Mercedes Benz (vintage) experiences, the joys and pains
Buying a w110, with the fin tail, can be rewarding
I was still in graduate school when one day the itch to know about cars got the better of me. Over the years, I have had a number of vehicles, all second hand, as I never could have afforded a brand new one. Not even the cheap brands.
Then I got a 1967 Toyota Crown sometime in 1982. The running board needed work and it was badly in need of a paint job. But the interior was original and the engine was still powerful being an in-line six though it was already starting to emit some blow-by, a sure sign it will not be long before scrounging for cash to pay for an engine overhaul. It ran very well even on rough roads. It ran comfortably at almost highway speeds on some rough roads of Pangasinan (Northern Philippines) even if it was loaded with people.
The car was good for many reasons which will be the subject of future articles here. To sum it though in one phrase, “It was the luxury line of Toyota Motors back then in the 1960s.”
Then the thought struck, “If a Toyota Crown was good, then a Mercedes Benz would be a lot better.”
To find out, I scrounged the newspaper ads (no Internet then) for a cheap Mercedes Benz. Visiting the ones I could afford as advertised became a part of my weekend jaunts. Then I saw a cheap one in the ads, a W110 Mercedes Benz 190, 1964 model. I was able to find it on a vacant lot in Novaliches, Metro Manila.
The owners were two kids in their teens who bought it from a foreigner. So why were they selling it? When the engine was started it cranked immediately. The engine sounded good. The interior was original. The running board and the lower parts of the doors and boot needed some attention by a tinsmith. Necessarily it would have to be followed by a general paint job.
All in considered, it was still a steal considering the junk price, and the fact that the whole car was still straight. It was still standing with its original proud stance. As if it were not yet 25 years old. So the deal was concluded.
Then when I tried to drive it out, the horrors started to come out. When I tried to shift it to reverse, it either died or was moving forward. I never owned a column shift before so I thought it was one of the vagaries of that design. With several tries and some prayers I was able to find the reverse. When I tried to put it on first gear so I could drive it out on the road, it would stall and after several restarting and tries, I would get the right gear, the first gear. Obviously, there was a misalignment somewhere that it was going into the wrong gears.
Then when it was already on the road, the brakes did not work. Somehow I was able to stop it when it was needed.
So after a lot of restarts, maneuvering it with off and on brakes, and a lot of prayers, I was able to bring it home, just about two kilometers away.
I then fixed the brakes which only entailed changing the rubber cups on the wheels. Next step was to go out and find a mechanic with some experience with a column gear shift. I was confident that if that was fixed, the car would be OK as the engine sounded smooth and good.
When I drove it out, however, to search for the man with the golden touch on German cars, I was shocked. It was so weak. It could not run fast no matter how deep I stepped on the accelerator. How can a car with a two liter displacement be so weak? I thought it was out of timing but the engine sounded so smooth and always started immediately. At any rate I pulled into a gas station with two mechanics on duty. They lifted the car and tried to work on the gearshift which was the priority. They tinkered and cursed for hours on end but could not fix the problem. After half a day, they gave up. They admitted they did not know anything about Mercedes Benzes.
Then it reminded me of a car-racer friend who gave up a managerial job to run his own car shop. At least this guy immediately admitted he did not know much about the quirks of Meredes Benzes. Most of his customers were actors and actresses driving Mustangs, Dodge Challengers and other American cars. He then referred somebody who did Benzes.
When I got to the place, the mechanic was from Pangasinan whose shop was at Mindanao Ave., Quezon City. He went on to work by immediately retiming the engine. He said, the timing chain jumped one notch. I asked, but how come the engine sounded so well? He just said, that’s how Mercedes Benzes are.
We then drove the car, it became powerful enough. It was like the difference between night and day. It was indeed a luxury car, if not for the gear shift problem. We drove it to go and buy parts for the gearshift problem. He was very sure about the part we would buy.
Arriving at the parts store, the mechanic asked for a white plastic which was so cheap. Then the removed the cover on top of the steering column and installed the plastic. Then we drove out and, voila!, the gearshift lever became smooth and was precise in hitting the right gears. What a big relief.
Then I understood what specialization meant and why the car was sold to me cheap. I used the car as a workhorse for a few years and it was very reliable. I drove it when I went to take the bar exams. Sadly, I had to sell it when I was so badly in need of cash, which was always the case.
Owning it was a very educational episode in my life. Years after, when I acquired another unit of the same make and model, I got it up and running in no time. Old that it was, it started immediately on a cold January dawn when I had to bring my wife to the hospital as she was about to start to labor. That was 15.33 years ago when our son and only child was born.
The car, more than 50 years old, is still on the yard waiting to be restored. Hopefully, I could work on it in a year or two.**app