Our tried and trusted 1970 Mercedes Benz 280 SE coupe 3.5+ V8 has gone through another major rebuild since the 2010 South America adventure. The car was build-up in 2007/2008 from a standard road car into a strong rally car. It earned us second place in probably the toughest classic rally to date, the 2008 Himalaya Trial. We covered 16.000 km's in six weeks and finished second overall. Two years later in 2010 the Benz drove the 14.000 km's Carrera Copacabana rally from Buenos Aires to Rio via Chili, Peru and Bolivia.
Electrical problems kept us from a podium finish but 8th place was a good reward for a very tough rally. We reached an altitude of 5000 meters and many cars dropped out during the very nasty two days of washboard roads in Bolivia. Some cars even broke in half…
After these many tough kilometers the car needed a thorough check up. We asked Classic Rally specialist Jan Altena to give us an idea what needed to be done and we also provided him with a list of wishes to make the car even better than before. You will see from the pictures in the picture gallery that eventually it became quite an extensive rebuild.
To name a few items:
- The roll cage was rebuilt.
- The entire suspension was ‘crack tested’ for metal fatigue and rebuilt.
- The ever-troublesome exhaust system was completely rebuilt.
- Modern fuses replaced the fuse box panel.
- The heavy metal ‘bumper ‘ parts were taken off. They weighed 15 kg at each end. A smaller and more sturdy front bumper was made, the rear was left off completely.
- On the internet we found a front spoiler for a later model Mercedes, modified it and fitted it. It makes the front much better looking. Yes, also looks are important too!
- Then by sheer luck we found a rare set of 15-inch ‘crown cork’ wheels to fit our car. Standard the cars have 14 inch and in combination with the bigger tyres the car rides much higher now without loosing its drivability.
- The twin fuel tank system was improved and fuel pumps, filters, etc. were now all placed in the boot of the car instead of under the car behind the rear wheel. Much easier to work on.
Before the last two rallies we took the car for a three-day trip to Switzerland with many German autobahn kilometers, lots of Swiss mountain roads and a short detour via the Italian Stelvio pass. The plan was to have the car ready by the end of October 2012 but as usual there was more work than expected and it was not until December last year that we could take the Benz for her first test drive. By that time snow had fallen in the Alps and even the South of Germany was already into snow. So we had to make do with the roads in Holland.
As it worked out there were still quite a few gremlins in the car and the drive from Laren (west Holland) to the workshop in Gramsbergen (east Holland) almost became a weekly chore…
The distributor problem from the Carrera rally was still there burning the rotor several times. Eventually it was traced to faulty/wrong type ignition coil and cables. Time will tell if it is fixed.
A fuel smell in the car was traced to a crack in the original fuel tank and after an off road test we found the car was sitting 2.5 cm lower on the right rear tyre than on the left rear.
We replaced all the springs… in January.
Together with Altena, we put together a sophisticated set of spare parts to take with us. Over the past rallies we learned what we needed and what we did not need. But I am sure we find that during this rally we need a part that we did not bring.
Fortunately once again we have the support from Mercedes Netherlands that helps us with Mercedes contacts in the countries we travel through. This has worked in the Himalaya Trial as well in the South America rally. Thanks for that, Mercedes.
Finally on March 20, 4x4 experts Henry and Monique van Vliet collected our car and the Mk 2 Jaguar from ‘Team Vermeulen’ from our garage in Hilversum to take it to the shipping company in the UK. There the cars were put into containers for the slow boat to China where hopefully they will have arrived when we arrive in Peking/Beijing on May 25.