The year 1977 was a time of premieres for Mercedes-Benz, especially in the mid-series: following on from the W 123 Saloon, which captivated the market from 1976 onwards, early 1977 saw a Coupé join the line-up ahead of a long-wheelbase Saloon, which came along later in the year together with the Estate model. With these, the manufacturer was able to essentially break down the model series so as to reach a broader audience. The Coupé was especially revered: it combined the classic, high-quality Mercedes-Benz format with an accentuated and stylised appearance. Even to the present day, the C 123 Coupé continues to assert itself without the need for yobbish sportiness or snobby self-assuredness. Quite the contrary, in fact: in 1977, the new C 123 reached a successful customer group which appreciated a more glamorous way of life.
Mercedes-Benz 230 CE.
Many details as for the four-door models, but not the name: the C stands for Coupé.
With its solid substance, the two-door model stood for the classic, non-negotiable values of the brand: a C 123 was a statement of extraordinary composure, a distinct affirmation of pleasure and culture. A mix which, to this day, not many other vehicles have achieved. The manufacturer placed great value on safety and comfort – two topics which, in the case of a coupé, can only be united with great effort. Accordingly, after initial crash tests, the longer doors of the Coupé version were reinforced, as were the structure, to make sure that a rollover posed no risk to vehicle occupants in spite of the pillarless side windows.
The engineers also sought to make the frameless window panes as airtight and quiet as possible – just as the Mercedes-Benz clientèle expected. Especially pleasing on the new C 123 was its appearance. Its dimensions differentiated it drastically from the Saloon of the same model series: the wheelbase and body were around 85 millimetres shorter, while the height was also reduced by 40 millimetres. Together with the lower rake angle of the front windscreen and rear window, this gave the Coupé more charm and greater elegance. It was not long before its success started to show: a higher number of customers than initially expected signed purchase contracts for the new model.
The Coupé looks truly sporty thanks to its much flatter roof line.
There should be no air bubbles or repainting on the broad C-pillar of the Coupé.
So many, in fact, that there were waiting times before the vehicles were handed over to customers. Some customers had to wait as much as two and a half years following start-up of series production before they could pick up their cars from the dealership or factory.
The fine Coupé variant had already been established as a high-quality supplement to the line-up as part of the previous series. The two-door W 114, known as the ‘Stroke Eight’ Coupé, had already been well accepted. The C 123 was created in parallel to the four-door model of the new model series, which celebrated its debut in 1976. When the Coupé version started its career in 1977, it was offered in three different engine variants.
The Coupés were 10 to 25 per cent more expensive than the Saloon, although they did offer a more luxurious range of standard equipment, featuring power steering and burr wood. The 230 C was the basic model in the line-up and extended the product range downwards with its four-cylinder engine – the Stroke Eight Coupé had only ever been equipped with six-cylinder power units. The 280 C and 280 CE followed this pattern, albeit with the addition of a modern fuel-injection system. In mid-1980 the 230 CE succeeded the 230 C, and the M 115 engine was replaced by the new M 102. The 280 C variant was discontinued. The Coupé was also available in the important North American export market, albeit in a surprising version – with the familiar three-litre five-cylinder diesels.
The keys should close all of the locks. Replacements have to be ordered.
The rear wheel arches are vulnerable to soiling and corrosion.
To the present day, the boom affecting classic car prices has hardly affected the Coupés of the 123 model series: the prices paid for the small 230 CE model have remained more or less constant for several years now. One model which has seen a slight price increase, however, is the early 230 C variant with a carburettor engine. The growing demand is absorbed by a sufficient supply. That means fair prices of around 6,000 euros for a vehicle of condition 3. For condition 2, buyers will be looking at a price of around 10,000 euros. Meanwhile, there’s a little more movement in the values for the 280 CE: the beloved six-cylinder Coupé is currently markedly more expensive than the four-cylinder variant at around 8,000 euros, and anyone interested in getting their hands on a vehicle in a better state should calculate an additional 75 per cent on top of that for a condition 2 model. Some vehicles do, however, break out of this mould: exceptionally low mileages, comprehensive scopes of optional equipment or meticulously documented previous history allow owners to demand higher prices.
In the boot, moisture often attacks the lateral recesses and spare wheel well.
One of the most important issues when looking to buy a 123 model series Coupé is the condition of the bodywork. In principle, vehicles from the start of the manufacturing period have proven to be much more susceptible to rust than the models produced from mid-1979 onwards. In the subsequent years, Daimler-Benz continued work on improving corrosion protection. One of the most critical areas of the car is found at the overhangs where the front apron meets the two front wings. Here, almost all examples have started to corrode, and any marks here often point to restoration work – with varying degrees of success. An obvious place to look out for rust is in the area around the headlamp mounts when the bonnet is open. Equally important are the areas around the hinges of the bonnet as well as the battery.
Meanwhile, the standard PVC protective covering layer over the wheel arches can also mean signs of rust go unnoticed for a long time. Similarly unnoticed, the sheet metal can also start to corrode along the length of the interior door sill. Ex-works, these were covered with carpet. One topic familiar from other model series is that of the jacking points: the metalwork can also start to decay around the four openings and often even eats into the surrounding areas. Repairs in this area should be scrupulously inspected. Dangerous rotting of the metal can also be encountered around the rear longitudinal members and trailing arms. The rear wheel arches and side parts should also be checked. Rust can also affect the boot: here, the lateral recesses and the spare wheel well are worth a check.
The bonnet hinges and the area around the battery are susceptible to rust.
The 123 model series Coupé offers a choice of four- or six-cylinder engines. Initially, the 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine was only available with carburettor, but when the change was made to the new M 102 engine series as part of model year 1980, the switch was made to a Bosch K-Jetronic solution. In regular operation, the newer engine didn’t just deliver noticeably lower fuel consumption and greater performance (136 instead of the previous 109 PS), it also made for more relaxed driving thanks to the more full-bodied torque being available at lower engine speeds.That said, the Coupé only delivered truly superior driving in conjunction with the six-cylinder engine, which, unlike the four-cylinder model, was available from the outset with carburettor or with fuel injection.
This model offered greater output, while consuming much less fuel – although neither aspect is of primary concern with a classic vehicle. None of the engine variants exhibit known faults, and if they have been well maintained and cared for – two keywords here are oil change and valve clearance – mileages of 200,000 kilometres or more should be possible. Regularly occurring weak areas come in the form of cracks in the exhaust manifold, as well as head gaskets which have burned through. An annoying but minor issue is damage caused by defective distributor covers and failing petrol pump relays. All of the transmission variants are known to be very reliable, although the five-speed manual is a rarity and highly sought after, thus often leading to noticeably higher price premiums. Incidentally, the transmissions will also be glad of some careful upkeep: regular oil changes offer protection against wear.
The four-cylinder version of the 230 CE is a good choice with its injection system and 100 kW (136 PS) output.
Perfectly maintained: a Coupé interior should ideally look as spotless as this.
The Coupé of the 123 model series normally offers splendid long-distance comfort. If this is no longer the case, worn-out spring cores in the seat undercarriage are often to blame. The inner components of the seats can be replaced, but note that there are different hardness levels. The seats of the Coupé aren’t just characterised by the folding backrests, they also feature a vacuum locking mechanism. Many of the covering materials used can still be found today, although any necessary work here should be taken into consideration in the purchase price. This is also true of cracked wooden inserts, which can be expensive to have professionally restored.
The pointers of the instruments can become bleached with time.
On the inside, the entire 123 model series also demonstrates functional and practical aesthetics. The easy-to-read instruments can, however, suffer over time. Among the familiar issues are sun-bleaching of the orange pointers, broken plastic rollers in the mileage counter or defective instrument lighting. This is often caused by the dimmer. Relatively unproblematic is the multifunction lever on the steering column that controls the indicators, main beam and windscreen wipers. Despite this reliability, if there are problems with it, repairs will be costly. The controls for heating and ventilation generally present no problems. Air conditioning or automatic climate control are a rare find – and that’s a good thing!
Bringing these back into shape would involve an enormous amount of time and expense. The electrically operated steel sliding sunroof, however, remains a popular option even today. Before buying, make sure to check whether all of the vehicle’s keys work in all of the locks. Problems here can be caused by the vacuum system of the central locking no longer being airtight and thus drawing in excess air and subsequently ceasing to work correctly. Fault-finding here can be tedious. Finding an original radio on board is a nicety: many previous owners have had them replaced with more modern examples – something which brings down the price today.
Well-maintained vehicles shouldn’t require any work on the axles.
Unlike the Saloons, the Coupé models were equipped ex-works with 195/70 R 14 tyres on 6J wheels. Some owners later exchanged these for 15-inch rims, often light-alloy wheels. The alloys available as options are known on the scene as “baroque” or “Fuchs” wheels. They were rapidly copied, and visually similar, cheaper variants found their way onto the market. Parking brakes quite often suffer from malfunction, while many a steering gear can exhibit excessive play. Adjusting this can help, but have this work carried out in a specialist workshop.
No unusual problems affect the wheel suspension and axles: they are robust and long-lasting. Normal age-related wear does, however, occur: listen out for any telltale creaking or clattering. In this case, rubber bearings and load-bearing joints will need changing – an unproblematic and rapid task for any workshop. It’s important to check the coil springs from time to time, as they have a tendency to rust and subsequently break, causing damage to other components in the process. Sometimes, the gaiters of the drive shaft can become brittle and are then no longer airtight. Changing them will require a quick yet expensive visit to the workshop. If you want to change the gaiters yourself, be aware that this is a complex job that requires specialist tools.
The so-called “baroque” light-alloy wheels are a popular extra.
If details like this don’t fit correctly, correction requires great effort.
The chic Coupé of the 123 model series has some features which deserve special attention. Among these is the area around the broad C-pillar. Be cautious if there are small bubbles in the paintwork here: some of the two-door models are prone to rust in this area, resulting from moisture accumulating from the inside. If the seat belts are replaced, refitting the B-pillar trim correctly is problematic. It’s worthwhile casting a critical glance at the chrome and rubber trim strips around the side windows.
Damaged parts are not always easy to change, and poorly positioned windows can lead to uncomfortable wind noise. In the early 1980s, advanced extras were the ABS anti-lock braking system (from August 1980) or the driver’s airbag (from January 1982). Due to the high prices for these at the time of manufacture, they were scarcely ordered, but depending on the intended use of the vehicle, these can be a purchase criteria for today’s classics. These practical tips are useful for everyday use: wear parts like spark plugs, oil filters or the right engine oil can be found with ease, although the same is not always true of suitable replacement V-belts. What’s more, none of the C 123 models should be refuelled with E10 petrol – use of this hasn’t been approved.
The spring cores of the seats are often worn out.
Exceptionally well-kept door trim panels.
280 CE (up to 1978)
Mercedes-Benz Interessengemeinschaft e. V.
Im Hang 16, 52428 Jülich
Mercedes-Benz W 123-Club e. V.
Paarener Straße 9, 14621 Schönwalde
vdh e. V.
Weidenbacher Straße 11, 91737 Ornbau
Verein für Freunde des W 123 e. V.
Kirchstraße 19, 71277 Rutesheim
Despite the many tasks it has to fulfil, the multifunction lever on the steering column tends to work reliably.
The controls of the heating and ventilation are generally problem-free.
So wird’s gemacht – Mercedes Typ W 123, Delius Klasing (1987)
Mercedes W 123 – Typgeschichte und Technik, Geramond Verlag (2012)
Michael Rohde, Jens-Peter Sirup:
Mercedes-Benz W 123, Heel-Verlag (2018)
Mercedes-Benz W 123, Delius Klasing (2012)