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Mercedes-Benz 300CE/E320C (1990-1997)

words - Joe Kenwright
Mercedes-Benz coupes have always been rather special but after the W124's 1990 upgrade, the 300CE was the first to feature a 24 valve head. Joe Kenwright looks at one of today's most desirable and affordable Mercedes-Benz models

History: For many enthusiasts, the 1988 300CE coupe version of the milestone W124 range was especially significant with its extra style and smooth inline six.

Desirability went up in 1990 after the first facelift added a new twin-cam multi-valve engine that boosted power from 135 to 167 kW at a heady 6400 rpm. Its five speed auto allowed keen drivers to access its extra urge but sedate drivers usually missed the point.

A second facelift in 1993 boosted capacity from 2962 cc to 3199 cc but power slipped to 162 kW as torque was lifted from 273 Nm to 310 Nm. Peak power and torque arrived at much lower engine speeds. It was less sporty but more refined and its extra urge was more easily accessed. A third facelift later in 1993 brought a slight restyle and new model designations. This series was the last coupe to be based directly on an E-class sedan.


  • Feb 1990: C124 300CE 24V launched with colour-coded bodyside panels. Retains earlier alloy wheel style.

  • Mar 1992: Side repeater lights. Eight hole alloy wheel option.

  • Feb 1993: New C124 320CE with 3.2-litres and variable inlet valve timing.

  • Sep 1993: Rebadged E320C Coupe with S-class style headlights and separate grille. Tail lights and boot details also changed. Oct 1994: Six-cylinder version ends. E220C continues until 1997.


Early 300CE 24V examples with more than 100,000 km start at $25,000 while the final E320C in mint, low km condition spans the $40,000 range but only with verifiable local history.

Running Gear
Watch out for private imports that may be hiding mechanical or structural problems not seen in local cars. Local fuel can destroy import cat converters for huge expense.

The hose neck in the plastic radiator header tank can collapse for a terminal loss of coolant. The fix was a metal reinforcement collar but the plastic can still snap during careless hose removal. Old thermostats lose their wax pellets then lock in the closed position which prevents coolant circulation with predictable results. Fresh, high quality coolant essential to avoid premature corrosion and failure of aluminium/composite radiator.

Use oil company-branded premium fuels only or risk serious fuel system damage.

Early multi-valve heads can have serious problems with friction fit valve guides shrinking and falling out, dramatically increasing oil consumption then leading to engine failure if ignored. Most should be fixed by now but listen for unusual valve gear noise and watch for excessive smoke after idling.

Auto transmission is long lived with routine servicing but an occasional lazy shift solenoid may need to be replaced.

Long oil change intervals are too long for this level of complexity in city use.

Crisp suspension tuning hence good driver feel but higher road noise than expected. Choice of tyre is critical to avoid excessive roar on coarse sealed surfaces. Some wild aftermarket wheel and tyre combinations destroy sophistication.

Recirculating ball steering develops slop in the straight ahead position but can be adjusted. May need replacement if previous drivers constantly steered while the car was stationary.

Advanced rear suspension depends on multiple bushes to make the geometry work and isolate road harshness. Costly when worn as there are so many of them.

Watch out for damaged bumper corners, poorly matched plastics and leaking front and rear screen seals. Cheap sub-standard body parts are a real problem including rough panels and nasty lights which can leak and fade.

High new cost forced cars with massive crash damage back on the road.

Grille is vulnerable to touch parkers which destroys appearance.

Alloy wheel coating can peel then cost plenty to strip and refinish. Watch out for pressure pack spray as original finish was very fine. Not all alloys are genuine.

Pre-R134a air-cond may require updating. On top cars, consider a modern low drag compressor if you intend to keep it.

Worn ignition keys can snap off inside ignition switch which then requires serious butchery of steering column and surrounding parts for a bill up to $1,000. Don't tempt fate by using a worn key as it will destroy the lock even if it doesn't break.

Thick leather is high quality but requires conditioning at least every six months to keep supple which few get.

Check the operation of every accessory, especially the climate control air-conditioning and everything involving electric servo motors which includes sunroof and seats.

A Mercedes-Benz specialist who can provide an estimate of repairs before you hand over the money may be more useful than a general check.

Thanks to W124 expert Steve from Unique Star Mechanical Repairs (03) 9702 7899.




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Published : Saturday, 1 October 2005

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