Thinking of w123 – Reputation of a classic

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Currently we think of the Mercedes-Benz w123 as the perfect Mercedes model which is pretty much a flawless classic. It is a car that resides in the super league of renown young classic cars. It is true they outlasted most other cars from that era and have a reputation for “superior” build quality and “reliability”. The w123 has indeed a large place in many people’s heart and often bring about memories and stories when nice examples roll by on the street. However the cult status of the w123 has maybe become a little skewered and starting negative discussions of the model is frowned upon in quite ideological ways. In hindsight this classic’s reputation might have become a little biased, as with most renowned classics (read: Ferrari).

Don’t worry I’m not trying to discredit the w123, but trying to convey a more realistic perspective of the model as a car looking away from the icon status. As any car or man-made object, the w123 is not perfect and comes with its quarks and weird engineering.

I was looking through an old review from 1977 of the 280E in Motor Sport Magazine written when the w123 was brand new. This is the perfect time to look into an unbiased opinion for the times and comparison to other cars at the market. If you want to read the full article, it can be found at https://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/march-1977/37/mercedes-280e-w123

I’ll give some of the highlights opinion from the review under with my own comments on the matter:

Complaints

Complaint 1: One complaint is that the car is too expensive for the time, you could get more luxury and more performance from example Jaguar for less money. Also the extra equipment is expensive and 280 base model without electrical windows or sunroof starts at £8495 which is roughly £52700 in today’s money. Quite a lot!
Comment: This makes sense in 1977, but as time has shown, the Jaguar had many issues especially with QC and electrical system. Mercedes is a better built car, but is not as sporty with smaller (more boring?) engines and less equipment in general. In hindsight when you look at how long many of these cars have lasted, maybe it was not so expensive after all?

Complaint 2: Another complaint in the article is the low power of the 280 engine (remember this early version had only 177hp compared tot he 186hp of later models) and the author misses a bit the V8 power for this top w123 model which only clocks in 0-100km/h in 10s. The kick down is pointed out to be bit slow and the author recommends to keep in S when overtaking. Fuel efficiency was also not the best at its time where the author also points out that the engine is quite thirsty with 16-18mpg (14-12 L/100km).
Comment: I quite can understand the lack of performance when compared to cheaper Jaguars and BMWs at the time, but Mercedes never wanted this to be a sports car. That was reserved to the SL and top of the line S-class. The upgrades to the M110 engine in 1981 did increased its power and probably lowered fuel consumption a bit. I run mine 280CE from 1984 usually around 10 L/100km. The kick down is indeed slow, much faster to manually stick in S with the auto transmission.

Complaint 3: Plain interior and cheap plastic. The author points out the spartan interior, sparse use of real wood and really nasty cheap plastic used on the side door pockets. Also the boot has a cheap looking tool kit compared to a BMW.
Comment: The interior is very plain, but has kept the styling somehow timeless and looks nice too this day. I personally really enjoy the large air vents int the dash. The cheap plastic and nasty on the doors rarely breaks, except the glove compartment-lid. It always breaks and is definitely cheap plastic!
The author credits the seats for being quite firm and good, but I think the seat comfort can be quite uncomfortable on long rides. I wonder how other cars were at this time?

Complaint 4: Road and engine noise. The complaint is that Jaguars are superior in this department. Especially the wind noise from the and large flat mirrors and poor engine noise insulation is pointed out.
Comment: Agreed, quite some wind noise especially in the coupe version. The wheel sills can clearly be heard on gravel roads. Also the engine valve tick is clearly audible in to the passenger compartment. They should have put a bit more sound proofing, but it does save weight.

Recognition

Recognition 1: Rev happy engine. The straight six is very rev happy going up to 6500 before the red-line. The author also points out the engine has superior smoothness to V8s at the time.
Comment: A bit contradiction to the first complaint, but I see the point. I think the M110 feels fast and can keep up with modern traffic pain free. The straight inline 6s have perfect balance and are superior to any other engine configuration. It’s one among economic reasons why Mercedes has reintroduced them in their new cars and stopped V6 production.

Recognition 2: Brilliant suspension and road handling. The w123 utilizes the latest technology from the S-class at a cheaper standpoint. There is little body roll and the ride feels more comfortable than harsh BMWs while still being agile. Also the car has wet weather stability than the S-class. Super maneuverability with the recirculating-ball servo. Also impeccable braking with large disk breaks on all four wheels.
Comment: This I totally agree with! You can toss the w123 around mountainous roads at full speed without being daunted, there is a clear indication when you are pushing the limit with the classic wheel whine without the car going sideways. There is a reason why there were so many w123 Taxis going around back then, they can easily turn on a dime in the city. I was not aware that the ride was better than the S-class (w116) in wet. KUDOS!
NOTE: I should point out that you can get two different dampers to w123: Comfort and Firm. I will highly recommend the latter due to less body roll. And go for the Bilstein versions!

Recognition 3: Business as usual with effortless automatic door locks, boot and filler cap. Simple control of the functions such as lights, wipers and mirror adjustment. No fuzz about. The headlights can be adjusted wit a single knob
Comment: This makes Mercedes so easy to operate so you can focus on the driving without getting lost trying to find the door knobs. It makes the car a bit spartan though, and many really enjoys the weird quarks of old Porsche and Italian classics.

There is much more details in the magazine. I hope this gives some more nuances of a classic car such as the w123. Happy reading.


Cheers, Robs out!

1990 Mercedes 230TE w124 added to the fleet

Reading Time: 2 minutes

You might ask how can you go from 6.0L V12 to a 2.3L dull station wagon? Good question! This car will be a workhorse car for all year use, hauling trailers and transporting stuff.

It’s a bit scruffy looking when you get up close and have the impression of standing outside too long without a decent polish.

Lets start with the pros:

  • It’s a Sportline version – Oh yes Sport with 132 HP
  • It has ADS (automatic differential lock), so usable in the Norwegian winter
  • Mechanically the car runs fine, engine and breaks etc.
  • No significant rust to speak of
  • The black metallic color is quite nice and more easy to sell than for example green
  • No electric windows, so less things to break
  • AC seems to work OK
  • It has an electric sunroof that can be opened and closed
  • Comes with a DAB radio – FM is obsolete in Norway
  • It is face lift 1 – looks better than the 85 original and does not have the rust paint problems of face lift 2

And then to the negatives:

  • No electric windows – I need to please my luxurious ego
  • The sunroof tilting function is not really working at the moment – not the end of the world
  • There is a leak from the hose of the rear window washer reservoir – needs to be fixed
  • The cables and vacuum hose of the right front door have been cut
  • The driver seat is quite worn and needs a new sitting pad
  • Door check straps needs to be changed
  • Switch for the rear wiper needs to be replaced
  • Front plastic bumper has cracks – needs replacement
  • Fabric interior, where is the luxury?
  • Ugly unoriginal rims – Needs to be changed for sure. Good thing I have some original w126 rims that can be bolter straight on
  • Worn winter tires
  • The key for the door and ignition are different

So is this a lemon car? Not really, but not a show car either. It has some issues and the age shows. The price also reflected that. The mileage is not low either at above 350.000 km, so at least its driven in properly.

Many of will might ask how I can drive 3 cars simultaneously around. Well obviously I don’t. Mostly my father will use it as his daily driver. I can though see some nice articles come out of it. And having the opportunity to drive a classic w124 can be fun!

This is just a quick teaser. A full review will be posted at the end of the summer! So stay tuned.

Cheers, Robs out

How to adjust the valves in the M110 engine – Part 1.5

Part 1.5 of valve adjustment of Mercedes M110 Engine. Stuck valve adjusting nuts require a DOHC valve compressor tool, which is hard to obtain for this engine.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Christmas came early..

Notice the part 1.5 nonsense, what is that all about you might think to yourself? Have I gotten mad over New Year’s? It’s rather just because of the half usefulness of this article. Since you readers are mostly DIY mechanics and Mercedes enthusiasts, I want to convey a story of the journey toward valve adjustments of such an old engine. In this way we share the ups and downs, the challenges and successes, and maybe learn something on the way.

Remember in Part 1 https://mercbenz123.com/posts/valve-adjustment-m110-engine-part1/ where I ended with 4 different options listed with increasing price and pain? Well since Christmas came early (2018) I ended up somewhere with a solution in the middle of option 1 and 2. After trawling the used car tool market, mostly ebay, I managed to find a seller which sold a late 70s vintage Mercedes valve compressor kit for DOHC engines. Although not specific to the M110 engine it is close enough, that with a few modifications it might just work. Let me just say it was the most expensive vintage tool I have ever bought. Lets hope it can come to good use!

Mercedes late 70s DOHC valve spring compressor tool.
Mercedes late 70s DOHC Valve spring compressor tool for several engine models.
M110 DOHC valve compressor tool
This is the M110 engine specific tool which is out of production. Looks similar right? Although not the same, I’m sure we can adjust the obtained one to do the same job with some modifications.

I almost did not buy due to the high asking bidding price, but after the deadline was reached it was still for sale. I decided to go for it as a Christmas present for myself and bid on the tool for a little less. Chance happened that we compromised and reached a fast deal. Two weeks before Christmas it landed in the mail box.

Valve spring compressors
It came with 4 different valve compressors. I might use the second from the left with some modifications.

It comes with 4 different valve compressors, although I’m not sure if any of them fit right out of the box. I might need to adjust one of them. The lever bar has a simple screw on attachment to swap out the compressor ends. The Hook is not attached, but can be placed in different grooves. I might also need to adjust the arrangement here as well.

Under I have tried to visualize how the tool is operated on the valve head. The idea is to compress the valve just enough so I can slide off the rocker arm. Since the valve clearance adjusting nuts are so tight we need a socket over the nut which is naturally blocked by the rocker arm.

I tried to overlay this tool over the valve and camshaft arrangement in the M110 engine. Here The sizes are not 1:1 but illustrates the point. Already here we can see that there might be clearance issues between the engine wall and the compressor. Also the circular edge for the compressor surface has to be cut, so it can slide onto the valve top under the rocker arm.

I’m excited to see how the tool can be used in real life, but since it’s winter and the car is hidden away, this have to wait until spring. I’ll keep you posted on the progress in this journey as soon as possible.

Cheers! Robs out


Other news: I tried to sell the S600 in the autumn, but was unfortunately little interest which is hard to believe when regarding the current economics and huge interest in classic cars. Norway is a weird country.. The car is in mint condition with low mileage so I will not give it away for free. I will instead keep it and enjoy it, make some good articles about the w140 and let time mature it into a true classic.

How to adjust the valves in the M110 engine – PART 1

Reading Time: 6 minutes

M110 Engine Valve adjustment – Part 1

I planned the valve adjustment job to be straightforward and easy, making it a delight to write an article about afterwards, but no! In the end I could not even adjust a single valve out of the 12 in total, and this is why I will divide the so called adventure into multiple parts and share my experience on the topic.

“Mother nature beats father engineer every time..”

Valve adjustments should be done every 15.000 km which means for most people every 2. or 3. year and is important for engine performance and fuel consumption. Neglected maintenance can even end up wearing your cam lobes prematurely if they get too tight!

A story of success

I got all the parts I needed, that is really only a valve cover gasket set. I let the car stay overnight for the engine to cool down. Then I start pulling out the spark plug wires, no need to mark them with cylinder number..haha! I unbolt the valve cover in a breeze, the nuts I throw somewhere neat.

Then I check the valve lobe timing, oh see that the first one is perfectly aligned already so I can start adjusting the first valve immediately. I find my valve feeler gauge easily from the toolbox and it’s not rusted together at all. I adjust the first valve and since my memory is faultless I can easily keep track of all the valves I have adjusted and the ones who are left. The crank is so easy to turn by hand and I don’t need to remove the radiator shroud or anything silly like that. I get everything done in under a less hour and bolt everything together with the new valve valve gasket and I’m now already on my way to the race track with 40 more HP.

A cake, but it's a lie

This is all however a big lie.

Sometimes wisdom words are painfully true: “Mother nature beats father engineer every time..”. The real struggle you can follow below.

bleak Reality

So before starting you should take care of a few things. In theory a valve adjustment is easy and requires little preparation and engine know how. You need a new valve cover replacement kit, since your old one is probably leaking oil and a new one is very cheap. The valve adjustment can be made either when the engine is warm (just after driving) or cold (20°C). I really recommend the latter since you will not burn your fingers and get better results since the engine is not cooling down slowly. Ideally it should be at ambient summer temperatures in the shade. You have to leave the car overnight to properly cool down after driving so this have to be planned in advance.

The tools you need is just really a spanner and some feeler gauges for the adjustment and a socket for turning the crank over, but as we will see here this is not the case for my case.

M110 engine with air filter off
Marked spark plug wires.

I start by removing the air filter housing to access the valve cover freely. Then I mark every spark plug wire with a number on a piece of tape. Usually the spark plug wires are different length, but it’s so much easier to plug them in afterwards. Then I take out the spark plugs.

Now I can start removing the valve cover bolts and place them somewhere safe. I note that the middle ones have a copper shim which I can keep, but the new valve cover gasket comes with replacement ones. It’s always nice to keep bolts, nuts and shims if they are in good order.

M110 engine with valve cover open

NOTE OF CAUTION 
With the valve cover off is is extremely important to not drop anything into the engine like a nut or something, since this will cause catastrophic engine failure. Also keep dirt away and exercise hospital  level cleanliness while the engine is open. Cover it always when not working on it, like lunch break etc..

I then go in the the toolbox to find my gauge feeler blades and realize they have rusted together and end up throwing them. I go in my dad’s old toolbox and luckily find some that are in a bit better shape. With a cold engine the inlet valve clearing should be 0.10 mm and the exhaust 0.25 mm. I draw a diagram over the valves so I can mark them after every adjustment, it will be very hard to keep track of otherwise. Just try remembering 12 boolean positions for reference!

Valve gauge feeler tool

Of course none of the valve lobes are pointing  directly vertical for any of the valves after opening the cover, that would be too easy! So I go ahead and try to turn the crank, but come over a problem. The fan shroud is too tight to engine for me to get any socket tool and ratchet to the crank. Loosening just the fan shroud is not helping either since the fan is sitting tight to the shroud. Then I loosen the fan and I can just get enough room for the ratchet and finally being able to turn the crank.

I align the first cam lobe and is ready to check the valve clearing. I expect most of the valves to be to bee way too tight, and the first one is as expected. I grab my spanner to start adjusting, but the valve adjusting nut is not moving at all. In fact I’m starting to slightly round off the nut. I stop before I ruin it. Then I quickly check a few other valves, they are all tight as expected, but also here the valve adjusting nuts are super tight. I am totally stuck.

After searching the Internet for similar issues it seems this is a common scenario for these aging engines. The nut material is quite soft and can easily be rounded off when they are tight. The solution is to remove the rocker arms to access the whole nut so you can get a socket over it to exert more force.

Seems easy right? To remove the rocker arm you need to depress the valves somehow. They are under very high pressure from the valve springs and a special compressor tool is needed. There are many different DOHC valve spring compressor tools on the market, however the M110 engine have very tight space between the cams and the engine walls where the spring compressor have to fit.  And the valve is at an angle so the tool need to be just for this purpose. There is such a speciality tool for the M110 engine, but I can’t find it on a single place on the internet.  It turns out it is in fact out of production. Fuck!

I am stuck and have to abandon my job and put everything back together. This was a waste of time! (But in the back of my cynical mind I think it can be turned into an article at some point..)

Here is a diagram over the valve assembly to illustrate the point better.

Valve Configuration M110 engine

The valve compressor tool is like a leverage bar with a hook for the cam axle and a crow foot depressor at an angle that can slide between the engine wall and the cam axle down on the top of the  valve. It looks like this:

M110 DOHC valve compressor tool

how to solve the tool problem

I have considered some options below and ranked them from easier/cheaper towards more expensive options.

  • Obtain the tool

I have reallly tried to find this on the internet, but with no success. I think I will not be able to obtain it. Not sure if Mercedes has one , but I am scared of even asking, it’s probably super expensive.

  • Make the tool myself

I know how it looks like and roughly the sizes. I can easily obtain some steel, and a crow foot. I have a welder so I can make the tool. However I expect it to take some time to assemble. Definitely worth looking into.

  • Take the car it to a workshop

I can just take it to a workshop and tell them to adjust the valves, but they are going to run into the same problems like me and they might end up ruining the valve nuts unless I explicitly tell them the problem in great detail. Remember these days no cars require manual valve adjustment and only the more experienced mechanics have done this. If you want things done right, better do it yourself.

  • Contact Mercedes on how the fuck….

This is my last option and will consist of asking if they have such a tool, and if the tool is not for sale (or out of production), if they can at least adjust the valves if they can send a tool from Mercedes Classic in Germany to their workshop. Problem is that is going to be very expensive for a simple job. Not likely I will venture down this path. Also would turn into a dreadfully boring article for you DIY people!

More on this adventure when we return in Part 2 of the valve adjustment nightmare… soonish

(Not really, it’s damn winter and car is parked)

Cheers, Robs out!