My introduction to Mercedes-Benz cars came in the form of a 1982 280TE wagon – bought new by my folks when we lived overseas. It was the early 1980s, and as the regional manager for his company my dad had to get something that displayed an air of the successes of his company. In Hong Kong, nothing said “success” like a Mercedes-Benz. Well, you could get a Rolls, but those were more the domain of hotels and real estate barons. I recall that we looked at the BMW 7-series and the Mercedes wagon. It always stuck with me that one of the reasons the Mercedes won out was because the seats in the bimmer “pinched” my dad’s butt. Probably more importantly, our family of five fit very nicely in the wagon, which had the optional third row seating.
In the U.S., however, 280TEs are a rare sight indeed. Mercedes only ever officially imported the 300TD wagon in naturally aspirated and later turcocharged form. Additionally, all of the U.S. cars are mostly equipped the same, the only real options being the sunroof, heated and/or lumbar seats, third seat, and velour upholstery. I think I’ve seen one with the velour on these shores, and the heated seats are very unusual. Other countries had an options list that was pages long. In addition to the options listed above, international buyers could opt for air conditioning (manual or automatic climate control), manual transmission, gasoline-powered standing heater, roof rack, and on and on. This particular grey market 280TE
which can be found here on Craigslist in Mount Airy, Maryland, appears to have several interesting features starting with the gasoline engine and 5-speed manual transmission. It also has heated seats and AMG ground effects and steering wheel (to say nothing of possible other upgrades not listed).
The seller indicates that the painted Rial alloys are no longer with the car – We assume he sold them separately as the price has dropped fairly dramatically since the car was originally listed. That’s a shame as they gave the car a nice stance which the narrower bundt-style alloys won’t offer, unless of course you upgrade to the 15×7 versions available from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center. He does say that two AMG penta-style alloys convey, which is great if you can find two more identical new ones. Or you could put those on one side and leave the bundts on the other side so the car has two distinctly different profiles… Right?
The interior of the car is in an unusual (for the U.S.) black leather, but there is no indication in the writeup about its condition. The seat covers on the front seats are not a good sign, although being a california car could have been there due to the seats just getting too hot in the sun. We’d definitely want to see what the seats look like underneath them. Likewise we’d want to see the state of the black dash pad. Mercedes 123-series cars are notorious for cracked dashboards, especially in more arid regions. The AMG steering wheel is very period-cool, and We would love to know what the round gauge on the center console between the window switches does.
I remember my dad saying back in the day that the 280TE was a bit of a gas-pig and the performance was moderate but not stunning. It would be nice if this car had been massaged in the engine compartment by the good folks at AMG, but even if not the 185hp coupled with the 5-speed transmission should make for a sprited family hauler. The colors are good, the options are good (no mention of air conditioning, however), and there are few cars out there built like a Mercedes 123 – gas or diesel. All this car really needs are the proper European-style headlights and some meatier alloy wheels, and you’d have a car certain to stand out at soccer practice and the carpool pickup line. You might even enjoy driving it, too.