Good morning, and welcome back to another thrilling installment of Shitbox Showdown! Today we have a couple of wagons that run and drive, but need some tinkering to get them properly in order. Before we get to them, however, let’s see what you made of yesterday’s sleeping projects:
Saab wins again. I believe the marque is as-yet undefeated here. Even an overpowered stereo and those aftermarket wheels you all hated so much couldn’t change that. I, of course, would choose the Dodge when presented with these choices, but it’s just more my speed. For a grand, if you’re willing to do a little work, I don’t think there is a bad choice there.
Today’s choices also need some work before being put into regular use, but they have an advantage in that both are capable of moving under their own power with nothing more than the turn of a key. Both are respectable and economical stuff- and people-haulers once you fix some minor issues. Which one is worth the work? Let’s take a look and then you can decide.
1982 Mercedes-Benz 300TD – $3,000
Engine/drivetrain: Turbodiesel 3.0 liter overhead cam inline 5, four-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Hammond, IN
Odometer reading: 111,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yes, but needs rear brakes to be safely driven
“Only the rocks,” as those of us who have seen or read Centennial know, “live forever.” But certain other things are giving it a damn good try: sea turtles, Mötley Crüe’s “Farewell Tour,” and the Mercedes W123. These old diesel bricks just seem to keep chugging along, now thirty-eight years after the last one was built. Well-built, mechanically simple, and pleasant (if not exciting) to drive, these cars not only keep going, but more importantly they are worth keeping going.
Being a 1982 model, this 300TD wagon benefits from a turbocharger that greatly improves its acceleration. It’s still nobody’s idea of a performance car, but it isn’t oh-my-God-will-you-move slow like the naturally aspirated ones are. The wagon version is comparatively rare as well; Mercedes only built a couple hundred thousand of them, versus 2.3 million sedans.
These things are well-known for piling on the miles, but this one shows only 111,000 on its odometer. Whether that’s accurate, I can’t say. I can only report. It’s straight, but seems to be suffering from some rust, the 123’s only serious nemesis. If it’s not too advanced, and it doesn’t appear to be, this car should make a good beater for a while yet. It runs and drives, but the rear brakes are “gone” according to the seller, and they recommend towing it home to be safe.
Inside, the M-B Tex is in fine shape (as expected), but the center console is a shambles of wires and vacuum lines. The climate control system in these cars is vacuum-operated and notorious for leaks, and I wonder if there might be some issue there. Luckily, there’s a huge community around these cars, so there’s plenty of help to fix it.
2005 Scion xB – $1,600
Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD
Location: Taunton, MA
Odometer reading: 197,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yes, but overheats
Toyota’s now-defunct youth-oriented brand, Scion, gave us Americans access to the Toyota bB. These tall boxy wagons were popular in Japan for a few years before we got them in the States, but there was nothing else on the market quite like it. Was it a wagon? A minivan? A hatchback? Was it a cool car for kids, like Toyota wanted it to be? Or was it a frumpy old-person’s car? We weren’t sure. But we sure bought a bunch of them.
The Scion xB is well-known to Autopian readers as our rolling test-bed, subjected to all manner of messy indignities in the name of mobile gastronomy. But the interior is not a bad place to be when it isn’t covered in various soups and sauces. This one looks to be holding up well after almost 200,000 miles. Unlike our test car, this one is an automatic, which makes eating in the car far easier, but nowhere near as entertaining.
This Scion’s variable-valve-timing-equipped four cylinder runs well, but the seller says it is prone to running hot. The temperature goes back down when the heater is turned on, which makes me think it’s a flow problem: Either the radiator is partially clogged, or the airflow through it is compromised, or maybe the electric fan has quit working. The seller says, rightly, that if the overheating isn’t addressed, the next step could be a failed head gasket.
Otherwise, it’s in good condition mechanically, with the exhaust, battery, and alternator all new. The exterior is straight and clean, with what look like some rock chips on the hood, but no other obvious damage. It even still has the lower body cladding that seems to disappear from these cars one piece at a time.
“Runs and drives, but needs some work” is a category of car that can either be a great bargain, or a royal pain in the ass. A lot of it depends on the attitude with which you approach it: if you like fixing stuff, cars like these are opportunities; if you don’t or can’t, they’re liabilities. But what car you pick also matters; if you end up in over your head from the beginning, even the best attitude will go downhill in a hurry. So which one of these looks like the better fixer-upper?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)
The Merc. I once owned a 1982 300TD sedan that outlived it’s odometer, which stopped working somewhere around 380,000 miles, and it was surprisingly fun to drive and relatively simple to maintain. It was by no means a performance beast, but in the “slow car fast” mentality, learning how to modulate the throttle to keep it on boost and utilize the torque made it engaging to drive. Sure, chasing vacuum leaks all the time sucked, but I got pretty good at troubleshooting vacuum issues on the fly, and the MB-Tex looked nearly new at 450,000 (estimated) miles when it went to its new owner. If the Scion had a stick it would certainly be in the running, as that made them actually kind of fun, but it doesn’t, so rose-tinted nostalgia wins the day.
Three words: Five cylinder wagon. The only way it could be better is if there were a third pedal.
No question, the Benz. Those sell for a premium around here, so with a bit of time and elbow grease, I’m pretty sure you could make it presentable enough to sell for a tidy profit. Or just drive it – they’re pretty cool cars.
That vvti engine is unkillable with regular oil changes. Our first xb reached 260k miles before we retired it due to rust (vt is brutal on xbs) we got a second one and got up to 180k until last month when my wife fell for a Honda fit. Ran perfect when we traded it in. A truly loveable car. I voted merc though… Overheating sets off all sorts of warning flags in my head.
Id prefer the finished wagon but in as in condition i am going Scion
I used to own a pair of ’79 300 TDs, both naturally aspirated. Great cars, but they were parade-float slow. I would love the opportunity to have a w123 long roof again, only this time with the turbo.
If part of the equation is that I actually have to own the damn thing after buying it than it’s a clear choice to me. The Mercedes I could absolutely see myself driving. The Xb? Nope. Also, I think on CL or FB, “runs hot” is code for the head gasket is already gone.
It’s a tough choice since I like both but the 300TD appeals more.
I’ve already owned/driven both of these, and still own an xB. This one’s been reupholstered, they never offered a leather interior on these cars.
It’d gonna be the 300TD all day, every day for me. I love the styling, I’m a sucker for engines that go on forever, and they’re getting crazy expensive in my neck of the woods. Not too long ago I saw an ad for one in slightly better condition and the asking price was €7.000. Probably sold for less, but that ad lasted for 3-4 days online so there’s a good chance the seller didn’t have to shave a lot off the original asking price.
The biggest drawback to the Scion, seeing as its from Taunton, MA, is that it probably smells worse on the inside.
At least the climate control will keep it Lukewarm.
(I’ll show myself out!)
300TD with a 6.0L LS swap sounds like an interesting project.
The nice with that 300TD being an 82 – that means it’s turbocharged (earlier ones were not as you noted) and does not have the “evil servo” 1970s Chrysler designed automatic climate control system. Looks like the rear self levelling suspension is not working.