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One million kilometres in the 200 D.

Mercedes-Benz engineer Michael Nickl and his W 124.

There are 200 D in better condition.

Most are faster, many better equipped, and the dark-blue W 124 is unlikely to make it to a car museum. There are clear signs of rust on the wheel arches, bonnet and boot lid, and it’ll be at least another five years before the vehicle is eligible for H (“Historic”) number plates. Yet a million kilometres in an everyday car is anything but an everyday achievement.

There are 200 D in better condition.

Most are faster, many better equipped, and the dark-blue W 124 is unlikely to make it to a car museum. There are clear signs of rust on the wheel arches, bonnet and boot lid, and it’ll be at least another five years before the vehicle is eligible for H (“Historic”) number plates. Yet a million kilometres in an everyday car is anything but an everyday achievement.

The sticker with the twelve stars of Europe.

The blue Germany sticker with the twelve stars of Europe next to the right-hand tail lamp has seen better days. Swabian temperature fluctuations have caused fissures in the sticker.

 

At the same time as the EU officially came into being in 1992, the 200 D left the plant in Sindelfingen with Michael Nickl at the wheel. Five years after joining Daimler, the Mercedes-Benz engineer had just taken delivery of his first very own vehicle sporting the Mercedes-Benz star. Having paid for the 200 D by EC card, he showed a special exit pass to the gatekeeper before setting off for his first kilometres on the open road.

 

 

A perusal of the relevant price lists.

When Nickl first fulfilled his dream of car ownership over 25 years ago, the original intention was that this should be nothing more than a one-year intermezzo. Having repaid his student loan to the public purse, the Mercedes-Benz developer, who worked on axle design, finally had enough money for his first automobile.

After a perusal of the relevant price lists, Michael Nickl decided in spring 1992 on a 200 D with a very modest equipment specification. Metallic paintwork, air-conditioner and power windows are just as absent from the spartan interior as leather seats or an automatic transmission.

Mercedes-Benz 200 D (W 124): rear view.

The list of extras is sparse.

Hence, the original manufacturer’s invoice, meticulously archived by Nickl along with all the other documents and invoices, is shorter than those for most other W 124 models of the early nineties. The precise sum of 40,523.81 deutschmarks was enough for a 200 D in timeless standard midnight blue with internal colour code 904 and light-grey fabric interior, colour code 068. The list of extras is sparse, running to not much more than an electric sliding sunroof, rear head restraints, centre armrest, central locking, radio preinstallation (including mechanical aerial) and a five-speed transmission.

Upgraded from 53 kW / 72 hp to 55 kW / 75 hp and 126 Nm peak torque after the facelift including catalytic converter, the rugged OM 601 basic diesel engine was the entry-level variant of the company’s compression-ignition offering, which was crowned by the prestigious 300 D Turbo with its then impressive 147 hp. “The 300 D was too expensive for me and I simply didn’t want a five-cylinder job like the 250 D. So that left the 200 D,” recalls the man from Upper Palatinate. “On 16 July 1992, I picked the car up from the plant in Sindelfingen.”

The prices hit rock bottom.

The original intention was for the dark W 124 to stay for little more than one year with the Daimler man, who at that time worked in axle design in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim and lived nearby. Like many other employees, he then planned to sell his 200 D on the open market. “It was 1993, and there were the first suspicions about diesel particles causing cancer,” recalls Nickl. “The prices for young used cars hit rock bottom. Otherwise, as a company employee, you could sometimes sell it for more then you’d paid new for it. But, as things turned out, I kept it and just carried on driving.” Anyone looking at the 200 D after its almost 25 years of everyday use will soon notice that Michael Nickl is no auto aficionado who spends his every free minute tinkering with his classic car.

Mercedes-Benz 200 D (W 124): On the road.

The dark-blue paintwork has seen better days, and there are only a few places on the body free from rust. “I swapped the four doors years ago for others from the scrapyard,” explains Nickl without emotion. “For me, my car is an object of utility. I rarely wash it.”

Mercedes-Benz 200 D (W 124): In the garage.

We had to have it towed away.

On the other hand, the 55-year-old, now working in Sindelfingen on the GLE complete vehicle, tries to keep the mechanicals up to scratch. Every investment is suitably entered in a spreadsheet. In a quarter of a century, Michael Nickl’s 200 D has been largely spared from major technical problems.

With one exception: with 445,000 kilometres on the clock, on 16 November 2003 it broke down on the motorway near Stuttgart with clutch failure as it was climbing a gradient. “The car got louder and louder, the drive fell away and I finally coasted to a stop,” reminisces Nickl, “we finally had to have it towed away.”

Average consumption over the years.

Otherwise, apart from a cylinder head gasket and the problems with rust, the only parts to have needed replacement are the tyres (now on aluminium wheels), clutch, brakes, alternator and water pump. Ever since the day the vehicle was first registered, Michael Nickl has kept a scrupulous record of his maintenance and diesel costs. Everything is there to see in the meticulously maintained Excel spreadsheets. The current totals stand at 58,563.26 euros for general maintenance and 53,786.28 euros for fuel.

The average consumption over almost 25 years comes to a little over six litres per 100 kilometres. From day one, brisk and breezy driving in the 200 D has been an impossibility. Yet Michael Nickl has long since grown used to the lethargic nature of his diesel: “Today, the trucks steer well clear of me when I join the motorway.” When Nickl moved from Stuttgart to Wildberg near Calw, his annual mileage settled at around 42,000 kilometres.

His colleagues joked that he would never sell his 200 D.

As the years passed, it almost went without saying that Michael Nickl would reach one mileage landmark after another in his W 124. His colleagues joked that he would never sell his 200 D. To begin with, the devoted Mercedes-Benz man aimed to break the 500,000 kilometre mark in his originally owned vehicle. Once he’d done that, his colleagues were already betting on him making it to the million kilometres mark. On one occasion only, it seemed that Michael Nickl might have to bid farewell to his unspectacular dream car.

He had an accident in 2004 when he drove into the back of another car. With the two headlamps, radiator grille and bonnet finding replacements at the local scrapyard, it was just the front bumper that needed buying new. On account of the vehicle’s high mileage, unsuitability for classic-car status and mediocre condition, the insurance company has for years estimated the upper-middleclass saloon to be of almost no value. Nevertheless, just as on day one, the W 124 still benefits from fully comprehensive insurance.

Michael Nickl: “When I enquired and wanted to switch, they told me that third party, fire and theft would cost an extra 80 euros a year – despite the reduced cover. Because my policy was so old.”

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