Saturday, July 29, 2006

Don't be shy

In the last few days this little blog has seen a jump in visitors. Please feel free to leave a comment, even if it is just to tell me that in your opinion I have my head up my, uh, lower ring seal.
Good tip

The stages of 'project car' ownership

They say the stages of grief are shock, denial, anger and acceptance / capitulation, or something like that. I wonder if there is a reverse sort of sequence that first time buyers go through.

For me, the first stage was capitulation. Prior to that stage, there had been this lengthy period of 'wow, those are cool' feelings towards certain vehicles on the road. The feelings had staying power for only a small number of makes and models. And at some point, where the strength of the feelings and the budget to do something about them met, capitulation happened. I stopped staring, and started looking. Result: a rather used 280ce sold by someone who seemed happy to be rid of it.

Once a person starts looking, with intent to buy, a certain suspension of judgment happens. Its voice says "THIS IS THE ONLY CHANCE YOU WILL EVER HAVE TO BUY ONE!" and it sounds a bit like the voice that makes me pull out my 5 iron to aim between two trees when I've badly missed the fairway, instead of just chipping out sideways and settling for a bogey. The results aren't necessarily any prettier, either. This is more like greed/lust than anger, but in my limited catalog of feelings the two aren't that far apart on the page, in terms of their effect on my judgement.

Then, denial. Well, if not denial then a kind of grim perseverance in the face of evidence that would shock a person who hadn't first passed through the states of capitulation and 'gotta have it'. I had a budget, a sense of what I would pay to buy the car and then fix it up. In my budget (which was based on nothing whatsoever beyond wishful thinking) I figured a dollar in repairs for every dollar of purchase price. Having talked to two mechanics and a body man, I am now hoping to hold it down to TWO dollars in repairs for every dollar of purchase price. And I conveniently won't count things that didn't have to be changed out, but I changed them anyway...

The remaining stage in this reversal of the grief process has yet to become clear. Of course, I am probably weeks or months from experiencing it yet, so I don't know what it will be. I am aiming for a sense of contentment that THIS is a vehicle that fits who I am, that is fun for its own sake but still practical, that is different in a good way.

It's not about transportation. I've got transportation. The Motor Sofa eats up the miles with utter reliability, without fuss, with enough room to carry golf clubs and luggage for my lovely wife and me, and with a sound system that continues to impress. The Benz can't do all of those things, but I didn't buy it to give me what I already have. I bought it because it is a piece of art that no Toyota will ever be. It meets a need that no Toyota will ever meet. And it is the pull of that need that hauls me through those stages of capitulation, greed and denial, to that yet-to-be-labelled state of grace on the other side.

Friday, July 28, 2006

If I were buying another one of these...

I would look quite carefully at some things that I didn't look at the first time around.

I'm speaking of 25 year old Benz 280ce coupes, but these lessons are worth considering for other models as well.

I'm not saying that I wouldn't still buy the same car, but I might think about the price more carefully, or reconsider what my first-guess budget and timetable would have to be to put things right.

Frankly, mechanical repairs aren't a big deal. Yes, it will cost money, and parts may have to come from far away, but at the back of my mind is the thought that all of that is manageable. It's just an engine.

The car I bought has an excellent interior, and frankly, I would insist on that only because fixing an interior seems to me to be really hard. Parts, colours, textures, all that stuff is hard to get right, and you have to go a long way to find it, and maybe not everyone who is selling these things is in it to please you because they may never see you again.

Mechanicals, interior, what's left? The third thing is the car's body. What I have learned as Frank and I walked around the car he has had at his body shop for the last few days has been really interesting. Wish I'd known it before.

The car I bought looks sharp. It looks sharp because it has been repainted. It's not hard to repaint a car to look sharp to an untrained eye. If I'd been paying attention, I would have looked more carefully in a few key places:
  • In the engine compartment, on the inner fenders above and around the wheel wells. No one repainting a car is going to spend a lot of time in these locations, and you will see exactly what condition the repainted parts of the car were in before the paint job. Benz screws electrical devices to these surfaces, and the condition of the surface right around the parts that are screwed there is a great clue.
  • On my knees with the doors open, looking below the upholstered part of the door and above the weatherstripping. Rust lives there; painters may not paint there.
  • Below the trim strip on the side. Masking before the repaint job might be done less carefully than above the trim strip.
  • Along the base of the trunk lid. 280ce has a flat spot there that holds water. You can find out if there is rust just by looking at the trunk seal (or some parts of the door seal) because the black rubber will be discoloured.
  • In the well of the sunroof. My car is good there, but I can imagine many would not be.
I also have to conclude that one or both of my front fenders, which are rust free, are aftermarket parts. The front of the passenger side fender does not curve down exactly the same as the front of the hood. The difference is subtle, but once I noticed it I couldn't take my eyes off it. Kind of like if you chip a tooth, you can't leave the chipped place alone.

Anyway, Frank will do his stuff, and in a couple of weeks he'll be done. Then it's off to the engine guy, who will pull the mighty 2.8 l straight six out and lay it bare, at least renewing the seals and perhaps remachining the cylinders or maybe renewing the rings on the cylinders that are down slightly in compression.

And you know what? It feels good. My goal is to have this part of the journey done right. Stop the body from deteriorating, put the mechanical parts in order, enjoy the car for a long time. Ten years from now I still want this car to be good, a practical classic. No sense skimping now.

But, do you know anyone with a solid pair of coupe doors? That rust at the bottom is not good...

There is a fourth area after mechanical, interior and body: electrical. I don't know yet what shape all the electrics are in. All the important things worked. The switches and controls need regular attention because by design they are prone to getting dirty even if you drive the car every day. Parts aren't usually the problem, troubleshooting is the problem. I don't know enough about this car, yet, to know how good or bad its electrical system is, but I'm optimistic.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

MB 280ce links

The 280ce was built on the w123 chassis, which includes sedans, coupes and wagons, powered by gas and diesel engines. Here are some links that I have found interesting.

By no means do I endorse any, or imply that those that aren't listed here are inferior. Mostly, these are just places on the net that I've found in the last few weeks that I thought were worth bookmarking.

Parts: [good source of tips, too; parts prices aren't the lowest, though] [note, if you are e-mailing from his link, you may have to retype the hyphens in his e-mail address] [prices look lower than most]

Repair suggestions: [fix your seat using pool noodles!!] [lots of diesel info, but useful for gas models too because of all the parts they have in common]

Interesting reading:

All right, cat, get out...

...and STAY out!

Catch 22

It's like this. The insurance expires unless the car gets a license plate by Thursday. The license plate registration AND the insurance require an out-of-province inspection. The OPI requires some mechanical work. The mechanical work requires an actual mechanic, not just some middle-aged fool with a new Haynes manual, a fondness for eBay and a credit card. The mechanic is not where the car is now. Taking the car to the mechanic requires - you guessed it - insurance and a license plate.

I know, I know, I am supposed to arrange a TOW TRUCK to take this car, which I drove a thousand miles at high speeds through the mountains ten days ago, across town. Ain't gonna do it. On goes a plate from some other vehicle, away we go across town, off comes the plate when we get there.

Today, the car magically went from Al the mechanic's to Frank the autobody guy to get his opinion on what we need to do to make the skin and the frame last ten more years or so. And the plate came off when we got there...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Surgery required

Al the mechanic has prepared his diagnosis. Good news - the engine has good compression (but a couple of cylinders are down a bit), and the suspension is good. The bad news outweighs the good, though, as the oil leaks are so many and so bad that the engine needs to come out and be taken apart to fix them. That was something that I knew was possible when I bought the car because it had been sitting for a while.

So naturally I asked about who could do such a rebuild, and Al gave me the name of an old guy on the north side of town, and I shall be delivering SS into his care in August, not expecting to see either Chris (the old guy) or SS for several weeks. During that time he will refurbish the engine, transmission, exhaust system, parking brake and air conditioning.

SS will sit dripping morosely in my garage for a couple of weeks as Chris works through the backlog caused by his hired mechanic taking summer vacation. Then it's over to Chris's for surgery.

I have decided to do this right, which could mean a complete tear-down if necessary
to refinish the cylinders. SS will not run much until the fall, methinks.

While the car is waiting in my garage I will get at the sunroof drains and the seat repair, just to get those out of the way, and perhaps I can have the condition of the body assessed by a professional. The jack holes are looking suspiciously rusty, for instance, and if I want to be able use them I'd better be making sure they are reinforced.

I will also try my hand at odometer repair. I read an account of this at and concluded that the worst that could happen is a car that is not running, whose odometer is not working, could become a car that is not running, and whose odometer has been removed and either discarded or set aside in small, ungovernable pieces. There are worse outcomes.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Delayed gratification

If someone could be pleased only by delayed gratification, and you immediately offered it, would that be good or bad?

This is Silber Schnabel (bad German for Silvernose). I would rather be driving SS than taking pictures, or writing about it.
With any luck, SS will be licensed and on the road (legally) this week. I can hardly wait! There are things that are needed to make SS better, but the number one thing SS needs is to be driven and enjoyed. OK, I guess that's two things.

One man's opinion...

Doesn't the situation in Lebanon seem full of inconsistencies? From a Canadian perspective, it bothers me greatly that there were 40,000 or 50,000 so-called Canadians there, holding dual citizenship and complaining bitterly about how long the Canadian government took to get them out of a country of which they are citizens by birth.

Hezbollah took over the southern part of Lebanon, and established itself openly as a military force outside the control of the Lebanese government, and attacked a neighboring country. Not a new story, and Hezbollah (meaning the "army of God") denies Israel's right to exist.

If a person chooses to vacation in Hezbollah's territory, he or she should do so with eyes open. But it's worse: the 40,000 Canadians in Lebanon aren't there on vacation, by and large, they LIVE there. The Canadian passport is just a convenience, a ticket to another place to live if the Lebanon gig goes bad. They aren't paying taxes in Canada, they just hold Canadian passports because it's handy, an escape hatch. Show up in Canada after not being here for 10 years and we'll pay your health care and find you a place to live and all that stuff. I bet 85% don't pay Canadian taxes or even vote.

But if the Canadian government is too slow to show up, or the boat is crowded, or the ocean is rough, then it's off to the nearest reporter to complain about the shabby treatment. The reporters aren't digging into the story at all, either, to find out the relationship between these people and Canada.

If running the country were left to the most-quoted people in our society, Canada would degenerate into the world's doormat.

Israel, on the other hand, knows that it has to take care of itself. I could suggest that bombing airports or power plants is a bad thing, but surely it is a matter of opinion as to what constitutes an appropriate response when attacked by the Army of God whose objective is to wipe you out. This conflict won't go away until the Arab world accepts Israel's right to exist and polices itself when extreme Arab factions attack Israel. Until the Arab world shows that it is willing to protect Israel, no one should criticize Israel for protecting itself, however it sees fit.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Isn't CarFax cool?

I took a month's subscription to CarFax and ran the VINs of every car in the Halfwise fleet, and some that I've owned or come close enough to owning that I had the VIN. SS came through just fine. The other coupe in the lower mainland has at least 80,000 more km than the odometer shows, and consistently failed the Air Care inspection in the 1990s. In addition, the guy who is selling it today is claiming about 10k less mileage than it had two years ago. There were other reasons that I had steered clear of buying from him, and this just confirms them. $25 well spent. Got any VINs you need run? Let me know, as I have a couple more weeks left on the subscription.

The Motor Sofa is fine, as is Mr. M. The solid little Sentra that I bought for my mother-in-law last year actually has 100,000 more km than the odometer said at the time, but right there on CarFax is every dealer service event the car had for 10 years, which is of some consolation because the car was clearly taken care of. Nissans that I have owned in the past have run well into the 260s, and this one seemed solid when I bought it and passed all kinds of inspections, but I doubt I would have bought the thing had I known its true mileage. Heck, ignorance CAN be bliss.

But running the CarFax report cured me of wanting to head down to Vancouver to buy that other coupe. It's still for sale, just $2500 according to the latest ad I've seen. And it already has Euro headlights, so you're at least $250 ahead, if that's the look you want...

Visiting privileges would be nice

Wouldn't it be nice if I could pop over and spend some quality time with the car? But I don't have a key. I need to check whether the crack in the windshield is all the way through to the inside, which would cause it to fail the inspection, or whether it's on the outer layer only. I'd like to open the car up because of the heat, and let it continue to air out a bit. It smells strongly of old leather, which is fine, but a little strong.

Meanwhile the accumulation of spare parts and restoration necessities continues. I have ordered new rubber for around the windshield, side windows and rear window. A pair of Euro Headlights is en route, as are instructions and tools for tuning up the sunroof and renewing the padding in the driver's seat.

A nagging desire to buy that other coupe in the lower mainland has not left me yet. I don't actually NEED either car, but having yielded to the desire to buy one, and not yet being certain of whether SS is going to be great in the long run, a little voice is telling me to call the guy back and give him the money. Easy, Halfwise, easy boy. Wait for Al's report, and then decide whether you bought an expensive parts car or a cheap classic...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The saga of Silber Schnabel continues

The coupe has spent most of its early days in Edmonton at Al the mechanic's. Al is a former Benz dealer mechanic who now runs his own place, which fortunately is located about a 4 minute walk from my office. Silber Schnabel (SS for short) disgraced himself by dumping the better part of a quart of oil on Al's floor overnight, not a good sign. Al has a couple of vehicles in the shop and is planning to go on vacation shortly for three weeks. I am hoping to get the oil leaks under control, and a condition report, before he is gone. Then I need an out-of-province inspection done by a licensed independent facility before I can put the plates on and drive around looking like a plain old guy in a handsome old car.

I have to say that there are a lot of resources on line for an owner of an older Benz. is a gateway to all sorts of useful information, and eBay is only the tip of the iceberg as far as parts are concerned.

Today I went looking for a locksmith who carries the key blanks so that I could duplicate the one set that came with SS. I'm willing to leave a set with Al so that I can drop the car off when he's not there. Fortunately, the 200 series and the 300 series after require keys that can be readily cut, not the higher security ones that came with more recent models. But the key blanks are getting harder to find, apparently, and with some takeovers and mergers in the key business the old reference numbers sometimes no longer apply, so the guy may have the right key but doesn't know it unless he peers at every key blank on his board. I'm here to tell you that the locksmiths with bifocals are going to develop serious neck problems.

Looking forward to getting SS back home, better able to hold his liquids...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Got one

Announcing the arrival of Silber Schnabel into the Halfwise household. Condition at arrival:
  1. Interior very good (blue leather, no tears, dashboard excellent, carpets good, driver's seat needs some new padding)
  2. Electrical very good, with all windows, sun roof, lights and minor accessories working, but cruise control guilty of independent thinking
  3. Exterior good (no visible rust, original paint, some rust can be found just getting started at base of trunk lid, bottom of doors, right behind rear wheels)
  4. Mechanically strong but needs some attention (oil leak front seal and/or oil pan, a/c DOA, odometer untrustworthy)
Had a great run back from the coast, with the car getting stronger the more I drove. Stopped after 100 miles and had the wheels balanced, which really helped. Reached 160 km/hr passing a semi, cruised happily at 130.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Might have found one

The search is narrowing in on a couple of cars in the Lower Mainland. Not much money is needed to buy them, but I understand that rather a lot is required to keep them on the road and looking good. We'll see where this leads us to.

The 280 series has been called 'the last real Mercedes'. Of course, people can call things whatever they want. Me, I'm looking for a practical classic, a car with robust engineering and a certain degree of rarity. Not so rare that parts can't be found, but rare enough to earn a second glance and make people muse 'you don't see many of those around'.

Ideally, the car won't be dangling from a tow truck at the time...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I am looking for one of these...

One like this 1977 Mercedes 280CE but with European bumpers and headlights, no rust, like the little photo.