Used car buying guide: Mercedes W123

Introduced in 1976 as an evolution rather than reinvention of the W114, the W123 spawned a total of four bodystyles and went on to surpass even the astounding sales success of its forebear, shifting 2.7 million units over its 10-year production run. Expensive in all forms from new, the W123 could be specified with an overwhelming range of petrol and diesel motors, the most dependable of which helped to secure its place in the hearts of taxi drivers around the globe. Many are recorded as having covered upwards of 500,000 miles without much more than regular services, although the doorless 1983 230E that took James Mayacross Botswana in a 2007 episode of Top Gear is probably a better known testament to the car’s durability. The car commanded a heavy premium over its rivals – a starting price of £8000 in 1979 translates to £41,000 today – but a large portion were run on a tight budget, and the results are plain to see today: available models range from basket-case barn finds (steer well clear) to concours cars that have been restored at great expense to their owners. The handsome estate version – badged T for ‘tourismus und transport’ – is the most unattainable variant, prices now edging past what you might pay for a clean two-door ‘pillarless’ CE coupĂ©, but the saloon is just about still within the realm of the casual enthusiast. The marketplace is mostly populated by 230E models, which, as the designation suggests, pack a 2.3-litre four-cylinder petrol motor with a healthy 134bhp, but there are plenty of less potent 200 examples still up for grabs. The top-rung 280E’s straight-six petrol was said to be capable of pushing the W123 to 124mph, but beware earlier carburetted versions, which are thirstierthan those equipped with the Bosch fuel injection system. While there remains a healthy selection of W123s in the classifieds, itsongoing popularity is threatened by a lack of aftermarket support from Mercedes, which means that fully restored examples are often sold on at a heavy loss by owners. Usable parts can benabbed fromthe plethora of crusty examples being broken in the UK and abroad, and pattern body panels are available through suppliers including Niemöller and Mecatechnic. Look for repairs to the wheel arches, door bottoms, battery tray and sunroof, and make sure the original rubberised chassis coating isn’t hiding anything serious. A 1982 facelift brought various upgrades including power steering as standard, improved rear leg room, a driver’s airbag and an optional five-speed manual gearbox.