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Old 06-02-2004, 02:04 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: England
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W123 230E stolen for parts;sessionid=Q4DPXYNZYDARVQFIQMFCM5OAVCBQYJVC?view=DETAILS&grid=P8&targetRule=5&xml=/motoring/2003/12/12/emfmerc13.xml&secureRefresh=true&_requestid=116409

might have to register for that, so:

Big Benz blues
(Filed: 13/12/2003)

Tom Horan's old Mercedes 230E was a source of pride and joy. No wonder he felt bitter and violent when an organised gang stole it for parts

I don't do much coveting, but I wanted a mid-1980s Mercedes 230E with a passion that bordered on psychosis. I was 33 and I'd never owned a car, but I was determined to get one of those big old Benzes. In fact "old" wasn't quite right — that was the beauty of it. Here was a body shape caught in a fantastic, stylistic no man's land: not quite contemporary, not quite old-fashioned. "I'm saying it's a future classic," said a friend. That was it.

Wanted, dead or alive: old Mercs are prime targets for thieves
I worked the websites — Auto Trader, Exchange & Mart, Mercseller — all the time refining my requirements. It had to be the W123 series, that blockish, square design with something of the hovercraft about it, which was launched in 1975. It had to be one of the last ones, an '85 or an '86. It had to have the colour-coordinated hubcaps with the Merc star on them — no alloys. It had to have less than 100,000 on the clock, and ideally a geriatric owner. It had to be in that exquisite Mercedes ice-blue metallic. And what about chrome wheel arches? Of course it had to have chrome wheel arches.

The trips to suburbia began. The cockney sparra with the mint green one in Waltham Forest that turned out to be clocked; the Asian gent with the deep navy one in Northolt that had a big hole in it; the widow with the brown one in Chorleywood that smelt of haddock. Finally another man came through: a stationer from Raynes Park whose wife was making him sell it. I took a train to meet him and there it was, a chunky ice-blue vision outside the Tesco Metro, chrome wheel arches glinting in the hazy Merton sunlight. He wanted £2,100; I haggled him to £2,050, feeling like a master operator as I counted off the notes from a sheaf of used 50s. He got a bit teary-eyed and almost changed his mind. Then suddenly it was mine: the luxury, the power, the all-round magnificence — all mine. I drove it gingerly home, dabbing at the throttle to feel the effortless engine surge, learning to trim the power steering gently and let the fat bus glide in and out of corners.

My girlfriend had been against the plan all along. "It's too big, I'll never be able to park it, can't we get a Volkswagen Polo?'' But was that a twinkle in her eye as I pulled up outside the house? Was that a low murmur of approbation as she slammed the door shut and it made that trademark rock-solid thunk, the one that says: "This car is built like a backsteine Nebengebäude and will protect you and your family against all ills"? Within days my keys were going missing. "Just popping out," she'd mouth, as she waved at the gawping neighbours.

Four years passed. The Benz revealed its rich, rounded character. I've never driven a car slower. After years of thrashing away at a manual VW Golf, the transition to the majestic automatic gearbox was like a coming of age. The car sat like an old she-lion on the road, not so much holding it as occupying it. The sense of spaciousness and permanence was otherwordly; it was like driving your living room. It showed no interest in going wrong, and quivered with pleasure at the prospect of cruising non-stop at 96mph from Calais to Toulouse.

As much as I loved it, other people seemed to love it more. "Beautiful motor — must cost a fortune to run," the other dads would say outside school. Not really. "Parts are dear, I bet." Not specially. "Any chance of a...?" And in they'd hop for the 600-yard lift to the station. "My God, this is a smooth ride. Is that walnut, that dash?" Every now and then I'd bump into the back of someone, accidentally, as you do. They always came off worse.

Then last week someone stole it — from outside my house. My neighbour a dozen doors up had an 1982 model in white and that had gone a month before. We knew we were next, and vainly bought a steering lock. But when I couldn't find it one morning, I knew that it had gone. "Where is it, Daddy? What does stolen mean?" I felt bitter and violent.

I got on to the net and, a fantastic site that is as much a fan club as a buy-and-sell service. Richard Selwyn-Barnett, a former film producer who launched the site in 2001, offered consolation and some interesting stories. "This isn't about joyriders. There's a gang that targets these cars. Do you live in north London?" I do. "Well in the past six months customers of mine have had their Mercs taken overnight in Muswell Hill, Crouch End, Holloway, Tufnell Park, Barnet, Finchley...

"It's a gang of criminals from the Balkans. They come with a crane and a flat-bed truck in the night — it's like having your car towed. Then they take the cars out to somewhere near Rayleigh in Essex, where they're dismantled. The parts are shipped abroad, mostly to Nigeria. The Port of Tilbury police found my 230TE with other parts in a crate bound for Lagos. But the authorities seem reluctant to do much about it.''

Selwyn-Barnett has offered to find me a replacement, but it's hard to know what to do. These superb cars are the workhorses of a thousand third-world taxi drivers — the demand for parts is so great that it's worth someone's while to steal cars that are worth as little as £1,000 or less. And if I buy another 230E I can't park it off the street.

My girlfriend took the vicious blow of the theft worse than me. She says she couldn't bear it to happen again. Is this the Volkswagen Polo calling? Is it hell. I'm buying another one. Now where's that Mercseller number...?

Attached Thumbnails
W123 230E stolen for parts-merc.jpg  
2.5-16v 1990 90,000m Astral Silver
2.0E 8v 1986 107,000m Black 2nd owner
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