My recent history with buying family-friendly classics had been only somewhat successful at best. The Mazda 808 was one of my favorites, but a lack of rear seat belts hindered the family-friendly factor. While I could have added seat belts to the rear, the interior was pristine and as a result I was hesitant to inflict three children worth of wear and tear to it. The timing on the Ford Falcon did not work out as planned either. But this time I was determined to pull off a proper family classic, on a shoe string budget, no less. The result was perhaps a bit surprising.
This particular Mercedes was purchased from a friend of mine. He had bought it as a cheap project from the second owner, who had owned it since 1970. He may well have been the original owner as the paperwork indicated a Calgary dealership, then a transfer to a Lethbridge area one. All the maintenance records were included under his ownership.
Surprisingly the engine had been rebuilt 20k miles ago … back in 1982. No expense had been spared at that time with a brand new head, pistons, etc. It was not clear why it had needed to be done at such a relatively low mileage but all those low mileage parts could not hurt. The maintenance records also gave some less exciting news. The car had experienced a front end collision early in its life and thus was equipped with a plastic grille insert incorrect for the year.
And in its later years the car had been subject to some of the most ham-fisted “professional” body work I had ever seen. Perhaps as a result, the exterior panels were rust riddled but the inner structure was very solid. Armed with a welder I figured: How bad could it be?
Included in the purchase price was a 1971 parts car. It was also a four speed manual diesel car. It was slightly more highly optioned and could provide many critical pieces. The cream colored car appeared to be less rusty on the surface but the inner structure was deeply rotten. In fact it was so bad I refused to go under the car when it was on jack stands.
The parts car came with the most offensively ugly rear seat cover I have ever encountered. It shared a hue of green similar to fake exterior grass carpeting, and was no more comforting to one’s behind. The interior was rather worn but it provided rear seat belts and gear shift lever that blue car lacked as well as a nice pile of spares.
A few minor mechanical fixes were undertaken before tackling the body work. An application of white grease got the previously stuck door locks working like new. A heater control valve robbed from the parts car replaced a leaky one. A good thing, as it was one of the very few parts unavailable from Mercedes. Parts availability for these cars is fantastic although some of the prices take your breath away while others are extremely reasonable. The still good rear shocks on the parts car replaced the totally shot ones on the blue car. Amazing what a difference a functional set of shocks makes to the ride.
Some of the worse rust was on the driver’s side fender. It was beyond any reasonable repair but luckily the parts car had an after-market replacement fender is less awful condition.
After much welding and fettling I had one decent fender. The passenger side fender proved to be in repairable condition. More (much more) welding followed on the rocker panels and rear fenders. The previous poorly-done repairs were cut out and replaced with proper metal.
Sadly, that was not the end of my rust woes. The rear bumper support had rusted away along with the bottom portion of the bodywork. The previous solution to keep the bumper upright had been a chunk of wood big enough not to fall through the rust hole, hog tied with metal wire to the bumper. I cut out and repaired this portion as well as a decent chunk of trunk area from the parts car and carefully grafted it on.
The tricky surgery, while not perfect was successful.
As a result of the extensive bodywork the Mercedes now needed new paint. I had no interest in re-painting door jams on a classic beater so I needed paint that closely matched the original color. As usual I had next to no budget to work with so I had planned a roll paint job. I could only get the desired shade of blue in spray cans however.
Early indications proved promising, but the rattle can paint did not hold up as well I would have liked. Looking back I should have held out for roller paint. That will have to wait for an upcoming COAL!
Now that the car was mechanically mostly sorted out and looking reasonably presentable, it became my daily driver. In fact, our Dodge minivan was sold off, my wife took over the Mazda 2, and the Benz became my sole car. My absolute favorite aspect of the old Mercedes was the commanding view over the delightfully vintage dashboard. While I never accurately measured fuel consumption (speedometer was off due to the shorter than stock tires) it was impressively frugal. Performance is hard to describe, but the best I can come up with is meager but reasonable. Just don’t race anyone. The extremely short first gear often caught other drivers behind me off guard as I generally needed to shift before clearing intersections.
While I was enjoying my daily commute in my elderly Benz, I hatched a plan to enjoy my classic car to maximum possible extent. First up was an auto-x event where I predictably placed dead last but enjoyed every minute of it.
Next on the agenda was participating in the local classic cruise event. I had never had a properly running classic to enter so it was quite a novelty for the family.
The positively massive trunk meant the Mercedes was pressed into service fit for a pick-up truck many times as well.
I even entered the car in a local show. While not a particularly valuable or even rare car these old W115 chassis Mercedes cars are getting to be a little thin on the ground so it was well received.
All things must come to an end however. The 220D had developed a bit a of reluctance to start from cold. As a daily driver this was extremely annoying. After new glow plugs failed to solve the issue I figured the injection pump might be a little leaky. I had a spare from the parts car but felt my time with the Mercedes had come to an end. The same friend who sold me the car off was in the market for cheap a classic. He is more mechanically minded than I am, but less adventurous on the body work side. A deal was struck and the old 220D returned home with him.