Buying An Old Mercedes

Okay, I know benzman already posted on this long ago, but I couldn’t find his comments! I have gotten the urge to buy an old Mercedes Benz- which to buy? I was told “After 1994, they were built by bean counters, not engineers” - True? Which are the best years/ models? Which should I avoid? (it should be mentioned that this would be a “hobby” car - I have 2 reliable vehicles!). Thanks, and if anyone can find the old post/ comments, please add the link.

I hope you have suddenly inherited about $40,000 with no strings attached. And your wife wants no part of it.

All Mercedes cars of the range you are looking at have reliability problems and are very expensive to repair, even by independent mechanincs.

My wife has several friends whose husbands dabble in old cars; Jags, Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, etc. The wives rationalize these expensive hobbies as better than 1) drinking 2) gambling 3) chasing younger women and other costly habits that take them away from home.

As one poster put it, “The most expensive thing to buy is a cheap Mercedes”. If it’s your hobby and you have the cash, go for it. The average German would be totally puzzled why you would even consider doing such a thing!

What kind of a car do you want? 4-door? convertible? '60s? '80s? Gas? Diesel? You need to narrow it down a bit for us.

Jay Leno makes two comments about his car collection

  1. “I’m the president of the ‘more money than brains club’”, and
  2. “if I’m not home after work at least my wife knows I’m not at some bar somewhere…I’m under a car.”

Having quoted those, if you want an old Mercedes and can accept the costliness of the hobby…at least get something with some ! A 240D is, well, the “workhorse” of the line. Go for an SL, or at least a coupe! You’ll need a bigger shovel to shovel the money into it, but at least it’ll be snazzy!

A 240D? Jeeze…

If you ask me it was more like 1986, although I think this has more to do with marketing changes at MBUSA that led to us only getting fancier models here than with any general decline in quality.

If you want the quintessential old Benz that runs forever, try to find a '77-83 240D, preferably with a standard transmission. The other W123 chassis cars are also okay, but more complicated. The post '82 300D’s which had a 5-cylinder turbocharged engine are the only ones that accelerate and keep up on the highway like a normal car (the 240’s and non-turbo 300’s are slowwwwwww). But this is at the cost of fuel economy and serviceability (the 5th cylinder is sandwiched up against the firewall, which makes things like the every 15,000 mile valve adjustments a lot harder).

If they’ve been well maintained, they are extremely reliable, but when things do go out they are extremely expensive. I had the rare misfortune of having the engine die on my 1980 240D and just the parts to do an overhaul would have added up to over $3,000! They are definitely more expensive to maintain that most modern cars, but assuming no major repairs they aren’t necessarily the money-pits people make them out to be, especially if you can do some of your own work like oil changes and valve adjustments.

I would not buy any Benz unless you have a independent MB specialist who can look it over including a compression test and who would be a resource for you even if you do most of your own work.

speaking of which, whatever happened to Craig58? I know he was very adamant about those vehicles

I think you should find a local independent MB mechanic and ask the questions. They will be your ally hopefully thru the entire process of pre-purchase inspection and inevitable repairs on any old car.

The key to ANY high mileage or older car is finding a good independent mechanic versed with that make. Anything german see a specialist.

The 240D - the only vehicle whose mpgs exceed its mphs, routinely!

Mercedes was forced to change their philosophy in the early 90’s when Lexus started making an impact in the market. Lexus was building a car with excellent build quality for substantially less money. The Lexus wasn’t necessarily a better car, but it was a very good car that costs less. A viable alternative so to speak. Lexus was also doing a much better job with the electronics than Mercedes. While Mercedes engineers certainly know how to design machines, when they tried to keep up with the Asians on the fancy electronics it was soon a disaster.

Simply said, Mercedes had to “cheapen” up the models to keep the price even somewhat competitive. More and more plastic was used, and the accountants begun telling the engineers what to build. They were still very nice cars, but the difference could easily be seen, most glaringly in the “S” class flagships.

When the 140 chassis sedans first came out they were technological wonders.But the glitches with the electronics soon became a concern. To this day owning a 140 S Class out of warranty is not for the meek.

The 126 chassis S class that was replaced by the 140 soon looked like a real bargin with real world engineering built in to the core. The last of the 126 sedans, the early 90’s 560SEL’s, are becoming quite popular as they age.

So when you say you’re looking for an “Old” Mercedes, I would direct you to the years 1984 to 1991. I choose these years because it is the combination of well thought out engineering designed into a semi-modern car.

Next, you need to decide what kind of a car you want, and what kind of an engine.

For mid-sized sedans, the famous 123 chassis was made through 1985. The 124 chassis took over in 1986 and provides many much needed updates in design.

The large sedans were the mighty 126 chassis. The 5.6 liter engine superseded the 3.8 engine in 1986, making the large sedan a much more drivable car.

The two seat convertible was the timeless 107 chassis. The same engine upgrade from 3.8 to 5.6 took place in 1986 as well.

If you’re looking for diesel power, the 123’s had the 5 cylinder 3.0 liter turbo-diesel until 1985. In 1986 the chassis evolved into the modern 124 with a 6 cylinder diesel engine. The 6 provided smoothness and more power, but was never as strong and reliable as the infamous 5 cylinder.

So in a nutshell, if you’re looking for a diesel I’d recommend a 1985 300D Turbo Diesel in the 123 chassis.
For a mid-sized sedan I’d go with the late 80’s 300E in the 124 chassis.
For a big sedan I’d go with the late 80’s 560SEL in the 126 chassis.
And for the two seater look for a 1989 560SL in the 107 chassis.

I think these four models represent the best examples of those chassis runs.

When buying any older Mercedes buy the best example you can afford. You’ll never be able to restore one for the price of one already in good shape. No fixer uppers.
The quote is “There is nothing more expensive than a cheap Mercedes”'
Look for full documentation of service and repair records. Look for rust free examples.

Have any car you’re considering fully inspected prior to purchase by someone who knows these cars. Find a good independent mechanic and develop a good relationship with them. As with any older car, if something breaks, fix it immediately. Don’t let the repairs stack up or they become costly. Parts are readily available for any of these cars. There are places you can use aftermarket and places you need factory parts. Your Indy mechanic should know the difference.

Vintage Mercedes can be great cars that are both reliable and safe. It’s a myth that you’ll spend every weekend working on them. Just make sure you don’t buy a dog to begin with.

Please note that all of these recommendations are just my opinion, to be taken with as many grains of salt as you wish.


But there’s no substitute for experience like yours, Benzman.

BTW, my neighbor got his MIL’s 1989 560SL. It’s in stunning condition for 5 year old car, let alone a 20 year old; looks like it just rolled off the boat.