So, this happened - Morley's World #482

By: Dave Morley, Photography by: Dave Morley/Mercedes-Benz/Unique Cars Archives

No sooner had the Volvo gone a W124 Benz appeared outside the MBC

So, this happened - Morley's World #482
The Lotus Clubman still has a bit of work to go before it hits the road

At the risk of making Britney Spears look like an amateur; oops, I did it again.

Within – literally – hours of handing over my lovely Volvo 142 to its new owner, I’d shaken hands on this; a 1990 W124 Benz 260E.

Not that there was anything major wrong with the Volvo (far from it) but a W124 Benz remains one of my favourite cars of all time.

So while the Volvo was rare and gorgeous and had jaws dropping all over town, the Benz is worth a lot less, is vastly more common and doesn’t stop people in their tracks.

But it’s also a car that I swore to myself I’d own one of these days. And, a few weeks ago, that day came.

Fellow UC contributor, Phil Lord, is really at fault here. While playing dream garage a few months ago, I’d let slip that should the right W124 fill my cross-hairs, I’d have a lot of trouble resisting the urge to adopt just one more.

One of MBs finest ever.

Sadly, Lord has a good memory so, when he saw this pop up on an online auction site, he dropped me a note to see whether I was as good as my word.

The compounding factor was that I’d only just completed a Variety Club Bash from Melbourne to Cairns the back way in another 260E owned by my rally-driving partner, Watto.

And the way that three-decade-old W124 destroyed the miles between points A and B, day after day, convinced me that I’d been right about W124 all along.

How long? Well, at the risk of revealing why my knees creak and my hair is grey, I actually road-tested the W124 in its various forms for car magazines back when it was still filling new-car showrooms. Blimey!

And at the time, my view was that nobody built a better, more competent, more accomplished four-door sedan. Nothing much has happened to change my mind there, either.

So you can maybe begin to see why a W124 was always destined for the driveway at 13 Struggle Street.

The baby six of the W124 range.

I made a quick phone call to this car’s seller and arranged to have a look and a quick test drive.

But when I turned up to see the car, the seller had moved it from the carport into the sunshine on the driveway. And now the bastard wouldn’t start. No matter what we tried, that inline six would not fire.

Trouble was, the rest of the car was mint. Despite the 214,000 showing on the odometer, the car was sharp with great paint (bar a few isolated blemishes in the clear coat) an interior that looked like it had never been sat in and even a set of those great alloy wheels with no signs of kerbing.

The interior really is like new.

The tyres were new, there was one tiny oil leak (that was an obviously easy fix) and in the glovebox was a pile of receipts for stuff like a new exhaust system, tie-rod ends and suspension bushes… all dated within the last handful of years.

So why wasn’t it running? The seller was totally up front on the phone, telling me that the car had developed a habit of stalling at the lights and sometimes being difficult to restart.

This was, then, probably related to the same problem, but taken to the next level. And the poor bloke was almost in tears.

"Sorry mate," I told him, "but I just can’t buy this car. I don’t know what the motor sounds like when it does run, I don’t know if the brakes work or if it’ll even move under its own steam. And if I get it home and find that the tranny is toast, suddenly I’m upside-down in the deal."

"Yeah, I get that. But make me an offer," he almost pleads with me.

"I’ve sold this house, everything’s going into storage and there’s nowhere the leave the car. It has to be gone by this week. C’mon man, make me an offer."

"I don’t wanna insult you," I admit.

"Trust me, you won’t offend me."

Finally, I throw out a stupid offer that is a fraction of the former asking price. He shakes his head: "Can’t let it go for that," he says.

But then, he throws out an only slightly less stupid offer and we shake hands. Yep, I’ve just bought a car I haven’t even heard running, let alone driven. What the hell am I thinking?

Now, to anybody who wants to jump up and down and claim that I’ve robbed the bloke, here’s the reality: The price I paid was really within a few hundred bucks of what I’d have been prepared to punt on a non-runner with a Euro badge.

A new dizzy cap got it firing, and smoothly.

Like I said, had I dragged it home to find the diff was junk or the engine had a blown head gasket, I’d have been in trouble.

So the price was based on the fact that, if any of those disasters was actually the case, I’d be able to wreck it out and get my money back. I might be mad, but I’m not stupid.

Meantime, if I was able to fix the problem simply and cheaply AND then work out that everything else worked, I might just be the luckiest bloke ever to buy a second-hand car.

So I started asking questions of blokes who knew their way around W124s. Turns out, everything points to the ignition system. 

The first thing to check is an overload-protection relay (which checked out fine) followed by the distributor cap. By this stage, I’d decided to do what I do with any elderly second-hand car, which is go right through the ignition system.

Which meant replacing the plugs, rotor button, leads and even the coil. But like I say, these are just service items for a purchase like this.

And whaddaya know? As soon as Bondini and I had swapped the dizzy cap and hit the key, the old 2.6 straight-six fired up instantly and magically settled down to a perfect idle.

A Bondini lurking in the boot isn't a factory option.

We let it build up some heat, checked that it would restart hot and then drove it straight to the pub for a celebratory counter-attack.

And believe it or not, everything else (with the exception of a handful of detail things) worked perfectly. Not only that, but this car is just smooth and so silky, Bondini was almost speechless. Almost.

It rides brilliantly and has that typical W124 steering feel and rear-end composure thanks to the clever multi-link rear suspension.

So what didn’t work? Not much. The air-con is still to be sorted out, but it’s winter here now, and I keep forgetting about it.

The vacuum-operated central locking didn’t work either, but I traced that back to a lack of power to the vacuum motor under the rear seat. I thought I had it worked out when I spotted the blown fuse, but every time I changed the fuse, it blew instantly.


So I checked what else was wired into the same circuit and discovered that when I disconnected the power antenna, the fuse stopped blowing. So now the central locking works, but the radio doesn’t. Win some, lose some.

The big test came when I sent it away for a roadworthy. I needn’t have stressed.

The bloke who did the roady was fizzing at the bung when I picked it up, declaring it was one of the nicest cars of its age he’d ever had the privilege of tearing into. When I told him what I paid, he nearly fell over backwards.

In the end, the 260 failed its RWC on the first attempt for want of three globes not working; the PRNDL light, the high-mount stop-light and the number plate lights.

The first two were just blown globes, the latter took a bit more figuring as the wires had broken where they pass through the boot-hinge and had been flexing whenever the boot was opened in the last 33 years.

Two days later, the lights were all working and the W124 was officially roadworthy. A day after that, it was sporting a number plate and I haven’t stopped driving it since.

This is seriously a bit of me, I tell ya, and even Mrs M admitted "I don’t hate it" which puts the Benz w-a-y ahead of anything else on the grid at home.


Every other time I’ve dragged another stray home, she’s turned her nose up at the whole idea of being forced to pack light (The Boxster) or have her organs rearranged by weapons-grade suspension (everything else).

And for some reason, she doesn’t see the potential to tag 150 miles-per-hour to be anything to write home about. Who knew?

And despite the relative lack of straight-line thrust, I’ve got a feeling that for longer journeys and interstate runs, the W124 is going to become the default setting. Honestly, this car is absolutely as good as I remember them to be brand-new back in the late 80s. Best sedan in the world then, best sedan in the world now. And that’s despite the 33 years and 215,000km that have passed beneath the wheels of this one. Change my mind.


I’ve been helping my old pal Chuck Ripplejaw finish this just lately. Yes, it’s a Lotus Clubman, but the tricky bit is that it’s a Series 3.

Why’s that tricky? Because there are some important differences when compared with a Series 1 or 2 car.

The mechanicals speak for themselves, but when it came to fitting the new guards to the new sheet metal that graces the spaceframe, many heads were suddenly being scratched.

What we were trying to figure out for sure was exactly where the guards were supposed to land so we could secure them.

The rears were kind of easy because their correct location can be indexed from the lower, tubular section of spaceframe which needs to correspond to the larger hole in the fibreglass guard (or nothing will line up).

Having worked out that much, we drilled the holes in the right spots and added a couple of Clecos to locate things before we attach them permanently.

But the front guards? Different matter. Fundamentally, there are just too many variables.

See, the front guard (or wing, since we’re speaking Lotus) attaches to a stay located roughly below the windscreen post and then at the front via a strut that also mounts the boggle-eyed little headlights.

Build Your Own Lotus Clubman. How hard can it be?

Thing is, that front mount swivels and can be mounted in any number of positions throughout its arc.

And until you know where it will eventually fall, you can only guess where the rear stay has to be attached to avoid the car looking like it’s doing the bird dance.

You can’t even trust the guard itself to tell you where it wants to sit. The fibreglass has plenty of flex and who knows how true it was when it first popped out of the mould? 

Eventually, we figured that if we could work out where the rear stay needed to be mounted, we could then lay the guard over it and work forwards to the point where the front stay swivelled into a position where everything started to fit snugly and – more importantly – looked okay. 

The problem then became that we had no blueprints or technical drawings for the car. But we did have a good, side-on photograph of a Series 3 in a Lotus book Chuck had on the workbench.

But while it showed where the rear stay should sit, there was no way to work out a hard-point from the photo. Or was there?

I grabbed a ruler and measured the distance in the photo from the stay’s lowest point to the bottom of the sheet metal, and then to the top of the sheet metal.

"The problem then became that we had no blueprints or technical drawings for the car."

Turns out, the photo showed the distances to be 6mm and 10mm respectively.

From there, we could measure the depth of the side of the actual car, divide that by 16 and then work out the attachment point by making sure we had 10/16ths above the mounting bolt and 6/16ths below it.

So we mocked that up and, lo and behold, the guard actually settled into place like it was always meant to be there.

It’s more scientific than either of us was expecting it to be, but it also proves the point that probably no two of these cars were ever identical. Not to mention proof that, in some cases, if it looks right, it almost certainly is.

This might also be the time to tell you that I have a love / hate relationship with these things. 

On a tight little race track with short straights, they are absolutely bliss on a stick.

But on the road, especially if, as I am, you are missing enough chromosomes to tackle an interstate run in one, you’ll soon conclude that, sometimes, walking aint so bad.

From Unique Cars #482, August 2023

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