1986 Mercedes-Benz 300E: Extraordinarily Clean Everyday Merc

Two Mercedes in one day? Come on, TTS, where is the variety? Truth is, this car is nearly the polar opposite to the 450SEL 6.9, at least as far as Mercedes-Benzes go. Where the 6.9 was a super sedan for the elite, the 300E was the “family” Mercedes. With production numbers in the multiple hundreds of thousands, this was basically the Camry or Taurus of the Mercedes lineup – but a much better car than either in my opinion. The W124-series cars were released in Europe in 1985 and made it to American shores for the 1986 model year, making this clean example a first year U.S. market car. There are many Mercedes enthusiasts who count the W124 as the last of the over-engineered Mercedes, at least those that the DIYer has a hope of wrenching on. Find this clean, one-owner example here on Craigslist in Alpharetta, Georgia for $4,390.

The 300E was released at a time when the Audi 5000S had demonstrated that German sporting sedans could be stylish, aerodynamic, relatively quick, and relatively affordable. The only mid-sized U.S. market offering when the Audi was released was the somewhat stodgy and upright (yet supremely reliable) W123 diesel range. BMW, in the meantime, had more or less defined the “sports sedan” category with their E28 5-series sedans, but their styling harkened back as far as the 2002 and the E3s of 15 years prior. That is to say, they looked like classic cars even when they were new. The W124-series added Mercedes quality to the Audi concept, although design work started around the same time for both cars during the 1970s. Beyond the style, however, the 300E brough an additional 70+ horsepower to the table making the car a much stronger performer than its competition from Ingolstadt, and very competitive with the BMW 5-series, yet delivering superior gas mileage.

The inside of the 300E will be very familiar to anyone who has spent wheel time in either a W123 or a W126 Mercedes. The gauges and controls – right down to the multifunction turn signal/windshield wiper control and the cruise control – are all in the same locations and function in the same manner among the ranges. They all also have the same feeling of quality that made Mercedes famous back in the day, and that they seem to have lost somewhat in more recent times. The doors also shut with the same vault-like “thud” that other manufacturers have tried for decades to duplicate – in vain.

My commuting car is a Honda Accord Hybrid with about 60,000 miles on it, which I drive primarily to take advantage of local laws regarding use of carpool lanes in hybrid vehicles for solo drivers. This car actually had me thinking about a switch-up. The Honda is a perfectly good appliance, and with the performance-oriented hybrid system delivers about 26mpg in regular use – nothing Earth-shattering, but better than an ordinary V6, at least how I drive them. This partucular car has just over 107,000 miles, and can be had for less than 1/3 the value of the Honda. Beyond that, kept in the exemplary condition this one appears to be in, it should be very close to the bottom of its depreciation curve. The Honda, on the other hand, still has a way to go. I also prefer rear-wheel drive handling to the Accord’s front-wheel drive. If it wasn’t for the hour plus I save each day on my commute, I’d be all over this deal. Someone else should jump on it. A rough W124 can look like a tired old mess, but in this condition they look every bit a Mercedes, from when they really believed in “the best or nothing”…

~Reed

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One response to “1986 Mercedes-Benz 300E: Extraordinarily Clean Everyday Merc

  • Colby

    Very nice cars. My dad had a 300e when I was growing up. I remember that thud of the doors. 🙂
    They don’t and never will make a better car. I always liked the latter e320 myself. More power,better looking and a little safer w/two air bags, but same fantastic car. Up grade the brakes and sway bars from the 400e or 500e and you got a entertaining sedan.

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