Over the past few months, while other commitments have kept me from venting in this venue, my far-flung colleagues have heaped much praise on a succession of flimsy econoboxes. I take comfort in knowing that most of these objects of their misguided car lust have long since been consigned to junkyards, landfill, and recycling plants. I take even more comfort in knowing that a representative sampling of these turkeys have found homes in the garages of borderline fanatical owners, and that those owners gladly spend non-trivial sums to keep the objects of their obsession in what passed for tip-top condition when they were new. To see a “Cadillac” Cimarron in the wild, so to speak, can serve as a reminder of the kind of thinking that led GM to its current state. Similarly, to see a Datsun B210 with an intact body shell, and in any kind of drivable shape at all, serves as proof that rust is no match for a big pile of money.
I wasn't a fan of these sad little vehicles when they were new, and time hasn't caused me to change that opinion. Indeed, I prefer my tin foil to be wrapped around leftover pizza, rather than turned into a car’s body panels. With that in mind, I’d like to heap some well-deserved praise on a car that belongs on any list of the best, and most important, cars ever built. That car is the Mercedes-Benz E-Class of the W124 generation, which was introduced in 1986 and remained in production through 1995. Given the huge success of the model that it replaced, the W124 needed to bring something very special to the table. Fortunately, in those pre-Lexus days “something very special” was nothing more than “business as usual” at Daimler-Benz AG.
<rant>When Lexus hit the scene it seemed as though Daimler-Benz lost the formula. The models developed in the post-Lexus environment overtly skimped on overall quality in order to accommodate ever more complex gadgets and subsystems. And, taking a page from the GM playbook, they used paying customers as the test bed for those gadgets. Rumor has it that, after a couple of decades in the wilderness, the company is back on track. We’ll see. </rant>
The W124 debuted to worldwide acclaim, receiving accolades for its ride, handling, and bank vault solidity. Over the course of its lifetime, the W124 was available as a four-door sedan or wagon, a two-door pillarless hardtop, and a convertible. Worldwide, the W124 was equipped with gas and Diesel engines ranging from 2.0 to 6.0 liters, and between 1989 and 1993 the car could be had with 4Matic all-wheel drive. Through 1993, the model names consisted of a number (roughly indicating engine size) followed by a letter code whose meaning sometimes described the body style, and sometimes didn’t. In 1994 the letter/number position was reversed, and the letter described the position of the platform in the Mercedes-Benz line. So for 1994, the 300E became the E320.