My new 1987 560SEL

I am now the second owner of a 1987 560SEL.    I wasn’t looking for a new car, but I could not pass by the chance to get my hands on a one owner 560SEL.  Unfortunately, as much as I like my 1986 300SE, that car will be for sale after things get back to normal.   The 300SE will be a good car for somebody as I have spent a lot of time and money getting it right.

The 560SEL was purchased new by a Sydney business owner and was first registered in September of 1987.   While it was primarily a Sydney car, it was ordered and delivered by the dealer in Orange, NSW.   The first owner had business in Orange, Dubbo and other towns so I imagine many of the 323,000km are highway miles.    The previous owner was also kind enough to deliver the car to me, which was much appreciated.

The car was serviced to about 230,000km by Marhsalls in Parramatta and then since then by a local Mercedes specialist.    I have the original logbooks showing all these services.    The original owner even had the original brochure from the time of purchase.

1987 560SEL

I also have an invoice from 2013 when the timing chain, brake rotors and so on were all done at 300,000km.   This is really good as the timing chains are an Achilles heel for these cars.   The only red flag is that there is nothing on the invoice to show that the plastic guides were done.   I am going to contact that mechanic to see if he remembers if they were done at another time, otherwise a valve cover will be coming off to inspect their condition.

I am also informed that the A/C compressor is not that old and that the front suspension was totally rebuilt about 6,000km ago.  Unfortunately a previous mechanic could not get the rear self leveling suspension to work so it has been disconnected.     I am in two minds about just leaving it as is, or fixing it.

Incredibly, the car was produced one month before my 560SEC, which is also 929 Nautical Blue.   The cars were only about 550 apart on the production line back in 1987.    While my 560SEC has cream leather, this one has grey.

1987 560SEL

The car is not perfect but it is in exceptional condition for the miles it has.  It was always garaged and the paintwork is excellent.   The leather also has very little wear for the use the car has seen.   It was very hard when I took delivery, so my first step today was to clean and start feeding the leather.   It is already responding well to the Zymol leather conditioner.     I will need to repeat the process a few times over the next couple of months.

As we are only supposed to be taking essential trips due to COVID19, I have only driven the car around my local area.   It drives very well and is in overall great condition.   It is very original down to the coveted Becker CD player.   So far the things I have noticed that I will need to pay attention to are:

  • The passengers side electric mirror is not working.    It is stuck in a bad position for me so will need to be fixed.   I have purchased a good used one for the SEC which I will probably use here.   The SEC is stuck in an OK position.
  • The rear set is stuck in the reclined position.   I will have to remove the seat base to inspect the mechanism.
  • The leather is coming off the top of the steering wheel.   Easiest is probably to find a good used unit.
  • The ride height is too high.
  • Needs shifter bushings.
  • Drivers seat is collapsing on one side.   Pretty typical for a W126.
  • The thermostat has failed open and the car is too cool even at 80km/h.
  • The A/C may need a charge.   It is cool without being cold.

Nothing on this list is major, it is all quite do-able.

In the longer term, the alloy wheels could be refinished.     One of the plastic cladding panels on the lower body is the wrong colour.   Most people don’t realize that there are a few different shades depending on the exterior colour.   I also wouldn’t mind a set of coco mats instead of the rubber ones.    As mentioned above, the rear SLS is disconnected.

I have not yet put the car up on the hoist to check underneath.   The data card indicates the car was originally fitted with undershields.  I hope they are still there.   It is promising the car did not leave oil slicks in the 24 hours it was parked.

Overall I am really happy with this 1987 560SEL and I think it will prove to be a great daily drive for me.

1987 560SEL

W126 Klima Relay

A week or so ago, I diagnosed that the likely cause of my non functional A/C in the 300SE was the W126 Klima relay.   The second generation W126 went to a Klima relay to control the A/C compressor.

The W126 Klima relay is more of a control unit than a simple relay.   It has multiple inputs that determine if the A/C compressor should not engage.   These include:

  • During full throttle
  • When the engine is very hot
  • Invalid compressor speed (e.g slipping belt)
  • Not enough coolant in the system

This additional functionality makes these relays more sensitive than the little silver ones used in the previous car.   I also had to change the same relay in my 560SEC.    It is important to note that the V8 relay is different to the one used in the Inline six.

The relay is located next to the fuel pump relay near the fuse box.  It is a simple swap out.

W126 Klima Relay

I bought a KAE relay.   I had previously replaced the relay with a rebuilt unit about two and a half years ago.   As it has already failed, I went with a new one.   The KAE unit is made in Germany so I hope it lasts longer than the rebuilt unit I went with.

With the new relay, the A/C is now cool again in the 300SE.    I may gut the innards of the broken relay so I have an easier way of jumping the ports for troubleshooting if/when I need to.

2400 mile road trip in an eBay 560SEC – Part 3

This is the third and final part of a series on my mad cross country dash in an eBay 560SEC.   Part 1 covers the purchase and initial impressions of the car.   Part 2 covers the drive from California to Missouri.    I picked up my drive in Central Missouri and had about 750 miles to cover on the final day.   On the first two days I had great weather but it started to deteriorate and I had on and off rain for the rest of the trip.   The 560SEC handled it with aplomb but it made the driving more tiring and progress slower.

eBay 560SEC

I didn’t have any time to do sightseeing on this trip, but I did spot the Gateway Arch as I drove through St Louis.    My wit and grimy photo is probably not one you would see on any of the postcards!

560SEC

From St. Louis my route took me through the outskirts of Chicago.  The roads here are pretty bad, with low posted speed limits.   For the most part everyone still drives at 85mph even though the posted limits fall as low as 55.   I’ve done the drive between Chicago and Detroit many times, but this was probably the least pleasant.    The weather was getting worse and I was getting a bit sick of the drive by then.

560SEC

By the time I hit Michigan it was already dark.  The sign announcing Michigan had never been a more welcome sight!   Driving in bad weather at night really showed up the limitations of the sealed beam headlights these cars were saddled with.   I actually stopped and checked my headlights were working as the light output was that bad.   It is really the only criticism I had of the car, and not really its fault as the headlights on models for the rest of the world are more than adequate.

A couple of hours later (about 10-11PM) I finally arrived at my house in Royal Oak, Michigan.   This over 20 year old eBay 560SEC had just done a major cross country drive without any hiccups.  Not bad for a car I purchased for less than $4,000.  My radar detector ensured I didn’t end up with any speeding tickets and my GPS kept me on the right course.    Actually I probably could have done the trip without it as the Interstate Highway system in the USA is extremely well signposted and easy to navigate.     There was not long left on the California plates, so the next day I transferred the car onto Michigan plates.

Two Mercedes Coupes

My next task was to remove all the gold badging and the horrible wheels.   Even with all that ‘bling’ the car still looked good next to my 250SE coupe.    I would later go on to put about 18,000 miles (~29,000km) on the car before I sold it in 2011.   The only major repairs it required were the timing chain and a new A/C compressor.    I was in a hurry to sell the car when I left Michigan so I practically gave it away for only $2800.  I hope the owner has looked after the car.

Years later I look back at this as a great experience I had while living in the USA.   It was a shame I could not stretch the drive out for a couple more days to see more.   The USA is such an easy country to drive long distances in.   I’ve now had 5 second generation W126s, all because of the great experience I had owning this car.

2400 mile road trip in an eBay 560SEC – Part 2

This is part 2 of a description of a road trip I took back in March 2009.   I was living in Michigan and purchased a 1988 560SEC in the LA area.   I had to be out there for work so the plan was to drive the car around for the week to get familiar with it and then drive it back over the weekend.   Part 1 covers the purchase,  initial impressions and preparation for my 560SEC roadtrip.

At about 3pm on friday afternoon I set out on my 560SEC roadtrip.   As I mentioned in the last meeting, I chose the southerly route to avoid some bad weather.    A 560SEC is a great roadtrip car, especially for 35 hours of driving over a weekend.   The car is smooth, fast and comfortable.   On the open road it is efficient enough to not require constant fueling.    I found that the range of the fuel tank was pretty aligned to my need to stop for bathroom breaks!

560SEC roadtrip

The W126 is superior to many modern cars for a long roadtrip.  Modern cars with their big wheels, low profile tyres and hard sports seats are not nearly as optimised for long distance cruising as the SEC with more comfortable seats, regular tyres and the ability to smooth out some of the bumps on the road.    While I didn’t need it on this trip, it also has a full size spare tyre instead of a space saver or repair kit.

The map above shows the route I planned to take.   The plan for day 1 was to get to Arizona before stopping for the night.   I managed to get to Holbrook AZ, which is about 550 miles.   Getting a good mileage under my belt on the first afternoon was important to make the trip viable in a single weekend.    Other than getting out of LA, I did not have any major delays on the first night.

I stayed in a fairly standard roadsize motel – the “Economy Inn”.    It was late at night and I chose something that looked halfway decent off the interstate.    Turns out I made a mistake as the next morning I noticed 100m up the road there was a “Wigwam Motel”   The Wigwam models were built in the 30s and 40s along route 66 and you get to sleep in an individual cabin that is shaped like a Tipi.   It would have been cool to stay in this piece of American history.

560SEC roadtrip

Day two is when I really broke the back of my 560SEC roadtrip, covering over 1,000 miles in the day.   I stopped for lunch in Amarillo Texas after passing the pink highways in Albuquerque.   I was expecting Amarillo to have more of a Texas/Frontier town feel about it, but it felt like any other mid-size american city other than the portion sizes at my lunch stop!

Being disciplined with what I ate and drank was how I was able to cover these distances safely.  No caffeine and no sugary foods.   I drank bottled water and snacked on things like nuts along the way.   Caffeine might keep you awake to a point but the crash will come later.

Along the way, I had a slight problem in the Texas Panhandle.  There was a wreck or breakdown on the interstate that stopped traffic for a while.   It was really hot and I was stuck in the red light of the fuel tank at this time.   In the end a few of us had to drive down a grassy embankment onto a service road to get off the highway and get around the problem.   The 560SEC was able to do this just as easily as the F150s it was surrounded by.

I made good time through Oklahoma, the traffic moved quickly and the roads were good.   I ended up staying somewhere in central Missouri after covering around 1,100 miles.     Again, I stayed in a budget motel along the way.    The 560SEC continued to perform well – no burning of oil or any problems to report.    The car was getting pretty dirty, but holding up well.  The drug dealer wheels were still terrible.

560SEC roadtripTo be concluded in part 3.

2400 mile road trip in an eBay 560SEC – Part 1

I lived in Michigan between 2007-2011.   When I first moved there, I bought a cheap but somewhat rusty 1989 560SEC to be my daily driver.   It was already rusty so I was not worried about driving it in the notorious Michigan snow and salt.   After about 18 months the original 560SEC had been hit a few times in the snow.   It also had a very minor head gasket problem where it would burn coolant only if idling for more than about 10 minutes.     I figured the car was on its last legs.

My plan was to buy a nicer car to drive in the summer and then use the crashed, rusty 560SEC as a winter car until it died.   Little did I know that it would still be soldiering on 2.5 years later when I eventually left Michigan and returned to Australia.   The advantage of another 560SEC was that the original car could also serve as a rolling parts car.

I used to travel a lot back in those days.  About a week before a week long trip to Southern California, I noticed a nice eBay 560SEC.   The car was a 1988 model in 040 Black and a Tan interior.   It was high mileage (182,000 miles / 293,000 km) but looked in excellent condition.   I can’t remember if I spoke to the seller before bidding, but I ended up owning the car for $3,750.  I got the car that cheap because of the high miles but also because it had gaudy drug dealer wheels and gold badges.    These are both easy things to fix.   The car was originally from Palm Desert so most of those miles were highway.

The seller was a dealer out of Orange County who agreed to pick me up from the airport Sunday night.     I had pre-ordered a GPS and a radar detector to be sent to my hotel.    Instead of the company paid for rental car, my plan was to use the eBay 560SEC to get around to all my meetings which would give me a feel of the cars ability to tackle a 2400 mile road trip.    Part of my agenda that week was a drive down to San Diego.  The mix of city and highway driving would be a proper test run.    Even better the car had 3-4 weeks of registration left.    Easily enough to get back to Michigan.

9a9_3

The car performed really well during the week in Southern California.   The A/C compressor was a bit noisy but otherwise OK.    One of the wheels was slightly out of balance and the car tramlined with the horrible aftermarket wheels.   The rear Cigarette lighter also melted my phone charger.  A quick stop at Walmart for a double adaptor for the front and a new one sorted that out.  While I was there I picked up a cassette deck adaptor for the Alpine cassette player!

The car was fitted with the original US headlights which are so dim to be almost unsafe.  Luckily the 1989 car had a set of European units – one of the first swaps I did when I got back.

ebay 560SEC

As I won the car in March of 2009, there was still snow and ice on the northern routes back to Michigan.   The fastest way would have been to go up to through Utah and Colorado on I80.   I didn’t want to risk that route with these wheels and tyres, so I went for the slightly longer southern route.

This route required 35 hours of driving over the weekend.  It was going to take my eBay 560SEC through Northern Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and finally Michigan.     It would have been much better to take 3-4 days to do this trip.   Unfortunately I had work commitments on the Monday back in Michigan.  I left Friday afternoon about 3pm for my mad dash across the country.

The story continues in part 2.

ebay 560SEC

W126 A/C no longer cooling

There is an old saying that deaths come in threes.   I’ve not had any deaths in the family, but I had the A/C dead in three cars at the same time.   The easiest was the A/C in my 450SLC that just needed a re-gas.   The W126 A/C has been more problematic.   Just as I got the system in my 560SEC mostly finished, the A/C stopped working on my 300SE.

I took the car in for the gas pressures to be checked and the gas was not below minimum spec.   A tiny bit was added but my mechanic told me he thought it was probably an electrical problem.

Mercedes-Benz USA published a very good Service Manual for the Automatic Climate Control in the W126.    There are often copies on USA eBay and some bad scans are available too.     The relevant section is Testing compressor protective cutout, in the addendum for the 1986-1991 models.    This manual is pretty much a must have if you want to work on your W126 A/C.

W126 A/C Testing

There is a step by step test procedure I used to isolate the problem.

  1. Test low pressure switch on receiver/drier.   Test OK
  2. Testing supply voltage to the control unit (Klima relay).     Test OK.
  3. Testing control voltage for A/C compressor from low pressure switch.   Test OK.
  4. Bypass relay by bridging pins 5 and 7 and check that compressor cuts in.   Test OK.
  5. Test RPM sensor for A/C compressor.    The required value is above 0.3V~  My reading jumped around a bit but was nearly always above that reading.
  6. Test RPM signal (TD).   Test OK.

There is a separate troubleshooting guide for the diesel engines that is different.  It is easy to use the wrong one as the labels are on prior pages.

W126 A/C Troubleshooting Guide

Based on these tests, it looks like I require a new Klima relay for my W126 A/C.   This is rather annoying as I replaced the relay back in December of 2017.   At the time I purchased a rebuilt unit as I figured I would get a rebuilt factory one instead of an aftermarket unit.  I ordered a rebuilt aftermarket unit, so this time I have gone with a new aftermarket unit.

I had hoped to swap the relay with the 560SEC, but the relays are different from the straight six to the V8.

Right now I am driving around with the relay bypassed.   It is rainy and humid and I need the defrost capability, it not the cooling.

More and more parts for Mercedes modern classics are NLA

Mercedes-Benz have justifiably maintained an excellent reputation for making parts available for their older vehicles.   They still do a great job for their ‘halo’ classics like the 300SL gullwing or Pagoda SL.   At the same time, I have noticed a big increase in the number of parts No Longer Available (NLA) for the modern classics.   I define the modern classics as those made from the early 70s to the early 90s.    This includes cars such as the R/C107, W114/115, W116, W123, W124, W126.  There are probably others.

I’m really not sure how that extends to the late 60s models such as the W108/W109.  So far I have not had issues with my W111.   This may be because that car was subject to an extensive restoration in the late 90s.  My other cars are survivors with more parts needs.

I understand minor trim pieces and the like being NLA.  The issue has now extended into core parts that effect either the working of critical systems of the car or even the ability to use it at all.   In this case I am referring to the W126 climate control pods and self-leveling rear suspension parts.    In some cases, these parts can never come back as the tooling has been destroyed.   This is apparently the case with the self-leveling struts – A senseless act of vandalism.  From what I understand it is also the case for some ignition lock tumblers.

NLA

I am going to start maintaining a list on this site of parts I discover as NLA and ideally people who have found an alternative source can comment.  I will update this article with the link once done.  From what I have read, The Mercedes-Benz club of the UK were able to pressure Daimler AG to re-instate the production of a part that would prevent owners from using their cars.   I seem to recall it was for the R129.

As Mercedes used to do a good job of this in the past, the aftermarket parts supply is not as good as it is on some other vehicles.   This situation seems odd as there is increasing interest in these classic vehicles and the profit margins on these parts would appear to be pretty good – the R&D was all paid for decades ago.

Auto Brunch St. Ives March 2020

The 2020 March Auto Brunch event at St Ives Showground was the biggest I have attended.    I was only able to stay for about forty minutes and cars were already leaving when I arrived, but the total numbers were up on last time’s already large attendance.

This month I went in my 450SLC.    I perhaps should have taken the 560SEC as there were three other 560SECs in attendance, including another one in Nautical Blue.     The other Nautical Blue car had much thinner headlight wipers than my car or the white one.   I didn’t get a chance to look at the gold one before it left.    I prefer the thinner ones but am not sure what is correct.   The owner of the blue car had it for many years and it was in lovely condition.    I also saw one of the nicest W201 190Es I have seen in many years.   It was a 190E 2.3 and it had less than 100,000 km on the clock.    There was not as big a Mercedes-Benz showing this time as it was not an official event.   There was a Pagoda and a 190SL though.

Highlights this month included a couple of really nice Renault Caravelles, Since nice Alfa Romeos, Volvo P1800, Minis and more.    There must have been a group from the Triumph club there as there were plenty of Triumphs, especially TR3s.   There were also three E24 BMW 6 series and its predecessor a 3.0 CS.

I was also impressed to see a couple of Lancias and continuing the rally theme two great looking Audio Quattros.   There is normally something interesting and random like a Volvo 1 series wagon that was there this time.

The great weather of the day probably contributed to the excellent turn out of the 2020 March Auto Brunch.    I always enjoy this event.

W126 SEC auxiliary fan replacement

Once I got the air conditioning working on the 560SEC it was apparent the auxiliary fan was not working.   As can be seen in the wiring diagram below, the W126 SEC auxiliary fan can be triggered either by high coolant temperature or by refrigerant pressure.   The diagram is for 1986-1990.   In 1990, the W126 went to a dual fan setup.    The fan can operate at two speeds based on a resistor.

My fan would not work even when fed 12v directly.   I struggled to find a replacement fan from a brand I trust.   I wasn’t that keen on a used fan as they are all now quite old and in the hot Australian climate run quite a lot.   In the end all I could find for a reasonable price was Meyle fan.   Meyle is a brand I normally try to avoid as I have found the parts are not a great fit.

The W126 SEC auxiliary fan is not as easy to remove as on a four door car as there is less room to maneuver the fan.   The fan itself is held on by three 8mm bolts.   Two of them can be seen in the picture below.    They are at 2, 6 and 10 o’clock on the fan.   The fan is not bolted on directly, in all three cases there is a mounting bracket.   For the 6 o’clock mount, it is easier to remove the mounting bracket with the fan.   This is a 10mm bolt that is obscured by the bumper.

W126 SEC auxiliary fan

Once the fan is loose, it is a bit of a chore to actually remove it.   I found the easiest way was to move the strut out of the way that mounts the horns and loosen the panels that go under the headlights.   The strut has two bolts holding it on and there are three to remove to loosen the panel.   It was quite dirty underneath the old fan so I gave it a quick clean out with compressed air.

W126 SEC auxiliary fanOnce I had removed the old fan I was able to compare it to the new Meyle fan.   The central ‘hub’ unit on the Meyle fan is a little smaller which makes removal a bit easier.   The Meyle fan also has a balancing attachment which the factory fan did not need.  Both fans do not space the blades evenly around the hub.   The factory fan also had some little felt pads to protect the condenser.

The original fan has a finger guard, which is removable and I had planned to re use it.  As usual the I had fitment issues with Meyle parts – I could only ever get two of the mounting points for the guard to line up at any given time.   When not mounted properly there is too much risk of the fan fouling on the guard so in the end I had to fit the fan without.

Meyle vs factory fanInstallation is generally the reverse of removal.   I found it easier to start with the 2 o’clock mount loosely, then the 6 o’clock mount.   I loosely re-installed the horn strut before loosely fitting that mount before finally tightening it all up and replacing the bolts on the under light panel.    it is quite easy to push the electrical cable through to where it plugs near the receiver drier.

W126 sec auxiliary fan

It’s a shame I could not fit the finger guard.   It would be hardly noticeable I have an aftermarket fan if that was the case.    The next step was to test the fan.  I went for a 20 minute drive in very heavy traffic with the A/C on full.   I brought the car back and left it to idle for a few minutes.   Sure enough, the fan kicked on and slowly lowered the temperature.   Before I replaced the fan it got so hot I would have needed to either drive or shut off the car.

W126 SEC auxiliary fan

I was expecting to need to do more electrical troubleshooting once the new fan was fitted.  I was pleasantly surprised to see it whir into life after the car got nice and hot.   My next step will be replace some of the climate control vacuum elements which are preventing my centre vent from working.     I’ve kept the original one to see if it can be repaired.   The auxiliary fan in my 300SE occasionally pops the fuse so it will probably need replacement at some point

Citroen DS Instrument cluster repair

Earlier in the week I had identified the lack of instrument cluster lighting was due to a crack in the instrument cluster circuit board.  The crack was causing an intermittent broken circuit.   I wasn’t able to find much on the internet about Citroen DS Instrument cluster repair.  Looking at the board it looked like a very simple design.  That gave me the confidence to come up with my own solution.

The easiest course of action would have been to solder a wire in place.   I didn’t go with that approach as there is no soldering used on this circuit board at all.  It uses rivet looking connectors to take the power to the other side.    I wasn’t sure how well the backing would hold up to the heat and was worried about the solder breaking off.  The board flexes each time the power connectors are removed or installed and it can get hot in behind the dash.

The copper tracks on the board are particularly wide.   This gave me enough room to drill small holes in strategic spots.  I chose spots that were wide enough so I did not touch any other tracks.   I then used conductive screws to bring the power to the back of the board where I could use wires to get past the crack.    The bolts are 3mm.

Citroen DS instrument cluster repair

The four screws are set up so I can bypass the break.  The break is near the square hole in the top left of the picture.   The outer track is for ground and the inner for +12v.   The screws stick up a bit more than the rivets do, but they are quite secure and are not going to come off over time.    You don’t want normal screws at the hardware store as most of them are coated and have low conductivity.

The picture above also shows my quite rare temperature gauge.  This was generally fitted to cars in very cold climates only.  It is very useful in hot ones too!

Citroen DS instrument cluster repair

Once the screws were in place I was able to create two lengths of wire and crimp eyelet connectors on each. This is a similar approach to the tachometer.  The tachometer uses the rivets instead of the screws though.    It was then a simple matter of connecting up the wires around the back of the speedometer.  The wires are tucked so they should not be in the way.   The only downside is the board sits up a bit  more on this corner.  The bulb just near the wires leaks a little light because it is sitting up.

Once I put the cluster back in I was rewarded with lights that worked without flickering or pushing on the cluster.

Citroen DS instrument cluster repair

While I was at it, I also swapped over the petrol gauge from the parts cluster.  It was in much better shape than the one on the car.    I have not yet taken the car for a test drive, as the weather in Sydney has been poor.  I expect my home Citroen DS instrument cluster repair to hold up well.