Mercedes-Benz 280TE and 300TD
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The Mercedes "T" car was based on the popular W123 sized sedan. It went on sale in Europe in 1977
, but, as usual due to Australian Design Rules, it took until late 1979
for MB to start looking at the Australian market for the excellent luxury machine. Production for Australia originated at the Bremen plant of Daimler Benz, which started manufacture in October 1979
, with supplies of the wagon arriving during the first half of 1980
The importance of the 280TE and 300TD, and the justification for putting it into production, was largely based on sales forecasts for the USA. As with the Holden Commodore wagon, the Mercedes vehicle was designed to overcome the drawbacks usually associated with sedan based cars. Noise levels, ride, general performance and all the many other attributes of a sedan were retained, together with the added flexibility and usefulness of a wagon. Although this was the first vehicle of the type to be put into production by Daimler Benz, it was not the first to go on sale.
A Belgian company produced a wagon based on the W110 sedan during the sixties, but that went out of production in 1968
. Daimler Benz actually built a prototype of such a car on a W115 base around 1977
, but at the time a lack of manufacturing capacity and a far lower level of demand resulted in the project being abandoned.
In industry circles, there was little doubt that the top end of the market in the USA was more than ready for the new Mercedes, and this encouraged the transformation of the Bremen plant, which had until mid 1979
been almost exclusively devoted to light commercial vehicle production. The sales objectives meant the plant had to produce around 400 wagons each day.
Demand for a Wagon
At the time domestic (German) demand ran at only 5% or so, which hardly warranted its inclusion in the line-up, while Australia's wagon market of around 17% of the total, was still too small in terms of numbers to cause even a ripple in the manufacturer at Bremen. Approximately 15% of Daimler Benz total passenger car production in 1980
was of the two iterations of the wagons, split roughly 40% for the petrol version, and 60% for the diesel variety.
Before production even began, diesel production was running at around 47%, in an effort to approach the USA CAFE regulations as the eighties progressed. Although it was built in a number of variations, Australian production of the T-wagon was restricted to the 300TD and the 280TE, diesel and petrol respectively. Only around 350 cars a year could be imported due to the quota restrictions. All the Australian cars were automatic.
To build the wagon, and to increase total plant capacity for other vehicles as well, Bremen's 260,000 square metre plant expanded over a further 350,000 square metres which was available as required close by. Soon after production started, Bremen became complimentary to the main Daimler Benz plant at Sindelfingen near Stuttgart, models being built at both plants as demand for Mercedes passenger cars continued to increase. Because the wagon was based on an existing car, it took only four years to develop as compared with between five and six years which was the norm with the Mercedes sedans. During the 1970s MB were keeping a model in production for around nine years, which made the apparent long gestation period of the wagon well worthwhile.
Overall exterior dimensions and wheel-base of the TD and TE wagons were exactly the same as for the W123 sedan series, this factor helping retain the same ride, handling and performance characteristics as before, but with greatly increased load carrying capacity, plus passenger seating flexibility. Loads up to 870mm high, 1480mm wide and 2866mm long with a maximum weight of 560 kgs could be carried. In addition the standard roof rack fitted could accommodate extra items, especially streamlined containers having been designed to fit on the rack, which were available as optional extras. A special cocoon for ski gear was also available.
On the Inside
The rear seat could be laid flat in order to increase carrying capacity, but when positioned normally the use of extra rearward facing seats similar to Volvo's 266 wagon made it possible to carry seven people without too many hassles. All the seats had safety belts available. The rear loading door opened upwards and was supported by a pair of gas struts. The load door locking was included in the pneumatic central locking of the vehicle. It also had a washer wiper system fitted as standard. The wagons was commendably free from intrusions is the load area - the spare wheel, first aid kit, jack and fluid reservoir for the rear washer system were all mounted in the side walls out of the way. Mercedes safety resulted in careful thought about keeping rear compartment loads from getting into the passenger area in times of drama too. There were retractable nets, one closing off the load area from the rest in the vertical plane, the other to cover the load to prevent it from jumping around over rough roads.
Apart from the load compartment, the rest of the vehicle was exactly as found on the normal 280E sedan. This applies to all panels and structures save for the roof, rear sidewalls and the tops of the rear doors. A few of the mechanical components were changed because of the extra potential all up weight. The four wheel disc brakes
were increased in size, while the revised rear suspension included an axle level control device so that the vehicle's attitude and handling characteristics remained constant even when fully loaded. This was the same as fitted to then current Australian production W123 and W116 (S class) sedans. Softer coil springs were fitted at the rear than on the W123. Increases in braking power were provided by larger rear discs (42 mm compared with 38 mm).
On the Autobahn
On the autobahn the 300 TD, with its five cylinder engine, could be coaxed up to 160 km/h, although it took some time to get there. The 280TE however, could wind out to over 180 km/h given its head, all the time the smooth six cylinder injected ohc engine never missing a beat. Thanks to the superb four speed automatic transmission the acceleration figures on the petrol engined vehicle were more than reasonable. Zero to 100 km/h would come in under 10 seconds, which for the time meant this was not a slow car. Neither was a sub 17 second standing start 400 metres.
MB claimed around 15 litres per 100 km (19 mpg) for an locally built car, so one modified to meet ADR requirements would have been a little down on that figure. The engines supplied for Australia on all the Daimler Benz range were based on the American units, having very similar anti-emission treatment as those sold in Sweden. To give you an idea what ADR meant, the identical German car would produce 136 kW, while one destined for Oz would only muster 112kW once the extra plumbing was attached.
the carbureted 280 versions went out of production; the fuel-injected 280E continued to be offered. In September, 1982, all models received a mild facelift. The rectangular headlights, previously fitted only to the 280/280E, were standardized across the board, as was power steering. Since February, 1982, an optional 5-speed manual transmission was available in all models (except 300 TD). W123 production ended in January, 1986 with 63 T-models rolling out. Most popular single models were the 240D (455,000 built), the 230E (442,000 built) and the 200D (378,000 built).
The W123 introduced innovations including ABS (optional from August, 1980), a retractable steering column and an airbag for the driver (optional from 1982). Available options included MB-Tex (Mercedes-Benz Texturized Punctured Vinyl) upholstery or velour or leather upholstery, interior wood trim, passenger side exterior mirror (standard on T models), 5-speed manual transmission (European market only), 4-speed automatic transmission (standard in turbodiesel models), power windows with rear-seat switch cut-outs, vacuum powered central locking, rear-facing extra seats (station wagon only), Standheizung (prestart timer controlled engine heating), self locking differential, sun roof, air-conditioning
, climate control, "Alpine" horn (selectable quieter horn), headlamp wipers (European market only), Tempomat (cruise control), power steering (standard after 1982/08), seat heating, catalytic converter (available from 1984 for California only, from fall (autumn) 1984 also in Germany for the 230E of which one thousand were built).