I have now owned my W124 Mercedes-Benz 300ce for almost 2 months and together we’ve travelled 2500 miles all over the place for an eventful Christmas and New Year, so I think now is a good opportunity to fill you in on my new baby.
So why the biggish Benz?
Well like most of my ill fated trips to the supermarket, a W124 was not an item on my shopping list, I just kind of walked (drove) away with one much to the surprise of my friends and family.
The money I used for my new wheels you see was saved over a long period of time and I couldn’t just set my mind to only the one car, there was a list of candidates, but on it there wasn’t even a single one similar to the 300ce. It was 2 painful years in which I mainly spent the free hours of the day tormenting myself window shopping on eBay, and the targeted £3000 was and is a lot of money on the second hand car auctions if you’re brave enough!
My mood constantly changed, one week I would devote my attention to Clio 182’s and Mg zs180’s trying to get the most hot hatch for my hypothetical buck, but then the next week I’d be eyeing up some rubber bumpered MG B or Scooby turbo 2000 wagon doing the man maths to work out if I could afford to run/maintain either of them. No time on my search, however, was spent looking over any Mercedes’. You see, Mercedes-Benz are a company which I respected a lot. They gave us the motorcar, for Pete’s sake, which was a huge gift to humanity. But they never really did it for me, they always seemed just a teeny tiny little bit dull, though I’m not entirely sure why. To be honest, if I was ever to go German I always would have thought it would be through an old Beemer, and I did almost go down the E39 route. I’d even have been less surprised if I bought and ran a Glas Goggomobil (coupe imaged below) before a Merc, but these were prejudiced and foolish times unlike now.
Anyway, late last year the money finally materialised, and the day I was dreaming of when I could finally narrow my choices down was here. It all became more daunting than exciting as I built it up in my head, what was I going to do if I ballsed it up?
It’s stupidly easy to spend money you don’t have so when it came down to actually putting down a deposit I worked hard for onto a car I was deeply worried. What would happen if I went too crazy, or worse I was left with a car I hated? This was going to be the biggest investment I had made in my life so far. I was terrified.
To ease my worries I decided to look at as many cars as possible within my budget, searching nationwide as in the grand scheme of things, Blighty isn’t that big and I wanted the best motor I could find. There was no rush so I waited in a mix of pain and excitement for the perfect car to show up, a car which was deserved of my cash.
I literally looked at everything, even an incredibly ropey Reliant SS1 1800ti (I was absolutely gutted when it didn’t meet the standard set by the advert), but it soon became apparent that as a daily I’d be better off getting a modern classic.
So the Benz?
Well, I saw that SECs were in at the moment and I quite fancied the idea of a Brutalist GT car, but v8 running costs seemed a bit too much of a step up from my 1300 Suzuki. Plus, the ones in my budget no longer resembled cars at all. So I had to look at something a little smaller and the 300ce seemed to capture enough of the S coupe (not the Hyundai!) to be interesting but with much more realistic running costs. Plus, I really love the sound of a straight 6 anyway. So it was decided, I needed to look at one, although I was still not overly excited by the idea of a Merc.
In hindsight, it probably helped that I saw this car directly after an absolute dog of a 300zx (I have no idea how I thought I could get one within my budget, but being a Gran Turismo fan I had to see). In person the CE looked incredible, the pictures did not do the car justice at all, its amazing the difference losing some pillars can do to a car, especially one that’s so ‘blocky’.
The spec was perfect for me; having the full blue leather, the classy but not old fashioned wood veneer and also thankfully not too many unnecessary electrics to go wrong. It was the drive that also helped seal the deal for me, this executive coupe seemed a lot faster than a car this size had any right to be and despite the hefty weight the CE also felt composed and very tidy on the road. The 150k mileage was nothing for one of these, especially one that had such a comprehensive dealer service history, if anything this was a plus as it makes me feel less guilty about putting more miles on the car. I was possibly also persuaded by the fact that this car is a ’92 making it the same age as me, the car is in much better condition of course. So in the end, it was quite painless to pay the cool £2500, which left 500 for the inevitable teething costs.
This was not a bad idea, as despite the hewn from granite ‘million kilometre’ Berlin taxi cab image the w124 has, they can still have some disastrous faults if you’re not very careful. The forums made for some sobering reading. Gearboxes and ‘eggplant’ wiring harnesses on later cars go, dashboards have caught fire in the past (very rare) and the fuel system can be a little temperamental. Thankfully, being an 8 valve with the older 4-speed gearbox, the only issue I was really worried about was the head gasket. The coolant thankfully appeared to be devoid of oil, and everything looked well maintained so fingers crossed nothing too serious is on the horizon.
The first week
I picked the car up on a Sunday morning, and it’s tradition for me when I first get in my new car to have a mini shakedown run to Conwy along the North wales expressway, pulling off on a few backroads before the short run through beautiful Victorian Llandudno to the medieval Conwy castle/town walls.
The drive was completely alien to me as this car was my first slushomatic gearbox. Usually I avoid them like the plague because I was always under the impression from reading car mags that they stole from the driving experience. So my left leg became very restless, but you cannot buy a manual Benz from this era as every website and rag seem to agree that they are just a little bit crap.
My reservations on the auto were thankfully unfounded. If anything, it gives the car more of a personality. Once I had gotten used to the eco and sport mode, I realised it could do it all; be as smooth as custard when the traffic’s slow and as forceful as a sledgehammer when the gaps start to appear.
The CE also seemed to have none of that stigma normally attached to modern German exec cars, so I was very thankful to find people did let me out of junctions, but that could be more to do with the fact my car is fitted with indicators.
I was in love, a particular high point of this run was when Rammstein-Sonne came blasting onto the stereo as motorists ahead swiftly parted out of my way as if it was the Red Sea: the German industrial band suited this car down to the ground.
The trip however was not all plain barge-ing, one thing I couldn’t help but notice was that the fuel gauge had the erratic movement and pace of a thrash metal drummer (less than ideal for a potentially thirsty car). Bizarrely, a forum fix I found was Redex, which apparently cleans all the scummy additives which modern unleaded leaves behind on the fuel sender. I was doubtful but, to my surprise, it worked; since the Redex the needle has been as calm and as cool as a resting sloth.
Another issue, embarrassingly, came up when I couldn’t get the parking brake to engage. No matter how much I yanked at the dash pull the damned thing would not work. This meant having to go through the annoying search for perfectly flat parking spots (and I live on a hill). How could I have been so stupid not to check such a fundamentally important part of the car? I could visualize a big bill coming my way. That was, until I vacuumed the drivers foot well (clean car = clean soul), well well well what do we have here? A third hidden foot pedal. Embarrassingly as soon as I saw it I remembered reading about how drivers of manual E-classes could get into trouble when they accidentally hit the foot operated parking brake instead of the clutch. D’oh, the dash pull is only there to disengage the system.
Thankfully, overall the trip to Conwy ended without any real disastrous hitch. But my backroad hunting did mean it was late for heading back and I was a little tired, thankfully I had become so used to the car the return journey took no real concentration. In what felt like no time, I was home in bed wondering what people were going to say at work tomorrow.
They loved it, but also couldn’t understand how it was affordable. But what they don’t know is that what I paid for this is a fair bit less than what many people have paid for the initial payments on a pcp scheme for a car they will never own. It’s weird how people believe finance is the only way to make a car affordable these days.
The first two months
New meets old
I really really have grown to love this car over the past 6 weeks. It is effortless classic motoring at its best, the economy is not amazing but also not as bad as I expected it to be. I average about 26 mpg in mixed driving conditions, but the way this car manages to transform even the dreaded journey to work into an occasion, it really is worth the extra expense. This is the joy of a modern classic I suppose, these are figures you could only dream of in an MgB or a beetle of much lower performance, but the Benz still has none of that remote feeling which ruins most new cars for me. Also, there is no touch screen or augmented noise to distract me from the cars merits: everything is there because it needs to be or to genuinely add to the experience. The Merc is not all that powerful, 180 horsepower is now available in 1.0 litre superminis, but power is only half of the story. This car is all about the torque which works with the auto gearbox faultlessly.
So far I’ve never felt like any situation has flumoxed the gearbox, it never seems to hunt and there is no noticeable delay to the kick down either. The previous owner said I’d never want to go back to a manual after having this. While I might not go that far I have found this car to be both enjoyable and easy at the same time.
I find I now drive more just for the sake of driving, I love sitting on the real dead cow and taking in the forest of wood in front of me and enjoying all of the brilliantly dated gizmos. The seatbelt butlers still surprise my friends; they’re pointless but do also a great conversation starter on every trip with a new passenger. I still cant stop myself watching the eccentric window wiper work when stuck in busy traffic. It’s almost hypnotising.
I think this is an engineers car: it’s like every little detail has been thoroughly over designed by someone who wanted their part to outshine everyone else’s. Top marks also should go to whoever came up with the blue interior colour scheme and the seats, I find I never want to leave after turning the engine off as the car is a far nicer place to sit than anywhere in my house. But when I am moving I do have to note that Mercedes in the early nineties had the best suspension compromise ever, it’s a shame the modern cars feel like they’ve lost a lot of this in their pursuit of a more BMW-esque sporting image. But this CE thankfully rides sublimely like any proper merc should, it manages to make any dull or damaged road pass by in an instant but when you do finally hit a decent stretch you flick into sport mode and the car transforms. It really can engage the driver who wants to grab it by the scruff of the neck.
On a fast bit of road, this car feels as if it hunkers down, it’s eager for bends and everything gets even better when you pull down the pillarless windows and open the sunroof and let that big six sing you words of encouragement. It really is a joy to drive in any situation, including my four extremely snowy trips over the infamous Woodhead pass. The first time I was petrified as automatic + rear wheel drive usually equates to some pretty dramatic results, especially without snow shoes. But I needn’t have worried to be fair, I found the car to be extremely manageable in the snow. I could almost telepathically sense what each corner was up too, I never went full McRae but I suppose that’s not what this car is about.
So where are the drawbacks? Well, thankfully there hasn’t been too many. The main annoyance I have found is the bulb warning light is a little over eager, it doesn’t seem to mean a bulb is gone, more one is going or annoyingly it could mean it just doesn’t like none Bosch bulbs. Another slight issue is the doors need a really good slam to seal properly, which can be quite difficult in tight spots as they’re the size and the weight of Olympic swimming pools. But hey, it adds to the whole solid feel of the car and lets everyone know I’ve arrived. And, of course, this car comes without cup holders which means for once I’m not driving surrounded by dead Costa cups rolling around everywhere. There’s nothing really I would change so far, not to talk too soon but this is probably the best car I have ever owned.
So what next?
Well, the car is obviously geared towards a grand tour somewhere, and I do have a few countries in mind for 2018. Not wanting to give too much away yet, but I am thinking of heading to the Czech Republic for a new project around Easter. But to be honest, there’s no big rush for any trip as this car makes me feel a million dollars no matter where I take it, even if I’m only popping out to the supermarket. I’m now a convert I guess, a full on Merc guy and that’s something I never thought I would say in a million years.