Home » Cool California Coupes: 1986 Nissan Pulsar NX vs 1985 Mercedes 300CD

Cool California Coupes: 1986 Nissan Pulsar NX vs 1985 Mercedes 300CD

Sbsd 9 13 2023
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Good morning! Grab your tool boxes and find that latest RockAuto discount email – it’s time for another Shitbox Showdown! Today we’re in the San Francisco Bay area, looking at a couple of sweet two-doors you rarely see these days. But first, let’s see which cruise ship you chose yesterday:

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It’s an absolute blowout for the Caddy, by three to one. I can’t fault anyone for voting for it, that’s for sure. But I think I might be on Team Lincoln. It’s the color combo, I think, that does it for me. Big black cars are common, but big butter-yellow cars? That’s something you don’t see every day.

And speaking of cars you don’t see every day, today’s choices are mighty thin on the ground too. One has a far more famous later edition, and the other is not too hard to find in four-door form, but hardly ever seen as a two-door hardtop. But in sunny California, you can find one of almost any car for sale if you look hard enough. And sometimes, they aren’t even expensive. But are they worth it? Let’s take a look and see.

1986 Nissan Pulsar NX – $3,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: San Jose, CA

Odometer reading: 123,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but not currently registered

First off, no. This is not the cool Pulsar with the T-tops and the “Sportbak” interchangeable rear hatch. This is the generation before that, basically just a doorstop-shaped Sentra. It’s not a performance car, with only sixty-nine horsepower to its name, either. But for rarity, it can’t be beat, especially these days. And it’s a stick, and low horsepower is really only a problem when you can’t choose your own gear ratio. It weighs less than the cargo capacity of many light-duty trucks these days, which also helps.

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This one has had a whole bunch of work done to it recently, and the seller says it runs and drives great. But for some reason, it has a salvage title, and is on non-op registration. It’s probably worth finding out what the story is there before getting too excited about it. It does look a little bit pieced-together; the headlight doors don’t quite line up with the hood, and the front seats don’t match the rest of the interior. They’re cool seats, and they look great in there, but I doubt they came with the car originally.

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Still, it’s only three grand, for a little classic Japanese sporty coupe that should be reliable and economical enough for daily use. And where are you going to find another one for sale? If you can live with a few cosmetic flaws, and can square the branded title with your insurance agent, it could be a good deal.

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It is kind of a shame it’s not the later one with the T-tops, though.

1985 Mercedes-Benz 300CD – $4,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter turbodiesel overhead cam inline 5, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: San Mateo, CA

Odometer reading: 252,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Yep

Here we have our old friend the Mercedes W123, but in a form rarely seen. Of the more than 2.6 million 123-chassis cars built, fewer than 100,000 of them were coupes. One of them ended up on the cover of Jackson Browne’s 1983 album Lawyers In Love, probably never to drive again after being so waterlogged. Fortunately, the rest of them went on to live long and fruitful lives, like this one, which spent twenty years as a daily driver for the same owners.

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In 1985, the C123 (as the coupe version was officially known) was only available in the US with a five-cylinder turbodiesel engine and an automatic transmission. This combination did not a speedy car make, but much like the fabled tortoise going up against the hare, these cars played the long game – and won. There are a shocking number of 300Ds still on the road, many of them with far more miles on them than this one. It still runs and drives strong, according to the seller, and likely will for quite a while yet, with a little care and feeding.

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Inside, it looks pretty good for a nearly forty-year-old car, but not great. The MB-Tex upholstery is showing a few signs of wear, surprisingly, and some of the carpet is missing, which isn’t surprising at all, since the seller says it leaks water when it rains.

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Outside, there is a bit of the 123’s Kryptonite – rust. It’s not bad yet, but it’s there, even on a long-time California car. And the seller says the air conditioning doesn’t work, and the heater is stuck on. But it also has those cool Mercedes “Bundt cake” wheels, and since it’s a bona-fide hardtop, you can roll down all four windows (after you fix two of them) and let the cool breeze in. There’s a sunroof, too, if you’re brave enough to try opening it.

So yeah, neither one of these is exactly showroom-fresh. One has a checkered past that warrants investigation, and the other needs some tinkering if it’s to have any future. But they both run and drive well enough to make it home, and showroom-fresh isn’t what we do here anyway. With all that in mind, what’ll it be: the Japanese wedge, or the German diesel?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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EricTheViking
EricTheViking
10 months ago

I would look for the OM656 straight-six diesel engine extracted from the wrecked Mercedes-Benz and install it in C123 for more oompah while doing a bit for the environment. Of course, I need to reconfigure the OM656 to run on vegetable oil.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 months ago

That Pulsar looks like absolute, hairy, warty, hemorrhoidal ass.

The next gen is awesome, but this one is an affront to the senses.

Ricki
Ricki
10 months ago

If I have to pick between two cars that are definitely shitboxes, I’m gonna take the weird one. Nissan for me.

You just know that Benz has a weird smell in it that you’ll never locate and never, ever get rid of.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
10 months ago

The W123, which I will promptly fit with a super turbo ala Black Smoke Racing to be a true diesel sports coupe.
Side note: Blokada, which I installed to make the German lighting site usable blocked the voting buttons but for Torch and Tracy I disabled ad block

Scott Sullivan
Scott Sullivan
10 months ago

It would be the Merc for me. I do love these and don’t be fooled by the popular statements of them being indestructible. This is a hobby car and not a daily driver. It will most likely need constant care and feeding. From the looks of the valve cover it has blow by. Start it up and leave the oil cap loose. If it dances you need rings. An engine rebuild on these is pricey. So too is rebuilding the fuel pump. They are not too tough to work on which is a good thing and the look and driving experiance of a coupe is great. The word rust was used. These rust and rust enthusiastically. It can be very difficult to fight the rust in these.

If it was a sedan I would walk away. Because it is a coupe it is worth the constant effort to keep on the road. There are quite a few of these still out there with one or two owners that have been well cared for. Those are the ones to buy.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 months ago

Old Benz always wins, no matter what state it’s in.

Chronometric
Chronometric
10 months ago

The Merc is worth fixing and keeping. If it runs well, I’m all in.

Myk El
Myk El
10 months ago

Love those Mercedes b-pillarless coupes. Wrong color exterior and wrong engine in terms of my personal preference, but definitely more my jam than the Nissan.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
10 months ago

Even with the red flags I’m still taking the Merc. There’s just nothing all that desirable about the Pulsar that can’t be bettered at a similar price by another random 80s/early 90s Japanese import with a manual. Also, I generally have a pretty firm rule against branded titles unless I know exactly what’s going on. In this case I suspect a bad enough wreck that I should be concerned.

On the other hand, the Merc could be massaged into a very nice ride and here in California whatever rust there is should not get significantly worse.

JDE
JDE
10 months ago

Lost me at salvage title on a junky Nissan to begin with. Merc for the win here

Cyko9
Cyko9
10 months ago

I was ready to vote for the Nissan, but I’m getting a vibe that it had a front-end accident. If the Mercedes had been a 4-door, the battle would’ve been tougher, but that coupe looks nice. They really are long-lived, and I’m not sure the Nissan is going to make it out of the parking lot. Had it been an NX with those crazy taillights, it might’ve taken my vote.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
10 months ago

The 300CD, no question. Classy, bombproof, and timeless, and a super clean example of one with absolutely no insurmountable issues. Being a native of the deep south, I’m spending whatever it costs to get the air working again.

Ideally, I’d buy two – one to enjoy as-is, and another to scratch a dumb restomod itch I’ve had for years now: a 300CD with a 5.7 Hemi swap, to make a Daimler-Chrysler from hell.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
10 months ago

Hell yeah!

Mike B
Mike B
10 months ago

California is such a magical place when it comes to vehicles. I live in New England; I don’t think I’ve seen one of those Pulsars in decades. When I was about 8, my best friend’s dad had one he bought new. I can’t remember seeing any since.

That Benzo would be an extremely rare bird here too, though occasionally I see the 4 door versions still kicking, though they’re always very rough.

Stink E. Jones
Stink E. Jones
10 months ago

I’ve always felt like 80s Japanese dashes represent peak dash design.
+1 for the NX.

SuperNova
SuperNova
10 months ago

What I know most about cars is this: There is something seriously wrong with that Datsun. I can just tell by looking at it’s face. Maybe it saw too much action? Bad plastic surgery? Born with one less spark plug wire? Maybe it’s Mayballine. But it’s not right.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
10 months ago

I wish the Benz was in that gorgeous champagne brown color they had in that era…
Still voted for it, of course.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
10 months ago

Nissan for me. It’s more my style, has stick, is cheaper to buy and will likely be cheaper to operate. It also apparently has no rust.

That Benz looks nice, but I bet the HVAC will be expensive to fix and it has some rust developing in odd places. And I’m sure the vacuum system that controls the door locks and other things will be REALLY FUN to fix.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
10 months ago

The AC compressor is, iirc, a common GM (or interchanges with). The rest of the system-minus the actual blower-is pretty common & not terribly pricey. You either replace the vacuum pods or just ziptie the blend doors wherever you want them.

Around 2020, the blower was (again, if I’m remembering correctly) either ~$150 from ÜRO (which I will never buy from again unless just to get my stranded ass home) or close to $500 for OEM.

Worry about rust: most of the rest of the car you can reasonably fix—caveat that some CD-only stuff is pretty dear. I’m willing idiot with a wrench, and I drove 123s & 126s for right at 2 decades: pretty much anyone can if they want.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
10 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Yeah but even if I did all that, I’d still be stuck with a bog-slow diesel with a slushbox that won’t be fun to drive at all.

I’m sticking with the Nissan.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
10 months ago

Diesel Benz, please. Drive it, fix things here and there over time. Rough or fixed-up, it will just get you there, regardless. There’s something to be said for cockroach-like, un-killable cars.

Drshaws
Drshaws
10 months ago

You had me at pillarless.
That huge opening when the front and ‘back’ windows go down is fantastic.

Gubbin
Gubbin
10 months ago

Had to nope out of this one. The Benzo is nice-looking with just a cute li’l iceberg of problems poking above the water. I love me a Nissan but I bet someone gave up fixing that Pulsar, and there are plenty of hoon-til-you-break-it options out there.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
10 months ago

“This is not the cool Pulsar”. Nuff said.

Hillbilly Ocean
Hillbilly Ocean
10 months ago

The oil hammer, because it’s actually supportable. My gut says that the Nissan parts are as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth

Last edited 10 months ago by Hillbilly Ocean
IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
10 months ago

A timeless Mercedes with better build quality than an aircraft carrier that will easily double its mileage, or a salvage-titled econobox. Decisions!

W123 takes the W.

Ward William
Ward William
10 months ago

You put a D on the end of any old Merc and that’s all I need to see to hit that “gimme it now” button.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
10 months ago
Reply to  Ward William

Almost with you: test drove a 240D once.
after I finally made it back around the block, I never sat my butt in one again. And I grew up with air-cooled VWs: that 240 was as slow as my first VW-a Type2 Westfalia with a 1300 in it!

edit: to be fair, I loved how it looked. I just had gotten used to the turbo in my 300D and couldn’t muster the patience for four NA cylinders

Last edited 10 months ago by TOSSABL
Ward William
Ward William
10 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

I hear you. I’m an old Aussie who has lived in Brazil for 30 years and I had a sweet red Type 3 fastback here for several years. The first gen Brazilian Type 3 was good looking and it had the 1600 with dual carbs. Kept up ok but a real B to keep well tuned. The last photo in world after we have destroyed ourselves, probably taken by a cockroach, will be of Keith Richards driving off into the desolation and destruction in an old diesel merc with smoke coming out the windows and the muffler.

Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
10 months ago
Reply to  Ward William

Yep. Even a glacial 240 is better than anything built today.

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