Built Like A Tank: 1985 Mercedes 300 SD

Let me first say that I am not an expert on these cars but they are very interesting to me now in 2017.  Why?  The cars that I first learned to drive on were built in the 1980s and when I started driving them they were already rusting around the wheels and in the rocker panels. Some even had holes through the floor. I had saggy doors from worn out hinges, brittle plastic, flaking paint… you name it, it happened.  So how are these Mercedes W126’s running around 40 years later in what appears to be original condition? They are built like tanks and you can find this one in Tampa for $3,900 here on Craigslist.

This car has the 3.0 inline 5 cylinder diesel with a turbo. It won’t be fast but it will run forever. This engine is known as one of the most reliable consumer engines made. The body looks incredible for being 40 years old and even though it has 200,000 miles on it, it has held up incredible well.  How do these cars hold up so well?

The interior looks really nice too although the close up shows some wear on the seats. No cracks though. The seller says that this car has no rust, cold AC, and drives excellent. A car like this is just remarkable to me. How has it survived this long in original condition?  I’m tempted to buy it just to see how long I can keep it running!


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  1. PaulG

    Two words: German Engineering
    Two more words: Merry Christmas!

    • Solosolo KEN TILLY Member

      German engineering sums up the whole story! They were built, not thrown together.


        I had a little 1953 Mercedes 4 door sedan with the small engine and I know it is still running and have never been over hauled. It is located in San Mateo, Ca. and driven on the Freeways everyday. The now owner has owned it since 1980 and it has never been garaged and the Gold rust Paint still buffs out and shines. I wish I owned it today.

        Like 1
    • jrmedsel

      Two more words: Elderly Owner

      • Mark

        You never owned old Mercedes
        They last for decades

        Like 1
  2. Dean

    You can keep it running as long as your wallet holds out…

    Like 1
    • Trickie Dickie Member

      This is so true. I had a 1983 300D MBZ and then a 1987 300D. Maintenance was expensive on both cars. Oil changes alone were about $130 per 2500 miles, and I drove a lot. The 1987 300D had a ceramic “afterburner” in the exhaust system, which kept breaking down about every 2000 miles or less.It was covered under warranty but was a big pain to deal with.When in the MBZ dealers for that work, always something else needed $$ attention too. Virtually everything on those two cars broke at one time or another, except the transmissions. My CPA finally ordered me to get rid of the ’87 car as it was going to put me in the poor house. The 1983 300D wasn’t much better. Since the MBZ’s I am now on my fifth Honda Accord and have never spent a nickel on repairs on any of them. OK,,,,,,,I did my ego trips with my four Porsches, two MBZ’s and now just enjoying good basic transportation!

      • Brakeservo

        I did my own oil changes – what a pain on a diesel as the oil, and everything it touches, gets as black and dirty as possible. My cars also had the “take-a-part & clean” oil filter too. Never again!
        Can’t imagine my fingernails were ever clean at that time in my life, haha, either!

    • Douglas

      I have 1983 300TD 500,000KM Very few repairs outside of the usual, every repair you might need available with video’s, pictures and step buy step instruction. Most able to be done by newbies. Also lots of good shops that do not require you to take to Mercedes Dealer. Recently dead battery every few days and found another old fart like me with lots of Mercedes experience. He identified that the Attena was was the problem. Ouch it coast me 1200.00 5 years ago. Find a good clean one and look after it and will last you another 40 years

      Like 1
  3. Redwagon


  4. Brakeservo

    Fair but not a flaming bargain. To me, diesels no longer make sense – the fuel is too expensive and they’re slow, smell and smoke.

  5. Ken Kittleson

    My ’82 240D has 230K miles and going strong. The interior material is something called MB Tex that, as the old overall commercial used to say, “wears like a pig’s nose.”

  6. BSD

    I have an ’85 300 TD (123 chassis) with 55K miles. Love the car. Drives like a dream and gets 25-27mpg. As I am 70, it will likely outlast me and be my son’s last car.

    Like 1
  7. Jesper

    I had a MB 190 2,0 diesel aut. From 1987. A real Mercedes baby benz. 700,000 km, on one engine, and still going strong, when i sold it. From 1993 it was over with quallity from Mercedes. New Mb. Are not much better than other cars.
    A freind of mine had a 123 e class from 1986 with the same 2,0 diesel with 5 speed manuel. It ran over a mill. On one engine. It now stay in his barn, waiting for being a real classic. It is almost rustfree
    With the right oil every 15,000 km. You cant kill it.

    Like 1
  8. Mallthus

    MB diesels from this era do very well with biodiesel (as long as you’ve upgraded seals and hoses in the fuel system). Added bonus is that the extra lubricity of the biodiesel smooths out the chatter and cleans up the oil when it’s time for oil changes. Plus no soot ring around the tailpipe!

    Like 1
  9. Wolfgang Gullich

    I’m no mathmologist, but 2017-1985=32, not 40 😉

    • Brakeservo

      Yeah, but not in dog years!

  10. Dwilson

    Had one of these, bought it with 200,000 on it. Parts was on the pricey side but I used it for a work car traveling 300 plus miles a day. It gave 27 mpg all day at 70-80 mph. Got rid of it at around 450,000, and other then keeping it serviced it was indestructible.

    Like 1
  11. Karel van der Bijl

    A client of us drove 2 300 diesels and made so many miles in a short time , that we changed oil every 20.000 or sometimes 30.000 miles . No problem . And we did that later also with a 1998 Sprinter . I had a 123 200 1981 and never changed oil . Had it from 2003 til 2013 i think i drove 3000 miles a year. Only changed oil filter when presure was low . It is now in Nigeria .

    Like 1
  12. Peter R

    Mercedes made great cars until about 1991. However not only do they require regular maintenance which can be expensive, the air conditioning systems can cost up to $3500 to fix. If they are not working, find out the solution before purchase. I currently own three of them (560SL, Euro 560SEC, and a 300E 4matic) and recommend them to everyone.

    • Mark

      Yes you are 100% correct
      After 1992 93 quality want down rapidly but prices up up up

  13. conrad alexander

    I had a 1982 300d turbo, great car put on over 400k miles on it, did all the maintence myself so it didn’t cost much. had the original engine and trans in it, didn’t put much money in either. couldn’t escape the rust worm up here in northeast pa.

  14. James P Bandy

    Et al..Am driving now a l976 Mercedes 300D, no SD, whilst it is “sorta” fun, it is a brute, and NOT all that easy on the wallet…have not done much, but just somethng tells me…one DAY !!! Not nice on the seat…loud, and the Rhine Hide seats…well they do hold up…but so does my wooden chair…..Having had over 50 cars…now driving a Volvo as daily one…well ’nuff said. Best diesel I ever had..l960 Peugeot, nothing ever went wrong….

  15. Charles H.

    These cars and the W124 chassis E Class, were some of the last Mercedes-Benz’s built under the old guard quality standards, that is finally slowly starting to come back to M-B. These cars were built to a standard, rather than to a cost and when properly maintained and taken proper care of, will last, stay solid and continue to look great, for many years past most other makes. I own a 1994 E 320, which I’m the third owner of and have all service records from new, including the over $45,000 original window sticker, it has over 250k mi. on it, but is solid as a bank vault and uses no oil between changes and believe it or not is very reasonable to maintain and repair.

    Like 1
  16. Charles H.

    Here is an interesting article from Bring a Trailer https://bringatrailer.com/2017/11/25/why-we-love-them-mercedes-benz-w124/?utm_source=dailymail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2017-11-27 interesting article from Bring a Trailer

  17. JB Snider

    I drove many of these MBZ cars. It felt solid, like granite. The steering wheel, I thought, was rather large. It was explained to me that if the engine stopped, you could still steer the car. The 240 D with automatic and A/C was slower that pond water. The 300 TD felt like a Rocket
    Ship by comparison. Those MBZ’s were built right. Nowadays, they are simply too expensive.

    Like 1
  18. conrad alexander


  19. Peter K

    Most of these 300SD cars built from 1980-1987 came with their 6 cylinder diesel motor. Lots of torque and comfortable to drive. Change the oil every 5-6000 miles because that’s how long the filter would last and adjust the valves every 50k miles. This car will last forever if it isn’t brought back into the rust belt.

    Like 1
  20. David Miraglia

    Mercedes always had the best diesels in the business. As a daily driver these are a must have.

    Like 1
  21. Robert G Thomas

    My dad had a new ’78 300 SD and had an ATL auxiliary fuel tank installed in the trunk, up between the wheel arches. It had a range of 1,000 miles between fill-ups.

    Like 1
  22. Peter Atherton

    I’ve owned Mercedes since 1964,and the very best one was a 190D2.5 non turbo.I bought it with about 65,000 miles on, drove it to 350,000,and sadly parted with it due to the radiator failing at that point.The new radiator was $1500 at my cost(I worked for an M-B dealership for 43 years).That was more than the car was worth at that point so I sold it at wholesale for $1000.I have to say that in my opinion Mercedes-Benz still makes the very best cars in their price category.

    Like 1
  23. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    My dad moved up to these (he had 2 of them, one right after the other) from Rabbit diesels.
    They were very nice cars, built like a tank, and was the vehicle of choice for going out on the town. Mom drove the mini vans.
    I had my license for a few years, and dad would never let me drive it, but one time. It was such a slug, I never asked for those keys again.
    I also remember that he had an older German-accent mechanic who worked out of his home garage that kept it in tiptop shape.

    Like 1

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