BenzWorld Junior Member
Date registered: Sep 2004
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RE: recommend me a diesel
Unless you're out to get the simplest car you can find, and you're probably not if you put up with the quirks of a 300SE, stick to a turbodiesel.
As you say, the 81-85 300SD is very similar to your 300SE. Bulletproof engine. I find the pleated leather interior of the 88-91 cars more comfortable than the perforated leather interior in the earlier cars but that might be just me.
Next similar would be an 86-87 300SDL. A little more rear seat room than your car has but otherwise indistinguishable. The 6 cyl engine is an improvement over the 5 cyl engine in the 300SD but some (or too many) are afflicted by cylinder head cracks. Replacing the head with a redesigned head costs ~$2000 DIY to ~$4000 at a shop. A 300SDL will top 120mph which is probably a challenge for a 300SE.
There's also the 90-91 350SD and SDL. Think of it as a more refined 300SDL. Where the 300SDL has problems with the head, the 350s have problems with connecting rods. When they go, expect a $10K bill for proper repair. I haven't heard of a properly repaired or replaced engine experiencing another round of connecting rod problems.
Moving back in time there's the 78-80 300SD. Think of the body style of the 450SEL. These cars are more prone to rust but it shouldn't be problem in California. Hard to imagine even the best maintained examples don't need new seat pads by now. Otherwise they have a strong following and many believe they handle better than the S-class that followed.
Then there's the cars I'm not so familiar with including:
W123 - bulletproof 5 cyl iron/iron engine
82-85 300D sedan
82-85 300CD coupe
81-85 300TD wagon
W201 - very reliable iron/aluminum engine
86-89 190D 2.5 (5 cyl, available with 5-speed)
87 190D 2.5 turbo (5 cyl, available with 5-speed)
The 190D 2.5 will hold its own without a turbo.
W124 - reliable iron/aluminum engine
87 300D sedan (6 cyl, looks like a 300E)
87 300TD wagon (6 cyl, looks like a 300TE)
90-93 300D 2.5 (5 cyl, looks like a 300E)
The 6 cyl 300D and TD have the same engine (with the same problems) as the 300SDL.
The 87 300D is about as quick and fast as a Diesel gets. In proper tune, 0-60mph is under 10 seconds.
Consider also a 96-97 VW Passat TDI. Only available with 5-speed. Very rare in the west coast. I think VW didn't offer this car in California but the DMV will let you bring one in.