Several days ago, I said goodbye to an old friend: A Union County man bought my 1983 Mercedes-Benz 300CD, which I had owned since 2008.
It was the fourth of the legendary old five-cylinder diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz cars I had owned in the last 23 years.
I drove the car very little in recent years. Several people had asked if I wanted to sell it, but I didn’t. It wasn’t doing me much good, but I loved the old thing. As with any car, about the worst thing you can do for it is to let it just sit around, which was the case. It suffered several years of neglect. However, it could go without being driven for months and then fire up and run the first time it was cranked.
Recently, a man I barely knew asked if I would sell it. It was time. I liked the guy and believed he probably had the skills and patience to do with it what he said he would do: bring it back near the condition it was in 39 years ago when it arrived here from what was then West Germany.
I retrieved the title from the lockbox at BNA Bank, where it had rested for 14 years. He gave me money, and I endorsed the title. Then he clattered off down the street in the old thing.
There was one caveat to the sale: if he ever decides to sell it, he is to give me the first chance of buying it back. I doubt that will ever happen, but it comforted me to think it might not be forever gone.
I bought my first Mercedes diesel when it was time for our daughter to learn to drive. I knew they were built like tanks and wanted her to be safe. It was also a 1983 model, a four-door 300D on the Benz 123 chassis. I sold it and bought a 300SD, the same model year and engine. However, the SD was built on the heavier Benz 126 chassis and was underpowered.
I had been on the lookout for a Benz 300CD when I finally found one in 2008. It is the same 5-cylinder in line turbocharged diesel engine as the others, but in a 2-door coupe. Only 8,003 of the two-door 300CDs were made. Relatively few of them survive outside of California where they are in demand as restoration projects.
The five-cylinder diesel engine in the 300 series Benzes of the 1980s is arguably the most durable automobile engine ever made. Altogether I drove the four I owned over 100,000 miles and they were 20 years old when I first I acquired them, I never spent a dime on engine repairs. Regular oil changes, tires, an occasional valve adjustment, replacement batteries, a radiator, belts and hoses – that’s it. Those engines routinely go 600,000 miles without an overhaul.
They are slow – zero to 60 in an afternoon. The engine makes a racket when first started, sometimes causing the uninitiated to think it’s about to throw a rod. However, when warmed up and at high speed they smooth out. The curb weight of a 300D is 3,583 pounds, but they will consistently get 30 miles per gallon at 80 miles per hour.
I keenly remember the first time I saw a Mercedes-Benz automobile. I was 13 years-old, my eighth-grade and final year at the two-room St. Eunice Public School, one of the last clapboard public grade schools in Callaway County, Missouri.
During recess one late spring afternoon, a huge black machine turned, off of U.S. Highway 54 onto St. Eunice Road, the gravel road that ran past the north side of the schoolgrounds.
Gleaming black paint and shiny chrome, the thing was over 20-feet long and weighed 7,230 lbs. It kicked up a huge cloud of dust and a spray of small gravel as it rolled west.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, unmistakable in his big Stetson fedora, a big black cigar clenched in his teeth, was Johann Heinrich (Henry) Danuser, a successful local industrialist and owner of Sky-Go Farms, a model dairy farming operation.
Henry was driving an early 1960s Mercedes-Benz 600C. Quiet as a breeze, Mr. Danuser’s behemoth Benz disappeared over the hill at the grain elevator, and I was awestruck.
German engineer Karl Benz is credited with creating the first practical automobile in 1886. The company he founded set the standards for automobile quality for the next century.
Although the 1998 merger of Mercedes-Benz with Chrysler Corporation is often blamed for a decline in the quality of Mercedes-Benz cars, that may be unfair to both companies. It is sufficient to say here that the “cultures clashed.” It is true that the quality reputation of Mercedes-Benz has been up and down for the last quarter century. A long-time Mercedes owner complained to me a few years ago about the inferior quality of his 2018 Mercedes E-Class sedan, compared to those he had owned in previous years. “It’s a nice car,” he said, “but there’s nothing special about them anymore.”
His top-of-the-line 2018 E Class had a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of about $55,000. The car I sold a few days ago had an MSRP in 1983 of $35,000, so it’s not hard to figure out that some compromises have been made.
I could never have afforded a big new Mercedes 600C like the one Henry Danuser had 60 years ago,. The 2022 Benz equivalent to the car Henry had is the Mercedes Maybach 600 Pullman priced at $1.4-million. (Plus “dealer prep?”) That said, I am happy to have owned and enjoyed the old Mercedes 300 diesel cars. I believe the new owner will have as much fun driving it as I did. I look forward to the improvements he makes to it and to seeing it clattering around Union County.
-JWSCalloway County MO, Mercedes-Benz diesels, New Albany MS, Northeast Mississippi news, Union County MS