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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

MotoArigato Project Car; 1962 Mercedes-Benz 220SE Coupe

We will be documenting the gradual process of improving this long lost automotive gemstone from barn tender to daily driver. That's right, this will not be a show car or a trailer queen, no 100-point restoration is in her future, that will be for the next owner, nay, this car will be brought back bit by bit to roadworthy status, so she can once again serve in exactly the capacity she was intended, as a family sport tourer with suave "Mad Men" and "Pan Am" era looks in spades. Sinatra couldn't have made a better choice for his arrivals at the Stardust Casino!

Photo courtesy www.luxeauto.com
Model Overview
The W111 Coupe' that Mercedes-Benz brought to the pampered masses in 1961 was the first car from the company to carry all the hallmarks of the modern vehicle age. In most cases, these innovations actually first appeared on this model, the world's first S-class coupe. Replacing the earlier "Pontons" as the barrel-sided but outdated cars were lovingly nicknamed, the 220SE "Fintail" or "Heckflosse" in the native tongue, was the first of this new breed to appear on American shores.

Rocket-age safety advancements and performance features made the car so far ahead of it's time that contemporary observers would have to be forgiven for assuming it was reverse engineered from alien technology. Front and rear crumple zones, padded steering wheel and dash, front disc brakes, mechanical fuel injection, dual zone heating and air conditioning were but a few of these advancements that gave the car it's price tag that was 2-1/2 times that of the typical American car. A top speed in excess of 115mph with the ability to handle the twisties thrown in for good measure ensured the popularity of this elegant motorcar.

The Score
We found this 1962 220SE Coupe for sale locally at a premium used car dealership Luxe Autohaus who's inventory we've been watching for several years, noting uncommon examples of interesting European metal. We knew enough about these W111 coupes to know that you have to pry much deeper than skin deep if you don't want any nasty surprises, considering that unnoticed damage, rust or failed components can quickly put you upside down on one of these cars, since many parts are unique only to this one model. We originally expressed interest and scheduled an inspection, but the day before an international buyer called and put a deposit on the car. We moved on and began our search anew when a few days later we were told the buyer never finalized the deal and the car was ours again if we were interested. We drove her home that day.

Needs vs Wants
One of the first steps was to take inventory of what was there and what needed fixed right away. This car is going to be driven from day one, so getting the basic mechanicals sorted is an excellent place to start. All the body trim, interior and exterior is there, without it we would have passed on this car and kept searching. The front glass is cracked but the rest is intact. All the weather seals are toast and need replaced, costly so be prepared for that, these aren't your regular JC Whitney sourced seals. Wood is all cracked and peeling, veneer is intact so a simple strip and re-varnish will work wonders... one day. The maroon interior is a mix of old leather that was never conditioned and is now cracked and split including the seating surfaces, and vinyl that has aged surprisingly well and will largely remain as original in this car, which includes the door cards and side trim, headliner, etc. The Parchment paint is not original and has started flaking off in several areas. There is minimal rust to speak of, almost more surface rust than anything eating through or structural.

The engine bay presented it's own challenges. With oil and transmission fluid spray everywhere, leaving a thin greasy layer settled over every surface, we knew we were going to have to spend some time in this area. After a quick but thorough inspection by our friends at MBI Motors we discovered that the rear differential had a cracked boot leaking all it's fluid, transmission seals were all dry and leaking, power steering hose and box had leaks, coolant was leaking at the radiator, and the choke was causing starting problems because of the other relevant issues. We OK'd all the work aside from the power steering and transmission leaks, figuring we can attend to topping those off regularly, and also to give both units the opportunity to reseal themselves now that the car was going to be driven regularly again. OK, we know only British cars spontaneously repair themselves, but it's worth a shot, and we're broke, and we're anxious to get this thing on the road. We will report back when the car comes home from it's first round of repairs and let you all know what's next.





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