2400 mile road trip in an eBay 560SEC – Part 1

I lived in Michigan between 2007-2011.   When I first moved there, I bought a cheap but somewhat rusty 1989 560SEC to be my daily driver.   It was already rusty so I was not worried about driving it in the notorious Michigan snow and salt.   After about 18 months the original 560SEC had been hit a few times in the snow.   It also had a very minor head gasket problem where it would burn coolant only if idling for more than about 10 minutes.     I figured the car was on its last legs.

My plan was to buy a nicer car to drive in the summer and then use the crashed, rusty 560SEC as a winter car until it died.   Little did I know that it would still be soldiering on 2.5 years later when I eventually left Michigan and returned to Australia.   The advantage of another 560SEC was that the original car could also serve as a rolling parts car.

I used to travel a lot back in those days.  About a week before a week long trip to Southern California, I noticed a nice eBay 560SEC.   The car was a 1988 model in 040 Black and a Tan interior.   It was high mileage (182,000 miles / 293,000 km) but looked in excellent condition.   I can’t remember if I spoke to the seller before bidding, but I ended up owning the car for $3,750.  I got the car that cheap because of the high miles but also because it had gaudy drug dealer wheels and gold badges.    These are both easy things to fix.   The car was originally from Palm Desert so most of those miles were highway.

The seller was a dealer out of Orange County who agreed to pick me up from the airport Sunday night.     I had pre-ordered a GPS and a radar detector to be sent to my hotel.    Instead of the company paid for rental car, my plan was to use the eBay 560SEC to get around to all my meetings which would give me a feel of the cars ability to tackle a 2400 mile road trip.    Part of my agenda that week was a drive down to San Diego.  The mix of city and highway driving would be a proper test run.    Even better the car had 3-4 weeks of registration left.    Easily enough to get back to Michigan.

9a9_3

The car performed really well during the week in Southern California.   The A/C compressor was a bit noisy but otherwise OK.    One of the wheels was slightly out of balance and the car tramlined with the horrible aftermarket wheels.   The rear Cigarette lighter also melted my phone charger.  A quick stop at Walmart for a double adaptor for the front and a new one sorted that out.  While I was there I picked up a cassette deck adaptor for the Alpine cassette player!

The car was fitted with the original US headlights which are so dim to be almost unsafe.  Luckily the 1989 car had a set of European units – one of the first swaps I did when I got back.

ebay 560SEC

As I won the car in March of 2009, there was still snow and ice on the northern routes back to Michigan.   The fastest way would have been to go up to through Utah and Colorado on I80.   I didn’t want to risk that route with these wheels and tyres, so I went for the slightly longer southern route.

This route required 35 hours of driving over the weekend.  It was going to take my eBay 560SEC through Northern Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and finally Michigan.     It would have been much better to take 3-4 days to do this trip.   Unfortunately I had work commitments on the Monday back in Michigan.  I left Friday afternoon about 4pm for my mad dash across the country.

To be continued in part 2.

ebay 560SEC

W126 A/C no longer cooling

There is an old saying that deaths come in threes.   I’ve not had any deaths in the family, but I had the A/C dead in three cars at the same time.   The easiest was the A/C in my 450SLC that just needed a re-gas.   The W126 A/C has been more problematic.   Just as I got the system in my 560SEC mostly finished, the A/C stopped working on my 300SE.

I took the car in for the gas pressures to be checked and the gas was not below minimum spec.   A tiny bit was added but my mechanic told me he thought it was probably an electrical problem.

Mercedes-Benz USA published a very good Service Manual for the Automatic Climate Control in the W126.    There are often copies on USA eBay and some bad scans are available too.     The relevant section is Testing compressor protective cutout, in the addendum for the 1986-1991 models.    This manual is pretty much a must have if you want to work on your W126 A/C.

W126 A/C Testing

There is a step by step test procedure I used to isolate the problem.

  1. Test low pressure switch on receiver/drier.   Test OK
  2. Testing supply voltage to the control unit (Klima relay).     Test OK.
  3. Testing control voltage for A/C compressor from low pressure switch.   Test OK.
  4. Bypass relay by bridging pins 5 and 7 and check that compressor cuts in.   Test OK.
  5. Test RPM sensor for A/C compressor.    The required value is above 0.3V~  My reading jumped around a bit but was nearly always above that reading.
  6. Test RPM signal (TD).   Test OK.

There is a separate troubleshooting guide for the diesel engines that is different.  It is easy to use the wrong one as the labels are on prior pages.

W126 A/C Troubleshooting Guide

Based on these tests, it looks like I require a new Klima relay for my W126 A/C.   This is rather annoying as I replaced the relay back in December of 2017.   At the time I purchased a rebuilt unit as I figured I would get a rebuilt factory one instead of an aftermarket unit.  I ordered a rebuilt aftermarket unit, so this time I have gone with a new aftermarket unit.

I had hoped to swap the relay with the 560SEC, but the relays are different from the straight six to the V8.

Right now I am driving around with the relay bypassed.   It is rainy and humid and I need the defrost capability, it not the cooling.

More and more parts for Mercedes modern classics are NLA

Mercedes-Benz have justifiably maintained an excellent reputation for making parts available for their older vehicles.   They still do a great job for their ‘halo’ classics like the 300SL gullwing or Pagoda SL.   At the same time, I have noticed a big increase in the number of parts No Longer Available (NLA) for the modern classics.   I define the modern classics as those made from the early 70s to the early 90s.    This includes cars such as the R/C107, W114/115, W116, W123, W124, W126.  There are probably others.

I’m really not sure how that extends to the late 60s models such as the W108/W109.  So far I have not had issues with my W111.   This may be because that car was subject to an extensive restoration in the late 90s.  My other cars are survivors with more parts needs.

I understand minor trim pieces and the like being NLA.  The issue has now extended into core parts that effect either the working of critical systems of the car or even the ability to use it at all.   In this case I am referring to the W126 climate control pods and self-leveling rear suspension parts.    In some cases, these parts can never come back as the tooling has been destroyed.   This is apparently the case with the self-leveling struts – A senseless act of vandalism.  From what I understand it is also the case for some ignition lock tumblers.

NLA

I am going to start maintaining a list on this site of parts I discover as NLA and ideally people who have found an alternative source can comment.  I will update this article with the link once done.  From what I have read, The Mercedes-Benz club of the UK were able to pressure Daimler AG to re-instate the production of a part that would prevent owners from using their cars.   I seem to recall it was for the R129.

As Mercedes used to do a good job of this in the past, the aftermarket parts supply is not as good as it is on some other vehicles.   This situation seems odd as there is increasing interest in these classic vehicles and the profit margins on these parts would appear to be pretty good – the R&D was all paid for decades ago.

Auto Brunch St. Ives March 2020

The 2020 March Auto Brunch event at St Ives Showground was the biggest I have attended.    I was only able to stay for about forty minutes and cars were already leaving when I arrived, but the total numbers were up on last time’s already large attendance.

This month I went in my 450SLC.    I perhaps should have taken the 560SEC as there were three other 560SECs in attendance, including another one in Nautical Blue.     The other Nautical Blue car had much thinner headlight wipers than my car or the white one.   I didn’t get a chance to look at the gold one before it left.    I prefer the thinner ones but am not sure what is correct.   The owner of the blue car had it for many years and it was in lovely condition.    I also saw one of the nicest W201 190Es I have seen in many years.   It was a 190E 2.3 and it had less than 100,000 km on the clock.    There was not as big a Mercedes-Benz showing this time as it was not an official event.   There was a Pagoda and a 190SL though.

Highlights this month included a couple of really nice Renault Caravelles, Since nice Alfa Romeos, Volvo P1800, Minis and more.    There must have been a group from the Triumph club there as there were plenty of Triumphs, especially TR3s.   There were also three E24 BMW 6 series and its predecessor a 3.0 CS.

I was also impressed to see a couple of Lancias and continuing the rally theme two great looking Audio Quattros.   There is normally something interesting and random like a Volvo 1 series wagon that was there this time.

The great weather of the day probably contributed to the excellent turn out of the 2020 March Auto Brunch.    I always enjoy this event.

W126 SEC auxiliary fan replacement

Once I got the air conditioning working on the 560SEC it was apparent the auxiliary fan was not working.   As can be seen in the wiring diagram below, the W126 SEC auxiliary fan can be triggered either by high coolant temperature or by refrigerant pressure.   The diagram is for 1986-1990.   In 1990, the W126 went to a dual fan setup.    The fan can operate at two speeds based on a resistor.

My fan would not work even when fed 12v directly.   I struggled to find a replacement fan from a brand I trust.   I wasn’t that keen on a used fan as they are all now quite old and in the hot Australian climate run quite a lot.   In the end all I could find for a reasonable price was Meyle fan.   Meyle is a brand I normally try to avoid as I have found the parts are not a great fit.

The W126 SEC auxiliary fan is not as easy to remove as on a four door car as there is less room to maneuver the fan.   The fan itself is held on by three 8mm bolts.   Two of them can be seen in the picture below.    They are at 2, 6 and 10 o’clock on the fan.   The fan is not bolted on directly, in all three cases there is a mounting bracket.   For the 6 o’clock mount, it is easier to remove the mounting bracket with the fan.   This is a 10mm bolt that is obscured by the bumper.

W126 SEC auxiliary fan

Once the fan is loose, it is a bit of a chore to actually remove it.   I found the easiest way was to move the strut out of the way that mounts the horns and loosen the panels that go under the headlights.   The strut has two bolts holding it on and there are three to remove to loosen the panel.   It was quite dirty underneath the old fan so I gave it a quick clean out with compressed air.

W126 SEC auxiliary fanOnce I had removed the old fan I was able to compare it to the new Meyle fan.   The central ‘hub’ unit on the Meyle fan is a little smaller which makes removal a bit easier.   The Meyle fan also has a balancing attachment which the factory fan did not need.  Both fans do not space the blades evenly around the hub.   The factory fan also had some little felt pads to protect the condenser.

The original fan has a finger guard, which is removable and I had planned to re use it.  As usual the I had fitment issues with Meyle parts – I could only ever get two of the mounting points for the guard to line up at any given time.   When not mounted properly there is too much risk of the fan fouling on the guard so in the end I had to fit the fan without.

Meyle vs factory fanInstallation is generally the reverse of removal.   I found it easier to start with the 2 o’clock mount loosely, then the 6 o’clock mount.   I loosely re-installed the horn strut before loosely fitting that mount before finally tightening it all up and replacing the bolts on the under light panel.    it is quite easy to push the electrical cable through to where it plugs near the receiver drier.

W126 sec auxiliary fan

It’s a shame I could not fit the finger guard.   It would be hardly noticeable I have an aftermarket fan if that was the case.    The next step was to test the fan.  I went for a 20 minute drive in very heavy traffic with the A/C on full.   I brought the car back and left it to idle for a few minutes.   Sure enough, the fan kicked on and slowly lowered the temperature.   Before I replaced the fan it got so hot I would have needed to either drive or shut off the car.

W126 SEC auxiliary fan

I was expecting to need to do more electrical troubleshooting once the new fan was fitted.  I was pleasantly surprised to see it whir into life after the car got nice and hot.   My next step will be replace some of the climate control vacuum elements which are preventing my centre vent from working.     I’ve kept the original one to see if it can be repaired.   The auxiliary fan in my 300SE occasionally pops the fuse so it will probably need replacement at some point

Citroen DS Instrument cluster repair

Earlier in the week I had identified the lack of instrument cluster lighting was due to a crack in the instrument cluster circuit board.  The crack was causing an intermittent broken circuit.   I wasn’t able to find much on the internet about Citroen DS Instrument cluster repair.  Looking at the board it looked like a very simple design.  That gave me the confidence to come up with my own solution.

The easiest course of action would have been to solder a wire in place.   I didn’t go with that approach as there is no soldering used on this circuit board at all.  It uses rivet looking connectors to take the power to the other side.    I wasn’t sure how well the backing would hold up to the heat and was worried about the solder breaking off.  The board flexes each time the power connectors are removed or installed and it can get hot in behind the dash.

The copper tracks on the board are particularly wide.   This gave me enough room to drill small holes in strategic spots.  I chose spots that were wide enough so I did not touch any other tracks.   I then used conductive screws to bring the power to the back of the board where I could use wires to get past the crack.    The bolts are 3mm.

Citroen DS instrument cluster repair

The four screws are set up so I can bypass the break.  The break is near the square hole in the top left of the picture.   The outer track is for ground and the inner for +12v.   The screws stick up a bit more than the rivets do, but they are quite secure and are not going to come off over time.    You don’t want normal screws at the hardware store as most of them are coated and have low conductivity.

The picture above also shows my quite rare temperature gauge.  This was generally fitted to cars in very cold climates only.  It is very useful in hot ones too!

Citroen DS instrument cluster repair

Once the screws were in place I was able to create two lengths of wire and crimp eyelet connectors on each. This is a similar approach to the tachometer.  The tachometer uses the rivets instead of the screws though.    It was then a simple matter of connecting up the wires around the back of the speedometer.  The wires are tucked so they should not be in the way.   The only downside is the board sits up a bit  more on this corner.  The bulb just near the wires leaks a little light because it is sitting up.

Once I put the cluster back in I was rewarded with lights that worked without flickering or pushing on the cluster.

Citroen DS instrument cluster repair

While I was at it, I also swapped over the petrol gauge from the parts cluster.  It was in much better shape than the one on the car.    I have not yet taken the car for a test drive, as the weather in Sydney has been poor.  I expect my home Citroen DS instrument cluster repair to hold up well.

Citroen DS Instrument Cluster Lighting

Recently during a night drive I discovered my Citroen DS instrument cluster lighting had failed.    In Sydney, where I live, this is a huge problem as the city is bristling with speed cameras.     So many that I could lose my entire licence in about 10 minutes driving near my house doing only 10 km/h over the speed limit.     I regularly drive at night, so I needed to find a solution.

My first assumption was the rheostat had failed.   The rheostat is the dimmer that lets the driver control the brightness of the instrument cluster lights.   Over time, these can develop dirty connections.    On the DS, the rheostat is actually not part of the cluster, but under the steering wheel.   This made it easy to test.   Once I had removed the instrument cluster I could use a multi-meter to check that I was getting 12v to the pin for instrument lighting.    I was.

Next step was to check the cluster itself.   It is simple to remove on the DS – four screws, three electrical connectors and the speedo cable.   Another four screws opens up the cluster.

Citroen DS instrument cluster lighting

At first glance, there did not appear to be anything wrong with it.   I didn’t think it would be a blown bulb because there are two of them and both were working before it failed.   In any case both bulbs looked good.

Readers who are familiar with the DS will immediately spot that my instrument cluster is not correct for a 1970 model car.     It is either a 1973 model or has been pieced together from multiple models years.    How do I know?   For 1970 and 1971 the instrument clusters had long needles for the speedometer and tachometer, and the braking distance was a ring set above the speedometer needle.    Specific to 1970 models was markings on the speedometer for the shift points.    In 1973 the clusters went to long needles and some time in 1973 the indicator lights flash together on the dash rather than separately.

When I purchased the car it had this cluster with a different MPH speedometer with a short needle.   Later, I changed the speedometer for a KM/H unit and the front cover for a nicer one.   I don’t know if the entire cluster or just the speedometer was changed in the past.   I keep an eye out for the right 1970 cluster with shift points for a DS21 but so far I have only ever seen the D Special/D Super unit.

After doing more testing I found that the cluster could light up, but it was extremely sensitive.   It would stay lit up if the cluster was dismantled and not in the dash properly, but if i bumped it or re-assembled it the lights would no longer work.

Citroen DS instrument cluster lighting

I also noticed that one of the bulb holders was cracked so I changed that one.   That change seemed to make it a bit less sensitive, but now knowing the root cause I’m not sure that was actually the case.  I would get it back in the car and it would work until pushed back into the dash properly.

Citroen DS instrument cluster lighting

At this point I was really stumped.   I got out my spare parts instrument cluster and dismantled it to see if I could spot any differences.     Perhaps there was a bad connection in the cluster somewhere?  I removed the circut board on the parts cluster which is the simplest circuit board I have ever seen.   There are almost no electrical components, just copper channels to direct power to the various bulbs.    The board is so simple I couldn’t see how a bad connection would even occur.

I went back to the good instrument cluster and removed the circuit board to compare.   This immediately showed up the problem.   There is a crack in the board!  The place it is cracked has two functions only – power and ground for the cluster lights.   The crack was not noticeable until the board was removed which was why it was so intermittent and why the cluster was not working pushed back in the dash with more pressure against it.

Citroen DS instrument cluster lighting

Now I know the problem it should be a fairly simple repair.   The board is so simple even that thick section has only two tracks.     I’m not sure if the crack has been there a while and it just got worse removing the cluster for the fan light, or if it somehow cracked during that modification.

2020 Shannons Sydney Summer auction

I went to preview the 2020 Shannons Sydney Summer Auction today.   If you had a budget of about $20-$35,000 AUD, there are a lot of interesting cars to choose from.    Shannons do a pretty good job of finding a good variety of cars for each of their auctions – both in price range and types of car.    They are a bit more picky than other firms such as Lloyds or Grays Online.

This auction also had a large number of the numeric numbers plates at massive prices.   I’ve never seen the appeal of these.

Any fans of big German coupes, with a budget of $15-$20,000 will have three good choices at the auction.   Lot 33, a 1983 Mercedes-Benz 280CE looked like a really nice example.   I’ve seen 280CE’s that were far worse being advertised (but not selling) for significantly more.   The 280CE is an underrated car and doesn’t command much of a premium on the sedan for some strange reason.   I doubt that will last.

2020 Shannons Sydney Summer Auction

Next is Lot 34, A 1973 Mercedes-Benz 350SLC.    This SLC is finished in a lovely period colour, with some of the nice early touches like a small mirror on the drivers side only and front radio antenna.   The wheels are particularly ugly, but a set of original wheels or even Pentas would have the car looking a lot better for a reasonable outlay.    I would also remove the aftermarket chrome wheel arches.    I did on my 450SLC.

2020 Shannons Sydney Summer Auction

Finally for the more sporting driver is Lot 35 – a 1986 BMW 635CSi.   This car is equipped with the preferable manual transmission and provides a good alternative to the Mercedes-Benz models.    This E24 6 Series is one of the best looking models they ever made.

2020 Shannons Sydney Summer Auction

Another car that stood out to me is Lot 53 – The 1926 Frazer-Nash.   This was one of the more expensive cars on display with a range of $130-$150,000.   It has the chain drive that these early Frazer-Nash cars are well known for.

I also admired Lot 59, The 1941 Packard 120.   While the 120 is a ‘Junior’ Packard, it is still superior to most other cars from that time with its straight eight motor, high build quality and period interior.   This car has not been over-restored like many and things like a leather interior added.    Many Packards have big limo bodies on them befitting their high purchase price, but this 120 has a smaller coupe body that would be much nicer to drive.

Packard 120

At the Auction was a Maserati Kyalami (lot 69), which looks like the one I had stored in my garage a couple of years ago.   As there were so few right hand drive cars, I suspect it is.   The Maserati sounded amazing as it drove in to storage.

Finally some interesting cars included a Jaguar MKII 2.4 with great patina and a reasonable $15-$20,000 range; A Rolls Royce Silver Spirit III, imported from Japan, a beautifully restored Riley RMB and a 1936 Jaguar SS project car.    I think of all of the cars at the 2020 Shannons Sydney Summer auction , I would have the Packard.

Auto Brunch St. Ives February 2020

I attended the monthly Auto Brunch event in St. Ives Showground today.    This time I took my DS.   It was pretty dusty from all the smoke in Sydney, but still got a lot of attention.     Even though I have been four times,  there can still be a lot of variety and different cars I have not seen before.   This month there was a whole line up of Jensen Interceptors.   I’m a fan of the interceptor – it’s a big brute of a car combining Italian Styling, British engineering and an American (Chrysler) powertrain.

The Mercedes Club also featured Auto Brunch as an event for the first time so there were far more Mercedes-Benz on display than there had been in the past.   This included a fair number of 107 SLs and SLCs as well as a nice 280SL Pagoda, 190SL and W108 3.5.       As well as the Mercedes-Benz display there were also a fair number of Alfa-Romeos.

As usual, there were good line ups of Porsches, MGBs and E-Types.      Its kind of funny that the cars that are considered rare and valuable are more common than the pedestrian models.   When was the last time you saw a 2.8 XJ6 for example?  Collectors pay for production rarity, not actual rarity.

The row I parked my DS featured a 2.5 liter three cylinder motorcycle.   It had the largest engine in the row – larger than an MGB, my DS, a landcruiser, a couple of volvos and more.

One of the good things about the Auto Brunch event is that the venue is large so there is never a chance that you won’t be able to find somewhere to park.

Side by Side Parker one year ownership report

It is almost a year since I installed the Hero Hoists side by side parker.   overall, I have been very happy with this hoist.     It has freed up some space to work in my garage, without having to sacrifice some of the rent paying cars I store in there.  I’ve had no problems with it.

Hoist

It is a tight fit in my garage, but I knew that going in.   Being able to use the full width and height of the hoist would make it even better.   Even with my limitations it is still worth it.

Due to my ceiling height, the E-type and 450SLC always sit on the top.   I can modify the ceiling past the last beam to get about another 5-8cm of clearance which I will do at some point.  That will allow the SEC to go up top as well.  Generally the 560SEC and DS park below.  The DS must be put on its lowest suspension setting to park underneath.   I try not to park the 250SE underneath as I don’t want a chance of an oil drip on the soft top.

What I like about the hoist:
  • It is easy to use and doesn’t require air lines to release the locks.
  • It seems sturdy and well made.
  • I was able to put it together myself, although it was not an easy task.
  • I was able to slightly modify it for my setup.
What I am not as keen on:
  • The ramps are really heavy.   To the point I have split two set of pants moving them!
  • I find the rods for the locking mechanism a bit flimsy and in the way.
  • The aluminium inserts were very expensive, so I had a lot of drips until I made my own wood inserts.

The main downside of the hoist is that it can be a bit of a production to get down the top cars.  By the time three other cars are moved and the hoist lowered, a car extracted then the first three cars put back in the garage, it takes 30-40 minutes.     The double hoist means both lower cars must be moved.    I didn’t have the width for two hoists, and it would have cost 50% more.   Plus, the extra posts would have been in the way.

At some point I may look at some lighter ramps to use as an alternative.