Planning Becker radio installs

In the two years of owning my 560SEL, one of the things I have appreciated is the original Becker CD player.   I’ve owned many classic Mercedes-Benz models over the years, but until the 560SEL none of them had their original Becker intact.   The Becker radios just look and feel right in the dash of the car.  I had never really understood that before.  That got me thinking about putting some of my other cars back to stock.

The first car in line is my 1977 Mercedes-Benz 450SLC.    When I purchased the car in 2003, it had a 90’s era cassette player installed.   I had just returned from America and had the Pioneer MP3 CD player from my 1986 300E available, so I had it installed in its place.   For a radio that is over 20 years old, the Pioneer has done well.   In the last year or so, it has started to play up a bit.  It also lacks hands free function, an important feature with the strict mobile phone use laws in NSW.     One option would be to replace it with a modern head unit that has this capability, like the one in my 560SEC.     The modern radios especially look out of place in this car, so now was the time to replace it with a proper Becker radio.

My 450SLC would have been sold new with a Becker Mexico Cassette.    I actually found the original amplifier behind the dash, not hooked up.    There are more varieties than you might think of this this Becker radio.   I looked at a lot of cars for sale, and consulted with a MBCNSW member who has a very original 1977 450SE.

Through this, I was able to try and piece together some of the differences.   I’m still looking for more information on this topic to really understand, but the visual differences seemed to be as follows:

  • The very early radios have a small balance wheel under the volume knob.    The AM/FM buttons are labelled M and U.   The model insignia says Becker Mexico Cassette at the top, with Mexico in script, and the Becker and Cassette being lower case.    There is no stereo light on the radio, but the tape flap says stereo.   There are no markings for the secondary functions for the knobs.    The rewind/fast forward buttons have a single arrow pointing inwards.  I’m told there is a slightly later version of this radio with the stereo light, but not the other changes of the mid production model.

Becker Radio

  • The mid production radios do not have the balance wheel.   There seems to be versions that have AM/FM on the buttons and some say M/U.   The model insignia still says Becker Mexico Cassette, but the Becker and Cassette are now in upper case.    Secondary functions are shown for the two knobs, left being bass/treble and the right being tuning sensitivity.   RW and FF buttons are double arrow facing outwards.    I still haven’t worked out if there are distinct varieties here.

Becker Radio

  • The late production radios are similar to the mid production units, except the model insignia says Becker Mexico in all caps, with the cassette door now saying Cassette.    I’ve only seen this model with AM/FM buttons.   From what I have seen this was available from 1978 onward.    For Australia, that means 1978 only, as for 1979 we got the black Becker with the big knobs.

Becker Radio

My 450SLC is a 1977, so it should have the mid production version.    I would have been happy with any of them, as the difference is quite small, but I have been able to find an early and a mid production, both of which need repairing.  Hopefully at least one of them is repairable.    I don’t own any cassettes, so I am just going to get the radio working.

It is possible to have these radios modified so the cassette function is replaced with a Bluetooth module.   I may do that, but I prefer to keep things original so I have come up with a different solution.   I’ve found an FM injector that not only allows mobile phone music playing, but also hands free.   In the past, I was not a fan of playing the music through a phone, as I had a work phone that was managed by my employer.   Therefore, I couldn’t load my music on the phone.   My current employer does not have this arrangement which gives a bit more flexibility.

I also plan to use this FM injector on my 560SEL, as I have not been that happy with the normal FM transmitter I have in that car.   I get a lot of interference, and I still need to drive around with the ashtray hanging open.

While my primary focus has been finding a solution for my 450SLC, I was also interested in doing the same for my 560SEC.   It has an Alpine MP3 CD player I quite like.    But it doesn’t look as good in the car as a Becker does.   On checking the data card, the car came with a Grand Prix Cassette (option code 251).  Unlike in Australia, the CD player was not standard on 560 models in the UK.   My goal was to source the right radio, even if I didn’t install it right away.   These radios are getting more and more desirable, and harder to find.   Better to get one now, and have repairs done while parts are still available.

The original Becker radio would have almost certainly been a model 754.   This was available in 1986 and 1987.    The 754 is not the best radio to re-install because it uses an internal lithium battery to keep the radio unlocked.  If this battery gets too old, the radio locks and it must be unlocked by a Becker service centre.    A much better option is a 1402 or 1480.   The 1402 was standard in Australia for the 126 (outside the 560) from 1988 to at least 1990, and has a code to unlock.    This means no battery to mess with.    The 1480 was used in the USA for 1990 and also simply requires a code to unlock.   It has a very similar face, but with a silver strip running along the front, and the Mercedes-Benz logo on the tape door.

Becker Radios

It’s probably better to avoid the 780 and 1432.    The 780 integrates with the factory alarm, and was fitted to cars sold with the alarm system.    If not removed with the alarm properly disarmed, the radio is locked and again requires a Becker service centre to unlock.    It looks like it can be installed without the alarm system connected, but its one more risk of an issue.   The 1432 was a two piece unit, with the second piece in the boot, same as the CD player.   Most of the time you see them for sale its just the head unit, which is useless without the other piece.

I was able to find a 1402, which was working when removed from the sellers car.   It was missing the plugs, which I got from USA eBay.    I was also later able to get some more from the Las Vegas junkyard.    Since I am going to send the Mexico cassette off for repair, I wanted to test the 1402 as well.

Test harness

In order to make a test kit, I grabbed the original speakers from the 420SEL parts car.   The Becker was long gone, but the speakers were still original, and even better had their original connectors.   Making it even easier, there is a connector very close to the speaker, so I had them out in minutes and they plug directly into the 1402.   I then used an old car battery I have lying around for testing, and some test wires to make a temporary harness.

In short order I was able to get the Becker 1402 to fire right up.   The wire for illumination worked correctly too.    It was even able to pick up a station playing country music without an antenna.   I’m not a fan of country music, but I was very pleased to hear it coming through the speakers.

Becker radio

Next I hooked up the FM injector.   In no time, I had music from my phone playing through the Becker radio.   Despite the original speakers from the 420SEL, it sounded ok, if a little tinny.    Will sound much better with good speakers.     It’s also been good to validate the FM transmitter.   I’ll likely be installing it in my 560SEL too.    It’s called an iSimple Tranzit BLU HF.   Not sure if its a temporary lack of stock, or it’s going out of production, but I grabbed a few while I could.   They were about a third of the retail price, so not a bad deal.

Due to the simplicity, I may even install the FM injector into the SEL before I do the full Becker Radio installs in the other cars.

illuminated

The Mercedes W116 in Australia

The W116 Mercedes is no longer a common sight on the roads of Australia.   Yet, at one time, it was quite prevalent.   With a 450SEL costing more than 8 times an equivalent Holden it was a very expensive car.   Despite that, it was a strong seller with little real competition.    The closest competition was probably from Jaguar – but they were much cheaper, and the 70s was the nadir of Jaguar’s quality.   Rolls Royce was in a league of its own, and BMW were really only competitive with small sports saloons.

The W116 was on sale during a tumultuous time for cars in Australia.   Auto manufactures were grappling with increased government regulation, there were multiple oil shocks and rampant inflation.     Australia would introduce its own emissions regulations to take effect July 1976 – ADR27A.  It would be 10 years before performance and fuel economy would regain pre 1976 levels.  While ADR27A was well meaning, in reality it just swapped one emission for another – small reductions in NOx and CO were exchanged for higher fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

W116 model changes

ADR27A means that the W116 in Australia can be split into two distinct groups – those subject to ADR27A and those not.   That split generally coincided with the change from Bosch D-Jetronic to K-Jetronic for the fuel injected models.   It also made a distinct difference between Australian delivered cars and private imports.   Once ADR27A came into effect, versions for Australia were quite specific and Mercedes-Benz Australia only imported a subset of their range.    In the past, most of the range was available, albeit with a delay between introduction and arrival in Australia.

W116 in Australia

The first W116s would arrive on Australian shores in early 1973.   These were the 280S, 280SE and 350SE.    They would be joined by the 450SE and 450SEL in July, although the 450 models were not available in volume until 1974.  1974 also had the heated rear screen added to the standard specification.   As with the other models, the 280SEL and 350SEL would join the Australian range a year or so after introduction in global markets.    These models would continue until the introduction of ADR27A – which applied to any car manufactured after 1 July 1976.    With shipping time, D-Jet models were still being delivered in 1976.

The ADR27A range would be much smaller.   Initially it was focused on the K-Jetronic M110 and M117 engines.   This meant the 280S, and both 350 models were dropped from the range.   For some reason, the 280SEL was also dropped, but would be added again from the 1978 model year.   It would also be November 1978 before the 450SEL 6.9 would finally reach Australian shores.    The 300SD was never offered in Australia.

Not related to events in Australia, Mercedes-Benz was already planning on shifting from D-Jetronic to K-Jetronic.   K-Jetronic was a simpler and cheaper system, and was much easier to get to pass the tough US emissions systems.   It just so happened that these things happened at roughly the same time.

The change from D-Jetronic to K-Jetronic in world markets would have a minor performance penalty.    The injected M110 engine dropped from 136KW / 238Nm to 130KW / 234Nm and the M117 would drop from 165KW / 378Nm to 160KW / 360Nm.   This performance would be regained in 1978.   However, ADR27A meant the Australian versions fared far worse.   The M110 was particularly impacted.   Always an engine that needed to rev for good performance, the reduced compression and retarded timing reduced output to 112KW / 206 Nm, less than the 280S.   The M117 fared better, with a drop to 147KW  / 345Nm.   The 450 relied on torque, which was only slightly reduced, although the retarded timing made throttle response far worse. Unlike the world models, there would be no increase in 1978.

Despite the ADR changes, Australia fared far better than the US or Japan.  A catalytic converter was required in these markets, and standards were even tougher.    By 1980 the poor old 450 engine would have only 120KW in US Spec.   The US models would also be saddled with impact bumpers that looked like railway sleepers.

The ADR models also coincided with the standardization of self-leveling rear suspension for all Australian models bar the 6.9 which had the full hydropneumatic system.  These later Australian models also had a tachometer as standard.

For the 1978 model year, the carpet was upgraded from loop pile to velour, and full wood trim was as standard.    This was Zebrano for all models, bar the 6.9 which had burl walnut.  The fader also changed from a large knob to a roller switch. For 1979 the pinstripe style Becker Mexico was replaced by the black style with the large knobs.    1980 would be the final year of the W116, as the new W126 models arrived for 1981.

For the W126, the range was curtailed even further, and started with only the 280SE and 380SEL.   Later, other models would be added.    The W116 is unique in that it was the only S Class model until the W221 to offer the larger standard V8 in a short wheelbase.   Given the 450SE was quite popular, I’ve never understood this.  The W126 also addressed one of the main criticisms of the short wheel base W116 – the lack of rear leg room.    In my view, Mercedes Australia should have skipped the 380 models and imported the 500SE and 500SEL, tuned for ADR27A, performance would have still been very good.

 197219731974197519761977197819791980
280S-/3,787?/15,340
$13,373
?/20,808
$16,960
?/21,996
$20,655
?/18,031
$20,935
-/17,080-/15,307-/9,208-/1,291
280SE-/3,735?/18,266
$14,274
?/18,634
$18,020
?/17,376
$21,935
?/17,968
$22,210
?/26,903
$31,940
?/23,571
$36,200
?/22,568
$41,700
?/1,572
$45,500
280SEL-/1-/535?/716
$23,800
?/1,042
$24,160
-/1,295?/1,662
$40,460
?/1,551
$43,000
?/270
$47,425
300SD-/51-/5,970-/13,194-/9,419
350SE-/4,353?/14,340
$15,757
?/7,226
$19,740
?/5,447
$24,045
?/4,734
$24,230
-/5,723-/4,964-/4,099-/214
350SEL-/58-/529?/552
$25,655
?/718
$25,850
-/807-/911-/653-/38
450SE-/52?/13,400
$18,951
?/7,579
$22,854
?/4,672
$27,427
?/5,188
$27,427
?/4223
$38,229
?/3,570
$46,383
?/2746
$51,454
?/174
$54,369
450SEL-/2498/6,930 (1.4%)
$20,881
311/8,350 (3.7%)
$25,572
?/6,167
$29,117
305/9,650 (3.2%)
$29,117
271/10,042 (2.7%)
$39,298
237/8,508 (2.8%)
$48,502
277/8,217 (3.4%)
$53,835
40/1,690 (2.4%)
$56,886
450SEL 6.9-/474-/1,475-/1,79887/1,665 (5.2%)
$77,100
140/1,839 (7.6%)
$77,100
1/129 (7.0%)
$77,100

The table above outlines the models available in Australia.   The entries in bold were years where that model was offered in Australia.   The first number outlines Australian sales, although I only have this for 450SEL and 450SEL 6.9 models.   The second number represents global production of that model.   Where an Australian sales number is known, there is a percentage that indicates what part of production was sold in Australia.   Finally the selling price before on road costs is represented below the production numbers.   Australian sales do not exactly line up with the yearly production due to the time taken for the cars to be shipped between then West Germany and Australia.    The price data is from two different sources, which generally align with a few minor exceptions.

The table illustrates a number of interesting things.  Firstly, how small the Australian market was for Mercedes Benz.   Secondly, how quickly prices rose through the 70s.    It also appears Mercedes were trying to claw back the ADR27A engineering work as the biggest price rise was after the introduction of ADR27A.   Back in the 70s, there was not as big a gap between the S class and regular models in terms of price.

Australian features

The other thing to take into account was that many things that would be standard features now, were not during the time of the W116.    All Australian W116s had power steering and automatic transmissions as standard.   Until ADR27A, it was possible to special order manual transmissions on the 280 and 350 models.    Early 280 and 350 models could be quite spartan.  crank windows, MB-Tex, no sunroof, tachometer or alloy wheels.  Early 280s also had thin door trims.

I’ve never seen an Australia delivered car without air conditioning, but I am not sure if it was always standard as survival rates of early cars are quite low.    The 450 models had leather and power windows as standard, but alloy wheels an a sunroof were still extra cost items.     The sunroof would be standard on the 6.9 though.    For some reason, Mercedes-Australia never offered ABS in Australia on the W116, even though it was introduced in late 1978.

Private Imports

This period of time also had many private imports arriving on Australian shores.    At that time, there was a fair amount of immigration from South Africa, where these cars were made locally.   There was some restriction on bringing currency, but not personal possessions, so many cars arrived in Australia.   These were nearly always short wheelbase 280 and 350 models.   The cars made in the East London factory had a reputation as being better than those from Stuttgart.   They were all short wheelbase, always with the thin door cards, but more likely to be equipped with leather and a more powerful air-conditioning system.     They also had a sump guard as standard.   Due to being from South Africa, they were also less likely to be affected by rust.

The other common source was UK cars, mostly higher end models to justify the shipping (e.g. 450s and 6.9s).    Values of these cars plummeted in the 80s in the UK, but held up in Australia.   These cars were more likely to have velour interiors and even some 450 models did not come with air conditioning.   For some reason UK 450s were not equipped with a tachometer.   The UK cars were highly likely to be impacted by rust, but there are still some good ones around.   Some of them were even equipped with ABS.

What happened to the cars?

As well as being driven by the usual clientele of Mercedes-Benz, the W116 also did a stint as the prime ministerial car in Australia, and wore the C1 licence plate.   Australia’s 21st prime minister, Gough Whitlam ordered a pair of 450SELs as the prime ministerial car in the early 70s, complete with column shifters.   Mr Whitlam would remark that he would be “very happy if other office bearers in this parliament were to make do with an ordinary Holden or Valiant, but if there is going to be a graduation of cars I am going to have the best”

With the locally sold cars plus this range of private imports, there were probably at least 10,000 W116s in Australia at one point.   This number would plummet over the years.   Many of the cars were simply used up.   They were popular as limos and for people who did big country mileages.   Indeed, back in the 90s when I was buying my first W123 it was very common to see a W116 for sale in a regional centre with more than 400,000km on the clock.   I’ve seen more than one with over a million kms and still running.    The M110 and the iron block V8s are extremely tough engines, as are the 722.0 and 722.1 transmissions.

The same can’t be said for the bodies.   The W116, is among the most rust prone Mercedes-Benz model with dreadful rust traps and multiple double skinned and triple skinned sections.   It is up there with the 107 and 114/115 in this respect.    Cars parked outside eventually fell victim to rust, and high parts prices meant cars were scrapped because they were uneconomical to repair.   This was particularly an issue with the D-Jet cars that needed specialized skills to repair and keep running.   This is a shame as those cars were better to drive.

The Mercedes-Benz dealerships also waged a disinformation campaign against private imports.   Unless they were rusty, these cars were generally better, not saddled with ADR27A.  The South African cars in particular were a great alternative to the aussie models, but this campaign meant values plummeted and many of those cars were prematurely scrapped.

The W116 today

Today, most of the cars left in Australia are later model, Australian delivered cars.   The 6.9 is a bit of an exception to this as many private imports remain too.   Given the purpose of buying a 6.9 for many was performance, the imported model was attractive for that reason.    Without any data to back it up, I would guestimate there are 500-1000 cars remaining.    Most of them are in average to rough condition, probably only 10% are in nice to excellent condition.   Values for that 10% are slowly starting to climb, although outside of the 6.9 the W116 still remains a very cheap classic to get into.

The W116 has its group of core followers, although it still lives in the shadow of its predecessor, the W108 with its classic looks, and its successor, the W126.    The W126 in many ways is a heavily facelifted W116, so for years buyers preferred it.   The W116 does offer a great alternative to both.   It, and the 107 was the first modern car to come out of Mercedes Benz.  At the same time, it does without complex electronics and the use of plastics prevalent to the W126.  The W116 retains the chrome bumpers giving a more classic look.    The W126 added a lot of refinement to the model, which was welcome, but at the same time something was lost too.   The W116 has a much more raw driving experience, that many prefer in a classic car.

MBCNSW June 2022 Night Drive – Berowra Ferry

This evening was the monthly MBCNSW night drive.   We finally completed a route we have wanted to do since March of 2021, on the third attempt.  It was worth those attempts as it was a great drive.

We actually planned the route back in February 2021.  To test out the route, we did an informal dry run with a few club members.    We thought it was it was a pretty good route, so booked it for that March.   Of course a few weeks later Sydney experienced freak ‘once in 100 year’ storms that flooded the route.   Based on that, we re-booked it for June of 2021.    In June, we got further, as we actually started the route.   The route goes over a car ferry, which was closed for urgent maintenance.    We had to quickly abandon the route and ended up driving up the Old Pacific Highway.

Since Sydney had another set of ‘once in 100 year’ storms earlier in the year, we did another dry run earlier in the month.   The route was still good, so we kept the schedule and finally completed the drive.   We even got lucky with the weather for a change – storms are predicted for tomorrow and the weekend, but it was a lovely evening for a drive.

MBCNSW June 2022 Night DriveOur drive was somewhat of a return to the 80’s with the cars in attendance.   We had three W124’s, a W123 and my W126 560SEL.  The W123 was a car I had not seen before, a 230E in striking yellow.

The route started in North Turramurra and proceeded north through Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.  From there, we joined up with the old Pacific Highway for a while, before turning off to the Berowra waters Ferry.   The drives through the National Park and down to the ferry were very narrow, winding roads with lots of switchbacks.   It’s on roads like this that you notice driving a long wheelbase!  On the other side of the ferry, it was through Arcadia, and ultimately to join the Old Northern Road.

We didn’t stay on the Old Northern Road very long, we quickly turned onto Cattai Ridge road towards Maraylya.   Like most of this drive, it is a winding, semi rural road through quite a hilly part of Sydney.   Once we reached Maraylya, we headed back towards Dural McDonalds via Pitt Town road.   While for most of this drive, we were not that far from the city, none of the route took us through built up areas, so traffic was very light.   It was easy to keep our convoy of five cars together.

June 2022 MBCNSW night drive routeAs the crow flies, the ending point wasn’t actually that far from where we started, but it took us an hour and three quarters to do the route.    I think this is one of the better routes we have done for the MBCNSW night drives and everyone who was there seemed to enjoy the route.   It was worth three attempts and two dry runs!

I had no issues with my 560SEL, and the brakes were very responsive and the ride much improved after the recent work I had done to the car.

MBCNSW June 2022 Night Drive

Next month, our route takes us south of Sydney.   We try to vary the areas of the city we do the drives to give opportunities for people who live in different areas to attend.

Rebuilt Mercedes brake calipers

I attempted to attend the MBCNSW May night drive with two separate cars.   Coincidently, I had the same brake issue with both cars.   On both cases I experienced a soft brake pedal, and on further investigation a very hot drivers side rear wheel.    The rear caliper was not releasing properly causing it to drag and boil the brake fluid.

I knew the hoses were only a year old on the 560SEL, so the issue was likely to be with the caliper.   The hoses were probably due for a change on the 250SE, so could have been either issue there.   Based on this, I checked the caliper types and ordered the appropriate rebuild kits.   I also ordered a set of hoses for the 250SE.   I had to double check the electronic parts catalogue, as the rear hoses are not the same for each side on my car.

The 250SE went first, and while the hoses were due for replacement, all four calipers were pretty bad.   The difference in feel in the brakes is immense.  The first few times I drove the car, the pedal was so easy to push it was almost like there was something wrong.   In addition, I had some more work done on the ongoing stuttering issues I am having with the car.   My mechanic was able to tune it up as best he could but he thinks I’m close to needing a rebuild for the mechanical fuel injection pump.   Not only is it causing these odd fuel delivery issues, but it has an oil leak out of the back.     He also suggests I keep my eye out for a good used thermal time switch (part 001 545 92 24).  Cold starts are very slow.

Next was the 560SEL.   In this case, the fronts were fine, but the rears were pretty locked up.   While he was there, I also had the front shocks replaced.   Fixing both has made a big impact to how the car drives.   Again, the pedal feel is much better even with just the rears done.   And the ride over bad surfaces is significantly improved from the shocks.   Those Pedders shocks were really low quality and were already knocking despite not being that old.   They really ripped off the previous owner of the car.

I figured after having three pairs of brake calipers rebuilt, I was done for a while.   Turns out, I wasn’t.   Around the same time, the brake pad wear indicator lit up on my 560SEC.   Assuming this was a routine brake pad change, I got to work.   I don’t normally detail routine maintenance on this site, so wasn’t planning to feature anything about this.   However, when I had the first pad out, and it had most of the wear materials left, I started looking more closely.   Turns out only one piston has been working and that side is mostly down to the backing.

Rebuilt Mercedes brake calipersWhile I was there, I also measured the thickness of the rotors to see if they need replacement.   They look pretty old and crusty, so its quite possible they do.   Instead of swapping the pads, I put the old one back in.  I will book in this car to have the calipers checked.   I’m pretty confident I’m going to need another set of rebuilt Mercedes brake calipers on this car.    Luckily, I have a set of Bendix rebuild kits of hand that I purchased but didn’t need for the 560SEL.

Based on this experience, I expect that a vast majority of classic cars are driving around with brake calipers that are not functioning as they should.   They still stop the car, but performance is not as good as it should be.   This is going to be particularly prevalent in cars that are not driven regularly.   As much as having the calipers rebuilt is not a cheap exercise, good performing brakes are not something I am willing to compromise on.

Finally, while I was under the 560SEC, I swapped and adjusted the SLS control rod.   The rear ride height was too low, so I used the same technique as I did previously with the 300SE.    The height is better, but I think I need another couple of cm of height to have it back to factory.   The old control rod was starting to fail, so I used the one I had on hand for the 280SE and will order another one for that car.

SLS control rodIn all this, I’ve found that when having a bunch of cars, I have the same issues on multiple cars at roughly the same time.   Part of it might be that having an issue on a car makes you more aware of it on others, but in the case of needing the rebuilt Mercedes brake calipers, I’m not so sure.

Eastern Suburbs Cars and Coffee June 2022

It’s a lovely winter weekend here in Sydney.  Cool in the morning and evening, but pleasant during the day.    With a break in the weather, it felt like a good opportunity to take my 250SE to the show with its newly rebuilt brakes and recent tune up.    It was also an opportunity to take a drive with the top down.   I don’t think I’ve managed to do that all this year.

The new location is really convenient, one set of lights off the eastern distributor.    Plenty of parking and no fun police.   The real Police did a few drive pasts, but they are not concerned with minor parking infractions.

As usual there was a great variety of cars on display.    As you would expect from the eastern suburbs location,  a fair number of 911s, but also some more esoteric stuff like a Riley Elf or a Series 1 Rover P6B.   Probably the highlight was the vintage Ferrari – a different one from last time.

IMG_7118c

Also parked side by side was a Jaguar E-Type Series 1 3.8 and a Mercedes W113 Pagoda.   As a fan of vintage Mercedes-Benz cars, I seriously considered a Pagoda before buying my E-Type.   They are both beautiful cars and I would have been happy with either.   However, I think on the whole, the E-Type is the better sports car.    The Pagoda is a scaled down W111, and many of them in the USA were Automatic.   Its probably the better cruiser, but the E-Type is more engaging to drive and has a sportier feel.   The Pagoda is better made and has better brakes, plus the hard top was standard.    As values are pretty similar, I guess options are evenly split.

IMG_7130c

As well as the Pagoda there were a number of other Mercedes Benz models offering some interesting contrasts.    There was a late 450SLC parked next to a R107 300SL.   A good contrast of the two body styles available in the 107.    There was also a W115 240D and a W114 280E, highlighting almost the full range of performance in the W114/115 series.   I think i’m in the minority preferring the saloon over the coupe.

This show is good in that you can get there, have a good look around and be back by 10am.

 

50 Years of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The S-Class is probably the signature model for Mercedes-Benz.   Personally it’s what I think of when I think of the brand.   When I think Porsche, I think rear engined sports cars.   When I think of BMW its sports saloons with an inline six.   For Mercedes-Benz, it’s the S-Class.    Throughout the years the company has seen other halo models come and go, such as the 300SL Gullwing and the 600.   But the S-Class has always been that statement of what the best car they could make that would actually sell.

The S-Class was officially launched in 1972 with the introduction of the W116.   2022 is 50 years since that launch, and also 50 years since the founding of the Mercedes-Benz club of NSW.   With both of those anniversaries in mind, the Club held a special event to commemorate the S Class.   Of course, holding an event like that begs the question, what is the definition of an S-Class?   The W116 did not open up a new category for Mercedes-Benz like the W201 did.   It was a continuation of a series of models in their range.

S-Class

In most years, the S Class (or predecessor) consisted of a four door saloon and a coupe.   Occasionally, there was a cabriolet as well.    The Mercedes-Benz archive lists the following models for the S Class and its predecessors.   They trace the lineage back to 1951.

GenerationYearsTypeYearsType# in Club
SaloonCoupe & Cabriolet*
1st1951 - 1955W187 - 2201953 - 1955W187 - 220 *
1951 - 1951W188 - 300S & 300Sc *
2nd1954 - 1959W180, W105, W128 - Six Cylinder Ponton1956 - 1960W180, W128 220S & 220S *All Ponton: 39
3rd1959 - 1968W111, W1121961 - 1971W111, W112 *W111: 48
1965- 1972W108, W109W108: 49
W109: 17
4th (1st)1972 - 1980W1161971 - 1981C107 SLCW116: 68
5th (2nd)1979 - 1992W1261981 - 1991C126W/C126: 134
6th (3rd)1991 - 1998W1401992 - 1998C140 (CL from 96)W/C140: 17
7th (4th)1998 - 2005W2201999 - 2006C215 (CL)W220: 10
8th (5th)2005 - 2013W2212006 - 2014C216 (CL)
9th (6th)2013 - 2020W2222014 - 2020C217 *W222: 7
10th (7th)2020 -W223N/ADiscontinued

The inclusion of the W188 models is surprising to me.    It makes sense to me not to include the models that sat above the S-Class like the Adenauers, 600, Maybach etc, so why include the two door derivatives?  It just seems inconsistent.   Some will question the inclusion of the C107 SLC models.   While they were based on the SL, they were clearly meant to fit the two door S-Class spot in the range.   The same goes for when the two door cars were branded as CL’s in later years.

Based on this list, the MBCNSW had a great representation of the range on display.   The club tried hard to get cars that are rarely seen at events to come along and did a pretty good job.   In reviewing the number of cars in the club, I’m actually surprised how well represented some of the older models are.   The survival rate of cars like the Pontons and W111’s is pretty good.

It was hard for me to choose which car to bring to this event.   In the end, given the impetus for the event was 50 years of the W116, I decided I needed to finally get the W116 280SE I have been fixing up on the road and at a club event.   Despite finishing at 1AM the night before, I managed to get the car prepared, and ready enough for this event.   This was only my 3rd time driving the car and the first more than a few kilometers from where I live.    While I have more work to do, I was impressed with how the car went.

It was also interesting to look at the model mix of the W116s on display.    There were 11 cars, and I managed to catch the model of 10 of them.    There was not a single D-Jet or carburettor car on display.   All the cars were from 1976-1980 and most of them were 450’s with 3 SELs and 2 SEs.  In addition there were two 6.9s, a pair of 280SEs and a 280SEL.     This trend was mirrored in the W126 models were most cars on display were second generation – with the 420SEL being the most popular.    However at least on the W126 side there were a few very nice series 1 models in attendance.    The story was pretty similar on the W108 models with most of the cars being late production.    It’s clear that the later cars with larger engines are favored by buyers and more likely to be saved.

I really enjoyed the day.   My ideal Mercedes garage is a two and four door model from each of my favourite generations (60s, 70s and 80s).

In past year, the S-Class has been the cornerstone of the brand.   Today, the company sells far more SUVs than they do cars, but the S-Class is still king of the hill.   I wonder for how much longer?  Not sure they would even make it if it wasn’t for the Chinese market.

Preparing my 280SE for the MBCNSW S-Class display

2022 is 50 years since the introduction of the W116 S-Class in 1972.   The W116 S-Class was the first one that Mercedes-Benz actually referred to as the S-Class.   Previous models had filled the same slot in the line-up and even had S in the model designation, but it was the W116 where the S-Class name started.    To commemorate this, the Mercedes Benz Club planned a display day for all S-Class models.   Had they kept it to the W116 S-class it probably would have been a small show.    Most of them rusted away years ago.

I was quite keen to have my 1979 280SE at this event.   The fuel injection is finally working reasonably well.     I still needed to do a few things before I was comfortable taking it along.

Firstly, while I was in the USA for work, I had the steering coupling changed, and the car tuned.   I could see the coupling moving on the steering shaft – the plastic bushes inside had disintegrated.   The car could also use a new drag link and a tie rod end, but the coupling was the worst issue here.

With that done, I had a few more things to take care of myself.   The first was the ruined exhaust system.   I need to have this fixed properly, but there was not going to be time before the event.   Armed with $50 worth a exhaust repair kits, I got under the car to try and sort things out.   Between the various putty and exhaust bandages I bought, I managed to close up the worst holes.

I put some putty in the Y piece below the manifolds.   This has slipped in the bottom of the V section, a common problem on W116 and early W123 M110s in RHD.   There were two small holes in the pipes between the Y piece and the center muffler, and much larger holes where the pipes associated with the centre muffler join the rear stainless steel section.  The repairs I did have stopped the car sounding like a crop duster and should prevent fumes getting into the car.    Given my hands were covered in putty, I didn’t take any photos here.

Next, I wanted to change the automatic antenna.   Not only because I wanted to listen to the radio and see if the original Becker Mexico Cassette was working, but because it looked so bad.   The mast was well  and truly past it.   I couldn’t just replace the mast as the old motor was not working and it was not an original Hirshmann unit, so I wasn’t sure what mast to get.   I quickly got the old antenna out and mounted the new one in its place.     For some reason the old antenna had the antenna cable hard wired.   So i didn’t cut the new antenna cable with the replacement antenna, I cut off the last 10cm from the 420SEL parts car antenna cable and then spliced that onto the the original 280SE cable.

ruined antennaAfter wiring the new antenna in, It extended happily once I turned on the ignition, and I was able to tune into some local radio stations.   The new antenna, standing tall can be seen in the photo below.   While it might not be obvious why I prioritized replacing the antenna, the old one made the car look like a jalopy.

W116 S-ClassNext I checked the fuses.   A few electrical features in the car were not working.   There was a blown fuse, probably caused by the old radio antenna.   The rest of the fuses were fine, but I decided to replace all the fuses to ensure good connections.   These old ceramic fuses can get brittle with age and have bad connections even when they look fine.    It’s also an opportunity to make sure each fuse is correct.   It was worth doing as a few broke as I removed them, showing how brittle they were.  The old red ones were almost the same colour as the white ones.    Changing the fuses is something I like to do when I purchase one of these old cars.   The fuse box also leaves you a spot to store some spare fuses (top of photo).

W116 S-ClassFor reference, below is the fuse layout for the 1979 280SE W116.   Specifically, and Australian delivered car.   Since the insert is often missing, others may find this comes in handy.   It’s a much simpler fuse box than the W126 second generation cars.   In those cars, everything is electric.

1979 280SE fuse layoutI had removed the carpets from the car, as they were quite dirty and I wanted to vacuum the car properly.   Before I re-installed them in the car they needed a good cleaning.   Otherwise, they were in quite nice shape.    I used my little Bissell wet/dry cleaner to attack the carpets.    As well as the floor mats, I was able to pull out two tanks of filthy water.

dirty carpetsThe floor mats that came with the car were not a good fit.   They looked like they had been taken out of a rather small car.   They were a bit ratty looking too, not befitting a W116 S-Class.  Luckily, I had some mats in the right colour that were original in my 560SEC.   While they are W126 mats, the W126 is just a derivative of the W116 that they went in pretty well.   They are not perfect, but they came up quite well with a good clean.

With the main work done to the car, a test drive was in order.   I’ve only driven the car on the road once before.   I didn’t want to be running into problems on the way to the show.   I took the car on a good 30-40 minute drive, and filled the tank while I was doing it.   The car drove better and better and after about 20-30 minutes the horrible smell from the exhaust putty went away.   I guess it hardened.

Given the car sat around for a few months, I checked tyre pressures too.   A couple were slightly down, so worth checking.

My final step was to wash the car.    It was pretty dirty from the constant sitting around.   By this point it was already after 11PM, so I didn’t have time for anything particularly time consuming, but I could have the car looking nice and clean for the display day.   The car cleans up quite well.

W116 S-ClassFrom there, it was one final test drive, then get the car home and ready for the big event tomorrow.    There is still work to do on this car, but it goes from being a project to more of a rolling restoration.   Getting behind the wheel will help me prioritize.   So far my focus is the drag link and tie rod end, plus the drivers seat.

At the display tomorrow, I am hoping for a large turn out of W116 S-Class models.   There are some very nice ones in the club that almost never come out, and a few nice ones that are regulars at club events.   Hopefully I see them all.   With the work I have done, my car should not be out of place.

W116 S-Class

USA Junkyard visit 2022

I’m currently in the USA for work.   I arrived the day before the event I am attending, so had a couple of hours to spare before work started.   I’m in Las Vegas, so most people would have hit the casinos or shopped at the outlet malls.  Instead, I headed to a self service junkyard to grab Mercedes Parts.    I’ve been to Las Vegas many times before for work, so I’ve seen all the main tourist stuff, and I have no interest in gambling.   Driving old cars exclusively is a gamble enough.

Online, I had spotted a junkyard in northern Las Vegas that had a few cars of interest – principally three W126 models.   Those were a 1988 560SEL, a 420SEL and a 1990 350SDL.   In addition, there were two W123s – a 300D and a 240D.   The 560SEL was intriguing – the 560 was the only model with SLS sold in the USA.   It had only been there a couple of weeks, so there was some chance the SLS struts were still there.   Even if not, there was bound to be something useful to me over the three cars.  Even if they were gone, a trip to the USA junkyards is always worth it.   The prices are very reasonable and there is almost always something worth having.

USA junkyards

I decided to rent a car instead of taking Ubers.   In the end this was a mistake.   I had found a good special online (AUD$86 for the day), and given I wanted to pick up some tools, plus visit a few other shops, I thought it would be better.   What I hadn’t accounted for was how much the standard insurances have gone up since I last rented a car.   Those proved to be more than the rental fees.  Plus I had the uber to and from the rental facility and 3/4 of a gallon of petrol.

I headed over to Harbor freight to get some cheap tools.   Given all of the costs of chipping and trade wars with China, it’s surprising they are still as cheap as they are.    I didn’t mind getting a few new things, as I want to built better tool kits for my cars than the factory ones.    It was useful on the drive to Adelaide to have a bit more than the factory tool roll available.    I also stopped by Walmart to get a bag, a hat and some sunscreen.   It was getting really hot.

After all that, I finally got to the junkyard.   The easy stuff had already been stripped from the cars, such as the grille, alloy wheels, radio and so on.  Importantly for me, the SLS struts were still there.    There were still other useful parts too.

I set about getting the struts off the car.   The ball joint at the bottom is held on with two 17mm bolts.   They were easily removed.   I also wanted the valve, so I cut the metal lines, and attempted to unscrew the two bolts holding it to the car.   The heads broke off both, but I was still able to grab the valve.  It looked quite clean and wasn’t leaking, and plenty of fluid came out when I cut the lines.

Inside the car, the rear seat must be removed.   On cars such as 560SEL with a power reclining seat, this bolts to the power seat frame, rather than just popping out.     I was able to get the seat out with no problems.   Being a US market 560SEL, it had front and rear heated seats, so there were additional electrical plugs.

Once the seat is removed, two plastic covers are all that is in the way of getting to the strut connection.   The upper one reveals the top bolt and the lower one reveals the hydraulic hose connection.   Unfortunately, my sockets were not deep enough to grip the bolts, so I had to use an adjustable spanner.    It was very slow work, 1/8 of a turn at at a time.   I found it easier to remove the top bolts first, let the strut fall down, and then remove the hydraulic fitting.

USA junkyards

Once I had the top bolt and hydraulic fitting out of the way, I was then able to compress the strut and remove through the hole in the trailing arm.    Hydraulic fluid squirted everywhere.   The struts were not all oily at the start of the job, so I am hopeful they are OK.   The issue is not just leakage, but also the bottom ball joints can fail.   It’s easy to have the leaks repaired by rebuilding the strut, although the  ball joint can be more of a problem.

strut out

The second strut was similar to the first, but the angle meant I couldn’t get the bolt started with the adjustable spanner.   I even tried removing the power seat frame, which I didn’t have the right socket for, but made an imperial bit fit.    At that point I noticed that the fuel tank had been mostly removed.  I was able to get it out, and sit in the spare tyre well to remove that last nut.

USA junkyards

At this point it was getting close to when I had to be back, so I grabbed a few other parts that were easily accessible and small.   The most useful was all the connectors for a Becker radio with the premium sound package.   For some reason this was never offered in Australia – which is odd as its the main thing that makes the update interior better.   Without it, its just ribbed panels on the doors and a slightly different seat design.

I also grabbed a few of the extended lug bolts, a tool roll without tools and a few other misc bits.   I could have grabbed the rear amps, but since there are no cars with the system in Australia, it seemed pointless.

While I had to get back from work, by this time I was really starting to feel the sun.   The hat and sunscreen had prevented sunburn, but a few hours in 108F (42C) temperatures starts to take its toll.   I needed to get out of the sun and re-hydrate.   Even though a lot of the work I was doing was from under the car, or inside the cabin, the sun would make any exterior metal surface of the car too hot to touch.   Even leaving tools out in the sun for a couple of minutes made them burning hot.

On leaving, I paid for my purchases – the grand total for everything being USD$36.    Not bad for what I got, although the real price includes the rental car, tools etc.    I took everything back to the car and then made a really stupid mistake.   I had put the keys down in the boot to arrange my bag, and I forgot to grab them before closing it.   Now I was locked out of the rental car.

USA Junkyards

After 30 minutes of various dropped calls, being on hold and providing my life story to the rental company, I finally managed to arrange roadside service.    I was really suffering from the heat by then, but I noticed a service station a few hundred meters away.   I walked over there and managed to drink two liters of cool water.   In the end roadside assistance got the car open in a matter of minutes (great security Hyundai) and I was on my way.    The meeting I was supposed to be back for was delayed, which was lucky.

USA Junkyards

I spent most of the time on the 560SEL, but spent a few minutes looking at the other cars.   The 420SEL had suffered a bad engine fire.   This was obviously the reason why it was there.  I didn’t get a chance to get the year of this car.   The 350SDL was an interesting one.   It had good paint and a lovely interior, better than many cars asking quite high asking points.   It probably still had its original Becker before hitting the junkyard, as this as the car that yielded up the Becker connections.   I can only assume it had a severe mechanical problem.

The 3.5 diesel was known as the rod bender in the day.  From what I understand though, if the engine didn’t grenade early in life they were generally OK later.  It’s a shame to see such a nice car in the junkyard, especially a rare one like the 350SDL.

350SDL
The 240D had been in the yard for quite some time, was tired and fairly well picked over.   The 300D has suffered a bad side-swipe.  It was a great illustration of the Mercedes-Benz rigid passenger cell, 40 years later.

rigid passenger cell

I’m pretty happy how the day went.   I’ve wanted some more spare SLS struts and now I have two sets.  Between this and the struts on the parts 420SEL, I should have enough for my needs.   The second set provides backup if the first set are too damaged to be rebuilt.   I was also able to get a few other things as a bonus.    Not only was the range better, but this junkyard, being in Nevada was not full of rusty wrecks like the Ohio junkyards I visited a few years ago.   The USA junkyards have yielded again.

Auto Brunch St Ives June 2022

Due to COVID, bad weather and other commitments, it had been a while since I attend the Auto Brunch event at St. Ives showground.   March 2021 to be exact.   I finally made it back today and as usual it was a great event.   Of all the cars and coffee events in Sydney, I think this is by far the best.   There is always incredible variety at this show and today was no different.

In addition to the show, The Mercedes Club planned an event to watch the sunset and Balmoral beach and then drive over to the event.   I didn’t join them, mainly because I wanted another hour of sleep and I planned to take my Citroen DS.    It did mean there was a good contingent of MBCNSW members.  As well as the Mercedes club, there were strong showings from the Jensen Club, the Alfa club, and there were also a number of Porsche’s on display too.

As well as my DS, there was another very nice D Special in white and a rare Henri Chapron Decapotable.   This was a real one, unlike the many copies that are around the place.    It was a third nose car, which are pretty rare for the Decapotable, most of them had the second nose.   From the dashboard, it looked like a 1969 model.
Auto Brunch St Ives June 2022

I was parked next to a rare Toyota Century V12.   This is a domestic market Toyota that sits above Lexus in their range.    It is used for government officials, CEOs, the Emperor etc.   There are no Toyota badges on the car, just Century badges.   There were also a few other interesting Japanese domestic market cars on display at the show.

I was also impressed with a lovely pair of Fiat X1/9’s.   The earlier car, in orange was a real time warp.   The Auto Brunch St Ives June 2022 event was great and well worth the trip there.   Even better its the easier one of these for me to get to.

250SE refusing to start and the importance of not jumping to conclusions

The other day I had to move the 250SE out of the way to access the 280SE.   The 280SE was parked in a fairly inaccessible spot until I had sorted out the fuel injection.   With that looking promising on the test gauges, it was time to take it for a proper test drive.   I had not been driving the 250SE of late, as the rear brakes are sticking and its booked in to have that repaired in June.    There are also a few other minor issues to look at, such as the bonnet being stuck closed.

To get the 280SE out, I had to move both the DS and 250SE.   This was attempt number two, as the first time I couldn’t locate the keys in the lock box.   Of course they had been there all along, right in front of me.   Maybe I was too tired to be moving cars around in tight spots that night anyway!   This time I moved the DS and 250SE out without incident.   The test drive of the 280SE was successful, so it was time to put the other two cars back in.

At this point the 250SE wouldn’t start.   Moving the key to the start position did nothing.  I tried in both Park and Neutral.   As the bonnet was stuck shut, I was a bit limited in options.   I tried crawling under the car and tapping the starter with a length of wood, to no avail.   Next I called roadside service, and they helped me get the bonnet open.   I wiggled the latch while they pulled it up.   They also helped me push the car back into the garage.

At this point I should have gone back to basics, but I had it in my head I must have an ignition switch problem.   I wanted to get the car going again, so I could drive it up to the mechanic’s shop in June, rather than having it towed.   I have a remote starter switch, so I rigged that up.  Getting to the starter solenoid is a bit fiddly on the M129 engine.  Its hiding behind the long ram intake manifold.   It’s quite hard to get your hand in between the rams to attach the wires.   In the end I did and was rewarded with the sound of the starter firing into life.
remote starter switch

Given my mechanic’s appointment was coming up in June, I also ordered an ignition switch.   Sadly, the factory switch is now no longer available.   According to the forums it was still available only a few years ago.   I was able to secure an aftermarket switch, but it wasn’t clear what brand I was buying so I had no idea of the quality.

Unfortunately I had not gone back to basics and checked things properly.   It was only a couple of days after I ordered the ignition switch that I went to have another look.   Turns out the ignition switch is fine, and the rod from the column shift linkage had come off the neutral safety switch.   The stupid thing is that this has happened before, and I was able to quickly diagnose the problem and get back on the road.    I had even briefly considered this when the bonnet was stuck shut, but since I couldn’t access it, had proceeded to try something I could do – which was to look at the starter.   From there, I had my blinders on and had not gone back to properly think about the root cause of the problem.

In the end there was no real harm done.   The ignition switch is probably not so bad to have as a spare.   The car runs fine, and I can take it up for the brakes and other minor issues to be sorted out.   I probably should replace the pictured rod between the switch and the column shift mechanism, as had a minor crack that causes it to sometimes fall off.   I also got to use my remote starter switch for the first time.  At least I know it works!

remote starter switch