Although the general trend of today's automobiles have gone the way of planned obsolescence, there was a time when cars were simply designed and over-engineered to surpass their plotted lifespans. Case in point, the ever enduring Mercedes-Benz W123 240D. For those of you who grew up in '80s Manila, the "123" Benzes were a common sight. And to own and drive one was a status symbol.
When Architect PJ Miranda acquired this particular car, he knew he had a keeper. He is its third owner, but only the second one locally as this car was imported from Germany in 1991. An ex-Minister of Agriculture once owned it. And while the car came to PJ's garage with some tired paint, it was in a mechanically amazing state.
What made the W123 240D special? Well it's highly revered as an apocalypse vehicle for being so damn tough and resilient. The car is so simply designed and so well built, that its parts are able to do their jobs (almost) endlessly, withstanding the test of time and of the elements.
Take for example the 2.4-liter, non-turbo diesel engine of the 240D. The venerable OM616 engine was created for a variety of uses, including military and commercial applications. Designed in 1973, it was built at a time when world fuel reserves were low, and as such, this engine happened to be engineered in such a robust way that a mix of filtered cooking oil and kerosene could power it without a problem.
PJ himself attests to the durability of the engine, when he once snapped a fan belt and continued driving at length around the metro in search of a replacement. The engine held at 100 degrees and the cylinder heads never warped, continuing to perform as well today as it did before the belt snapped.
These cars are so hardy that they are still used as taxis in a lot of Mediterranean countries. Just Google 'Morocco Taxi' and see the images for yourselves. Anybody who's seen Charlie Sheen's movie Navy Seals will surely remember the W123 they thrashed about just to escape from terrorists. And since the OM616 has a range of applications, a healthy replacement and reproduction market is thriving with parts not just built in Taiwan, but in countries such as Israel.
Although this particular Midnight Blue 240D was cared for by CATS Motors before it landed on PJ's lap, his first goal was to make sure everything was mechanically sound. To his surprise, no major issues needed attention, and the car was just reset to his ownership with a fresh change of liquids, and some maintenance and cleaning of the air-conditioning system.
After the car was deemed as roadworthy as it was before, PJ then set out to correct the botched up paint job. It seemed that an earlier repaint was done poorly, with putty applied over the original paint and just another layer sprayed on. This caused splotchy paintwork all over the car that PJ set out to correct. Most of the sheetmetal was still in amazing condition prior to repainting the Midnight Blue color, but the roof was left untouched and the original factory roof paint was preserved.
Step inside the car and be ready to be thrown back in time. PJ decided to leave the interior original and preserved to show off the unwarped and uncracked dashboard. The tan leather seats are still supple and comfy, and make for great relaxed drives in and out of town. The dashboard layout is simple, with easy-to-read gauges and switches that give off that delicious feel of driving an old executive car. Although he would settle for a proper Blaupunkt head unit, PJ is still hunting down a period correct Becker radio for the car. So, if any of you readers have a lead, do let us know.
The whole analog experience of the 240D is mostly what powers this car's charm. The oil burner is noisy, yes. But the quality factory insulation cuts out a good number of decibels to make driving with the windows up a pleasant enough experience. The rattling sound that the engine makes is actually one of the things that PJ looks forward to the most with this car. As an experienced owner of old-school metal, he loves the fact that the engine note is very distinct from all the other sounds you'd hear on the road. And with it, he is transported to simpler times when he drives.
PJ loves the fact that his "European taxi" 240D remains to be a simple machine. Most mechanical parts are readily available, and body panels and trim pieces can be found in surplus shops. Although speed and power is not this car's forte, the 65hp output of the 2.4-liter diesel going through four forward gears is more than enough for driving around Metro Manila. And on the highway, cruising above 100kph is easy with the right gearing. It may not get up to speed quickly, but it definitely gets PJ and his family to their destination.