The vintage elegance of the Mercedes W123
Published on Nov 28, 2023 03:30:00 PM
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It is the Mercedes I used to draw in my school textbooks as a kid. The twin headlights in a single pod, the vertical chrome Mercedes grille, the ‘V’ bonnet. And later, when I just started driving, I got to spend a lot of time with a similar fuel-injected 230 E.
So coming face to face with it again feels like meeting an old friend. The familiar lines have aged very little and many of the details and proportions are so ingrained in my memory, I seem to know every line, every curve. It’s much smaller on the inside than I remember, and some of the buttons on the dash are not the same, but the car feels so familiar that I just want to jump in and drive.
Still, as we walk around the rear, I see that this is a carburetted and not fuel-injected version, so no einspritz ‘e’ suffix after the 230 badge on the boot, from where the E-Class funnily got its name. And it has a sunroof with a unique metal cover; just what we need here in India.
Getting behind the wheel is another nostalgia trip – the sights, the sounds, the smells just get me smiling. And then there’s the legendary build quality. No wonder, these cars ran for millions of kilometres as cabs, especially in Egypt and North Africa. The solid dash, the big four-spoke steering wheel, the manner in which the front seats slide along their rails.
The driver’s seat, with its nigh-perfect contours and large supportive frame, is comfortable even by today’s standards. And I just love those fox-eared headrests. The other thing I love is the huge upright dials with their orange accents and needles, and I absolutely love the manner in which the big chunky dial adjusts fan speed clacks through every slot.
Even better is the legendary door shut with that typical W123 thud and metallic clack from the door latch. Then I insert the key into the bottom left of the ‘70mm’ instrument panel and fire it up. The engine feels smooth, even 43 years on, and it revs in a creamy, silky manner. It is also pretty silent, apart from some mechanical clatter, and what gets the car moving effortlessly is that it has a nice torquey bottom end. Despite having a carburettor, it also accelerates smoothly; no jerks, no hiccups.
What’s exceptional, however, is the ride quality. The tall suspension seems to hover above the road and has plenty of travel. And what sort of sets it apart is that the wheels move under you in a soft, supple manner. The ride is good even by today’s standards.
There’s little doubt the W123 exudes an air of superior engineering. To say it’s a car built without a budget in mind would be something of an exaggeration, but it sure feels like that.