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A Short History of the Mercedes W123

A short history of the Mercedes W123

The Mercedes W123 series name may be rather unfamiliar, but the car isn't. Between 1976 and 1985, Mercedes sold 2.7 million of these classy, dependable luxury cars.

Mercedes used the W123 code name for this generation of its big sedan, but it's much better known by its model names – the Mercedes 200, 220, 230, 250, 280 and 300. 

Each one has letters after its name to make things even more confusing, but there is a logical system behind it.

First, the number. This simply describes the engine capacity, so the 200 has a 2-liter engine, the 220 has a 2.2-liter engine, the 240 has a 2.4-liter engine and so on.

The letters after the number indicate the body style and the engine technology. If there are no letters it’s a regular sedan with a gasoline engine. 

‘C’ indicates the shorter-wheelbase coupé version, ‘T’ indicates the wagon version (Tourismus und Transport), ‘D’ indicates a diesel engine and ‘E’ indicates electronic ignition.

A short history of the Mercedes W123

So the 280CE is a 2.8-liter fuel-injected coupé, while the 240D is a 2.4-liter diesel saloon. There are 30 different variants in the W123 series, but the model number tells you exactly which you’re looking at.

The gasoline-powered cars could be reasonably feisty for their era, but the non-turbo diesels are pedestrian at best. 

Mercedes did eventually fit a turbocharger to its 300-series motor to bring the power up closer to gas powered car standards.

The W123 proved to be Mercedes most popular series to date and they sold 2.7 million of them. 

Demand was so high in the early days that gently used models were changing hands on the black market at higher than list price, just to avoid lengthy dealer waiting lists.

The W123 has been popularized as a social indicator (for better or worse) as the vehicle of choice for many wealthy 1980s yuppie capitalists, including Porky Pig in the 1980s Looney Tunes.