Beginning With the Benz

The battery tie-down isn't our finest work, but it kept us safe for the duration of a photo shoot.
This rusty corner is about the worst of it.
When just about everything leaks, you get a lot of filth on all the mechanical components. At least the oil keeps it from corroding badly.

Was it possible, were we falling in love with this silly old car?

Upon closer inspection, we learned a lot. We put the 1966 Mercedes-Benz 230 S on a lift, vacuumed it out, pulled all four wheels off and discovered why the brakes were bad. In addition to rear shoes that were almost down to the metal, the left front caliper was leaking badly.

Other than that and the usual leaks around the power steering, oil pan, differential, and everything else except the radiator, the car looked pretty sound. The floors were a bit dented, but not rusted. Surprisingly, only the left rear quarter panel and (oddly) the front cross member had any significant rust.

A quick call to Mike Kunz of Mercedes Classic Center confirmed a few things. First, that a new two-part front crossmember was ready to ship for less than a few hundred dollars out of their New Jersey warehouse. Second, that a 230S with factory 4-speed and A/C was a rare and somewhat desirable car. Apparently, we had found the proverbial hen’s tooth.

Of the nearly 1,000,000 “fintails” built from 1959 to the late sixties, very few were the fancier S’s and even fewer had air and a 4-speed. Mike also told us of the one hard-to-find part on these cars: a padded dash with no cracks. Ours was cracked, so this was a definite minus. Our seats and headliner were also a bit ripped up, but the door panels were in remarkable shape.

So, we were getting more intrigued. We also found the car had some spares, and the original Becker AM/FM radio. All the lights worked, but three of the windows wouldn’t wind up and down. While the car is presently maroon (almost exactly like BMW’s Malaga from the same era), it was originally an off-white car with a red interior.

Next we did a sanity check: We called our buddy Tom Prescott, who does a lot of our paint and bodywork, to look the car over on a lift. He came to the same conclusion that we did: If you want to restore one of these cars, this one’s a solid choice.

On a bit longer test drive—still hindered by very marginal brakes—we discovered that the car rode and handled pretty well. It did have some minor shifter or transmission problems: It’s a bit tough to shift and it jumps out of second gear. All the gauges worked though, as did all the lights and switches. We haven’t had the courage to try the air conditioning yet, but we know it will need at least a recharge.

What we found is that these cars, while not fast, are fun to drive and handle and ride well. Despite looking like something out of the early fifties, they drive like something from the eighties.

Was it possible we were falling in love with this silly old car? The short answer, strangely, is yes, but we’re not making a big commitment just yet. At this point we’re only doing small projects: get the windows working, do a brake job and fix a few other little odds and ends. We want to rallycross the car on January 14th here in central Florida and then decide this car’s fate.

If you are a Mercedes fan, tell us what you think. Let us know if you want to see a nicely restored classic rally car or if you’d rather we leave it as a rallycross beater. If you are on a Mercedes forum, let your buddies know about our project as well. We will listen to our fellow enthusiasts and follow your advice.

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sarmdog None
3/13/12 2:13 p.m.

I like it, it's quirky, it's got style..

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