CAR / #Mercedes-Benz-280TE-S123
Run by Graeme Hurst
Owned since Nov 2011
Total mileage 271,854km
Miles since August report c4000km (odometer broken)
Latest costs R22k (£1200)
WAGON’S ROLE TAKES ITS TOLL
When would-be classic owners ask for advice on buying a car, which they invariably fancy as something that won’t shed value like a modern, I always point out that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. As the years and miles roll by, the value may hold but stuff wears out and you may need to dig deep when the spanners come out. And that’s been the case with the TE after five years of use (plus its intergalactic mileage) caught up with the Mercedes. It began with the steering box, which was getting increasingly vague, making the wagon tricky to control in the Cape Doctor – the region’s strong south-easterly wind.
Journeys were made more tiring by a drivetrain vibration, but balancing the prop (the usual culprit) didn’t improve things.
And the offside front wheel tended to lock under heavy braking. Time, then, to digest the second piece of advice I dispense after the euphoria of purchase has passed: find a specialist who understands old cars and who you can trust to keep it running smoothly. In this case that was Allan Ketterer of JFT Motors, who’s spent nearly three decades under the bonnets of 123s. The news wasn’t good when he called back: the steering box was well past the point where it could be adjusted, while the vibration was due to tired engine and gearbox mounts – the rubber had separated from the metal surround on the latter. A blocked hose had allowed the nearside caliper to seize – so the offside one was doing all the work – and four new discs were needed. Secondhand boxes are likely to be just as worn, so I called the local Mercedes agent to price a new one: 46,000 Rand (c£2500) after duties! I only paid R34k for the car.
The cost of new mounts was also a shock: R1900 per engine support and R3600 for the gearbox unit. So Allan offered to ring mates in the trade to locate good used ones, but he recommended using pukka M-B items. I listened politely and then insisted on pattern versions for a tenth of the price but they obviously weren’t as good. One trip to the coast convinced me that they weren’t up to the job and I soon had the TE back at JFT, with my credit card out to opt for the Stuttgart route after all.
Hurst decided that cutprice mounts were a false economy after a long drive.
Fresh steering box is a vast improvement. Inset: tired ’box mount; OEM engine ones.