Project Car: 1961 Mercedes 190b
Rescuing a grand old Benz with a vision to building a retro-rod!
By Fraser Martin
The Mercedes needed checking for the positioning of the donor seats before welding the mounts in place and I am delighted with the positioning.
The gearbox shifter unit is mounted and the transmission tunnel completed, the engine and gearbox are fully functional and the dash is being reconfigured to accept donor instrumentation which is a requirement of the CPU being able to speak to the rest of the car.
It is getting nearer the point of starting cosmetics now that the main structural and mechanical work is almost finished, but I still have to source a few bushes, ball joints and so on to ensure everything is free of excess play and will work properly.
Retrimming will be amonst the next things on the list: I am not living with beige seats!
I can’t quite decide on final colours yet though they will be non-metallics and it will be two-tone.
The guys working on it at Capital are true artisans – there is much more thought going into the project than I would have brought to the table, and the welding work is seamless. I am really pleased!
There are quite a few bits of steering and suspension stuff still to source just to get it right, rather than wobbling along on the on the existing bits, but it is all there.
Brakes are proving to be difficult as well, so if anyone has sources, please let me know!
No, I’m not putting a completion date on it yet!
Catch up on how Fraser, Praveen and Pramod are getting on with this unique project car!
8 May 2011
The ‘Dangerous Brothers’ dropped in at my home the other evening. Now when Praveen and Pramod Chandran from Capital Auto Repairing are dropping round of an evening, it is usually to collect a sick motor or drop in an invoice, so I was delighted when they said, ‘We have something for you, and it’s not a bill!’
Presenting a memory stick, which I plugged into the laptop immediately, I was delighted to see a whole series of about 30 photographs detailing the movement of my Mercedes Benz 190 shell from one end of their workshop, where it had been languishing on its side whilst we waited for a donor car to materialise, to a four-poster ramp. As if that was not exciting enough, the slide show proceeded to detail the first fitting of the engine and gearbox. Well, fitting is perhaps too strong a word – let’s say ‘placing’ since it has become clear that both engine and gearbox mountings will have to be moved, as suspected.
Undaunted, I went down to Capital the following morning to see things in the flesh. Not only were the engine and box resting almost in place, but the front subframe was back on for a test fit too, as were one wing and the bonnet for clearance checking. So progress is being seen to be made!
The really expensive stuff will start now. Praveen is preparing a list of balljoints, bushes and sundry other parts that will be needed to bring the elderly steering and suspension back to the finest of fettles, and of course, there will be new mounts to fabricate and fit, and quite a few modifications in and around the bulkhead and tunnel to be completed, so that everything goes in and does not foul anywhere.
We’ll need to re-fabricate the exhaust system as, currently, we’d have to cut the chassis leg off to get it to fit, and that is clearly not a viable option. There’s plenty of room to get round it though, so I don’t see breathing being a major difficulty. The power steering pump will have to go as there is no room for the power steering box inside the engine bay, and since I don’t plan to retro-fit an air conditioner, the compressor can go too. The upside is that it’ll leave the engine with a bit more space around it for general cooling and access. The bonnet will close properly too, so there won’t have to be any unsightly bulges, giving away the contents of the bay.
Clearly there is much to be done but the point of no return has well and truly passed. There will be a huge amount of cleaning, shot-blasting and painting of components to be completed before anything is bolted in permanently, and quite frankly, having a good look at various bits, whilst the shell was up on the ramp, was a bit daunting. Still, it’ll be worth it in the end and we’ll soon have something rolling, even if it doesn’t go yet.
Moving swiftly ahead…
We have finally found a suitable donor car for the ‘sensitive’ restoration of the old Mercedes – though sensitive is probably pushing it a bit, since the new engine that’ll be going in is a 2-litre, 136hp, fuel-injected one, with an automatic gearbox!
Praveen at Capital Auto, who is doing the work under my supervision (read: doing the work whilst I interfere with it) has found a 1997 W202, C200 4-door and has less sensitively hoiked the engine out of it for measuring up (see image 11 & 12 in the gallery on the right).
The new combination of engine and gearbox is about 10cm longer than the old 1.9 litre unit with the manual box which was originally fitted, but by dint of a more modern setup, the extra ten centimetres should not present a problem because the ancillaries (fan and water pump, for example) take less room than the original units did, so there will be space enough to shoehorn the new motor in place, with only minor amendments to mountings.
When I say new, we are talking of a nearly fifteen year old lump. This was evidenced by the fact that Capital had to get hold of an additional head, the original one being corroded through lack of use and probably the wrong coolant. The ‘new’ engine has an alloy head (and gearbox casing) which contributes to an almost identical weight component over the front axle, so it should be a piece of cake getting the balances right when we eventually get to the rolling chassis stage again. The new engine was overhauled, had a full new gasket set fitted and, along with a couple of core plugs, was stuck back in the C200 and test run. It’s got a slight leak from the water pump, but we’ll get to that once it’s fitted in the 190B shell – otherwise, it’s a runner.
With the engine, box and wiring loom, the 200 will also donate a bit of brightwork, front seats (which are a lot more supportive than the originals), a nice enough set of AMG wheels for me not to worry about appearances, as long as we can get the hubs to fit, and a few other minor bits of trim that’ll save me another trip to the scrapyards of Kerala, from where I have already sourced the Ambassador Avigo headlamps and a few internal handles, in suitably period style.
Next up will be getting the engine and gearbox physically fitted to the car. Once that is done, we’ll have a better idea of what needs to be done in terms of floor panels and a tunnel for the autobox gearchange mechanism, and then we can start looking at trimming. My brother-in-law has donated some very fine blue leather hides which I intend to use carefully – door trim, seat sides and rear parcel shelf, plus retrimming of the top rail on the dash and the grabhandles. Anything left after that will be sparingly used to accent the interior and possibly provide a bit of luxury – a Bridge-of-Weir leather (OE suppliers to the likes of Range Rover and Volvo!) tool roll would, I think, set off the boot-space rather pretentiously. I’ll be going for cloth seats, probably in a period pattern grey, and bodywork-matching dark blue carpets.
Other items to stay in the period of a sixties rod, include the Morris Minor quarter bumpers, with proper chrome bolts, a search for suitable whitewall tyres and a final decision on the two-tone paint – no metallics, thank you very much, but some good, deep, contrasting colours and possibly a natty little coachline, which will need to be applied by hand.
There is much to do of course, and I am at risk of getting ahead of myself visually – but if you don’t have vision….
In the meantime, it looks as though there will be an original 190B engine and column-shift box, along with all the body panels, doors, glass, lights and dash from the 200, as well as some other parts superfluous to the build, available for sale to enthusiastic rebuilders. Offers on a postcard please…
It was a bit of a mid-life crisis, I suppose, to begin with and whilst I’ve had a few since, the first one was to buy myself a Caterham Super Seven when the compensation claim came through from the UN, after I was held in Kuwait during the invasion of 1990. The Seven was a bit of a present to myself.
Fast forward twelve brilliant years with the Seven, and I decided that it was time for a change. I spotted a Tiger Racing ERA 30 in the ads in Classic and Sportscar magazine and thought, ‘engine at the back for a change, something new to learn, reasonably classic looks (the component-assembled ERA 30 looks a bit like a Lotus 23) – so why not?’
Having found a buyer for the Seven, I called Tiger Racing and despite several previous confirmations that they could build me a car in left-hand drive for Dubai, they then said they couldn’t.
Working at the Autodrome, I thought I would not miss having something a bit different to drive – there’s always something interesting coming through at the track – and so it was a bit of a shock when a friend told me about a Mercedes Benz 190b that was being scrapped, and I found myself drawn to look at it.
The Mercedes 190b sedan
The 190b was a watershed car for Mercedes Benz. Nicknamed the ‘Ponton’ because of the flat sides, it was Mercedes Benz’ first unitary construction model and was launched to great acclaim in 1953.
The W120 180 and 190 models are four-cylinder and there was a six-cylinder W180 model, called the 220 – basically the same car from the bulkhead back, but a bit longer in the front wings and bonnet to accommodate the bigger engine. Mercedes Benz nomenclature was sometimes a bit confusing!
Both models came in two door cabriolet and four door sedan derivatives and there was a station wagon on the W120 body that was used for ambulances, hearses and delivery vehicles. The drivetrain spun off the W121 190SL roadster, which was basically a 180 with some two door sports coachwork.
Why rescue a scrapper
Shahzad Sheikh, custodian of this fine website, asked me why I decided to take on this Mercedes and I really don’t have an answer: maybe it was another mid-life crisis, maybe it was just an attempt to rescue an interesting and characterful car, maybe it was just a fit of complete madness.
Nevertheless, armed with permission from the previous owner to release it from Dubai’s Municipality Scrapyard, a fee of AED750 ($205) to get it released and AED170 ($46) for the hire of a flatbed recovery truck, I had myself a non-running but free-wheeling 1961 Mercedes Benz 190b, in need of some TLC, for under a thousand dirhams ($273)!
Following the flatbed over to Praveen Chandran at Capital Auto in Al Qoz, where I had arranged to have the car checked, it did not occur to me that I would even keep it. I thought that a thousand dirhams was a fair gamble to get a proper look at it, just to see if such a shapely old lady was worth rescuing.
Not really expecting much in the way of a favourable report, I didn’t bother to take any photographs of the car during the journey or on its arrival at Capital Auto – fortunately for the purpose of this record, Praveen did!
A bit of online research reveals that a 180/190 Ponton in running order seems to be worth about $8-10k. The 220s are more and some which appear to be not much better than parts salvage go as low as $1500. There are not many about, it appears, but based on the numbers I think mine is one of about 23,000 or so cars built.
The good, the bad and the ugly
There were a number of surprises over the next two weeks. The good stuff included the fact that the engine would run once the battery had been replaced and that there had clearly been some attempts to keep the old dear mobile: the brakes were good, the car sat level and the tyres remained inflated.
Decision time – let’s give it a go.
The good stuff continued as Capital’s guys were able to unbolt the wings, doors, bonnet and bootlid without resorting to a cutting torch, but it was only once the commitment had been made – and some money exchanged – that the bad news started to creep out of what was now an almost bare shell.
About forty kilos of Cataloy filler and old paint were scraped and stripped off the bodywork revealing some gaping holes that had been bodged for appearance purposes – there were holes in the bulkhead and at the bottom of the A and C posts. The sills didn’t fit properly, the floor and boot floor panels had been badly repaired at some time in the past. And once the drivetrain and interior components had been stripped out, a few more horrors were discovered in the chassis legs and outriggers supporting the rest of the body.
But the drawings are done – no going back now!
The option to forget the whole thing had long passed by this time – I’d done the drawings and I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like when it was finished.
A decision during the stripping process, given the virtual absence of anything that could still be identified as a Mercedes Benz part, meant that this was not going to be a full-on restoration project: costs for genuine parts, both in terms of finding and shipping them as well as the actual outlay were prohibitive – I had only spent a thousand dirhams on getting the car, so AED6000 ($1635) for a new set of bumpers, for example, was clearly out of the question! Anyone who thinks that fixing up an old car is anything other than a labour of love, is sadly deluding themselves, I’m afraid.
So, having taken the plunge, and despite risking the approbation of all true Classic aficionados, the old girl is going to be saved as a bit of a ‘retro-rod’. It’ll be in a period colour scheme, two-tone of course, and be retrimmed in matching leather and cloth, but I’m looking out for a more recent four-cylinder engine and an automatic gearbox that’ll fit in the hole where the old 1900cc OHC engine and column-change gearbox used to sit (anyone have one going spare?).
I’ll be doing some sensitive modifications to the front and rear ends to save myself a fortune on original replacement lamp housings. Wheels and tyres will have to be a bit more up to date – I want to enjoy driving the car, not polishing it – and there will be a number of other modifications undertaken to make it reliable enough to run all year round as a second car.
And that’s where it stands at the moment – stripped to the bare shell, in primer awaiting donor running gear so that we can start hanging things on something that will move around Praveen’s yard, but full of promise!
I’ve never owned a Mercedes Benz, never thought I’d hanker after one and certainly didn’t think I’d have a classic to work on after years of small, nimble sports cars, but I suppose that’s what happens: the older you get, the less you learn!
Next report during the summer, if we get beyond the Airfix Kit stage we are at now.
Is Fraser onto something, or has he lost the plot? Let us know what you think below. And if you have a 190b, get in touch!
Working on a similar project? Let us know about your experiences below