Mercedes-Benz unveiled their W123 body cars 40 years ago, in late January 1976. The coupe version, carrying the model code C 123, followed suit in the spring months, and despite having a very attractive hardtop coupe roof, both the front end and the rear matched the saloon’s design. With Mercedes-Benz coupes of yesteryear, this is not unheard-of, but the 123 series makes it clear how high the manufacturer rated a familiar look throughout the body style. The succeeding W124/C124 pair at least tried to disguise the latter as a more slimline effort, but the C123 treads similar water as the Bertone-chopped Volvo 262 C.
But if you were shopping for a new car some fifteen years later, and also wanted a saloon-derived coupe with a six up front – yet one that didn’t stray too far from the saloon’s lines? The obvious choice would be the mid-1990s Toyota Camry Coupe. Obvious, I tell you.
Here’s a nice late Seventies shot of the then-new Mercedes-Benz 280CE coupe on a wet German skidpad. The 280CE’s twin-cam M110 engine produced a nice 177hp in European guise, while the US-spec engine had to made do with a mere 140 horses.
From this angle, the Benz probably looks the best. It’s perfectly understated, with nothing flashy except for the occasional shiny bit of trim. The roof appears far more upright than in the successor C124.
The rear quarter shot also flatters the Camry, even if it is not a true hardtop due to the existence of B-pillars, and the higher sides shrink the wheels more than on the Mercedes. The rear spoiler is completely redundant here.
The six-cylinder 1MZ-FE engine in the Camry develops 188 horsepower, and it’s a touch larger than the Mercedes straight six at 2994cc. But from this front quarter angle we again see the honest, good looks of the two-door saloon developments both cars really are. Of course, the rear wheel drive layout of the 280CE is sure to draw in enthusiasts in coming decades, while the Camry will remain as bread and butter it has always been, despite its perceived longevity doing its best to match the legendary reputation of the Mercedes.
It’s not all too likely that 280CE owners traded their German coupes for Camrys in the mid-’90s, and the Camry will not be treated with the same care a quarter century old Benz receives these days. But there’s something appealing about the underdog qualities of the Toyota, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them around.