As the season ends, we recap the story of our rally car experience.
Every car deserves a name. We named our Mercedes – The Colonel. So what’s with The Colonel you ask? Well, we love cars with stories. Our 230S was originally purchsed by a US Army Colonel while stationed in Brussels.
It is a European specification model with those gorgeous headlamps (5 bulbs in each lamp). He was transferred to Puerto Rico briefly (the badge on grill is from Puerto Rico) and shipped the Mercedes with him. From there, he went to Seattle. The Mercedes stayed in the family until 3 years ago when a M-B fan purchased it with the intention of making it his wife’s daily driver. That plan unraveled when they left for Europe for a year. It sat with fuel putrefying in the gas tank. We found it on eBay and 2 weeks later, the car you can (as the seller states) “get in and just drive” arrived at my mechanic’s shop. I made it about a 1/4 of a mile before it choked to death on contaminated fuel. That signaled the beginning of a systematic rebuild/refresh to make it a reliable and competitive vintage rally car. First things first – get the fuel delivery system clean. The gas tank had to be removed, boiled and re-lined and the entire fuel system cleaned. We added an electronic ignition, all new filters, then a complete fluid/lubrication refresh to benchmark it.
The shipper (DAS) destroyed the rear shocks but that gave us the opportunity to get a set of adjustable Konis.
The front-end was totally rebuilt and new sub-frame mounts installed. All of the brakes replaced including the power brake booster. The exhaust has been modified to save weight and sound cool. A classic Cherry Bomb muffler did the trick. We added an auxiliary cooling fan probably because of prior experience with a hot-running Healey 3000 MK III. After all of that work, there was a nasty miss at low rpm under load. For the longest time we thought it was the Zentih carbs. They were old and have a habit of warping so we installed a Weber Carb kit. Alas, the Merc was faster and smoother but the miss was still there. Problem solved when we added a fully electronic distributor from 123Ignition.
When all this busy stuff was completed and tested, we moved to the shop run by well-known racecar mechanic, John Rogers. John is a story all by himself. Now, proudly retired, he offered his expertise and his shop to assist in fabricating brackets for rally lights, wiring and a a new dash panel for switches. John, BTW, is one of the few mechanics (if there are others, we don’t really know) in the US to restore a Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix car. He worked for a collector/racer/entrepreneur, who owned W154 also known as Wagen 7. So The Colonel was in very good hands.
John was gracious to allow us to participate in designing and fabricating all of the brackets and the control panel. We collected vintage parts from around the globe while the first part of the build was underway: our Cibie Super Oscars are from the UK, the Marchal center light from Germany, well you get the picture. Almost everything we added was period correct. We did add a new tach, an outside temp gauge (to warn us of ice), Butler Maplight and a bunch of USB and Aux power outlets. All of the exterior bulbs were sourced through Daniel Stern Lighting who knows a light bulb isn’t just a light bulb.
While we were in the interior, we restored the Becker Grand Prix to working condition (added iPod adapter), added Sirius Satellite radio, repaired the clock (it should work) and refinished the wood dashboard. We even found a NOS dome light to replace the broken one. Who needs stinking cupholders? Well, we do. I asked my pal and woodworker, Dan Whalen, to fashion this insert for us.
We were all done a week before The Greenwich Concours. We had no expectations when we submitted the Mercedes to the Greenwich folks but it looked so darn cool, they couldn’t resist. We knew that. The Mercedes was a crowd favorite or was it the Ford GT40 that came in 3rd at LeMans that was parked next to us?
We participated in more rallies and concours events and always received a great response. The Colonel caught the eye of a Hemmings editor at Greenwich and that will lead to a Hemmings Sports & Exotics feature story sometime next year. By the way the license plate we run on the front is a copy of the Belgian plate that was originally on the car when it was delivered to Colonel Swanson. We still have the registration (see image above) so the number is correct. A tribute to the Colonel and also very cool.