The Carchive: The Mercedes W123 Sedans

IMAG4863 It’s been a long, heavy week, and boy am I looking forward to taking an hour away from 2016. Let’s jump aboard the skiff of research, put the oars in the rowlocks of time and skull slowly across the lake of automotive history, before reaching up on the rocky shore of The Carchive. Today we’re looking at a quality brochure for a quality product. Resplendent in vivid orange, this document simply screamed to be plucked from the mass of flotsam and jetsam surrounding it. We’re off to 1970’s Germany for a ride in a W123 Mercedes-Benz. IMAG4865 “Research, designs and workmanship of unbeatable quality go into a Mercedes. It is unique, incomparable- the perfect car” The Mercedes-Benz W123. You could call it the car that truly popularised the three-pointed star. In its lifetime, and quite a long way beyond, this car has been a lasting presence on the world stage. Over the years it has been celebrated for its quality, its durability and its fitness for purpose everywhere from Nuremberg to Nairobi. It’s rather refreshing to read a brochure which makes no mention of image or lifestyle. There is no flowery, atmospheric language here, just dry, Germanic product description. They are pretty heavy on their use of the word “Perfect”, though. IMAG4867 “A fine combination of many superb characteristics makes up the technical superiority of a Mercedes-Benz car, not just a few clever features. That means perfection, not just cosmetics.” I’m not actually sure they meant to use “perfect” or any of its derivations. Perfection is, surely, unachievable and the Germans would never seek pursuit of an argument, surely? There are people on this very forum today ( and must have been at least several folk back then) who strenuously object to the body-coloured hub-cap centres that Mercedes insisted in afflicting their mid-size sedan with. I expect the phrase they were looking for was “nothing left unconsidered”, which was a far more accurate summing up of the attention to detail enjoyed by Mercedes-Benz products of the 1970s. IMAG4869 “Perfect motoring means more than just driving fast. More than just skill and agility. For perfect motoring you need a car that is equal to everything the traffic demands of it” Great pains are taken within this publication to mention the thought given to caring for the car’s occupants. The use of inverted commas when speaking of their “comfortable seating” would usually imply irony, but apparently Mercedes “constantly made use of medical knowledge” in seat design. They then go on to explain why the driver might initially find the seats a little hard, but would later love to live the tough but kind nature of MB soft furnishings. Safety was seen as being very marketable, too, with mention given to the front and rear impact-absorbing crumple zones as well as the rigid passenger compartment with its terrific roll-over stability. There’s even a possible dig at the Swedish safety stance: “the Mercedes has a classic elegance, Intelligence applied through technology, solves safety problems better than masses of individual elements, however impressive, put together as shapeless “tanks”. IMAG4870 “The wide range of powerful power units means every driver can have a car tailored to his own needs and wishes. So a Mercedes is a made-to-measure car. Unclassifiable- except that in a Mercedes-Benz you always travel first class” This particular brochure deals with the least exotic of the gas-fuelled machines, from the four-cylinder 200 to smooth the six-pot 250. The evergreen, indestructible diesel models are beyond our scope during this particular Carchive visit. Looking at the W123 in general, though, causes me to ponder the Mercedes-Benz identity. Though this brochure is older than me, it’s probably still the W123 that I identify most of all as being the stereotypical Mercedes. I still imagine it as a Berlin Taxi. It was identified as a popular whip in Botswana in a Top Gear special, before being subjected to Jezza and Cap’n Slow’s severe beatings.  Beyond it, the S-Class was, of course, the ultimate expression of the Mercedes Sedan, and the gullwing SL was probably the embodiment of Mercedes dynamic ambitions, but as a measure of what Mercedes-Benz actually means to the common man, the W123 is, in my mind, still the Most Mercedes-Benz of all Mercedes-Benzes. What’s yours? (All images are of original manufacturer’s publicity material, photographed by me, on the roof of an Audi. Copyright remains property of Mercedes-Benz, who really ought to go back to making A4 size brochures on nice foil paper.)

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