Thursday, July 7, 2011

full circle - back to a 240D

After I got rid of the Golf and the Jetta, I still had the Subaru and the Vanagon, which was more than enough car. Still, while I now had ample parking space in the driveway, I was still lacking in the common sense department. It was only a few weeks after I sold the Jetta, that I got "the itch" again. Unfortunately, as usual the prescription was another project car.

After the Golf and Jetta, I was in no mood to deal with Volkswagens again, and started scouring Craigslist for another Mercedes. Not much was showing up until one day when I saw an ad for a 1981 240D, located right here in town. The car was sitting on the lot of the owner's mechanic, and I went over to check it out.

The car had been repainted several years prior, but it was fairly high quality work. The interior had also been redone, and would need only a little cleaning to look new. Under the hood, the news was even better. Although the body had in excess of 315,000 miles, the engine had been replaced with a low mileage used engine at a Mercedes dealership several years before. The same dealership had installed a factory-rebuilt transmission within a year or two of the engine.

The radiator, alternator, tires and full exhaust were also less than two years old, with very few miles on them. The seller told me she'd had the car a long time, but was now selling it because it felt like she "had to get out and push it". I test drove it and found her description to be apt. The car topped out at 20 MPH on flat ground. The seller's mechanic suggested the car needed another engine. I had a feeling he didn't know what he was talking about.

I had an inkling it was a filter and tune-up issue, as on the blue car, but couldn't be 100% sure. I made an offer. We haggled a bit, and $700 later, I drove the Mercedes home.

It took a little longer than I'd figured on to sort out the car's running issues. I changed the fuel filters and adjusted the valves to no avail. In the end, it turned out to be a clogged screen coming off the fuel tank that was the problem. I replaced that and the car ran like new.

At this point, winter was winding down to a close. I knew the car had a rust bubble in the floor, so I took up the carpet to see if I could get a better look at it. The more I poked at it, the worse it seemed. I took the seats out, started digging, and found severe rust holes in the floor and rockers that had been almost completely hidden by factory undercoating. As I had to tear into the car to find this, I don't think the seller knew anything about this. Still, the car didn't turn out to be the bargain I thought it was.

(large rust hole - driver's side floor against rocker - AFTER undercoating removal)

At this point, I had to make a decision to keep working or scrap the car. I'd never dealt with rust this bad before, but the car was too good mechanically to let go of it. Plus, the upper body was still in great shape.

So, I got to patching metal. I worked evenings in the garage for a couple of months, and by early summer, the car was ready for the road, running like new and looking almost as good:

In the end, all the work was worth it. This was a car that I planned to keep forever. Mechanically, it was just too good to let go. So, I put it on the road and drove it in rotation with the Subaru. I drove it as-is for a solid two months or so. Then, the fuel crisis of 2008 hit.

I still needed to drive - a lot - and it wasn't getting any cheaper to do so. I thought about it, and then made a big decision; I'd convert the Mercedes to run on used vegetable oil. I ordered a conversion kit from as they were local and the most reputable company I could find.

The conversion kit was fairly easy to install. I took a few days to do it, but I'm sure I could do it in a few hours now. I'll never forget how awesome it felt the first time I hit the switch with the car rolling and the car automatically and seamlessly switched over from running on pumped diesel to running on vegetable oil (Incidentally, this does NOT smell like french fries. It's distictly like burning vegeable oil - like a kitchen grease fire. It's much nicer than diesel, but does not smell like food.)

Of course, this is when I ran into problems. Due to tough competition from other local greasers, I had a lot of trouble finding free vegetable oil. I did eventually find an Indian restaurant that agreed to give me their oil, but after a few weeks I found that they were filling my grease barrel with restaurant trash.

I went back to driving the Mercedes on straight diesel and didn't drive it much through the winter. Eventually, I realized that I'd spent a lot more on the vegetable oil conversion than I'd save by driving on "free" fuel, and decided to sell the car. I just couldn't justify the expense if I couldn't find the oil.

Unfortunately, I ran into a similar problem that I'd had with the Golf. Nobody wanted to pay my asking price. I priced the car so that I'd make a profit, but had no takers. After around a month I did sell it, but didn't make a profit. I did, however, get all my money back.

I really liked this car, and was sad to see it go. Selling it was made easier by the fact that I already had another diesel project waiting for me in the garage. More on that in my next blog post.

If you have some more time to kill, here's the beginning of a series of videos I did documenting work on this car. Please note that these were done before I was Youtubing anything, so I ramble on A LOT. My videos have gotten better since then - I promise :) There are 12 or 13 videos on this car. All pre-grease-conversion.

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