We started on Sunday morning at 7:15 a.m. with a sense of optimism, or at least I did. Despite being the coldest day of the three we had spent working on the old Mercedes 300D, I was feeling good about the project because our list was down to a manageable few remaining tasks.
Pierre, on the other hand, was still feeling some slight trepidation about the O-ring problem from the night before. Although he had checked carefully to ensure that the substitute O-rings would fit, he wasn’t going to feel right about it until the part was installed. They were a little tighter than the correct part, which made Pierre’s job hard, but it worked out fine and by 8 a.m. or so the turbocharger drain was back together. I’ve heard of guys taking an entire weekend to do this one job because it’s not easy under the best of circumstances, so as far as I was concerned Pierre did well under fire.
We kept putting out metal bits on the curb, and inevitably someone with a pickup truck would swing by and grab them. I put out an old radiator, four shock absorbers, and dead engine mounts, and they disappeared so quickly that I had to be careful about the metal parts we intended to retain. When I put items I had cleaned on the driveway in a sunny spot to dry, I kept an eye on them.
The hardest jobs had been tackled on Friday and Saturday, so all we had left was fairly minor stuff. Still, it got messy with dripping fluids, and I was busy keeping up with it all. I did want the carport to be somewhat better than a toxic waste dump after everything was done. All the used fluids got collected in big seal-able containers and returned to the auto parts store for proper disposal, and after recycling all of the cardboard, paper, and plastic I was pleased to see that we generated less than a barrel of waste.
By noon it was clear that we were in the home stretch. The messy transmission service was done, we’d replaced the oil and filter (even though I did it just 200 miles ago; Pierre wanted to give the engine a chance to clean up after some neglect by the prior owner), front shock absorbers, and transmission shift bushings. So we were able to relax and do some tweaks to the vacuum system, adjust the hood so it closed better, and little stuff like that, before putting the wheels back on and lowering the car down to the ground.
At 1:00 p.m. we were done, and out on a test drive. Amazingly after all this service, we found only two problems. There was a loud deep rattle from the right side, which turned out to be a loose caliper. No big deal although it sounded horrible—just tighten two bolts. And strangely, the steering wheel was now upside down when the car was going straight.
This second problem confused us a little because Pierre had been scrupulous to follow the factory technique and use the correct factory specialty tools to install the new steering gearbox, but we decided to have a celebratory lunch anyway. Part of Pierre’s goal this week was to eat well, so every day I took him to a different ethnic restaurant for lunch (Mexican, Indian, Vietnamese) and in the evenings Eleanor cooked up fabulous and enormous dinners. We worked long days in cold weather but I think we both may have gained weight.
In the end, we worked for only 24.25 hours. That’s under the budget of 30 hours I had set, which helps with the overall cost. I’m pretty sure the billable time for all this work at a shop would have been at least double. And it’s nice to wrap up such an intense project with time to spare. We had time to take the 300D out for a scenic drive around Saguaro National Park, and time afterward to tweak a few things just a little bit more.
Pierre wanted my car to run perfectly, and I can say that he hit the mark. It still bears the patina of an old car on the outside, but mechanically it’s just about perfect. I’ve got just a few things to take care of myself, all simple stuff, like a glow plug, a relay, monovalve rebuild, and the rear differential fluid change—things we skipped only because we didn’t have everything we needed for those jobs.
This morning I had to drag myself out of bed at 6:15 for one last task. We wanted to get the car to the local dealer for an alignment by 7 a.m., so that the odd steering wheel issues could be resolved before Pierre had to head home. The issue turned out to be simple (the Pitman arm was off by 3 splines, for those of you that know what a Pitman arm is), and the car did need an alignment, and at last we were done. We collected Pierre’s tools, made one last tiny adjustment to the vacuum modulator, and then he was gone.
This project is still not over, but it’s about 95% done. When the weather warms back up this week I’ll finish the last seat and when I get the parts I need I’ll do those last few jobs. Tires are next, and after that we’re ready for a road-trip. Soon I’ll be looking at the open road through the three-pointed star, while the old-school diesel propels me with the sound of a well-oiled sewing machine.
But that’s not all the satisfaction of this project. I’ve learned so much. I can keep it running by myself. Having taking much of it apart, or at least observed it being taken apart, I have an appreciation for the great engineering that went into the car. It has fewer mysteries about it now. Unlike other cars I’ve owned, I feel like I am in control of the man-machine relationship, rather than being a hapless of victim of whatever error message a computerized car might throw up. I’m not really worried about having a car that will run on scavenged vegetable oil after EMPs destroy all modern cars during a worldwide apocalypse. I just like having a machine that I understand, and I’m glad I made the effort to get into this project.