Thursday, June 30, 2011

My first full-on project car

I made it through the winter of 2006–2007 easily, thanks to the Subaru. Originally, I'd planned to more or less garage the Legacy when spring rolled around and go back to primarily driving the Mercedes 300SD. I did stilll drive the 300SD, and the Vanagon (to a lesser extent), but I found myself putting the most miles on the Legacy. So long as I kept up on the oil changes, the Subaru just kept going, and didn't seem to be showing any signs of mechanical deterioration, aside from wear and tear items such as brake pads. I liked the way it drove, so I just kept throwing more and more miles at it.

I remember one Friday afternoon, in the summer of (I think) 2007, leaving the city in the 300SD on my way home from work. I did still drive the 300SD to work sometimes, especially in the hot weather, as it had a working air conditioner. Anyhow, I was heading through the Fresh Pond area of Cambridge, in stop-and-go rush hour traffic, when I hear a siren. A police cruiser was pushing through the traffic. Very quickly, it was right behind me. There wasn't much I could do. I was already in the right lane, but the cruiser kept blaring its siren and honking. I pulled as close as I could to the curb, just inching along, when I heard a loud POP! I'd torn the right front tire's sidewall on the curb.

I inched the 300SD around the corner, cursing the loss of a relatively new tire, and got my spare and jack out of the trunk. After fighting with severely overtorqued wheel lug bolts installed (unbenknownst to me) with an impact gun when I'd had my brakes done, I finally got the tire changed. It was just a tire, but from that point on, I realized that if I kept taking the 300SD into the city, it would get destroyed piece by piece. The car was too nice for that. My parents had long expressed an interest in the car, and I decided I'd finally let the car go to them. It would be garaged and well taken-care-of.

This left me with two cars. Granted, that's most than most people have, or can even understand having. Still, my connection to Mercedes diesels wasn't going to fade that qiuckly. Of course, being a car nut I always had my eye on Craigslist (and still do) to see what would pop up. Very soon, I found a 1985 Mercedes 300D advertised as having running problems.

I went to see the car, which was in South Boston, near the airport. The interior was in pretty good shape, but the car needed some bodywork. It did start, but didn't run very well. The car stalled and died just trying to cross a parking lot. The seller's asking price was $1500. In that condition, I offered $500. The seller was motivated and we settled on $750, which included a tow out to Worcester courtesy of the seller's AAA membership.

The car arrived in Worcester and I got to work immediately, replacing tune-up items in hopes of finding the running problem. I don't have a picture to show you, but I tell you - I have NEVER in my life seen an air filter so dirty. Just replacing it and the fuel filters made a big difference. The car's top speed went from around ten to seventy-five or eighty.

Although the AC was broken, I loved driving that car. The W123's handling is unmatched, and this was the first one I'd driven with an OM617 turbo engine. The huge sunroof made up for the lack of AC.

The car passed inspection, and I drove it as I worked on it. First up was all the mechanical stuff. I replaced most of the filters and fluids, including the transmission fluid and filter (made a big difference in the way the car shifted). After that, I did a valve adjustment, which was a new thing for me. This restored the car's performance to like-new. The last remaining item was the fuel lines. The injector leak lines actually failed on me one day - spectacularly, I might add. Quick sidebar on that - I'd taken a vacation day from work to do some work around the house. While out to lunch, I noticed diesel pooling under the car. The injector leak lines were badly rotted. I called around and found that the only place with the proper lines (locally) was the Mercedes dealership five miles away.

Luckily I got there, got home and replaced the lines, and had just enough time to wash up before heading out to the premiere of the Simpsons movie.

Once all the mechanical items were done, I cleaned the car up and did the bodywork. Then, a funny thing happened - I realized that I'd ended up with a car worth a lot more than the $750 I'd spent. Even with parts and materials, I was in for less than $1500 total. It was then that I got the wacky idea to see if I could sell the car for a quick profit.

As always, it was time to go back to Craigslist. I'd only had the car for two months, and I really did love it, but a quick profit was irresistable. I listed the car at $3500 and a few days later sold the 300D for $3200. Sometimes I still do miss the 300D, but I knew, even then, that it wouldn't be my last Mercedes.

This past winter, I found this car on Craigslist for sale again. Apparently, I did a good (enough) job fixing it up, as it's still on the road nearly four years later.

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