In our previous report, we mentioned that we weren’t confident with all the cheap fixes we did to our 1986 Mercedes-Benz 500SE project car. We realized that we can’t fix our top-of-the-line German luxury car with run-of-the-mill parts and service. So, we dug deep into our pockets and took our 500SE to a German car specialist workshop.
On January 22, 2014, we deposited our project car at German Motors along Calle Industriya in Bagumbayan, Libis, Quezon City, upon the recommendation of Rene Nunez, president of the Mercedes-Benz Club Philippines (MBCP). A few days later, Service Advisor Boy Cundangan called us to report that the poor engine performance was due to several perished gaskets. He itemized the parts that are going to be replaced and informed us that the ordering time was 4 to 6 weeks. When we weren’t able to visit the workshop due to our busy schedule in 2014, Boy called up regularly to update us on the progress of the repairs done on our 500SE. We were pleased with his thoroughness.
22 Months at the Workshop
Our 500SE stayed at German Motors from the first quarter of 2014 to the third quarter of 2015. It took quite long to determine the problem, order new parts, wait for the parts to arrive, and install them. All the perished gaskets and seals in the M117 V8 were replaced, like the cylinder head gaskets, intake manifold gaskets, the exhaust manifold gaskets, the intake plenum seals, and other related rubber seals. They also replaced the fuel distributor assembly, serviced the 4-speed automatic transmission, and even replaced a broken fastener that holds the air cleaner. We were pleased with their thoroughness.
On October 10, 2015, twenty-two months after depositing our 500SE at German Motors, we finally drove it home. We were pleasantly surprised with its smooth idling and regal manners. Despite its age, it was quiet, quick and deceptively agile, in spite of its heft. It finally drove like how a Sonderklasse Mercedes-Benz should.
However, just as we were beginning to enjoy the drive, our 500SE sputtered and stalled like it was starved of fuel. We theorized that the fuel tank was dirty and that debris was blocking the fuel pump pickup screen, leading to fuel starvation. We also noticed that the valves make a “ticking” sounds after the engine runs a bit hot. We realized that the cooling system needs a thorough check-up.
Two weeks after we got it, we returned our 500SE to German Motors, where the technicians cleaned the fuel tank and pump. But we guess they forgot to work on the cooling system because on the way to a party after we got the car back, the valves started to “tick” again and the engine temperature gauge climbed quickly above 80°C and pointed towards 120°C.
A Little Spring Cleaning
While researching and consulting experts on the possible causes of our 500SE’s overheating problem, we decided to clean the trunk where the German Motors technicians deposited the used parts. We found several gaskets, rubber seals, hoses, plastic housings, old spark plug wires, an inoperable fuel distributor, an aluminum throttle body, engine mounts, and what looks like an electronic module encased in a rubber housing. We also found a broken tire rod end and worn-out disc brake pads, probably from our previous repair.
Casting Some Doubts
While cleaning the trunk, we found that the spare tire that came with our 500SE was a 205/70VR14 Michelin VXV tire mounted on a 14-inch Brundt or Benz-1 wheel, which was more commonly known as the “Mexican hat” wheel because of the shape of its center cap mount. It seemed that our 500SE used to be equipped with these wheels instead of the 15-inch Benz-2 wheels that’s currently mounted. Since W126 models from 1979 to 1985 came with 14-inch wheels and ribbed lower body side claddings, could our 500SE be an earlier model instead of an ’86?
One Things Leads to Another
Sometime in December 2015, we found that the right rear tire had a slow leak so we took it to nearby vulcanizing shop to be fixed. Snap! The vulcanizing shop tech sheared the heads off two bolts holding the wheel. We weren’t worried about it because we’ve been there – we certainly know how to fix it. We found a guy who’s great with an electric drill and he drilled through the shaft of each broken bolt until the wheel was free.
After looking at our car’s scratched-up, dinged, and blistered aluminum alloy wheels and the old Firestone tires, we decided to restore the 7Jx15 factory Benz-2 wheels before mounting new tires. On January 6, 2016, we took our wheels to Liwanag Magwheel Restoration in Sta. Ana, Manila, which is run by proprietor Ira Liwanag, who told us that the restoration process would take some time. After all, anything worth waiting for is worth waiting for.
Wheels and Essential Accessories
Two weeks later, we picked up our newly-refurbished Benz-2s, which looked like brand-new wheels. “We had to build up part of the chipped lip of one of the wheels with molten aluminum and smoothen the repaired part”, Ira narrated. “Then we had the wheels prepped, primered and painted with bright Mercedes silver.” Liwanag supplied us with a set of four chrome premium tire valves while we bought twenty new wheel bolts from West Wheels Tire Shop along West Avenue and had these bolts chromed by Liwanag.
Worthy Wheel Work
To match the four newly restored wheels, we bought another Benz-2 wheel made by Aluline of Germany with the correct E25 offset and 112×5 bolt pattern. We plan to use this as the spare tire of our 500SE. We had our new 205/65R15 Yokohama BluEarth AE-01 tires mounted and balanced at the Yokohama Tire Center along West Avenue, Quezon City.
Before we installed our newly refurbished wheels and brand-new tires on our project car, we dabbed a generous amount of Meguair’s Endurance Tire Gel on the Yokohama tires. However, while we were admiring our work, we noticed that three of our wheels had a round center hub at the back while one had a five-petal center hub like our Aluline spare tire. Darn. We didn’t see that. But, still and all, our restored wheels made our 500SE look like a million bucks. Wheel work done!
We realized that we may have overspent just on the restoration of the engine performance and refurbishing of the wheels alone. We came to the grim conclusion that it will not be inexpensive to restore a German luxury car even though our initial goal with this project was to see if we can own and maintain a Mercedes-Benz S-Class as cheaply as we could. We are beginning to realize that luxury cars and cheap fixes do not belong in the same sentence.
Have we been overpowered by our passion for this project car? Find out next week.