I could imagine that one or two of you feel very similar. In any case, I've been getting increasingly annoyed again recently. Why on earth didn't I just buy one back then? You know, 10-15 years ago, when not every German car from the 1980s was traded as if it had a 50-kilo bag of diamonds hidden under the back seat.

The 123 is one of the prime examples of this unfortunately typical Phoenix-from-the-ash career. At the end of the 90s, we thought there was nothing cooler in the world than causing a stir, astonishment and sheer admiration in the school playground with a Mercedes W123 Coupé. However, we were largely alone in this opinion in the school playground. Only one of my brother's classmates, who was a few years older, drove a 280 CE in manganese brown with light-coloured velour upholstery in incredibly good condition. What an idol for the then 15-year-old little Wagner boy.

Gallery: Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test

Coupés in good condition - especially with a six-cylinder engine - were not cheap even at that time (from today's perspective, they were almost given away), which is why my brother, 19 years old at the time and not exactly financially well-off, decided to go for a saloon. Nobody really wanted one back then.

So in March 1998, we ended up with a Mercedes-Benz W123 280 E, built in 1982 in wheat yellow with a forest green interior, 4-speed manual gearbox, 185,000 kilometres on the clock and in very good condition for the crazy sum of 1,960 Deutschmarks. Of course, we felt like kings, having spent large parts of our childhood and countless agonisingly long holiday trips in the exact opposite - the old man's pea-green 240 D Wanderdüne.

If I remember correctly, the T-Models weren't all the rage on the used car market almost 25 years ago. Tattooed furniture restorers/organic farmers/big city cowboys with a full beard, a big hole in their ear and a slouch cap were still largely unheard of back then. At some point, however, they were everywhere and with them the forefather of the E-Class estate became the IT peace for the well-massaged hipster wallet.

Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test

Just take the S-PB 20H. That's right, the classic white 280 dream that this article is actually about. Built in 1979, with just under 50,000 kilometres on the clock, you can easily put 45,000 euros on the table today. Despite its bookkeeper's equipment and 4-speed manual gearbox. Of course, the condition is so shockingly marvellous that you're afraid to even breathe near the car. And then there are the rates of appreciation for which any crypto-Justus would rashly part with several limbs.  

Yet the very first Mercedes-Benz Estate was highly controversial among the upper echelons of the company before its launch. And this despite the fact that an estate had already been designed from the "Stroke 8".


Mercedes "dash 8" estate saloon, similarities to the 123 Estate are already visible at the rear

Fears were rife that a mundane lorry would not fit in with the Daimler image. Bruno Sacco, the legendary new designer at the time and mainly responsible for the successful shape of the W123 estate or S123: "There were two factions at the time: One wanted the estate at all costs, the other not at all. But Werner Breitschwerdt (Chairman of the Board of Management at the time; editor's note) wanted the car and finally pushed it through."

This proved that the boss had the right instinct, as the target of 18,000 units was already exceeded by more than 10,000 in the first full year of production in 1979. In total, a good 200,000 units of the first T were ultimately sold. This made it the second most popular variant of the 123 series, even ahead of the coupé.

Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test
Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test
Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test

And the one that everyone wants today? The 280 TE? It was also in great demand at the time. Despite a six-cylinder surcharge of almost 7,000 marks compared to a 230 TE. 19,789 units of the king of 123 estate cars were built between 1977 and 1985. Most of them were actually built in 1979, when 4,059 were built. Base price at the time: 35,256 Deutschmarks.

For this you got an in-line six-cylinder engine with 2,746 cubic capacity, hemispherical combustion chambers, two overhead camshafts, seven-bearing crankshaft, DOHC valve train, aluminium cross-flow cylinder head and, in contrast to the other six-cylinder 250 E, two exhaust tailpipes (although the 280 estate had to live with one pipe). 

With mechanical Bosch K-Jetronic injection, as in this case, the engine produces 185 PS and 240 Nm of torque. Even for the Wagner of 2024, who is quite used to performance as a result of his job, that sounds anything but lousy. And at least in our own memory, the two-eight of the M110 series pushes the 123 forward more than confidently.

However, the first time the power potential is called upon, memory collides a little with reality. Of course, the 280 TE still pulls and swims with the traffic, but it doesn't seem particularly fast to me.

Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test

Let's face it: 10.2 seconds from 0-62 mph is just about enough to take a stab at the small car quartet today. And the noises it makes are not exactly a paragon of grandeur either. It's a bit rough and coarse, making noise rather than sound. And please don't call me an old-plate heathen now - even when it was still alive, the engine was criticised for its rough running, high fuel consumption and lacklustre acceleration below 4,000 rpm. Auto Motor und Sport, for example, complained: "Lame at the bottom, snappy at the top". 

I then realise that it is quite lively at the top, at the latest in the hilly bends of the Swabian Alb. I feel a bit shabby as I chase the old warhorse over the hills, perhaps with too little grace, but it takes it surprisingly well.

Thanks to the exemplary care of the Mercedes-Benz Heritage, it is also in a state of fitness that its current driver could only wish for on his own 45th birthday. By the way, if you want to catapult your own 123 into similar spheres: Mercedes-Benz Classic provides the most reliable spare parts supply with over 160,000 parts items and 24-hour delivery service to 170 countries.

I was treated to an impressive presentation before the journey, which also showed how much counterfeit scrap is on the market. MB Classic is investing a lot to combat this. But if you want to be on the safe side, it's worth ordering from the original. And now on with the text, because I'm a bit confused about the correct shift times.   

I don't have a rev counter, so pay attention to the shift recommendations in the speedometer disc. First up to 55, second up to 85, third up to 145, and then something starts to stir, even if it sounds like it's stirring under enormous protest. So it's better to pick up the gear lever a little earlier and more often, which, like the huge steering wheel, is made of a relatively indefinable plastic material, but turns through the gears impressively cleanly, tightly and quickly. 

Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test

Rev counter only on request back then. But gearshift recommendations on the speedometer

Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test

The chic chrome air intake grilles were only available on the 280 TE

The gear change feels amazingly modern. And in other respects too, this 280 does not drive like a museum piece from the distant past. Of course, what the servo-assisted recirculating ball steering transmits to the 6x14(!) inch wheels, which from today's point of view would be a bit of a rattle, comes through the whisper at the bottom. This requires more than a fair amount of cranking on the monumental valance and of course the 195/70 low-profile tyres are no traction beasts either. 

But actually, my big, practical friend is surprisingly self-confident, nimble and - I'll just say it now - very enjoyable on the demanding mountain roads. Especially downhill, it surprises me time and time again with its comparatively stable, easily modulated brakes and safe handling. 

Mercedes W123 Taxi

THE 123 par excellence: taxi and diesel, mostly as 200 D or 240 D. Quite rare as a station wagon

Inside, of course, you sit enthroned like a king. At least that's how I'm enthroned. Proud as punch, more excited than I'd like to admit and still as relaxed as possible. The latter is due to the wonderful suspension (hardly anyone builds comfort-orientated cars these days) and the magnificent all-round visibility. What it is not due to is the seating position. 

Steering wheel or seat height adjustment remain a pipe dream in this case, so I work with what I have: "Monkey on the grindstone" driving position and the giant wheel-like steering wheel rim somehow clamped between my thighs. It's no better in the back, by the way. As a tender child, the 123 always seemed so spacious to me. It was probably because I was still small and Mr Dad wasn't particularly tall. Behind me, with my 1.85 metres, it looks like this: 

Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test
Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test

However, the somewhat oppressive feeling of scraping extremities is now more than made up for by all the childhood memories. Despite the basic equipment with fabric upholstery, the interior in bamboo is high-quality, friendly and quite classy. Velour would of course be the crowning glory, but compared to the never-ending green of horror in our 240 D, this is paradise.

The window cranks and the side ashtrays create even more cosy nostalgic warmth. To be on the safe side, I'd like to emphasise that I didn't smoke when I was 8, but my parents were always delighted when I got constipated with Juicy Fruit chewing gum and Werther's Echte candy wrappers - a devilishly sticky mix. 

Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test
Mercedes-Benz 280 TE (1979) in the test

Even back then, Daimler excelled at combining lifestyle and vice. The first Estate (Transport and Touring) was not only an almost unfairly elegant beauty, it also packed quite a punch. Despite having the same length (4,725 mm) and wheelbase (2,795 mm) as the saloon. A boot volume of 523 to 1,500 litres is quite something. A payload of 560 or, for an extra charge, 700 kilos is also impressive. The wide-opening tailgate and the extremely low loading sill also help with stowing.

Anyone with loads of children will be delighted with the third bench seat. The two additional seats are folded out of the boot floor against the direction of travel. A hydropneumatic levelling system was also standard right from the start. It would also have been a bad fit with the premium image if the estate car bent at the knees like a staggering weightlifter when loaded.

The editor is almost sad that he doesn't have the really big luggage with him today. Because after this all too brief interlude, he could really imagine doing just that - taking the 280 TE straight off somewhere far away. You can hardly do it in a more dignified and classy way. If only I had done it 10 - 15 years ago, when the bank account hadn't suffered so badly.