Star Turn – Why My Next Car Will be an Old Benz

  James Siddall

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 12 Mar, 2019



1990 Mercedes-Benz 230E W124

It’s refused to go gently into that good night. And while it debuted well over three decades ago, its lines are still as crisp and compelling as they were in the mid-80s. Best of all tidy examples can be had for about the same price as a weary old used econo-box. It’s the Mercedes W124, a car that galvanised a teenaged James Siddall when he first saw one – which is why today it tops his shopping list as a daily driver…

I might buy a car.

I haven’t owned one since my BMW E30 got stolen.

It was an ice-white, barely used, poverty-spec 316 so immaculate that the guys at the non-franchised centre who’d service it would regularly try buy it.

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I had it debadged so it at least looked like the fuel-injected version.

Since then I’ve used press vehicles to get about, long-term cars included, and more recently Uber.

My life is lived on a small canvas at the moment, and I work from home, so the ride-sharing concept works well.

But not so well for longer trips, and besides I need something to polish, treasure and cherish. Car people are like that.

And what will I buy? A Mercedes, of course.

“Of course,” because I’ve had a long affair with the marque, despite never owning one.

Mercedes were the star cars that I’d lustfully look at during my 1980’s youth, when most of my peers were perving hot Kadett GSi’s, Golf GTi’s, blitzen BMWs.

I can tell you why.

Around 1985 I was walking from high school in my hometown – which has gone from bucolic to bustling and strip-malled over the years – to the gym a few kilometres away.

The local supermarket magnate pulled over in his 280SE (W126) to offer a lift, and that big pluto-Benz’s solidity, stability, smoothness, gravitas, and hushed air-con wooed 15-year-old me. In the passenger seat of that SE it seemed everything would always be all right.

Perhaps strange. For my frame of reference went beyond my mother’s ’83 Honda Ballade.

In the medallion-wearing mid-Seventies my first stepfather piloted a chest-wig chariot of a ‘69 Mercury Cougar. For a while there we lived in the Free State in the same small town where one of our state presidents (remember those?) grew up.

That big yellow Cougar with its concealed headlights would growl and gurgle over those long, dun OFS roads.

Later we had Stepfather MK11. He had a Datsun 280 ZX, then a Pontiac Trans Am. The “Screaming Eagle,” pre-KITT one.

Yet it was that Benz that beguiled in a ten-minute ride. A psychologist might perhaps say its qualities were all that I lacked, all that I craved.

A little later it was more of the same on a long family holiday with an aunt, uncle and cousins in a Mercedes 200 (W123) bought on the run out.

How ineffably elegant it seemed to arch PE-wards in that Benz, with Rachmanioff on the Becker sound system, and the big speedometer gamely, calmly, imperceptibly moving towards the 170km/h mark on long straights.

And then in 1986 I saw it. Outside that same supermarket magnate’s store.

A new 230E (W124). I write for a living yet it’s difficult to convey just how…right, how futuristic, how timeless that car looked.

It was certainly a status symbol. In ’86, post PW Botha’s Rubicon speech, a new 230E cost R53 925, with the price spiking to R166 787 in ’93 when it was superseded by the 220E. Big money then.

The classifieds are relatively rich in W124s – with the range at various times running from a 200 through to a 320E. Some are tatty. Some are tarted up. Some seem top. Around R50 000 upwards seems enough for a good one.

For a fully imported, ultra-rare cabrio version, meanwhile, you’re looking around the R400k mark. But this is not an exhaustive W124 treatise or buyer’s guide.

There are a few things I’d need from my W124, however.

It must be white. It must be original, down to the Becker radio and medical kit. A FSH would good.

An auto gearbox is non-negotiable – the Benz manual boxes of the era are not things of loveliness. And sheepskin seat covers are essential. Of course.

Image: KGF Classic Cars



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