Diesel Coupe: 1981 Mercedes 300CD

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This listing for a running and driving 1981 Mercedes-Benz 300CD is challenging to decipher, but the car in question looks like a solid foundation for a mild restoration project. These W123 two-doors aren’t the easiest cars to find, and are quite useful with the legendary OM-617 five-cylinder turbodiesel under the hood. Find it here on craigslist for just $1,200 in Arizona. 

Thanks to Barn Finds reader J. Liu for the find. The 300CD here appears to be halfway through a restoration or rebuild, as the pictures of the interior depict some level of disassembly. The exterior, however, looks quite straight, with no rust or major panel mis-alignment, and the ugly U.S.-spec safety bumpers presented and accounted for.

The seller is correct that the five-cylinder turbo diesel is one of the best, offering better performance than the non-turbo cars while still maintaining Mercedes’ legendary reputation for reliability in the W123 chassis cars. The sedans are still easy to find as projects today, but the two-doors less so. This is one of the few cars that most enthusiasts envision as a four-door that made the transition to a coupe without losing its classic form.

This is the only picture of the interior that’s offered and it’s clear the backseat has been removed. Ideally, we’d have a more complete picture of the cabin, especially as the one potential downside to the Arizona location is sun damage to the dash and seating surfaces. The seller does note the seats and headliner need work, but that’s fairly straightforward – and parts cars are more than plentiful. This seems like a bargain if it runs as well as the seller claims it does.

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  1. Sheffieldcortinacentre

    Nice but needs an LS instead of the horrible diesel. They belong in trucks & buses.

    Like 2
  2. Suttree

    The heater / AC controls are the perfect $1500 storm of electricity, coolant and vacuum.

    Like 3
  3. CS

    I daily drove one of these, in brown, for about 4 years and could only keep it on the road with help from a Mercedes master tech neighbor. I bought it for $3000 in mostly serviceable shape (it was resurrected 3 years prior by the guy I bought it from) but it took another few thousand from me over the course of ownership. Euro tax is a thing.
    And the adage is true: there’s nothing more expensive than a cheap Mercedes. For example, the expense of replacing the window rubber alone is several times the cost of the car. The interior color is fairly rare, (most were blue, red, or Please like mine) so good luck finding replacements. The window regulators were not well designed and fold like paper…and of course, unique to the coupe. The HVAC system was miserable, but worse than that, actually GETTING to the vacuum pods behind the dash was nightmarish. Good luck not breaking those fragile bits. They used a collection of different gearboxes in them, all of them with vacuum problems by now. Really, the entire vacuum system was awful. Most of the lines in my car we’re brand new, but actuators would fail or leak regularly. That’s how my Euro headlights ended up pointing up. That’s how my seats stopped locking in place. I finally called it quits when the industrial U-joints place said I’d be better off sourcing an out of production driveshaft than trying to replace or convert the U-joints.

    So all that said, this car works best as a metal and engine donor.

    Like 0
  4. A.J.

    I was interested right up to the time I saw the salvage title. I’m still running away!

    Like 1
  5. conrad alexander

    I had one I bought with 123k miles, I sold it with400k plus miles still running and driving one of the most simplest benzs to repair

    Like 1
  6. Pete Phillips

    “Nice but needs an LS instead of the horrible diesel. They belong in trucks & buses”
    I totally disagree with this uninformed comment. The Mercedes diesel automobile engine is one of the most reliable, durable, longest-lived, and economical auto engines ever made. I prefer the 4-cylinder 240-D and have owned about 10-12 of them. They are easy to work on, easy to get parts for, no electronics or computers to fool with, and routinely go 300,000 miles without major repairs. They get fuel mileage in the low- to mid-30 mpgs and are roomy and comfortable. If the 4-cylinder is too slow for you, then there’s the 190-2.5 turbo diesel. I got well over 300,000 miles on one of those until it got stolen and taken for a joy ride. I will not buy one of these 300s due to the complex and unreliable HVAC controls, as correctly mentioned by one of the commenters above. The best diesel Benzs are the standard shift ones–quicker than the automatics and much better fuel mileage.

    Like 1

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