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.

1 comment:

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