Life in the Slow Lane

Chronicling my adventures with old Mercedes-Benz diesels, including how I came to buy them, what they’re like to live with, and how much they cost to run.

New Wheels, Same Look: Fitting Aluminum “Steelies” to the 240D

One of the very best modifications you can make to a W123-series Mercedes is swapping its original 14-inch steel wheels for aluminum versions of the same. The aluminum rims (pictured above) are the same dimensions as the original “steelies” (14 x 5.5 inches). But they weigh half as much — just under 10 lbs each for the aluminum versions vs. almost 20 lbs for the steel ones.

Here’s why that matters.

Driving the 240D Home to Seattle

The map between Monterey and Seattle presents some pretty compelling options. Of course, a drive up Highway 1 along the coast is tough to beat. It’s got great scenery, charming towns, and entertaining tarmac. It’s also fun to head inland and explore the two-lane blacktop east of the Cascades, perhaps with a jaunt to Crater Lake thrown in for good measure.

But I opted for the boring route: pretty much a straight shot up Interstate 5. Why? Because driving a new-to-you, 40-year-old car can dramatically shift your priorities. The 240D was running well, but it was still too early to be cavalier. Taking I-5 meant having consistently good cell phone service as well as better proximity to towns with repair shops that would know their way around an old Benz.

Fortunately, for much of the way, it’s also quite pleasant to drive.

240D Love at First Sight

When I’m browsing used car listings (pretty much a daily habit), there’s really one thing in particular that I’m looking for. It’s not a specific year, make, or model. It’s not an unusual color or rare option. It’s not a crazy low-mile example. All of those things can be important to be sure. But the thing I’m really looking for is a car that’s enjoyed an absurdly high level of care from its prior owners.

Though the listing for the soon-to-be-mine 240D had only one photo and just a brief description, I knew it was special from the moment I laid eyes on it. First of all, it enjoys a rare combination of 70s era colors: Colorado Beige (470) on the outside against Tobacco Brown (103) on the inside. While I love even wilder colors on a W123 — they contrast nicely against the classic styling — orangish-tan on dark brown is wonderfully period correct.

And this was one of those listings where the colors really popped. The paint, which was noted as all original, still had a level of purity and depth that even new cars don’t seem to be able to achieve. The seats, in legendarily durable MB-Tex, looked almost free of wear. It was clear this 40+ year old example — with 250,000 miles, no less — was not your average W123. It was a gem.

240D Fuel Economy Update (Summer 2021)

It’s been a little more than three months and almost 2000 miles since I picked up the Colorado Beige 240D from its original owner in California, so I thought it might be time for a fuel economy update. In that time, I’ve driven the car from Monterey to Seattle, taken it in for a 250,000-mile service, and done various day trips around the area, including an overnight jaunt to Port Townsend.

A Few Days in Monterey with the 240D

The day after picking up the 240D, I met up with a few friends, and we spent a long weekend exploring the peninsula’s treasure trove of golf courses. They ranged from Pacific Grove Municipal, known colloquially as “poor man’s Pebble Beach,” which for as little as $34 offers golfers access to a beautiful stretch of seaside holes winding through the dunes, to the actual Pebble Beach Golf Links (pictured above), which is, well, quite a bit pricier.

While the 240D is not a large car by modern standards — at 186 inches long and 71 inches wide, it’s roughly the size of a new Honda Civic — its boxy design and large trunk make for excellent golf course transport. It can easily ferry a foursome plus their bags to and from the course, though with only 62 horsepower on tap, you’ll probably want to leave a few minutes earlier than usual for your tee time. You’re definitely going to notice the additional weight.

Puttering around the Central Coast for a few days gave me some time to get to know the 240D a little better before hitting the highway back to Seattle.

A Brief Personal History of the W123

The first time I ever encountered a W123 generation Mercedes, I was twelve years old. It was my first day at a brand new school in a brand new city. Waiting somewhat anxiously for my carpool to arrive, I saw a dark blue 300D pull into the driveway.

As a child, I had been fascinated by big diesel trucks and happily spent hours on road trips identifying them. Kenworths, Macks, Peterbilts — I knew them all. I even liked the way they smelled. And now, from this handsome sedan before me, emanated that same distinctive diesel thrum.

I climbed in, closing the famously vault-like door behind me, and buckled myself into the blue MB Tex rear bench. As our smiling carpool mom piloted us away, that five-cylinder diesel rumbling its way through the gears, I was smitten.

Sorting the 240D: the 250,000-Mile Service

Once I got the 240D home to Seattle, it was time for a good sorting. This is something I do with pretty much every used car I buy: take it to the best specialist in the area for a complete evaluation — from hood ornament to exhaust tip — and have them take care of any outstanding needs.

No matter how well-kept it is, a used car almost always has a few items to address, whether it’s aging tires or worn out shifter bushings. Some people take a fix-it-as-you-go approach to this stuff, tackling a few things here and a few things there over the course of their ownership. That’s understandable. It certainly prevents facing a big repair bill right off the bat. But I prefer to get everything done all at once. That way I can enjoy the car in its full glory from the get-go.

Even if the mechanic finds nothing, knowing that all the major systems have been inspected and given the stamp of approval provides great peace of mind.

Picking Up the 240D and First Impressions

In mid-May, I flew to Monterey to fetch the new-to-me 240D. It was a surprisingly easy flight — just over two hours from Seattle, nonstop. The car’s seller, Bill, had graciously offered to meet me at the airport. Based on everything I’d learned about Bill and his careful caretaking of the 240D over the last 44 years, I wasn’t at all surprised that he arrived exactly on time.

Bill appeared in a clean TJ generation Jeep Wrangler. With its classic styling and robust 4.0 liter inline six engine, it shares many workhorse-like qualities with the 240D. I would soon learn that he also is the proud owner of an insanely nice FJ80 generation Toyota Land Cruiser, which of course he also bought new in 1993. Man, this guy really knows how to pick his cars.

We got to know one another a bit on the way to his house, which enjoys a commanding view of the Monterey peninsula. Bill had been a veterinarian in the area for decades, and the 240D was his daily commuter throughout his career. He even had custom plates for it — IFIXK9S — which have since passed along to his daughter, also a vet.

When it was time for the big reveal, I gave myself a little pep talk. I didn’t want my expectations to be overly high. It’s easy to paint too pretty of a picture in your mind when you’re scouting a car, only to be disappointed when you finally see it in person.

Life in the Slow Lane: A Mercedes 240D Ownership Story

In April of 2021, I purchased a 1977 Mercedes-Benz 240D from its original owner, who had special ordered it, picked it up at the factory, and then used it as a daily driver for some 44 years and 250,000 miles.

Here I’ll be chronicling my own adventures with the car, including how I came to buy it, what it’s like to live with, and how much it costs to run.

Welcome to Life in the Slow Lane.


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