It’s no secret that we really like Euro market oddities for sale on U.S. shores. The problem is that the owners usually think very highly of them due to their uniqueness, or they are rusty. Really rusty. So when a reasonably-priced Euro-market car comes along, we pay attention. When a really cheap one comes along, we keep going back to the listing, send multiple questions to the seller, and try to figure out why. This 1984 Mercedes-Benz 230E
available on eBay with a buy-it-now price of only $1,400 is just such a car. If not for a lack of space and not wanting to explain myself at home, I’d have bought it already.
The W123 chassis Mercedes built between 1976 and 1986 is widely considered among enthusiasts as one of the best cars ever built. Period. Here in the U.S., however, that perception is usually reserved for the diesel versions, since the few gasoline-powered versions that were officially imported were dogs strangled by emissions madness mandated by our dear friends and overlords at the Environmental Protection Agency. Besides, the diesels really were quite impressive in both four- and five-cylinder versions, with many still on the road today and capable of hundreds of thousands of miles with little more than regular oil changes and valve adjustments. In Europe, however, it was the gas motors that got all the attention. The 185hp 2.8 liter M110 dual overhead cam inline-6 was the performance W123, while the 136hp 2.3 liter M102 inline-4 was the more utilitarian, economical version that could still get out of its own way (as opposed to the smaller 2.0 liter version of the same engine). This car is the latter.
The 230E looks every bit like the 300D Turbodiesels that geeks like me love, but is a lot peppier off the line and on the road. Economy is in the same neighborhood as the 300Ds as well. Being the same motor as in the newer W201 190Es, parts are plentiful here despite the fact that the cars were never officially imported. More interestingly, since Mercedes managed to squeeze the larger 2.6 liter 6-cylinder M103 into the 190, one wonders whether that motor might also fit neatly in this car with relative ease…
The problem with the diesel W123s, apart from acceleration, is that prices are high and climbing. A 240D or 300D in comparable condition to this car could easily cost $3,500 to $5,000. This car, however, is flying a little below the radar. The seller reports that the car has zero rust, and provides extensive photo documentation to support that. It was painted at some point, at which time there may have been rust repair, but the panels don’t appear to exhibit the telltale waviness normally associated with shady rust repair – a good sign. It also has the smaller home market chrome bumpers, vacuum-adjustable European headlights, and unusual for a grey-market car, it has air conditioning that doesn’t currently work but reportedly will work with a charge, so may be worth investing in a tech to find the leak. I’m a big fan of the “turn the handle and yank” manual sunroofs like this car has – one less thing to break, and they seem to seal better to boot!
I would prefer a 230E with a manual transmission as opposed to an automatic, but the seller has indicated off-line that the car shifts perfectly and there are no transmission leaks. It is a four-speed auto, and I have to admit that I prefer the old-style Mercedes gated shifter automatics to modern sequential-shift types. But that’s just me. The burgundy MB-Tex upholstery is in decent condition, and the material is still available if you’re motivated to repair the few blemishes. The dash shows some cracking typical to W123s that have spent time in the tanning booth, but used replacements do pop-up on eBay and Craigslist from time to time, or you could cheap-out and put a molded cap on it. At the same time, for less than it would cost to fly to Germany you could just buy this car and drive it as is, then sell-off the good parts when it’s all used up (which could take a while) and probably make a profit on them. Boy is this one tempting.. MUST…RESIST..!