Ultra-Low-Mile 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300TE Is Today's Bring a Trailer Find

1991 mercedes benz 300te 4matic
Ultra-Low-Mile 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300TE on BaTBring a Trailer
  • Mercedes-Benz's first all-wheel drive wagon, the 300TE is the great-grandfather of today's E-class All-Terrain.

  • With seven seats, a hydraulic self-leveling rear suspension, and computer-controlled all-wheel drive, the 300TE 4Matic was the ultimate early-'90s luxury longroof.

  • This wagon's mileage and condition make it one of the nicest examples extant, so it's likely to fetch a high price.

In a sense, it's fitting that this Mercedes-Benz 300TE 4Matic hails from Vail, Colorado. When it was new, these luxury longroofs could be found hauling well-heeled families to ski slopes from Killington to Whistler, and certainly to Vail. With electronically-controlled all-wheel drive, a hydraulic self-leveling rear suspension, heated seats, and accommodations for seven, it was as capable as it was posh, though its towering price made it a niche item. The concept was well-liked enough, however, to still be with us today as the E-class All Terrain.

This particular 300TE 4Matic, up for auction on Bring a Trailer (which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos) has escaped the salt-induced decay of ski duty. Instead, like Ötzi the iceman, it seems to have been artificially preserved by spare use and Colorado's cold, dry mountain air.

1991 mercedes benz 300te 4matic side
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With just 28,000 miles on the odometer and few signs of wear, might be the nicest such wagon that isn't in a museum, and these 4Matics aren't common to begin with. Although there always seem to be some for sale among Mercedes aficionados, only 12,094 300TE 4Matics were made from 1987 to 1995, of which less than a third were U.S. models.

The company's first modern all-wheel-drive cars, the 300TE 4Matic and its 300E sedan sibling first came stateside in November of 1989, but the 4Matic story really starts at the 1985 Frankfurt IAA show. Responding to the success of the Audi Quattro, the show was a German battle of the all-wheel-drive bands, including the debuts of the BMW 325i “Allrad” (aka 325iX) and Porsche 959. Though not production-ready, Mercedes-Benz brought the 4Matic all-wheel drive concept on a W124-series sedan.

Like Porsche's PSK system on the 959, 4Matic was computer-controlled. It worked in tandem with Mercedes' then-new anti-lock brake, acceleration skid control, and automatic differential lock tech to maximize traction. Such systems are common today, but they were bleeding-edge production-car stuff back then.

1991 mercedes benz 300te 4matic rear
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Not yet called the E-class, the W124 was only a few months old at the time but already known as a high-tech aerodynamic rolling bank vault built for millions of autobahn miles. It was a great car, but adapting the rear-drive design for all-wheel drive required some unusual solutions.

Instead of designing a costly, entirely new front suspension, Stuttgart's engineers created weird, spindly springs with a section that bent around the front axle shafts. More than half a dozen sensors and lots of hydraulic lines connected the electronic brain and three differentials, including locking center and rear units. The system defaulted to rear-wheel drive, but power could be split 35/65 or 50/50 depending on the mode selected. As if this weren't enough, wagons also had a standard hydropneumatic load-leveling rear suspension.

The result was an unobtrusive system in that the 4Matics drove much like the regular six-cylinder W124 and the S124 wagon only with better traction. It didn't have much extra ground clearance, but it could go through anything you threw at it, snow, mud, or mush, and cruise happily all day in quiet comfort with all the Benz luxuries. Headlight washers? Heated powered seats? It feels much like a modern car.

1991 mercedes benz 300te 4matic engine
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In the U.S., 4Matic was only available on the 177-hp, straight-six-powered 300E and 300TE, but the system's complexity meant the wagon started at a whopping $57,900 in 1991 ($133,490 today), which meant slow sales. When the "300" became the E-class in 1994, 4Matic vanished from the U.S. until a redesigned system appeared in 1998.

These wagons are long-lived with proper maintenance but, as original owners discovered, notorious for needing expensive repairs if neglected or used hard. Parts are pricey too, which sometimes wards off even experienced collectors. Remember those weird springs? Nobody reproduces them.

1991 mercedes benz 300te 4matic interior
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This particular wagon, however, is exceptionally nice. There are a couple of scratches here and there, but it looks almost showroom-fresh from its 15-inch Gullideckel wheels up to its roof rack. It's been a Colorado car all of its life and seems totally original, even the seat leather looks almost unused. With such low mileage, you might even feel guilty actually driving it.

It's offered with no reserve, but undoubtedly this time capsule car will fetch big bucks. After all, you're unlikely to find another nicer example, and it might still cost less than trying to restore a worn-out one. The auction ends March 27.

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