Even if I’ve featured more of the larger-engined examples of W123:s I’ve seen around, not every 123 here is a 300D, or even a 200E. By far the most common choice for the midsize Benz’s powerplant was the workhorse two-litre naturally aspirated diesel, badged 200D. On our roads, the W123 was destined to be a long-distance hauler or a taxi cab, and the most basic specification would do just fine; just as long as there were wood pearl seat covers and a block heater.
Over the course of thirty-odd years. the oil-burner W123:s have had their odos roll and roll into stellar readings. They’ve worked hard to earn their keeping, and many of them bear diesel stains with rust slowly devouring their bodywork, until they’re retired and their parts donated between their brethren. Not all lead lifes that leave marks, however. This white 200D I saw yesterday was visually nigh-on flawless, and I hope it stays that way as long as possible.
Not every owner, though, can live with just 60hp on tap. This 200D has had some light forced induction life breathed into it.
Let’s look at the car’s outside appearance at first.
The wheelarches bear chrome, but the add-on decoration probably isn’t there to cover up any unwanted rust: the car is clean all around and the plates tell me it’s from the northernmost Lappi region, where road salt isn’t dumped on the roads as liberally as way south. Thus, the notion “Lapland car” has extra cachet on used car ads, as they’re less likely to be completely rotten.
This Mercedes isn’t absolutely rust free, however: the paint on the front and rear valances has cracked and browned just the slightest bit. Overall, the car’s appearance is honest and top notch; even if it has been restored, it looks very, very straight. The original white & chrome wheeltrims add to the smart looks.
Inside, there’s blue cloth that wears well. Third brake light is a later add-on, and is that a phone antenna I spy?
There’s some soot on the gleaming white paint of the trunklid. These did without particle filters in their day – but the powertrain work might have caused some of the output’s blackness.
It’s rare to see a W123 without a tow bar here. They’re bought to be used, so load-hauling abilities have been maximized. Even the coupés have tow bars, but their numbers are few – and the few that roam our roads have often started out registered as four-door saloons, merged with a used German import bodyshell. But that’s another - and very, very dodgy - story altogether.
Headlight wipers have disappeared somewhere along the way.
The original diesel engine on this post-facelift 200D produced all of 60 hp, a five-horsepower hike from the older iteration of the OM615 engine. I remember a quote from an elderly neighbour, who had a 200D:
“You can’t just decide all of a sudden you need to go; you need to gather up speed, take the hills and winds into account, read the traffic… You can overtake just fine, but you have to plan ahead.” With a 0-100 km/h time of over 27 seconds, you just couldn’t make rash decisions.
So, what’s the course of action when your 200D won’t answer all your needs of forward progress? According to a thread at a Finnish Mercedes forum, the previous owner of this W123 had bought it from an elderly guy, and noticed it did actually move somewhat more swiftly than expected. Prodding around the engine bay, he confirmed the engine had been swapped into a 2.4-litre OM616 engine from a 240D. Since the engine wasn’t original anymore, there was no need to maintain complete originality: that 2.4 engine came out, replaced by another unit of the same size but enhanced by a STT turbo kit – providing him with almost 100 horses. Yes, we’re not exactly talking neck-snapping acceleration here, but this time the Mercedes can definitely move out of its own way with the 0-100 km/h time halved. The 4-speed gearbox was also replaced with a 5-speed 717.413 box.
By the way, the odometer reading? 560 000 kilometres when it last changed hands.
With the slight, slight rust taken care of and the front plate replaced with a new, straight one, the white Mercedes would be in show condition. It’s that clean. But you know, it’s fine as it is. It’ll survive.