Rare Column-Shift 1981 Mercedes 280E plus bonus 1977 280E

Okay, after all that Italian nonsense it’s time to get back to being more serious and look at something that’s not just a toy, but a solidly built tank of a car. All those words pretty accurately describe the W123 Mercedes built in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and RustyButTrusty has managed to find one of the rarest iterations of the body-style. First off, it’s a grey-market (more on that later) 280E, which the owner says adds about 40 extra horsepower on the M110 engine. Further, this car has the unusual column-shift option. For some reason, Mercedes offered two different ways of shifting the *exact same* transmission – apparently the only difference is in the linkage. As a plus, you get this great little space to store your Scorpions cassettes where the shifter would have been. You can find this W123 280E for $3400 in North Oakland, CA.

1981 Mercedes 280E left front

Although silver is all too common these days, it’s historically significant for Mercedes, and looks great on the W123. It seems most are taxigelb (the yellowish-tan German taxi color), white, or gold. Judging by the plate, this car has been registered in California since the early 1990s – this was the plate that replaced the blue & gold plates around then. Does it have the crucial BAR sticker to help it pass smog?

1981 Mercedes 280E right rear

Looks clean from the back too. Notice the license surround from a repair shop in Chico, CA – maybe this is why the owner has not smog-tested it in the Bay Area yet? Typically, the seller smogs the car for sale, so it’s unusual that this has not yet been done. Small European bumpers make the car look so much trimmer – I bet this is no bigger than a late Corolla or Jetta.

1981 Mercedes 280E interior

Check out the funky 1980s German upholstery pattern. Pictures in the owner’s gallery show very little wear to the seats & carpet, and and no dash cracks, in spite of the car’s 163,000 miles. It looks incredibly well-kept for its age – not the usual beater W123. You’ll appreciate the cloth seats since the car has no a/c, but this and the manual windows and sunroof keep risk of failure down for these components.

1981 Mercedes 280E engine

Tidy engine compartment as well, although in some circles, the M110 is known for being difficult to maintain. It’s not clear to this writer why this is, but there is definitely something appealing about such a conservative-looking car of this period having a twincam six under the hood. It would be nice to have a manual shift as well, although many will say Mercedes manuals will make you wish you had the automatic.

1977 Mercedes 280E right front

If $3400 is too high-zoot for you, there were (surprisingly) a couple more options in the area, both US-market versions with the floor shifted automatic and about 150K miles. One is a taxigelb 1977 280E for $1800 in Santa Cruz, CA that looks a little rough on the outside and needs interior work. The other is a brown 1977 280E (pictured above) for $1400 in Albany, CA (near Berkeley) that actually looks in better shape. If you have experience with the 280E, please comment and say what they’re like!

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