Mercedes Clubs National Rally 2022 – Day 1: Sydney to Orbost

Today was the first day of our epic drive to the Mercedes-Benz clubs national rally in Glenelg, South Australia.     I am going with a group of friends on a road trip to and from the rally which I have detailed in a previous post.    Our route took us from the meeting point at McDonalds Heathcote to Orbost, Vic and covered around 620km.

orbostOne of our group had made magnetic rally stickers for our cars, which was a fun touch.   They are meant to look like those period rally badges and detail our route.  The east coast of Australia has been caught in the grip of one of the wettest autumns I can remember.   Therefore our expectation for day one was consistent rain, which is what happened.   There were only a few short periods around lunchtime when it wasn’t raining.

rally badgeOur first leg took us through the Royal National Park and the sea cliff bridge through to Nowra.  This is always a nice scenic drive, although the weather was extremely poor and we hit a lot of traffic around Wollongong.   We had originally planned to stick to the coast right through to Kiama, but we did a bit more on the motorway to gain back some time.  At Nowra, we stopped at a shopping mall to stretch our legs and have a break.

The second leg took us from Nowra to Batemans Bay and was the only leg where we had long stretches without rain.   This also got me to the end of familiar roads and to places I have never been before.   We stopped and had a nice lunch by the water in Batemens Bay.  We were able to take advantage of a beak in the rain for our lunch break.

The third leg took is from Batemans Bay to Eden hugging the coast where possible.   We went though towns such as Bermagui and Tathra.   Unfortunately the weather was shocking and this was the worst we would experience on our drive to Orbost.  There were points where we could hardly see anything, and we had to slow right down to ensure we stayed on the road.   I would like to do this drive again because I could see glimpses of great scenery and water views through the terrible weather.

OrbostWe finally got to Eden over an hour late, so we took a quick 10 minute break and got back on the road to try and  make up some time.  At this point we were on track to arrive in Orbost at about 6:45PM.

About an hour into the drive is when the trouble started.   We had made really good time in the first hour, with litle traffic on the road and only light rain.   However, at this point one of the 280CE’s reported being down on power.    We had walkie talkies in the cars, which would prove to be invaluable later.     The power was much better with the lights off, so we kept going as best as we could until it started to get dark.

At that point we pulled over and attempted to repair the 280CE.   It became apparent that the alternator was not charging the car.   The alternator was a only a few months old, so all the signs were pointing to a bad unit.   At this point we still had 100km to Orbost.

Too eek out the remaining twilight, we bunched up together, slowed down to 80km/h and let the lights from the other three cars light the way for the 280CE.   This got us another 25km until it was completely dark and the 280CE was now practically invisible.   We stopped at a service station, not only to have another look at the 280CE with the bad alternator, but to troubleshoot a self-leveling suspension problem with the other 280CE.   That car had become very bouncy and the ride height was far too high.

The second 280CE was easily put right.  The control rod for the self-leveling rear suspension had broken and we did a makeshift repair with cable ties.

orbostThe situation with the other 280CE was far worse.   The battery was getting low and it was now completely dark.   After more troubleshooting, we tried the spare voltage regulator I had for my 450SLC.   We were able to get some charge out of the stricken alternator, albeit with a pretty bad burning smell.

stricken 280CE

We had 75km to go, so we hoped that this small amount of charge would be enough to power the fuel pump, ignition system and the parking lights. Again, we bunched up, kept our speed to about 80km/h and set off into the night.  Our aim was to nurse the stricken 280CE to our hotel stop in Orbost without headlights or wipers.  The walkie talkies were really helpful for this part of the trip.   Ever so slowly, the distance to orbost started to tick down. Firstly to 50km, then 20km and finally to 10. We were close. The 280CE was also almost out of electricity. We had to shut off the lights for the final 10km, but in the end we did limp the car into our hotel and check in around 8:30PM. That was an opportunity to remove the battery and place it on the trickle charger for tomorrow.


Luckily, after we checked in, we found a local cafe about to close. The very nice lady running the cafe stayed open and we were able to grab some dinner.  We plan to start very early tomorrow to take advantage of daylight so we can get as much out of the fully charged battery as possible in the 280CE.

In some ways, our experience today is actually a testament to one of the advantages of classic cars.   While they are more likely to fail to proceed due to age, their simplicity means you’re more likely able to limp them home.   In a modern car, a charging problem would have rendered the car inoperable.  We would have been stuck waiting for a tow truck for hours in the rain.

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