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    Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s I worked in a European car dealership called Foreign Motors. The name seems quaint now, but back then most people bought Detroit iron because it just seemed like you got more for your money. It seemed foolish to pay more for a six-cylinder Mercedes when you could get a Cadillac with an enormous V8 engine and automatic transmission for a whole lot less.

    / #Mercedes-Benz-300SEL-6.3-W109 / #Mercedes-Benz-300SEL-6.3 / #Mercedes-Benz-W109 / #Mercedes-Benz / #1967 / #1968

    Then in 1968 came the game changer: the #300-SEL-6.3 , the fastest four-door sedan in the world. It’s hard to convey the impact this vehicle had on the world when it was introduced. Horsepower and torque were something Americans understood. Even Hot Rod ran a feature on the Mercedes. Car & Driver had drag-racing superstar Don Garlits look it over in an article entitled Superman Meets Super Machine. I still have my copy from October 1969.

    I remember one particular detail in the engine compartment that seemed to stump Garlits, an inner fender panel switch. Then it dawned on him: it was there for safety reasons. It turned off the auxiliary cooling fans when you raised the hood, so you didn’t lose a finger. That was a small example of the level of engineering in this Q-ship.

    There’s no need to re-tell the story of how the car came about. Everyone knows that engineer Erich Waxenberger took the V8 from the Mercedes 600 and shoehorned it into the W108/W109 platform. Kind of like what John DeLorean did when he created the Pontiac GTO by putting the 389ci V8 into an intermediate-sized Le Mans body. Or ‘Le Manz’ as they say here.
    The impact the SEL 6.3 had on me as a 19-year-old was unbelievable. Sure, there were bigger American V8s, but they didn’t have overhead cams, fuel injection, air suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, as well as all the amenities American luxury cars had such as sunroof, air-conditioning, acres of wood trim and a leather interior.

    It took me 40 years, but I finally got one. Mine was a 1968 with over 300,000 miles on it. The previous owner had died and the son just wanted to get rid of the car. I offered him $5500 cash and he took it. That was over ten years ago. Since then, I’ve put another 25,000 miles on the Merc and have had relatively few problems.

    Then it started to go downhill. First off, the air suspension was starting to leak overnight and it was taking longer and longer for the air compressor to raise it back up. Another bad sign was that the warning light on the dash was staying on, indicating that the air compressor could not maintain normal driving pressure.

    I know these cars are supposed to be a nightmare to work on, but the good news is that it’s a mechanical nightmare and not an electronic one. First thing we did was to take off the engine-driven air compressor, thinking we could replace it with an electric one. Then we realised this wouldn’t work because it drives the power steering. We then proceeded to take apart the compressor, figuring we would replace the valves and the piston rings. That didn’t work either, because once we got the piston out we found there were no rings that were commercially available. Before admitting defeat, I then used the greatest tool in my #Mercedes -Benz tool box: the Classic Center.

    I often hear people complain about the prices of classic parts, but only before they start their search, not after. After nearly a week of calling breaker’s yards and various piston-ring manufacturers, trying to find something that worked for a car of which they made only 6526, I finally called the Classic Center.

    I said, I’ve got a 1968 Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 and I need an air compressor for the suspension. After I’d had seven days of hearing ‘Good luck finding one of those’, and ‘Yeah, right’, click, the voice on the other end said, ‘Do you want rebuilt or new old stock?’ ‘New old stock’, I said. ‘Next day delivery OK?’ And I had it the next day. Was it expensive? Yes. But not as expensive as a lost week, searching high and low.

    ‘THE SWITCH TURNED OFF THE AUXILIARY COOLING FANS WHEN YOU RAISED THE HOOD, SO YOU DIDN’T LOSE A FINGER’

    I then realised I could make my 50-year-old car not quite brand new but pretty damn close. I ordered new rubber bladders for the suspension plus bushes, kingpins and everything else to make it last another 50 years. If this sounds like an ad for Mercedes, it’s not. Jaguar, Lamborghini, Ferrari and other such brands are now all doing the same thing. I’ve had too many close calls caused by using replacement parts made by someone other than the original manufacturer. Most recently a front tyre on a 4500lb Duesenberg blew out at 70mph, when the replacement inner tube disintegrated with less than 300 miles on it. The box it came in looked identical to those I had purchased for years from a brand-name manufacturer, except these ones were made – well, you can guess where.
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    Gold Rush 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE 3.5 Automatic W108 M116 V8-engined

    Posted in Cars on Friday, 21 December 2018

    Fast and studded with stacked headlight finery, this W108 280 SE 3.5 has the Midas touch. Words Emma Woodcock. Photography Dan Sherwood.

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    Buying Guide ‘60s S-class Mercedes-Benz W108/W109

    Posted in Cars on Friday, 03 August 2018

    Buying a W108/109 What to look for with the late ‘60s S-class. One of the most imposing saloons of the late 1960s, the W108 S-class makes an excellent investment today. Mercedes-Benz Driver editor Sam Skelton outlines how to buy the best. Words and photos Sam Skelton.

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    RESTRAINED ELEGANCE ‘60s BAGGED MERC W108

    Belgian Mercedes-Benz W108 “S” No one quite does Euro box cruisers like ze Germans… or, as it turns out, the Belgians.

    RETRO RIDE MERCEDES-BENZ 280S WORDS: Midge. PHOTOS: Kev.be.

    Sometimes what you don’t modify is as important as what you do.

    What’s the key to being cool? If I knew that I wouldn’t be sitting at my desk eating pickled onion Monster Munch, I’d be supping champagne on my private yacht selling bottled ‘cool’ by the truckload!
    I guess one thing’s for sure though, some cars are just born that way, there’s no stand-alone reason why, they just are and, when it comes to modifying such elegant automotive icons, the trick is not to ruin all that inherent awesomeness by going nuts. To me, that sums up the attitude behind this jaw-dropping machine from deepest, darkest Belgium. It’s not over-blown, it’s not try-hard, it’s just effortlessly cool and ridiculously laid-back.

    Now, I’m not saying Andy here has been lazy with his mods, quite the opposite in fact, what he has done is actually done to perfection. My point is that unlike most, myself included, he knew exactly when to stop. There’s an old joke on the modifying scene that a project is never finished and, for the most part, that’s true. Modifying by nature is a fluid thing, a living, breathing process that doesn’t cease just because you’ve had your magazine photo shoot. In fact, it only really stops when you move on to another ride… and even then the new owner will probably get stuck right in.

    This retro Benz is different, what you see before you, is probably the first ‘finished’ motor we’ve ever featured. When we asked Andy ‘what’s next?’ he just looked at us blankly and said “nothing – I drive it now.” And that tells you all you need to know. Andy is clearly one of those laid-back European fellas you normally see staring thoughtfully into the distance drinking espresso and puffing on a Gauloise, and that premise just makes him cooler, without even trying, the bastard. Then again, I suppose Belgium is not a nation known for it’s reckless abandon in the first place and that translates directly to this car - there’s nothing that’s not been coolly calculated in every detail.

    So, to sum up, what we have here is the rare and beautiful situation where a motor that was devastatingly cool to start with gets a couple of retrained mods to push it straight into the stratosphere!

    As is often the case, the language barrier has made finding out the ‘why, what and when’ an interesting task. Andy’s English may be better than my Belgian (it’s called Flemish – Sander) but, even so, getting the finer details of the spec has been something of a challenge. Take that slick solid-colour paint job for starters, I asked Andy what it is and he replied “red” which was infinitely helpful. As it turns out it’s an A-Class-spec ‘Mars Red’ but I suppose that doesn’t matter, what’s most important is that Andy oozes enthusiasm for his car, a motor that’s over a decade older than he is. It’s not just because it’s a project he’s lavished time and Euros on either, it’s been a deeply personal venture all round, he even got married in it.

    From what I can make out the W108 chassis Merc was his childhood dream car and, when a local car collector was thinning out his garage giving Andy first dibs on this one, it was an opportunity he just couldn’t resist. Being a low mileage, last-of-the-line 1972 car it was mint too but, with a history of modifying every motor he’s ever owned, it didn’t take long before Andy had it slammed over a set of custom American hoops from Intro wheels on a home made air-ride system. Apart from a properly posh Kenwood audio setup, that’s about it. There really isn’t that much too it.

    Does it help that the quirky-looking Mercedes W108 was one of the coolest ‘60s motors ever to come out of Europe? Does it make a difference that’s it was one of the rare cars built with the longevity to still be on the road today? Sure it does, but it’s arguably more important that Andy has done nothing but enhanced its charm with all the right mods, no more, no less. There’s a kind of art in that sort of simplicity, a laid-back beauty that just can’t be found in a massively complex modern project.

    Does it matter if the spec isn’t as extensive as some? Is this car any less impressive or desirable? Not at all - if you’ve got it, you’ve just got it, and this one’s got it with bells on!

    MERCEDES-BENZ W108

    Rolling off the line in 1965 for a 7-year run, the W108 Mercs came in 10 different configurations from the early 2.5-litre 250S up to the late 280SEL 4.5. Mercedes conceived the W108 chassis cars to succeed the older W111 ‘Heckflosse’ (fintail) cars famous for their almost Cadillac-style tail fins. Up to 1972 over 364000 W108s were built alongside another 18000 similar (but longer-wheelbase) W109 cars including the legendary 6.3-litre V8 300SEL, which came with self-levelling air suspension as standard. Performance was the big divider but they all looked pretty much identical and it’s this shape that has become a 20th Century luxury automotive icon. You may have seen James Bond driving a black 250SE down the train tracks in Octopussy, or the ultra-rare silver ‘1969 280SE Convertible they crash in Las Vegas in The Hangover… that’s right, they were both W108s. I told you they were cool!

    TECH SPEC: ‘ #1972 / #Mercedes-Benz-280S-W108 / #Mercedes-Benz-280S / #Mercedes-Benz-W108 / #Mercedes-Benz / #Mercedes / #Mercedes-Benz-S-Class / #Mercedes-Benz-S-Class-W108 / #Mercedes-Benz-S-Class-W109

    THE MODS: Custom #Air-ride system, 18-inch Intro #Speed-Star-Wheels , resprayed A-Classe red, Kenwood head unit and speakers

    THANKS: My wife and kids, Geert Melovan, Ruben (great friend), Eric Carrosserie (Paint), and Willy for help with the engine.

    Andy now has a Merc to die for, not to mention a garage!
    True lowrider style, just on this side of the Atlantic.
    Bone stock engine is still going strong!

    DRIVER: ANDY WILLEMS

    How long did it take to complete your car?

    I don’t know… all these hours that I have not counted.

    How would you describe the project?

    I had a dream, I followed my dream, I created my dream, and now I have my dream. You can’t say fairer than that!
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