Vintage Mercedes still going strong on HK roads

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 5:56pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 9:51pm

Corporate social responsibility executive Paul Moreno, 39, says the endurance of his vintage Mercedes-Benz is testament to the model’s design

“I am driving a 1982 Mercedes-Benz 230E. This series, W123, is probably the best saloon car of the 20th century, and it’s all the more special because it’s an original Zung Fu import, and was first registered here in January 1983.

You could say my family goes way back with Mercedes-Benz. My father owned a 1972 Mercedes-Benz 280S in Hong Kong – a true tank of a car – but my diplomat godfather introduced me to the W123 in 1994-95, when he shipped his 1985 Mercedes-Benz 230E to our home in Manila on his retirement from the Philippine Foreign Service. It was so smooth, and from then on I always wanted a W123, but was never sure if I could enjoy the car if it was sitting in Manila.

Then, on the Friday of this year’s Lunar New Year weekend, the Hong Kong Dog Rescue in Ap Lei Chau rang my wife Ritchie to say that a miniature dachshund was looking for a home. So we picked up our new family member, Munchkin. We were waiting for the vet to finish his pre-adoption check-up when, suddenly, an all-original W123 parked in front of us. It had a few dings and some rust bubbles, but wasn’t bad for a 93,000-mile [149,668km] car.

I took a risk and bought it “as seen”, and it was repaired by an 85-year-old W123 aficionado recommended to me by Carl Yuen, the vice-chairman of the Classic Car Club of Hong Kong. The W123’s parts can still be sourced here or online for reasonable prices in the US and Europe.

My wife calls our car “The Jalopy” after Archie Andrews’ car in the Archie Comics.

It has a bit of a steering “play”, but it also has the signature Mercedes-Benz MB-Tex upholstery smell, which triggers memories of my dad’s and my godfather’s cars. If it is well-maintained, the W123 230E will bring many years of fun. I wouldn’t mind the series’ six-cylinder 2.8-litre engine, however.

One drawback is that the air conditioning isn’t very cold at maximum setting, but I’m a 1970s Mercedes-Benz fan – and the 450 SEL 6.9 was the ultimate luxury car of that era.

I have seen several W123s still in daily use in Hong Kong, and their endurance is testament to the model’s design. It is simply indestructible, and also a reminder that cars of that period had already achieved a certain level of technological advancement, comfort and solidity.

Most of the “fancy” options in my W123 are standard on most cars today. Mercedes-Benz’s power windows, power steering, ABS and self-levelling rear suspension were all very exciting innovations, back in 1982.

The car is a joy. I like driving to Luk Keng near Sha Tau Kok. You really get the feeling you’re away from the city. There are also great drives to Lau Fau Shan; out west to Tuen Mun; the old Castle Peak Road route all the way into Mong Kok; and climbing up Route Twisk. Then there are beautiful sunrises if you head to Shek O Tai Long Wan.

I’ve added a home-made cup holder console for morning drives. The other replacements are all-original or original-spec. I am saving up for a period-correct car stereo with a USB connector; the 1980s speakers still work just fine. Meanwhile, I’m looking at the coupe of the 123 series. They are really nice but increasingly rare.

The Tesla is probably the hottest car in Hong Kong at the moment. It is a game-changer, but I hope there will be other players in the mass-market electric car segment that can offer more affordable plug-in options.

The Hong Kong FIA Formula E Hong Kong ePrix looks really exciting [on October 9, in the Central Harbourfront]. It is also very heartwarming to see competitive racing in our city’s streets. Also, it would be nice if somehow we could have go-karting back in the city again – the Hong Kong International Karting Grand Prix was a great event featuring then-future F1 stars, racing around Victoria Park in the 1980s. There are many clips of such races on YouTube. A track is needed here, so people can drive fast more safely.”