As I get older and my head gains an alarming amount of grey hairs, my patience and desire for “projects” is growing thin. I have no problem working on cars, but my time seems to be sucked up by other things that aren’t getting covered in diesel fuel when changing a pre-filter. This is leads me away from saying things like “Oh, this car on Craigslist only needs $2,900 in parts and 10 hours of labor. I can swing that”. Instead, I’m finding myself just clicking the back button and not even considering cars that aren’t nearly turn-key.
Thankfully there are a handful of older cars out there that are still turn-key and need very little. This 1979 Mercedes-Benz 300CD up for sale in Oregon might just be one of those. It certainly looks like a time capsule both inside and out, as well as the most important area, under the hood. I wish this one wasn’t 3,000 miles away.
Of course, if you’re a fan of German cars (and even some who are not), the Volkswagen Westfalia pop-top campers are legendary in their own right. But esoteric fans no there was not just one version of the iconic ‘Camper Van’. Indeed, Volkswagen offered two iterations of do-anything #vanlife in the 70s,80s and even 80s. The Vanagon is probably the best known, but based upon VW’s larger LT platform were also 8 versions of campers with unique features and a bit more space than the traditional VW van.
Top of the range between 1978 and 1989 was this model – the LT Westfalia Sven Hedin. Hedin was a notable Swedish explorer of central Asia, so the eponymous camper was adventure ready. These high-top vans featured similar accoutrements to the T2 and T3 models, with a cooker, fridge, versatile seating and a fixed sleeping area along with copious storage. Where the LT stood apart was incorporation of a bathroom, replete with hot water shower. You could have these Sven Hedins with either PVC or carpeted flooring as seen here, and with either a 2.0 inline-4 gas motor or the lump seen in this model – the D24 2.4 liter inline-6 diesel rated at 75 horsepower.
Update 12/3/19: This Caravelle syncro sold for $11,600
It’s hard to fit into the regular lineup all of the various neat German vehicles from diverse brands, so admittedly I end up focusing on ones that really spark my interest. That leaves big gaps in coverage, and one such gaffe is certainly the Volkswagen T-series. The first three generations were based upon the Type 2 platform and rear-engine configuration, which left plenty of space for a slab-sided apartment on wheels. But Volkswagen continued the feat with the T4. The engine moved to the front and was water-cooled, transverse and in most applications driving the front wheels. But like the T3, the T4 was also available in syncro configuration with all-wheel drive.
However, while the T3’s viscous coupling sent power forward with twin locking differentials for each axle, the T4’s front-drive transverse layout meant that it needed to employ a system similar to the Golf platform. That meant a viscous coupling to transfer power rearward when slip was detected, with some T4s also having a manually locking rear differential to assist in really sticky situations. While not the go-anywhere mountain goat the T3 could be, it was a neat configuration not offered in the States. Further, you could get a plethora of engine choices at the same time the EuroVan was solely offered with the 2.5 inline-5 gas motor. Case in point is today’s 2.4 liter AAB. While not more powerful than the 2.5 gas motor, the 10 valve inline-5 diesel was a lot less thirsty and offered 77 horsepower and 121 lb.ft of torque at low revs. Here it’s hooked to a manual transmission and already imported to the U.S.:
Earlier this week I just about broke my neck to catch a second glimpse at a car which probably went unnoticed by nearly every other driver out there. It was a new what appeared to be a B8 Passat Variant, and you don’t have to know a lot about Volkswagens to know you haven’t seen one recently – or, probably ever – on these shores since VW dropped the large wagon from its lineup after 2010. Is this an indication they’re coming here? Unlikely, at least according to VW. With the Atlas and Tiguan relatively fresh and still selling like proverbial hotcakes, along with the many iterations of the Golf Sportwagon available, there just is no need. More likely than not, the car I saw was part of a VW testing program which makes sense since I live very close to one of the importation ports.
So that leaves fans of the larger VW wagon to clamor over older examples. So back we go fifteen years to a B5.5 again! This one, like the last, is a silver example from 2004. Also just like the last, it’s a manual and all-wheel drive. But unlike that rare factory 1.8T 4Motion manual, this one is a home brew, mating a 1.9 TDi out of a Jetta, a 6-speed manual from Europe, and a GLX 4Motion chassis into a neat and thrifty all-wheel drive combo that was never offered here:
I’m sure I’m not the only person who wants both an analog experience in my car along with having the ease of DIY on most everything, but also wants modern tech and these crazy new safety features called airbags. Case in point, my Mercedes-Benz W116 and W123 are both simple enough that I can diagnose and fix almost anything on the entire car in my home garage, but their main safety features are headrests and a padded steering wheel. If you go to the other end with a newer Mercedes-Benz diesel, you see cryptic messages on your infotainment screen saying the car isn’t going to restart unless you fill the tank up with AdBlue fluid, but hey, at least the car will literally steer itself in between the lane lines while you are frantically Googling on your phone what the hell AdBlue fluid is. So is there a happy medium? Well, I think I have one option.
The W210 is a very fine chassis in my eyes. Granted, I’m biased as I own one, but they are seemingly sturdy cars as long as you keep them away from constant moisture and salt. All the gas engines in car are equally as fine, but thankfully the US market was blessed with a gem of a diesel, the OM606. This 3.0 liter inline-six replaced the OM603, which replaced the OM617, so we have good lineage here. It was available in turbo and non-turbo, with today’s car I want to look at, a 1997 E300, being the non-turbo. Much like Mercedes diesels of past, this one has a lot of miles, but probably also has good years left in it as well.
Update 10/18/19: This unusual W220 sold for $7,090.
I certainly didn’t expect to see this on U.S. soil. “This” is a 2001 Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI. That means this is a short wheelbase W220 with the OM613 turbo diesel engine. Produced from 2000 to 2002, this S-Class was never brought to North America because the diesel S-Class was killed off in the early-90s during the W140 chassis and still hasn’t returned…and probably never will. It was very light on equipment and options, but it wasn’t about that in this car. It was about that sweet OM613. Have a gentle foot, and you could return 30 miles per gallon out of this boat of a car. I know an economical S-Class is a bit of an oxymoron (more of those here), but this is very much a situation of having it all. Let me explain.
Last week I looked at one of my favorite and oddest Mercedes-Benz ever: the 190E Avantgarde Azzurro. It was an incredibly expensive car for its time at $40,500 ($72,000 in 2018 money), especially when you considered it was marketed towards younger buyers. As expensive as that car was, Mercedes offered a much more inexpensive option if you still wanted a new W201. How inexpensive? Nearly half the price at just $21,000. Of course you might have noticed I am talking about the 190D. This 190D up for sale in Poland has just 2,200 miles and in addition to being a time capsule, is probably the most bare bones and basic Mercedes I’ve looked at in a long time, if ever. The data card lists just six different build codes compared to the 20 for the Avantgarde Azzurro. Seriously, my manual-everything 1983 240D has more luxuries than this car. I hope the buyer for this car has lots of money and likes the sound of total silence, but that is what is going to take to own this car. Let me explain.
Update 12/23/18: This 300D sold for $14,600.
The 1977–1981 Mercedes-Benz W123 with the naturally-aspirated OM617 5-cylinder doesn’t get enough appreciation in my eyes. Everyone loves the 1982-1985 OM617A, which is the turbocharged version, and rightfully so. Although, if you told me to pick one of the engine solely based on simplicity, I would probably pick the naturally-aspirated version. Yes, it barely has enough power to keep up with modern traffic with 115 lb⋅ft of torque, but no W123 is winning any races in 2018, no matter what the engine. There is a caveat however. In the 1977-1981 W123 with the OM617, you were cursed with the Chrysler automatic climate control system which has the same functionality as a pair of roller skates on a lake. When Mercedes updated the W123 in 1982, they realized their mistake and replaced it with a manual climate control system that, surprise surpise, still works flawlessly some 30 years later. You can’t have it all, I guess.
Today, I have an absolutely pristine 1979 300D up for sale in Poughkeepsie, New York with a hair under 53,000 miles. Painted in Topaz Brown over Parchment MB-Tex, this is one of the finest W123s I’ve come across recently and it has the story to back it up. Judging by the already fast and furious bidding, it is not going to go cheap.
Update 11/20/18: This 300D sold for $13,700.
On Saturday, I will say goodbye to my 1983 240D that I’ve rehabbed and cared for the past two years. It was a classic Craigslist love story of everything looking great in the photos, but after traveling a long distance to go buy it, the car wasn’t nearly as cherry as the photos showed or the seller described. Funny how that happens. Still, I reluctantly took it home after negotiating a whopping $100 off the asking price. The past two years have been fun as it seems like everyone loves the thing, except my passengers who had to be on time somewhere as 67 horsepower is no match for moms in their 300 horsepower minivans and the concept of time in general. I wouldn’t have bought the car if it wasn’t for the Labrador Blue paint and matching hubcaps, and that is probably why it sold to its new owner. I think the W123 chassis is still brilliant and feels so damn good even after 35 years, but it just can’t keep up with the war that is daily traffic. My W116 300SD is a far better car for that, hence why I chose to keep that one even though it isn’t nearly as handsome. Not a knock of the W123, but the W116 S-Class was made to be the best sedan in the world and at the time it was pretty damn close to being that, even compared to the much more expensive cars from Bentley and Rolls-Royce. I’m not the only one who feels that way.
Today’s car, as you might have noticed, also has a pretty great color. This European-spec Pea Green 1979 300D shows just a hair under 25,000 miles on the odometer and should be a pretty mint example. I was super excited to dig into it to see a time-capsule car, but unfortunately, this falls just a little bit short. Let me explain why.
Last week I checked out a cherry 1985 Mercedes-Benz 300CD that was had a few small issues, but I felt was worth the money. Sadly, it looks like the seller cut the auction short so we didn’t find out what the final selling price was. Today, I ran across another 300CD, but this one is a few years older and a little different. This 1979 up for sale in California uses the non-turbo OM617, which is a fine enough engine in itself, doesn’t have any rust and by some kind of miracle, has a functioning air condition. It also has a nice touch with the European headlights and the best part? It has quite the attractive price tag.