4-Speed Swap: 1980 Mercedes-Benz 300TD Wagon

Oftentimes, we look at certain collector or enthusiast cars and say, “If only it came with a stick.” While I have no grand aversion to automatics, there is a general feeling that a manual will be less costly to maintain over the long term if treated well. Now, Mercedes-Benz certainly makes a decent automatic transmission, but you have to love the idea of a stick-shift turbodiesel wagon like this one here on craigslist. The W123 has been swapped to the three-pedal setup and looks like an awesome driver you won’t be afraid to leave in the strip mall parking lot.

The Mercedes W123 series really needs no introduction around these parts. It’s an overbuilt machine, one that is still living out its retirement years in third-world countries as a common choice for livery services, often loaded to the gunwales with people and cargo. These are the cars that will still roam the Earth after whatever calamity levels us out like the dinosaurs, the likely vehicle of choice for nomadic tribes that somehow survive the nuclear blast that wiped most of the population off the planet (geez, I’m a weird headspace today). The 300TD may not be fast, but it will swallow all of your body armor with ease along with a few close companions.

The seller provides a long list of recent maintenance items that should offer a high degree of confidence that this W123 will not have much in the way of needs in the coming months or even years. The list of fixes includes new glow plugs; new radiator; new fan clutch; new water pump; new differential mount; fresh brakes with rebuilt calipers; new coolant hoses; and much more. Now, here’s my one lament about this wagon: normally, the interior of a W123 is the absolute highlight of the car, seemingly immune to whatever abuses the owner can throw at it. As we all know, MBTex looks good even if it’s never looked after. So what exactly happened here, as the cabin looks absolutely filthy – especially for a car that’s clearly not been neglected?

My complains about the cosmetics aside, this looks like a very cool project / driver. The interior can be cleaned up, and hell, given how many W123s are still showing up in wrecking yards, you can likely source an entirely new interior for reasonably short money if you wanted a quick fix. The seller notes there are some lingering issues like a broken driver’s side window regulator, but he’s including the parts needed to repair that, and while it does have some rust bubbles, they seem quite minor in the grand scheme of things. Overall, there’s a lot to like here, starting with that awesome 4-speed swap.


  1. Bluetec320 Bluetec320 Member

    I have always been a fan of MB diesels, especially if they have a third pedal. If California wasn’t the “entire” United States away from Pennsylvania, I would be on it. Looks like a sweet oil burner!

    Like 3
  2. Hoos Member

    I had an ’84 300TD, and I loved it. If it wasn’t for the number of children we had, I’d still have it. The interior doesn’t look like MB-tex, maybe it’s leather? The dash has a carpet cover, and it looks like animal hair covers it. I think the seats would clean up well, and I would have loved to have a manual in mine. It could use some other minor cosmetics as well. If the ad is accurate, the ask isn’t bad.

    Like 2
  3. Oldog4tz Oldog4tz Member

    Front seats don’t match the rear, no armrest, likely leather swapped from another Merc – looking at amateur work in engine bay, I’d want to know more about the swap.

    Like 4
  4. Rick Norman

    I keep staring at the paint on the drivers side, is it just me or is the door a different shade that the rest of the car?

    Like 2
  5. Oldog4tz Oldog4tz Member

    Can’t edit, meant interior

    Like 1
  6. Ricardo Ventura

    It is the model that I like the most among the Mercedes Benz.
    These cars were made to last a long time but this one looks very poorly maintained.
    With the reported mileage it should be in better condition.
    ”An extra pedal”, a Becker radio that doesn’t match, seats that have seen better days ….. I don’t see a good picture.

    Like 2
  7. Mitchell

    Starting from the scratched paint in and around the engine bay
    it looks this one received a good outside polish but the first
    point shows the overall wear of the car. Throwed from a junk
    yard probably.

    Let it be

    • Slomoogee

      I think your right Mitchell. If you look at the engine compartment, there’s not much clean around the edges. The back seat looks like a parts locker, knobs missing on the radio, the ever popular dash rug cover, new set of cheap Firestone tires with plenty of tire shine, and last ( and I’m pretty sure not least) new Autozone battery. I rest my case.

      Like 1
  8. Troy

    That thing still passes California strict emissions? This is the same state that had to replace their entire fleet of state trucks because of the new strict emissions standards when the trucks they had were barley two years old, and they were so strict if you purchased one of the surplus trucks you had to tow it off the property even though it ran and drove just fine

    • Oldog4tz Oldog4tz Member

      Diesels prior to 1997 smog exempt in California

      Like 1
  9. tim961

    I remember having an’84 300td. One day me and my kids were doing chores out front and my 3 year old daughter was playing in the car and accidently shifted the car into neutral. My older Daughter was playing along side the car and it just missed her as it rolled down our sloped driveway into the woods! It must have been before the lockout safety features they have now but no one got hurt and I learned a lesson!

    Like 2
  10. Homer

    I worked for a Benz dealer from 72-82 and these are fantastic driving vehicles.

    Like 2
  11. Bamapoppy

    Homer; I worked for a Benz dealer from 72-82 and these were fantastic driving vehicles when new, but after 42 years, if not maintained, will cost you much to take back to being road worthy.

  12. Homer

    Good morning Bamapoppy. Old cars and old people have a lot in common. Always in need of R&R.

    Have a great day.

Leave A Comment

RULES: No profanity, politics, or personal attacks.

Become a member to add images to your comments.


Keep me in the conversation via email. Or subscribe without commenting.