It has been known in classic circles for some time now that the W123 E Class is a phenomenal machine, which represents the apex of Mercedes-Benz build quality, durability and mechanical expertise. A slightly unfair assessment as the W124 E Class that followed was every bit as good and in many ways superior, but the accolades levelled at the W123 are certainly founded.
These cars were positively over-engineered when new and that’s telling today when you come across an example such as this one. Despite reaching nearly 120,000 miles (just run in of course) this car appears in near new condition, and as we have come to expect from KGF, this example has an excellent service history to back up its extremely tidy interior, exterior and mechanical condition.
ONE THE ROAD
These machines are incredibly straight forward to pilot and popping one into D on the gate of the four-speed automatic gearbox and applying a little throttle, sees us effortlessly pull away. There are none of the clonks or lurches associated with worn propshaft flexible discs or gearbox/engine mounting problems (I’ve had cars with these issues) as the drive is taken up with the minimum of fuss or slack.
As this is near the bottom of the E Class model line-up (in terms of engine size) it’s powered by the 2.3-litre four-pot, which would later find fame as the bottom half of the 190E Cosworth unit. There’s 136bhp to exploit and considering the size of this E Class and its drive passing through a ‘slush’ ‘box, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of performance. However, I am pleased to say that the 2.3-litre W123 is actually pretty sprightly.
Once we are up to temperature and see the first signs of a 60mph limit, the throttle pedal is pushed all the way down to provoke the gearbox kick-down function. A couple of ratios are dropped and the engine note is suddenly audible from inside the cabin where previously there had been just a hum.
Revs are seen steadily climbing towards the top of the gauge as this E Class squats under power. Sensing you are in the mood for a ‘hoon’, the ‘box holds its lower ratio right to the redline before changing up. It has to be said there’s more than enough grunt on tap to reach and exceed the speed limit in a very respectable time. Despite their appearance and solidity these cars aren’t actually as heavy as you might assume, especially when compared to modern equivalents, and therefore the smaller displacement units fitted aren’t anywhere near as lethargic as you would expect.
Feeding this W123 through some twisting sections of fenland road you are confronted with some inevitable bodyroll. It’s kept in check by a pair of anti-roll bars front and aft, but this saloon’s soft springing and comfort-oriented damping makes itself known. Admittedly, you’re missing the point if you are pushing the limits of handling in a car such as this; it’s really more about effortless mile-munching, at which of course it excels.
I may have only had the keys to this E Class for a couple of hours, but it’s still tough to relinquish them upon their return. This example is superb and drives every bit as well as it looks. Under the stewardship of its first owner for 18 years and enthusiast owned since, it has clearly led a charmed existence.
There are a few niggles that would trouble the concours-seeking owner, namely the panel fit on the offside front wing isn’t perfect and the engine bay is honest, not detailed, but for anyone looking for a solid and highly-presentable W123, this one comes highly recommended.
ENGINE: 2299cc 4-cyl
TOP SPEED: 113mph
GEARBOX: 4-sp auto