Featured: Meet A One-Family 1980 Mercedes-Benz 300TD That Resists Hipster Labeling

Meet A One-Family 1980 Mercedes-Benz 300TD That Resists Hipster Labeling

Alex Sobran By Alex Sobran
March 7, 2018
14 comments

Photography by Ian Wood

Some cars stay cool forever, but not always for the same reasons. With examples of such ever-stylish machines as this 300TD, the collective ownership of the model shifts over time, and its desirability is hinged on different things along the way accordingly: whether a brand-new yuppy-mobile with a pair of retrievers in the back, a grandmother’s reliable old ‘Benz, or a surfer’s hip alternative to a Type 2 VW today, the estate variant of this indomitable chassis has been, and is, a lot of things to a lot of people. And if the Whole Foods parking lots in Southern California have told me anything about the classic car market lately, it’s that the W123-generation Mercs have captured the attention of the organic granola crowd too.

In the case of this specific W123’s owner, let’s call him Alan, all signs point to the kind of situation wherein a gleaming paint job convinced some poor guy to overpay for a classic car that is very much “in” at the moment. Indeed, it’s true that this 1980 300TD has been lightly restored—the body was stripped and smoothed and repainted in its original Mango Green, and there are plenty of genuine replacement trim pieces and gaskets and seals and knobs, etc. to look at inside and out—and the man who drives it on the weekends with his family is an industrial designer whose aesthetic-focused output is decidedly high-end and fashionable. This is no “creative-type buys a cool old European car” story though, and it wasn’t even a recent purchase either—this was the car that Alan grew up in, and below is a photo of his sister coming home from the hospital in its backseat—it was always, and continues to be, a one-family car.

Keen eyes will spot the RUF stickers on the rear quarter window glass celebrating the German manufacturer’s 25th and 50th anniversaries, and the explanation for why these have been stuck to a Mercedes in Beverly Hills is a good place to start this story. It takes us back to 1970 and to the factory doors of another Stuttgart staple: Porsche.

Almost a full decade before Alan was born, his mom found herself in the lobby of the Porsche factory, waiting to take European delivery of her brand-new 1970 911T. The plan was to pick up the car in Germany, do a little driving tour of Europe in it, ship it back to her home in the United States, and sell it for a profit that would cover the expenses of the vacation. Back then there was relatively easy money to be made in bringing European-spec cars across the Atlantic, and these kinds of adventures are still viable today even in the face of price-correcting globalization. She didn’t stick to the plan though, for Alois Ruf was never part of the itinerary. She met him while waiting for her car, and presumably he was at the factory to take a look at Porsche’s production at a time when the business was just starting to dabble in their modification.

Having at least one shared interest then, they hit it off, and so rather than following through with her schedule of events Alan’s mom remained in Germany for a while, dating Alois and driving the 911. In fact, that car was one of the very first 901s that he started doing in-depth developmental work to, for when she met him he was not the figurehead of high-performance that he is today, and was chiefly involved with jobs like converting Volkswagens to run on three cylinders rather than four. Making an already slow German car even slower by reducing power? That’s about as diametrically opposed as possible to what Ruf does today.

The relationship eventually came to an end some years later—Alois is now Alan’s godfather—and Alan’s mom returned home to the ‘States, got married, and started her family. Alan was born in 1979, and it was in that same year that the Mercedes was purchased, back then as a new car. She would daily drive it for decades regardless of whatever else was in and out of the driveway, and when she moved from California to Texas around the year 2000, the car came with her. It took on the role of a secondary vehicle at that point, living out a retirement of sorts in the garage with the occasional drive around the block to keep things from seizing up or going dry. Alan remained in California, but after his mom was hospitalized for a throat issue that was making it difficult to swallow, he flew right out to see her. Arriving at her Lone Star home, he caught a glimpse of the family’s old Mercedes socked away in the shadows of the garage. The situation and the resurgence of memories prompted Alan to make plans for him and his mom to take it on a some road trips together after he gave it a light restoration. She was on-board with the idea, and signed over the title so he could start the process of rejuvenation for the dutiful old family wagon.

The throat issue was the manifestation of cancer, and his mom passed before she and Alan could carry out their vision. Heartbroken but determined because of it, Alan stuck to their plan and had the green 300TD shipped back out to California where the work could begin in earnest.

It wasn’t in need mechanically, but with decades of familial duty in its history the car had sustained its fair share of visible wear and tear over the years. His father, who first bought the car, was an architect one could probably call eccentric, and had a predilection for neatness and record, such it is that the family’s Benz is documented down to the Hirschmann antenna tags and the first fuel fill up. He kept the brochures he looked at before buying the car, every even tangentially relevant receipt, calendars, stickers, tags, notes, everything. Despite that though, there’s only so much one can do about kids and their relationships with the material world!

So this is how a young creative-type in SoCal restores a W123 and resists the hipster label despite the surface look of things. He fulfilled his promise to his mom by refreshing the wagon—it is a beautiful sight, but decidedly still an “honest” car unlike the sins of so many other restorations—and now the road trips involve his own kids. You could say things have come full circle for this rectangle.

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sixwindowMiles Andrew RocesSam NHwy2PogingLamig Recent comment authors
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sixwindow
sixwindow

A truly moving story and so rich with history. Long live your TD and all w123s. I hate to step out of mine when a trip is over. I could drive it all day.

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Miles Andrew Roces
Miles Andrew Roces

i have a 1985 300TD and i’m currently working on it. i’m doing some surfing on the net to learn more about the car and i saw this story. now, can’t wait to finish the car and drive it everyday!

Sam N
Sam N

Classic. Love it!

PogingLamig
PogingLamig

BTW, we also had a 1976 123 MB 230 back in the early 80s, a Euro version.

PogingLamig
PogingLamig

Great car, even greater story! 👍🏻👍🏻Thank you for sharing. May I ask, whatever happened to your mom’s 911T?! 🤔

Hwy2
Hwy2

Thanks! Alois bought the car from my Mom and shipped it back to Germany where is Son restored it.

Thomas Trepied
Thomas Trepied

My gypsy 300td, it’s a Merco’ use it dirty ! more than 400 000km, hydraulics suspension was gone, no more lights on the dashboard, a lot of rust… unfortunatly the car was too dirty for pass the french tech control. Now it still alive somewhere in Africa.

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James Eric Weldon

How many miles on its odometer today? Can’t get this car out of my head. If owner (I hope you are lurking) will sell it, I might buy it. Certainly relate to this car’s sentimental value. I have a 2006 E320 CDI, recently made full circle back to me after every member of the family used it as their daily driver. When I got it back from my grad student son a couple years ago, I was horrified by its condition. Suffice it to say, he had not maintained the car as I would have. There were oak trees growing… Read more »

Hwy2
Hwy2

Hi James, the car has 154K miles and the interior is Palomino. Thanks for your comments and glad to hear that you are taking good care of an MB wagon yourself!

Riccardo
Riccardo

This is what old Mercedes’ are all about! Well done on preserving the quality of this family heilroom, love stories like this.

Mom had an S124 and this story brings back memories of that time.

Happy motoring!

Ryland Brown

That one tugged hard at the heartstrings. That tangent about Alois Ruf was fantastic too. Compelling story!

Alexandre Goncalves
Alexandre Goncalves

OMG, I had one just like that – same exact color ( I just wished it was in that condition) – What a great piece of Mercedes history! Unfortunatelly I had to sell it due to rust…. my wallet (and patience) just couldn’t keep up with it…

James Eric Weldon

Is the interior Palomino?

Matthew aaron
Matthew aaron

Yea i think so

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