Is this German warhorse the greatest station wagon ever made?
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Mercedes-Benz estate cars are widely regarded as among the best load-luggers you can buy, traditionally offering a winning blend of practicality with great comfort. They were never cheap, but the pedigree inherent in the three-pointed star atop the bonnet will always go hand in hand with a premium price.
It’s now 40 years since Mercedes-Benz launched its first factory-built estate, on the platform of the long-running - and highly regarded - W123 series. The saloon version made its debut in early 1976.
They were engineered to behave exactly the same as the existing saloon version, even when fully laden or towing.
The vehicles were built at a new production facility in Bremen, under the supervision of Mercedes staff from its headquarters in Stuttgart, so that the new model would be constructed to the same exacting standards as the rest of the range.
As well as the new extended bodywork at the rear, alterations included a strengthened rear chassis and tailgate (which was tested for its integrity in the event of a crash) along with engine-driven, self-levelling hydraulic suspension at the back.
Although these models would soon establish themselves as the most desirable estate cars in the world at the time, the demand was so great that Mercedes originally decided not to produce them in right-hand drive - although, eventually, the T (which stands for Tourismus und Transport) went on sale in the UK in 1980.
According to marque expert W123 World, demand always exceeded supply, right up to the model’s demise in 1985. The car shown here was produced in 1984. It is the range-topping 280TE model, finished in Forest Green. It is fitted with all the factory extras, including leather seating, air-conditioning and an anti-lock braking system.
With a straight-six-cylinder, twin-cam engine developing 188bhp, this car had a top speed of nearly 130mph. It was the fastest - and most expensive - estate car in the world. It was a very rare find, having only covered 60,000 miles from new before it was treated to a full restoration.
Very few now survive in good original order or with low mileage, because they were so sturdy at they were often used to carry large loads and even for semi-commercial purposes.
W123 World says it receives requests for this model more than any other W123, even the lovely coupés, despite them being the rarest to find in unmolested condition, which partially explains why values have risen sharply over the past few years.
How rare? David Brooks, the former general manager of Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands, says: “If I wanted a ‘pagoda’ SL sports car from the Sixties, I can find one for sale in seconds. However, the classic T-series is just very difficult to find in good order.” He now owns one of the finest examples surviving, with only 18,000 miles on the clock.
Restoration of the T.wagen can be both punitively expensive and also very difficult, according to W123 World, since many parts are no longer available and have to be custom made. But, says the company, if you can find one the W123 T.wagen has become the “ultimate classic estate car for the countryside”, beloved of those who fish, shoot or play golf. As well as being a relaxing drive, they are also an appreciating investment.
But don’t just take our word for this car’s desirability. As soon as he heard that Mercedes was going to produce an estate car, a distinguished Englishman living in New York ordered one. His W123 estate was the first one delivered in New York City; to a Mr and Mrs J Lennon.
The diesel-powered 300TD John Lennon ordered was not even available in the USA at the time but the importer brought one in via the Mercedes-Benz diplomatic department for him.
The cost was $30,000 - that’s more than $90,000 at today’s prices, and more than the top-of-the-range Porsche at the time. It was the last car he owned.
- Telegraph UK
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