Thursday 23 November 2017

Legend making a return

Mercedes love affair began with the bulletproof W123 - now a sought after classic here

The W123 Series c is now a fond favourite of collectors in Ireland and two fully restored cars will be on show at the Vintage Motor Show in Terenure next Sunday
The W123 Series c is now a fond favourite of collectors in Ireland and two fully restored cars will be on show at the Vintage Motor Show in Terenure next Sunday

Philip Hedderman

It's hard to believe but there was a time when the words 'Mercedes Benz' and 'bulletproof' sat comfortably side-by-side in the glossary of reliability.

There wasn't a grease monkey or a taxi driver in the land who wouldn't swear by one.

In fact, the more well- travelled of us were often ferried to and from Spanish and Portuguese airports in Mercs with in excess of 500k on the clock.

So smitten was I that at the tender age of 20 I bought my first, a fabulous four year old 190E in Gun Metal Grey with tear drop alloys, and over the next decade graduated to the E-Class (one magnificent coupe; 220CE W124 and two saloons; an E300 turbodiesel W210 and the shockingly bad E220CDI W211).

This love affair (which ended in betrayal and a bitter divorce) all began with the legendary W123 Series - a car that was to become as synonymous with my family as Dublin Fire Brigade (all three brothers signed up).

The eldest, Bob, bought the first - a gleaming white 240D which was reluctantly lent out for the odd family wedding/Christening/Debs and in one case, a holiday to England on one tank of juice.

My sister Christine soon caught the bug and she became the proud owner of a mustard 200E which had previously been owned by a Cork publican.

Bob was smart enough and still drives the W124 today but recalls many great memories from the 'old girl' including the morning he left the station in Tara Street after a night shift only to discover a 'discerning' tramp asleep on the back seat as he drove over Butt Bridge.

Despite the very pickable locks, he managed to hang on to her a few years longer before the tax disc became more valuable than the car.

She would be vintage now and worth a hell of a lot more than "the few quid" he sold her for. In fact all W123s are now fetching a pretty penny thanks to their reputation, low classic road tax and vintage insurance (the last rolled off the production line in 1985).

All-in-all some 2.69 million were produced with tens of thousands still believed to be driving around Africa today.

The most sought after though is the pillar-less coupe CE models of which only 100,000 were made in an eight-year production cycle.

The estate version or TE were not as popular with a mere 200,000 finding homes.

So what makes this Mercedes model so special? For starters it was the final hand-built model to leave the factory and dubbed "the last cars made by Master Craftsmen rather than accountants".

So much so that thousands of disgruntled taxi drivers - disgusted by the poor build quality of the W123's early replacement - staged a protest outside MB HQ in Stuttgart.

Secondly, it was, for a luxury car, really inexpensive to maintain and a simple service meant just that - oil, filters, plugs while a 'big' service threw in a set of brake pads.

And finally it was simply a joy to drive - once you got used to the ignition on the left hand side and the quirky pull out handbrake.

Demand now is so great that the first comprehensive English-language book on the W123 has been published.

Penned by Merc specialist Mark Cosovich, together with the UK's leading classic car author, Martin Buckley, the stunning 224-page hardback book with over 220 pictures covers everything from the history of the W123, its development and safety, competitors, the reunion of the 1977 London to Sydney rally team, Idi Amin's 'lost' car, a definitive buyers' guide and tips on restoring one.

The good news is that the two lads will be at next Sunday's (July 5th) Irish Classic & Vintage Motor Show in Terenure College. Along with signing the new book, Mark and Martin have brought two fully restored models which will be for sale at the end of the show. First up is the immaculate 1980 240D in China Blue with matching blue MB-Tex interior - believed to be the original Stuttgart-prepared Motor Show car.

For the more sporty, there's a rare 1979 230C single-carburettor Astral Silver Coupe with only 44,000 miles on the clock.

So, pop along, have a chat and just admire an unrivalled era in automotive engineering.

Enquiries to or

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