Just Plain Rare: 1986 Mercedes 300E 5-speed


Rather than go on and on about the merits of the legendary W124-chassis code Mercedes-Benz, I'll try to write specifically about why this is such a cool car.

But not before I get in a line or two about the W124 in general. Or a paragraph.

Handsomely sculpted, brilliantly engineered, bank-vault like solidity and top-notch quality and craftsmanship are some ways I would describe the W124, which was produced from 1986 to 1995. They are not only comfortable, but they handled well, came with an excellent range of engines, and were (and still are) incredibly reliable. They were expensive when new but retained higher values than the average car. It is not uncommon for a W124 to go 200K or 300K miles before an engine rebuild. I remember there is also a million-mile W124 taxi on display somewhere. The fact that the W124 will be remembered more for durability than as a status symbol is a touching tribute to the wholesome priorities of Mercedes. They truly outdid themselves when they sought to replace the already widely respected and much adored W123.

Ok done.


Now, this here is a fine early example of a 300E. The W124 was plagued with name inconsistencies for most of it's life. For the longest time it had a 2.6-litre straight 6-cylinder engine, yet still retained the name "300", which typically denotes the engine size. There was a 3.0-litre, but not until later. So occasionally the 300E would also have "2.6" branded next to it. Truth in advertising! There was also a 260E. Why they didn't just call-it-like-it-is is one of Stuttgart's few mess-ups. But a minor one.

Therefore, I am unsure of the exact engine in this car. It does not appear to have the "2.6" emblem, so it could very well be the 3.0-litre. Which ever size, it's still a time-tested, energetic, bulletproof engine that gets the job done and then some.


What is clear is that its mated to a five-speed manually shifting gearbox.

Mercedes are known to be great cars. Perhaps their one ever-so-slightest drawback is a lack of sport in the brand, or even just the perception of it. As the 20th century progressed their cars became more and more workman-like and utilitarian, and the no-hassle, hands-free automatic transmission reigned king in America, where they sold a lot of cars in the '70s, '80s and '90s.

So finding any Mercedes with a manual transmission is like finding a diamond...among the diamonds.

Already rear-wheel drive, with the addition of a 5-speed manual I expect the 300E to transform from a great car to an excellent car.

In this May 1986 issue of Car and Driver, a 300E with a 5-speed is tested. For the remaining pages click here. Interestingly, the reviewer loves the car but is not impressed with the manual transmission. But hey, you know car reviewers and how picky they can be.



This '86 example for sale looks like a lot of car for the money as well. The seller recognizes it being a rarity, but gives little else. Fortunately, buying almost any used W124 never seems like a gamble. There were hundreds of thousands built, so finding low mileage examples, while getting harder, isn't impossible. High-mileage cars are obviously plenty, but since the cars were built for longevity, 100K is just breaking them in. You can't go wrong either way.

I would check for rust. I would also request any previous services records and a general history on the car. These are well-built, but any car suffers with deterred maintenance.

This one in particular appears to be in great shape. It's really hard to judge it without knowing the odometer reading, which the seller doesn't disclose, but I would assume it's around 100K or more. The pale beige metallic exterior color is tasteful and subdued, and fits any mood. You'll never get tired of it. It also goes well with the burgundy interior, which looks fantastic. Mercedes never offered cloth seating in the U.S., so instead of leather on base models they used this vinyl surface called MB-Tex, which was basically indestructible. I personally love vinyl seats. The look of leather, without the wear and tear.


The only cosmetic flaws I could find are a missing three-pointed star emblem on the hood. That is a must-replacement and is an easy fix.

Extras appear to be an aftermarket cell antenna and what could be factory mudflaps. Essential on the 4Matic cars, here they are still practical and rugged looking.

Find it here on craiglist in the Boston, MA area. The seller is asking $3,650 and says the car needs nothing and is ready to go, which, knowing these cars, could very well be true. The price seems fair, given the practicality and reliability. I also think the 5-speed would be a future hit at any local Mercedes shows. I'd add some single-unit Euro headlamps and drive it off the lot.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, and great website. Thanks for the information! Transmissions

    ReplyDelete