Rare Non-Diesel: 1978 Mercedes-Benz 280E

By Nathan Avots-Smith

One of the things that’s made the W123 series of mid-size Mercedes sedans, coupes, and wagons legendary is their longevity, so they’re still a pretty common sight more than 30 years after production ended, at least here in California. Their longevity was helped by the fact that the bulletproof diesel engine was at the height of its popularity at the time, so nearly all of the W123s you see today are four cylinder 240Ds or five cylinder 300D/CD/TDs. This ’78 is not only a beautifully preserved original car—it’s also the far less frequently seen (but still quite reliable) gas version, the six cylinder 280E. It’s well worth a look here on craigslist out of Riverside, California, where it’s being offered for $4,200 (archived ad).

A walk around the exterior shows no major blemishes and a nice shine to the original blue paint, no dents or dings, no rust, and fully intact and straight bodyside moldings. The rubber bumper covers look great, too, free from warping or discoloration. A couple of the wheel covers could stand to be repainted to return to their iconic original look, but overall this presents as a stunningly preserved example.

The interior is likewise spectacularly clean, although I hope that dash cover has been protecting it from cracks, not concealing them. The famously durable MB-Tex leatherette is in predictably great shape, but more importantly, everything seems to have held its shape. The door panels, famous for shrinkage, are unpuckered, and the rear seat looks just as good as the fronts. This was an expensive car when new–over $16,000 in 1978, slightly more even than the diesel 300D—and the owners have clearly cared for it accordingly.

Beyond the condition, this is the distinguishing feature of this car, the fuel-injected dual overhead cam inline six. Its 142 bhp may not sound like too much today, but it dwarfs the 62 bhp output of the 240D or the 77 bhp of the 300D. For spirited driving, fuel crises notwithstanding, this was the W123 to get. An automatic transmission was standard for the U.S. market, and everything is said to be performing well. Service manuals and books are included with the sale; there’s no indication of how long the seller has owned the car—or its current mileage—so it would be good to find out how much history a new owner will get, but the level of care this car has gotten bodes well. Are there any Mercedes fans among us who would trade the economy and durability of a diesel for the rarity and performance of this beautifully preserved gas six?

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Comments

  1. alan

    While the 280E is notably more powerful that the diesel versions its appetite for fuel is voracious. When it comes to longevity again it is not to compare to its diesel brethren. The noteworthy M110 engine was MB’s answer to the legendary Jag twin cam though a bit smaller in displacement and their only way to give a fitting end to the former single overhead cam motor block before creating the superb and startlingly more efficient M103 engines. I have had several M110 engines with the 185HP euro spec motor being the best of the breed especially when paired with the 5 -speed manual transmission. The mechanical valve train adjustment is both a blessing and a curse. If they are quiet they are too tight and if they are just audible they are just right.

    3+
  2. Rodent

    Doesn’t have a history of successful emissions tests in California.

    0
  3. steve

    Its a German taxi cab…..lol

    2+
    • Steve R

      They were also the taxi of choice in Beirut around the time of the Lebanese civil war.

      Steve R

      3+
  4. Ron Bunting

    A Euro ( or any other market but USA ) M110 powered car is a lively 130 MPH joy. .I cannot understand the constant harping on US based forums accusing the m110 being unreliable . I have owned a lot of cars with them and part of job is to maintain them for their enthusiastic owners so i know one or two things about them. Just today I did a quick service on one(W114 280E) which,by 1984 had done 400,000 miles! . It has since covered another 200,000 miles and the only major work i have had to do is replace the trans pump. My own W126 280SEL had covered 670,000 miles when i sold it 15 years ago and it was still running well until recently when It disappeared … What happens i am sure is,people sell their M110 powered car when they have clicked over 100,000 . A dealer or some unscrupulous type gets the car and clocks the speedo to get a better price .A new owner gets the car and it fails but it could have done 3 or 400,000 miles ,not the 50,000 miles showing on the speedo,such was the quality of the paintwork and interiors .

    2+
    • Kerri S.

      Absolutely agree. I drove a 78 280 CE through the late 80s. Beautiful car, tight, and plenty fast; that inline 6 would pull so well when passing on the turnpike. I should have never sold that car.

      1+
  5. Pa Tina

    I used to drive one of these in California in 1978. It was painted Desert Tan. I had heard that they had a lot of that color left over from an earlier production run.

    0
  6. Fred W.

    Bought my first Mercedes (a 180A) for $95 when I was 14 and owned several more afterwards, including a 300D. Life is too short to spend it behind an agonizingly slow MB diesel. It’s only money, spend it and enjoy the gasoline powered ride!

    0
  7. Sparkster

    Prefer a five speed. I believe these automatics start off in second gear.

    0
  8. Jack Quantrill

    I had that motor in a 1977 280SLC, gray market Car. It had plenty of power for freeway motoring!

    0
  9. David Miraglia

    Rode a few in Israel in 1985 when I went too visit my cousins. Always admired the understated design. Compared to my teen dream machine Mustang and Lincoln Mark Four and Five.

    0
  10. Blyndgesser

    The primary reason the gas w123 didn’t do well in the US market is poor fuel economy. When the turbodiesel arrived, MB suddenly had a car that was almost as quick as the 280E but got 50-60% better fuel economy.

    1+

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