Street-Spotted: Mercedes-Benz 240D

The Mercedes-Benz W123 celebrates its 45th anniversary this year but it feels like it has only recently acquired the status of a collector car. Yet seeing this 240D reminds us that it debuted in a much different time. Its era was marked by an oil embargo and persistent gasoline shortages, making Mercedes’ midsize offering a sudden hit on this side of the Atlantic, as prior to it diesel engines were associated almost exclusively with trucks—and not the pickup kind. Diesel had been much more common in Europe at the time, so those automakers that had diesel engines in their lineups had an instant advantage in the second half of the 1970s as gas prices soared.

This generation of Mercedes cars started out by borrowing the powerplants of the W114 and W115 sedans, and this included the 2.4-liter inline-four diesel badged as the 240D. Good for 67 hp, the 240D wasn’t quick, but it was reliable and economical, even though it was quickly upstaged by the arrival of the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-five models badged as the 300D or 300CD. Also, diesel W123s weren’t cheap, but they had a limited set of competitors among other European cars of the time: Diesel versions of the Volvo 240 and the Peugeot 504 may come to mind, but just try finding those today.

Besides economical powerplants, the W123 had plenty of other attributes, ones that are still on display decades later, including a spacious cabin with durable interior materials, excellent visibility, a double-wishbone front suspension, and plenty of safety features including crumple zones. The fit and finish of these cars was impressive when that was still a major issue with new cars, and rust protection turned out to be quite good as well, as we can see by the number of examples still on the road year-round.

Examples of the W123 started receiving club concours restorations and commanding prices north of $30,000 just over a decade ago, as a number of California shops started dedicating themselves to restoring old Benzes to flip, or building cars to order. After over a decade of this kind of scalping, most of the “easy” cars have already been picked out west where the salt won’t bite, so you won’t find too many just sitting around for a song.

Even as restorers have begun churning out examples that approach the $40,000 mark, and picking up lesser examples for parts, there is still a supply of undiscovered W123s around the country are in solid shape.

Whether that supply will last another 10 years is a different question.

Do you still see any diesel W123s in your area? Let us know in the comments below.

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