships and John Hamm-voiced commercials. However, if you buy into all that, I’m sorry to say you’ve been duped. That’s right sheeple, you’ve been lied to! North America is one of the few markets that really considers Mercedes-Benz a true, honest-to-God luxury brand. They make nice cars, yes, but in other parts of the world they make stuff like work vans and construction equipment. Places like Africa, which is where we finally get to talk about the W123.
People in Africa absolutely adore this car, and it’s easy to see why. The W123 is comfortable, it’s reliable and it has a sort of rough-and-tumble attitude about it. What’s more, because there are so many of them, spare parts are incredibly easy to find. And when it does come time be Mr. Fixit, it’s exceptionally easy to work on. The 3.0 liter inline five cylinder is a diesel, which in addition to being a novelty in that it has an odd number of cylinders, also means that you don’t need to deal with any pesky spark plugs.
You only got 77 horsepower on account of US emissions regulations, but the diesel engine pushed the torque figure up to a respectable 125 pound-feet. The W123 is a great car: arguably the last truly bulletproof Mercedes. I love the fact that you can find one anywhere from the bookstore-lined side streets of the Village to the sweltering heat of the Botswana savanna. There’s a certain beauty to its brutalist simplicity, its unashamedly straight lines, its boxy profile. This is an honest car. It does it’s job, whatever that may be, with no frills or indulgences. And, most importantly, it’s a wagon.
- Porky Pig drove a beige one of these (albeit the sedan version) in The Looney Tunes Show.
- The “T” in 300TD stood for Touring, which designated this car as a wagon.