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Gasoline Station Wagon

1979 280TE Gasoline Station Wagon

  • THE LOWEST MILEAGE W123 WAGON IN THE WORLD??!!
  • If this ad is up, this wagon is still for sale. (updated April, 2021)
  • 5,960 kilometers / 3,703 miles since new (can't decide how many exclamation points that needs)
  • Extremely rare nickel green (870) with green cloth
  • Automatic, a/c, roll-up crank windows, zebrano wood dash
  • Central locking, Becker Mexico, automatic antenna
  • Coveted rear-facing 3rd row seat from factory in 1979!
  • First year for the extremely powerful 280TE model
  • Was driven for several months in 1979 and never driven again until it clocked a few miles in 2018/2019
  • Still has temporary registration and plates from the factory... NEVER BEEN REGISTERED!
  • Fully documented history. 100% original.
  • Showed at Legends of the Autobahn and Car Week in Monterey, California 2019
  • Sale Pending

Excerpt from THE STAR magazine
— by Bill Morris

005847


An unusual title for the story of this Nickel Green 1979 280TE?  Perhaps, but what if that was its mileage, in kilometers, when purchased by Mercedes Motoring’s JG Francis in late 2018?  Add factory delivery followed shortly by a 38 year garage entombment after an earthquake in Avellino, Italy, and things get very interesting.


May 1979

Lorenzo Nesta Dimarco ordered his first series W123 wagon from the Zico Corporation Mercedes dealership in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 30, 1979.  An Italian born in Caposele, east of Naples, he moved between nearby Avellino and Caracas for business.  

The 280TE was powered by an inline six cylinder M110 engine utilizing Bosch K-jetronic mechanical fuel injection.  Specifications on his car included extra cost Nickel Green paint (code 870, $398 in 2020 dollars), Moss Green MB Tex (106), Blue Green cloth inserts (006), Becker Mexico cassette radio (511, $2830) and automatic antenna (531, $576).  These exterior and interior colors were available only during the first series of W123’s from August 1976 to July 1979.  His order was rounded out with central locking (466, $594), automatic climate control with air conditioning (581, $6069), anti-solar windows (275, $537), floor shift 4-speed automatic transmission (420, $3082) and a folding rear third seat (844, $1628).

Out the door price including the car, international plates, insurance, taxes and a transfer from Zurich to Sindelfingen was nearly 41,000 Deutschmarks, almost $80,000 in 2020 dollars.  This sum is curiously close to the cost of a well-optioned 2020 E450 wagon that looks like a space shuttle in comparison.  Then, as now (excluding AMG versions), the 280TE stood at the pinnacle of its class both within Mercedes and against everything else. 


W123T History

The W123T debuted in 1978 as Mercedes’ first factory-produced station wagon (W123 designation refers to the chassis series produced in sedan, wagon and coupe forms from 1976-1986).  Previous wagon models were aftermarket specials built by Binz, LUEG and IMA.  The T stood for “Tourism und Transport,” not Turbo.  All were built at the Bremen plant, except for the first 100 assembled at Sindelfingen to make sure all production techniques were optimal. 

Wagons were unique in having hydraulic self-leveling rear suspension and a large tailgate hatch that added structural stability.  Dimensionally they were very close in size to their sedan counterparts.  Length, width and wheelbase were the same, but wagons were 1.5 inches taller and 187 pounds heavier.  Even so, they weighed a relatively svelte 3439 pounds, 1000 pounds lighter than their 2020 offspring.  Load capacity was 1200 pounds, and it could tow up to 3000 pounds.  W123T’s were the last of that chassis and were produced into early 1986.  Sedans stopped in 1985, but the wagons continued until the next generation W124T’s were available.

In 1979 wagon models included carbureted four and injected six cylinder gas models and a normally aspirated five cylinder diesel.  The Turbodiesel wasn’t introduced until April, 1981, but the 1979 280TE’s 185 HP bested the Turbo’s 125, and their torque was essentially equal.  That 185 HP was much superior to the US version’s 142 HP (137 HP in CA)  and the diesel’s 80 HP.  Almost all these wagons were optioned with the 722.1 4-speed automatic.  A 4-speed manual was possible in 1979, but the 5-speed manual wasn’t available until 1982.

The 280TE was definitely the wagon to have.  Its popularity resulted in production of almost 20,000 units.  This was 72% of all gas powered wagons, 15% of all gas and diesel wagons, but only 0.7% of all W123’s.


June 1979

Lorenzo took possession of his car at the factory on June 8, 1979.  He then got a customs stamp in Boeblingen, Germany, the first town south of Sindelfingen.  The 887 prefix on his temporary customs plate confirms its issue from Stuttgart-West.  Avellino is 1300 kilometers from Sindelfingen as the crow flies, but Lorenzo took a more circuitous route through the Alps on his way home.  After arrival and some local travel the car was parked in his Avellino garage, still unregistered on its temporary plates, and Lorenzo returned to Caracas.


November 1980--The Earthquake

At 7:30 PM on Sunday, November 23, 1980, southern Italy was struck by the Irpinia earthquake.  Registering 6.9 (strong) on the Richter Scale and 10 (extreme) on the Mercalli Intensity, it was Italy’s worst earthquake in 70 years and was felt nearly everywhere in the country.  Ground zero was Conza, only 43 miles east of Avellino.  Damage spread over 10,000 square miles, 2500-3000 people were killed and 250,000 left homeless.  $40 billion was spent on reconstruction but it is thought that only about a quarter of that was used appropriately, the rest lost to bribes and other corruption.  Ah, life in Italy.

As a result of this earthquake a landslide surrounded the 280TE’s garage.  While the interior of the structure held up, it was rendered inaccessible.  Lorenzo’s plans to return to Avellino never materialized.  His business kept him in Caracas permanently.


1994-2018

Fast forward to July 27, 1994, and Lorenzo (still in Caracas) sold his car to Rosiana Idolo.  Rosiana was presumably an acquaintance since he was born in the same small town (Caposele) around the same year.  From Lorenzo’s view we have to remember that he hadn’t seen the car for 15 years, it hadn’t run in that time and he wasn’t coming back to Italy.  We don’t know when the garage became accessible or whether Lorenzo ever considered shipping the car to Venezuela.  History on Lorenzo fades here.

Even after Mr. Idolo bought the car, he still never moved it or had it registered.  At his death in April, 2018, his daughter became the owner.  She finally awakened the wagon from its 38 year hibernation, extracted it from the garage and advertised it for sale.  Does it always take a woman to light a fire under a guy’s foggy plans about his cars?

Marcello, a dealer in Verona, bought the car, did some preliminary servicing, then sold it to JG. So, in sum, it’s had four different owners without ever being registered or titled and has covered less than 6000 kilometers (3720 miles).



Present Day

After its boat ride and arrival at Mercedes Motoring in Glendale, CA, “Verona”, its nickname in the shop, has undergone sympathetic recommissioning of its mechanical systems.  Function and safety concerns have guided JG’s work.  Its car show introduction was at last year’s Legends of the Autobahn where it made quite an impression.

The interior is amazingly perfect, with fabric colors still new car vibrant.  Paint has needed polishing and waxing to improve some scratches and minor scuffs earned by its lifetime covered in dust and rubble.

Verona hasn’t been driven much since becoming a US citizen.  Having a car with such low mileage is like having a chocolate teapot.  Some would argue driving it like a new car, others would want it to remain an art object.  Contemporary driving tests on the 280TE indicate that the automatic transmission works well, but the most fun comes from depressing the accelerator quickly to get a kickdown shift into lower gear.  The engine’s power really comes on as the revs get into the 5000 range where HP and torque are maximized.

Whatever Verona’s future holds, it is certain to be cherished both for its intrinsic beauty, engineering, functionality and its history.



SPECIFICATIONS: EUROPEAN 1979 MERCEDES BENZ 280TE (W123)

Type:  Four-door station wagon

Engine:  M110, 2746cc, DOHC, Inline 6, Bosch K-jetronic CIS fuel injection

Transmission:  4-speed automatic (722.1)

Horsepower:  185 @ 5800 rpm

Torque:  177 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm

Length:  186 inches

Width:  70.3 inches

Height:  58 inches

Curb weight:  3439 lbs

Fuel efficiency:  18-20 mpg

Maximum speed:  124 mph

Performance:  0-60 mph in 10.3 second

Load capacity:  1200 pounds

Towing capacity:  3000 pounds


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