Work on the Mercedes-Benz W123 began in 1968, with the aim of producing a machine that was stronger, easier to service and better handling than the then newly released W114/115 models.
Development of the car took eight years – with many parts being tested to destruction – but the work paid off and there was a waiting list for the W123 right until it went out of production.
In fact, the cars proved so popular that optimistic German car dealers hung around the Mercedes factory gates in the hope of persuading factory workers to part with their discounted machines.
Meanwhile, when the W123’s replacement – the W124 – arrived in 1985, German taxi drivers were so disgusted by the drop in quality that they took to the streets in protest.
And, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see why because the W123 exudes a hewn-from-granite air that’s arguably been missing from every Benz since.
Built to give the Untertürkheim firm a foothold in the mainstream market, there is a W123 to fit every occasion. The saloon soon spawned coupé, estate and long-wheelbase variants.
Smoothness and longevity are the bedrock of the W123, so when buying one it’s important to choose a machine that offers both. The huge range of engines (17 petrol and 12 diesel) means that specific problems can vary, but check for smooth running and quick warm-up, oil and water leaks, plus signs of overheating.
The car’s nature means that a four-speed automatic may suit it better, and it is extremely strong, but the four- and rare five-speed manuals are durable, too. As a general rule, a noisy example of either is best avoided.
Rot spots, meanwhile, include under the bonnet behind the headlights, on the front wheelarches and inner panels around the suspension mounts, the bulkhead, battery tray and around the ’screen.
Chassis legs, front box-sections, anti-roll-bar mounts and jacking points are also susceptible and it is worth bearing in mind that early cars were built from poorer-quality steel that was more inclined to rust.
If the popularity of the W123 was ever in any doubt, you need only browse the Mercedes-Benz Club website to find that there’s a day devoted to the model and doubtless no end of expertise to be found at the event. Other sources worth visiting include www.mercedesclub.org.uk and www.benzworld.org.
Despite the Stuttgart company’s well-known build quality, cars can still be picked up for surprisingly little if you’re not put off by a scruffy example with a less desirable spec.
Such a machine can be found on our classifieds for a mere £1495. As a post-1980 230E, this car comes with the relatively peppy fuel-injected 2.3-litre engine. Described as ‘not perfect cosmetically’, the car is nonetheless MoT’d until November 2013 and is said by its current keeper (a Benz specialist) to have excellent oil pressure and a clean gearchange.
Spend a bit more, though, and for £3291 you could have this rather more stylish coupé. The way this machine wears its 28 years is a testament to the model, while its automatic gearbox perfectly suits its cosseting character.
Our final choice is one of the smartest W123s in our classifieds, but is also one of the most sought-after. Martin Buckley described its straight-six as one of the ‘best sounding production engines Mercedes has ever made’ and the very same unit made the 280TE the fastest estate on sale when it was launched.
Its station wagon practicality, extra pair of seats, and the distinguished past owners of the model, including the late Queen Mother and Rolf Harris, only serve to reinforce the desirability of the model.
‘They don’t make ’em like they used to’ is a phrase that is often banded about in motoring circles, but in the case of the W123 it has never been more accurate. Use our free Buyer’s Guide to choose one and you could have a perfect example of the world’s last proper Mercedes.