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Old 10-31-2002, 01:17 AM
Posts: n/a
Request for Knowledge

I find myself mysteriously drawn to the idea of an older MB to use for my 70-mile round trip commute. Having recently lost my wife's company car (Neon!) we find ourselves rolling up excessive miles on our '94 Volvo 850 Turbo (don't ask) and my fun car, a 2001 Honda S2000.

That said am I misguided in pursuing the purchase of a 240D or, better, a 280 SEL 4.5 as I see in various locations such as eBay? I ask your repected car community to enlighten me on the pitfalls, advantages and disadvantages. I have had numerous positive results from a number of Honda sedans but my automotive enthusiasm somehow draws me to cars with more style, panache and character than those highly-reliable Japanese models. Perhaps it was my repeated experiences over the years with several Porsche 356's that lures me back to fine German machinery.

Any guidance will be appreciated.
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Old 10-31-2002, 07:52 AM
it leaks, its german
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: raleigh nc
Posts: 1,111
123 chassis 300d's make super DD'ers. As do 124 chassis cars in general. 190e's that have had good care taken of them are nice 'muter's as well.

Whatever you choose to buy (diesels are great for long runs to work) get it checked throughly by a good shop including a compression check on anything over 100k. I'd stray away from 116 cars as parts can be tricky and the number of people who really know those cars is fading.

My personal favorite is the 92-94 300d 2.5 turbo but, finding a good one is tough at best as most folks have run all the good stuff out over the years.

Project Smoker, '87 603 powered wagon
Hauler, 96 CTD can you say torque?
Toy 73 Cougar xr7 convertible
Acme Automotive Inc.
Raleigh NC
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Old 10-31-2002, 08:55 AM
Posts: n/a
If you are looking for economy and reliability, the 240D is far superior in these areas as compared to the 300D. The 300D's have an extra cylinder that makes them more difficult to work on and they have automatic everything; climate control, electric windows, electric sunroof, on and on and on. On an older car, keeping these gadgets working can drive you crazy.

Most 240D's have manual a/c, crank windows, pull and shut sunroofs, etc. I have found that I really do have enough strength to wind up my own windows, and pull my own sunroof shut. I also have found that I have enough mental capacity to turn the temperature knob warmer when I am cold and colder when I am hot.

These manual systems on the 240D go a long way toward making these cars as trouble free as anything you can buy. If you get a manual transmission 240D, you won't have an expensive automatic transmission to go out and to soak up the additional torque offered by the extra cylinder. If your commute is 70 miles round trip, you are probably cruising on much of the trip rather than driving stoplight to stoplight. This means that the decrease in power is not as much of an objection. Once you are at speed, the 240D cruises as well as a big block Vette. You need almost no power to cruise.

There will be many that will post here telling that you must have the turbo because of the power. Remember, with that turbo comes many, many contraptions and gadgets that you will have to keep working.

My $0.02,
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Old 10-31-2002, 02:47 PM
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Thanks to you both. I am quite hesitant to take on the headaches attached to any turbocharged engine after the experience I alluded to on my 850. Needless to say any turbo is a wear item like brakes and clutches but even at the decent prices I got replacing mine at less tha 100K miles hurt. And now it is probaby due again at 180K.

I certainly do not mind manual systems, i prefer it in this case. The S2000 does have electric windows but besides the top otherwise it is manual. My commute is all freeway but the ironic thing here in Northern CA is that most days it is stop and go anyway. But I do have the S2000 and the 850 to satisfy my acceleration needs.

Thanks again and I look forward to more of your knowledgable insights.
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Old 10-31-2002, 04:11 PM
Posts: n/a
As a former 1994 Volvo 850 Turbo and a few Hondas still in the stable, I have a good idea of what you are used to.
Do not expect the acceleration of the Volvo on the type of Mercedes you are looking for. And don't expect the fun factor and the reliability of the Honda on these cars neither.
I have an old faithfull W124 which I drive almost everyday. These cars are as solid as a rock (better than the Volvo) on highway, are great cruiser although quite slow in initial acceleration. Very comfortable for long rides. Reliability can sometimes be somewhat of a problem but with regular maintenance, it will last almost forever. Mine has only 240K (just out of the breaking-in period) and is still running strong with no real major problem (i.e. expenses) since I bought it in 1992. replacement parts are not more expensive than on the Volvo.
When I purchased my Volvo in 1994, I though it was one if best car on the market. It is, but in my mind, a 1994 E320 is in a different league.Good luck
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Old 10-31-2002, 07:52 PM
Posts: n/a
Thanks for the input. I adored my Volvo until I started having what I considered un-Volvo-like problems. Besides the turbo (expected) I had a sudden fuel pump failure, the park/neutral position switch problem in the trans, a bad radiator and the big one, a burned exhaust valve at 125k miles. In addition under annoying but less severe issues the CD died, the radio croaked, the power seats partially failed, I replaced the power antenna, a vanity light/mirrir fell from the sun visor in my lap, and a bunch of trim is either fading badly and/or falling off. And I do take good professional care of all my neglect.

I am spoiled by years of dead-reliable Honda products, including 3 bikes, a Civic S (105K miles original EVERYTHING including tires, battery and clutch), an '89 Accord that I bequeathed to my college daughter and then sold at 280k miles, and my current S2000. From all descriptions the 240 D sounds like the Rock of Gibralter. I am pleased to hear all this.
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Old 10-31-2002, 08:16 PM
engatwork's Avatar
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Soperton, Ga. USA
Posts: 11,243
Larry is exactly right about the simplicity and durability of the 240D BUT for your commute I would recommend a 300D (1980 through 1985) with an automatic transmission. There is NO way you want to commute in stop n go traffic with a manual transmission. Keep in mind that the '80/81 models are not going to be turbocharged. My 300D with 234k miles has some issues but it runs/drives out good and makes a good commuter. Heck, it does not even use oil between oil changes. The only real issue is that the tranny is in high by the time it gets to around 40 mph. I just drive it like that. Just makes for slower acceleration. Try to find the absolute best example of whichever model you choose.
good luck
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Old 10-31-2002, 08:53 PM
Join Date: Dec 2001
Location: Southern California, U.S.A.
Posts: 8,503
I'm sure a 240D, or a 300D (with or without a turbo) will be the most economical car to drive. They get great gas mileage. Good examples are cheap - you should be able to find them in the $3K-$4K range everyday of the week.

Nobody has commented on the '71 or '72 280 SE(L) 4.5 that you asked about. This is a W108 chasis. I have always loved the look of these cars. The 4.5 liter V8's have an iron block and aluminum head, and were also used in the W116 chasis 450 SEL's and the W107 chasis 450 SL's until 1980. These engines are extremely reliable and long lasting. I copied the following comments from an article in Road and Track magazine on the 1971 - 1989 W107 chasis SL's. The following comments are on the 4.5 liter engine used in the '71-'80 450 SL's, which is the same engine as in the '71-'72 280 SE(L) 4.5's:

"I've driven a number of early 4.5-liter SLs with 750,000 or more on their engines," said Rugg. "At a million miles they get a little edgy".

That may be stretching things just a bit, according to Cunha and Marx. But both agree the iron-block V-8s are exceptionally long-lived.

"Around 350,000 before a bottom-end overhaul isn't unrealistic," said Cunha. "The top end is often good for 180,000-240,000 miles."

And from Marx, "I have some customers with at least 300,000 miles on their cars and the engines haven't even needed valve jobs."

So does this mean a high-mileage early SL, say, one with 150,000 or even 200,000 miles, might still be a good buy? You bet. "I wouldn't be afraid of it, as long as I knew its service history and it was a good car in other respects," said Cunha. (All of our experts recommend oil changes be done every 3000 miles.)


Reseal power steering box.....$ 300

Replace water pump ...........$ 550

Replace climate-control.........$ 515

Replace starter motor...........$ 250

Rebuild cylinder heads ......................$ 2,500 - $4,500

Normal cylinder rebuild...............$7,500-$11,000

3,000-mile service........$200-$400

15,000-mile service......$200-$400

30,000-mile service......$400-$600

* Unless noted, prices include parts and labor with a labor rate of $50 an hour.

Because of my bias and sentimental feelings for this car, I'd recommend it, but just know that gas mileage is going to be in the 12-15 mpg range, which ain't so good.

Last, good examples of these 280 SE(L) 4.5's can be had in good shape in the $5K-$6K range.
Paul S.

2001 E430, Bourdeaux Red, Oyster interior.
79,200 miles.

1973 280SE 4.5, 170,000 miles. 568 Signal Red, Black MB Tex. "The Red Baron".

Last edited by suginami; 10-31-2002 at 09:01 PM.
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Old 11-01-2002, 12:16 AM
Posts: n/a
I am seriously overwhelmed by the number and thoughtfulness of your reponses. Thank all of you. I intend to consider all of your experienced opinions as I continue my education and search.

Do you know of a site that describes the various models by type designation (123, 107, etc) with corresponding engine and body styles?

What are some simple observations to be made upon viewing and driving an example of, say, a 240D or a 300D? I have looked around this site and read about discoloration of fluids, noises from differentials and so on. Any other features on a cursory look that could be noticed prior to taking a prospective car to a mechanic?

Thanks again....
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Old 11-01-2002, 01:32 AM
Registered User
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Austin, TX
Posts: 563
Here's a quick and dirty link of the different chassis types (up to 1980):

This site is more detailed, but is a lot slower to load and is in German:
Mike Heath
1988 560SL Black/Palomino
1988 300SEL Black Pearl/Burgandy
1984 500SEC Anthracite Grey/Palomino
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Old 11-01-2002, 06:54 AM
engatwork's Avatar
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Soperton, Ga. USA
Posts: 11,243
Make sure it shifts like it is supposed to if it is an automatic. The shift points are indicated on the speedo with little "dots". If you floor it from a dead stop and hold it down it should shift pretty doggone close to those dots. It is alright if it is not exactly on the points but it should be fairly close. There should be no unusual "clunking" during up/down shifts. Also, don't do this with a cold car or you could break your neck. They shift real hard cold. Let the car get up to operating temp before you try it. Another point - drive the car in stop and go traffic with the a/c going. The temp gauge should NOT go above 100 dC and the oil pressure should NOT go below 1 bar at idle. In addition, the oil pressure gauge should IMMEDIATELY go to 3 bar and stay there as soon as you come off of idle. Tell the perspective seller you want to start the car up for the first time that day when you go to test it. Starting a cold diesel will tell you alot about the condition of the engine. If it starts right up and idles fine you will be alright. If it is hard to keep running cold pass it by.
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Old 11-01-2002, 07:08 AM
Posts: n/a
engatwork said that there is no way that you want to drive a manual transmission on a daily commute.

engatwork is one of my buddies here, so I hope he is not offended by this clarification. I have driven almost nothing but a manual transmission vehicles for well over 1 million miles of personal driving in all different situations. I personally prefer a manual transmission under ANY driving conditions.

So, it may be that there is NO WAY that you want to drive a manual or you may have a love for them as I do. This is your own personal taste and preference on this one. There are practical reasons for driving a manual beyond just enjoying it. My 240D manual has traversed 533,000 miles without ever taking apart the transmission. I have replaced the clutch twice for a total cost over these half million miles of about $600. I have changed the transmission oil probably about five times which takes a couple of quarts of Mobil One 10W30 for a total half million mile cost of about $40. An automatic is supposed to have fluid and filter every 15,000 miles. If you do this work yourself it will cost you somewhere around $35.

533,000 miles divided by 15,000 mile A/T service works out to 35.5 automatic transmission services. At $35 each, this is about $1,240 plus many Saturday mornings used up. If you made an automatic last 533,000 miles without an overhaul it would probably go into the record books. Overhauling one costs about $1,200. I fully expect that if my 240D had been an automatic, the transmission would have been overhauled twice in that time period. So, the total cost of maintenance and repair for the same period would probably have been about $3,600.

Again, the choice of manual over automatic is a personal one. Here in the US, there are VERY FEW manual transmission drivers among us. In Europe, few people drive anything else. We even have a whole generation of drivers who almost all of which are incapable of driving a "stick." I taught both of my kids how, and they hate driving an automatic, they both thoroughly enjoy driving a stick.

We have a nation full of people who are spoiled for convenience. If we took away microwave ovens, automatic transmissions, mobile phones, central thermostatically controlled heat and air, etc., etc., we would have many, many people in this country thinking they had been through a world war.

The choice is yours about a manual. There is a practical advantage to them and as far as driving one or not, there are some of us who will drive a stick stop sign to stop sign and enjoy every clutch pressing and lever moving.

BTW, to me, the worst downside of the 300D is not the automatic transmission, but it is the automatic PLUS all the other automatic gadgets to break and give trouble.

Have a great day,
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Old 11-01-2002, 07:21 AM
engatwork's Avatar
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Soperton, Ga. USA
Posts: 11,243
Like I told the cop right before he put the hand cuffs on me - "Sir I have to respectfully disagree" LOL. I ain't offended one bit Larry as a matter of fact - I have alot of respect in your opinions AND agree with you completely when it comes to the simplicity issue.

It is a personal choice - I will not take my 240D manual on a drive where I am going to be in stop/go traffic or where there are alot of traffic lights. On the same hand I HATE traffic and will pretty much do everything I can to avoid it. Avoidance of traffic is one of the reasons I live in rural Ga.
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Old 11-01-2002, 08:17 AM
Ken Downing
Posts: n/a
I agree with what you said about not wanting to take on a turbo engine.. I have had several SD cars.. And they do run nice... but the turbo does not last as long as one would like.. also they seem to wear the engines faster.. I have never got more than 250 thousand miles on an SD engine before it was needing a rebuild because of oil use.. However we have a 78 300CD with about 400 thousand that I do not need to add any oil between 3 thousand mile changes.. I have replaced the timing chain and injectors.. and it runs strong..

We live in an area where if my wife wants a good hamburger, run to the mall, or go shopping for material to make some thing.. its a 200 mile trip.. 6 and 7 mile grades at 6 to 11 percent..we run the old 300 up in 3rd grear at 60 mph.. and it often spends lots of time with the throttle wide open...Its my wifes car and has been here thru several SD's..
We did just get another car.. This time a 92 300 CE and are keeping the 300 CD for the winter and short trips.. 500 and less miles so to say..

If I were looking for a commuter I would look long and hard at the 300 D cars.. I do think the 123 cars are about the best built for service.. Also parts are easy to come by... I get most of mine from Mercedes or Performance Products as they put out a great 123 parts cataloge for 123 cars only.. www.************************
I do all my own work and always have... I got my first Mercedes in 1957 and have had lots.. I like the 123 best of all the Cars I have had.. The one I like 2nd best is the 66 250S that I just sold to a friend a while back.. It was show quality as are most of my cars.

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Old 11-01-2002, 01:14 PM
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More great info every day and even a bit of controversy. As you can tell from the cars I have mentioned I am definitely on the "manual" side of the house. With the S2000 shifting a lot is part of the drill if you want to keep it in the power part of the rev range. The Vtec doesn't open up the valves until about 5500 and it goes to 9 thou in a blink. My Mustangs have been sticks and of course I am a veteran of 4 different 356 Porsches. Both my kids hate automatics and my wife was raised on VW busses and Beetles.

I do get lazy when driving the 850 so although I prefer a manual i would certainly not dismiss a nice automatic if everything else looks good. Don't seem to be a lot of 4-speeds out there for sale though.

Great advise again and thanks.
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