The Car

benz1

The car we take to South America is the same red Mercedes Benz 280SE 3.5 V8 that we took to the Himalaya Trial 2 years ago.
Before the Himalaya Trial the car was thoroughly prepared by classic Mercedes specialist Geert Jansen in Ulft, Holland. Although during this grueling 16.000 km rally you worry everyday that this old lady will break it ran without any major problems.
When the car came of the boat from Calcutta, Geert did a thorough check and rebuild of the car in 2009. One of the items on our wish list was to replace our automatic gearbox for a manual gearbox. Not many cars of this type were made with a manual gearbox and it was difficult to find a manual box that fitted this car. However Geert does not give up easily and eventually we found and bought a donor car with engine, manual gearbox and suitable rear differential. If you fit a manual box you also need to install a clutch pedal. This came with the donor car and typically Mercedes it was quite easy to fit to our car. So now we have three pedals instead of two. The manual box saved a lot of weight as well.

When this was done we decided to enter the Benz in the 2010 Winter Trial in January of this year. (See history). The car is not really right for snow and ice conditions with its heavy nose and light rear end. It was a good way to see if the manual gearbox worked well and if all other systems that were rebuilt were in good order.

benz2In February 2010 Geert got the car back with a long wordlist to prepare the car for S-America. We gather that the Carrera route is much smoother but also much faster. We will often need to cover long distances between daily start and finish points. The roads are better but often gravel and sometimes of the ‘washboard’ type. This looks like corrugated iron and you need to drive over it with specific speed to make sure that the car does not vibrate to pieces. Hard on machine and men..

Because of this much attention has gone into preparing the suspension. At the rear we fitted an adjustable air suspension. It supports the original suspension rather then replaces it. It will allow us to raise the car when the going get tough. At the front the car got much lighter because we replaced the gearbox but also we took out the entire air-conditioning system. Together we estimate that we saved about 65 kg at the front. With tougher front springs have raised the car a few centimeters. The in car roll over bar was extended to the front passenger compartment. Although Geert maintains that the front A-Pillars are strong enough for a roll we tend to feel a bit safer with an extra cage over our heads.

When test driving this summer we noticed that the extra cage made the whole car a lot stiffer and also made it handle better. During the last Winter Trial the Benz started to use a bit of oil. We were not sure if this was caused by using the manual gearbox (more revs, more engine braking etc) or if it was sign of some wear.

To be on the safe site we asked Geert to rebuild the engine and tune it a bit for some more horsepower. Geert also fitted a longer final drive to make the long distance driving a bit more comfortable. Next item on the list was an extra tank. Not so much for the range as for the weight distribution. The original tank is behind the rear axel under the luggage compartment. When its full (80 liters) it changes the handling of the car quite a bit. So Geert fitted an extra tank (50) in the boot on top of the rear axel. We will run with the new tank most of the time with maybe 30 liters in the original tank for safety. There is a switch in the car where can switch tanks when necessary.

benz6The interior of the car was tidied up quite a bit with some black carpeting replacing the old brown stuff. Geert and Anty’s son Joris created a special dashboard layout with a navigation pod on top of the dashboard (see pictures) to improve ‘the office’ for Anty. It looks quite nice now.

Finally the drivers seat position was changed a bit to accommodate the clutch use. The plan was to have the car finished by the end of July, do a test in Switzerland during our holiday and return for last minute adjustments. The deadline was first weekend of September for scruteneering and September 8 for shipping the car. It did not quite work out as planned. Geert being the perfectionist he is, was not happy with the suspension and wanted more time to get the handling of the car right. So the test was postponed until weekend of August 28/29. Benz3On Friday afternoon we picked up the car from Ulft (near the German border) and drove in the Friday afternoon rush hour through Germany in the direction of Switzerland. Halfway we encountered torrential rain and bad visibility but the car drove like a dream. Sometimes we could cruise between 160 and 180 km on the autobahn.

When we got to Pany (Graubünden) we found that the foot well in the car had filled up with water. Fortunately it was dry the next two days so on Saturday we drained the car from water and set off to the Jullier Pass, Sils Maria, St Moritz (see pictures) and back another pass trough Chur to Pany.

On Sunday back to Ulft with a very small work list for Geert. The conclusion after this test was that the Benz was ready for scruteneering the next weekend at the Concourse D’Elegance in Apeldoorn (NL). On Wednesday the first of September we picked up the car from Ulft. On Thursday it went to Smokey Windows in Almere for the Rally numbers and sponsor stickers. Michiel van Wulfen from Smokey also put a fresh layer of window protection on the front screen and other windows. This means we can drive in the rain almost without having to use the windscreen wipers.

Then Saturday September 3, scruteneering. Geert was there as well and the rally scruteneers quickly ticked all the boxes on their checklists and we were ready to go. The next Monday & Tuesday we carefully packed the car for transport. We tried to put as much in the car as we could at the time. Clothes, spare parts etc. Geert has prepared a small kit of spare parts that includes, 4 shock absorbers, fuel injection parts; spare ECU, hoses, electrical parts. Finally on Wednesday September 8 we drove the car to GPS (Global Peter Smith) in Hoofddorp (NL).

benz5GPS is a company specialized in transporting this type of cars to far away places. In 2008 they shipped all the Himalaya Rally cars back from Calcutta to Holland. When we collected the car then it was in very good condition so we have every confidence that the car will arrive in Buenos Aires in good shape. All in all another intensive process but we feel the car is ready for this tough event.