Bucking recession is as easy as 123
A Mercedes-Benz classic saloon, the W123, has a big following here, writes Shane O'Donoghue
Just a few days ago, a Corkman stood around in Rosslare eagerly awaiting the arrival of the ferry from Wales. The situation is not an unusual one and all too often these days it's the scene of yet another Irish person emigrating to find work. But this is not one of those stories; this is about a business that has more orders than it has time to fulfil and about a Mercedes-Benz that is claimed to be "the finest saloon car of the 20th Century".
Our Corkonian has ventured beyond his county limits to take delivery of a shiny Mercedes-Benz, set to become his pride and joy. It's a 240D saloon, from the W123 series. Mercedes produced about 2.7 million examples of the W123 between 1976 and 1985 in four-door saloon, two-door coupé and estate guises and it would seem that demand now is higher than ever, regardless of the perpetual financial crisis.
The undisputed W123 expert in this part of the world is Mark Cosovich. Though Mark's father was a wartime refugee from Bosnia, his thick Welsh accent indicates that he's well-settled in Swansea. That is until his wife Fiona (of Irish parents) encouraged him to move 'back home' of course. As it is they spend a lot of time in Ireland, for pleasure and business, though as avid enthusiasts the two are inextricably mixed.
Mark and Fiona first forged a link between Irish and British Mercedes enthusiasts in 1995, when 30 cars from the UK took part in a tour taking in Cork, Kerry and Dublin.
It became clear then that the supply of classic parts to Ireland was an issue so Mark began what has become an annual pilgrimage to the Terenure Classic Car Show.
From there, Mark built up his business to carry out exacting restoration of W123 models. It seems that Irish buyers were interested in this car before it found favour in the UK. Mark tells us: "I can only put this down to 'Irish intellect and canniness' and not being driven by fashion as much as the UK." He reckons the finest examples of the W123 are now found in Ireland.
Business is booming, with no sign of let-up, even during the current financial situation.
Odds are that you'll find a W123 car for what looks like a bargain basement price in the classifieds, but the cars Mark works on all leave his premises in 'Condition 1' specification, which means they're as good as new. Better probably, as every single part of the suspension, brakes and fuel delivery systems is removed and inspected. Components are replaced if any wear is found and owners can even specify the addition of optional extras.
Once the car is complete it is subjected to an inspection by Mercedes-Benz and given a unique 12-month warranty.
Mark offers a word of warning though: "When attempting the restoration of vehicles in poor order, this usually works out to be far more expensive than a good example or a properly restored one" -- in short, don't expect his services to come cheap, but the cars are worth every cent.
So who buys such things? The clientele come from varied backgrounds; Mark has sold cars to High Court judges and regular farmers from Dublin to Galway, Cork, Limerick and Donegal. He points out that Irish buyers are (surprise, surprise) particularly interested in the diesel versions. Over half of all W123s produced are diesel. These were really expensive when new and apparently only bought here by bankers and other well-paid businessmen, 'gentlemen' farmers and plant hire bosses.
The very first W123 rally in this part of the world was held in August as a memorial to a renowned enthusiast, Brendan Magan. Forty examples of the car turned out for the day in and around Lough Derg. That's thought to be only the tip of the iceberg, as W123 World counts over 2,000 customers in Ireland (north and south). Mark reckons that we could see even higher demand for classic cars here in the near future as buyers cotton on to the benefits, though not all classics are as suitable to being used every day.
If a car you're importing is over 30 years old then it is exempt from VRT. There's just a one-off registration fee. Annual road tax is only €48 as well; pre-1980 cars are not required to go through the NCT; and classic car insurance can be cheap so long as you restrict your mileage. Quite a few examples of the W123 are now this age and in just four years they all will be.
Now's a perfect time then for Mark to share his knowledge in a book. He has been working with a British journalist, Martin Buckley, on this for some time and it aims to be the first complete English language book on the W123. They've delayed publication following an invite from Mercedes-Benz to visit its factory and museum in Stuttgart.
Mark hopes to gain access to unseen archives with images of pre-production prototypes and design studies likely to make it into the book. In deference to the enthusiasm for the car in Ireland the cover is dominated by an immaculate Galway-registered example.
Mark refers to the W123 several times as a "recession buster" and he reckons our tourism board would do well to make the most of its following here. It's hoped that the memorial tour could become an annual fixture and that some of the thousands of W123 fans in the UK will travel to Ireland for it.
"Ireland has the excellent road system to take full advantage of classic rallies such as this, which on the UK's congested roads are now almost impossible to organise."
Looks like there'll be plenty more waiting around for ferries.
Mark Cosovich can be contacted at markcosovich@btconnect. com or 00 44 1792 846888. He offers completely free technical advice over the phone and, though he specialises in the W123, he has a wealth of experience on most classic Mercedes-Benz models
Sunday Independent Supplement