The Garage

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Smarter, better, more love: The Garage 2.0

The Garage is the newest section over here at the page. So what’s all the fuzz about? Let me give you a little background story to the garage.

The car fixing on my part started in a very humble work space back in 2012. It was in an old barn without lights and without possibilities of closing doors so it was always exposed to the cold and wind. At least it was under a roof which makes things a lot easier, at least things don’t get wet.

Then is the issue about the floor, which was gravel and not asphalt or a concrete slab. And I had barely enough floor stone tiles to cover the area of the car. This was frustrating, but the most frustration was neither the cold or the lack of a flat ground surface. It was in fact the lighting. As the complexity of the work continues you start feeling the limits of the work space. It’s very dark without good lighting and tedious to move the work lights all the time. And when night comes it becomes pitch black outside the beam of the work lights making it hard to even find tools.

Even that said I managed to restore the 280CE and it was mostly throughout a single winter when I had a small gap in my studies. All done in the humble work space inside the simple barn.

In fact I am still am using the same barn now as the primary work space, but have slowly started to improve the premises since then. So far I’ve installed some lights, done some floor leveling and placed more stones tiles. The barn is very old and also in some need of repairs a few places. Some paint would not hurt either!

I want the garage to be an inspirational journey on how a DIY’er can turn a simple work space into a nice garage with a small budget and some effort. Already in the next article I have lined up, we will install a home made garage door which I’m pretty excited about.

Stay tuned until next time, Robs out!

Changing the Exhaust pipes in the w123 280CE

Reading Time: 5 minutes

There was this annoying hole in the exhaust from last summer. It was the thin sheet under front muffler that had cracked and I had it welded just before the MOT last year. Unfortunately the job was poorly done by the workshop. Another lesson learned on why we should fix our own cars…. The fix ended up costing almost as much as the new pipes, so that was also dumb. On the very day before this summers epic 3000 km road trip of crossing Norway I had to change the entire exhaust system. The pressure was on to get it finished before the trip!

The poorly welded exhaust only got noticeable few weeks before the upcoming road trip, but another car was planned to be used so there was no pressure initially. Then because of circumstances it was decided to use the 280CE after all and the exhaust leak needed to be addressed asap. I decided to swap out all the pipes since some rust was starting to appear in the pipe welds and its easier to just swap the whole thing at once.

I ordered the exhaust less than two weeks before from Germany and it arrived two days before the road trip was starting. Just in time. It only costed me 500$ which I think is a bargain for a classic car! The quality also seems very good as well.

Welded front muffler w123
Poorly welded front muffler. Now junk.

Stage 1 – Getting the car up in the air

You need some good space to wrestle with the large exhaust system under the car. I drove the front of the car up on ramps then lifted the back of the car on jack stands so the whole body was up in the air. I leave the tires on for extra safety and don’t lover the jack either. Also make sure to block the front wheels from rolling on the ramps. I’m a fan of redundancy and here I even placed a couple of jack stands in the front which is kind of unnecessary, but makes it feel somehow safer.

Car on jack stands
Car up in the air. Potentially dangerous and safety should be on your mind. Here I have redundancy by leaving the jack in place and using redundant jack stands. Not recommended to be under the car during an earthquake…

Stage 2 – Removing the old pipes

This is usually the most time consuming job involving rusted fasteners and wrestling with stuck pipes. I was planning to only change the pipes up to the down pipes, since the down pipes are in a really good condition compared to the rest of the exhaust. The issue then become separating the down pipes from the pipes underneath the car.

exhaust clamps
Front exhaust clamps

I started removing the clamps for the front pipes and loosening the system from the transmission mount. Then unhooking the four rubber donuts from the rear muffler. To avoid too much stress on the pipes I placed something under the rear muffler for it to rest on, in this case a tree stub.

rear muffler 280ce
Rear muffler resting on a wood stub

Then the issue with sliding off the exhaust system from the down pipes. They were extremely stuck and you’re not able to twist them since it’s a pair of dual pipes. I was first trying to push them out with putting my entire weight with my legs and kicking. Then I tried heating the outer pipes with a heater torch. After a while struggling with no success and them not moving at all I had to make a drastic decision. I needed to cut them out without damaging the inner down pipes. This would mean the old exhuast would be trash, but it’s old and not worth much anyway.

cutting the exhaust pipes
Cutting the exhaust pipes.

In order to get the old outer pipe off, it needs to be split and then removed. It would be impossible to try pushing them off otherwise. I started by cutting the pipes across a few centimeters before the mating point. Here I used an angle grinder with a thin cutting disk for about half the way, then a manual cutting saw blade for the rest. A bit tedious, but will get the job done. The best would be to use a hack saw which is much safer than an angle grinder and faster than the manual saw. However I don’t have one. Maybe now it’s a time to acquire one?

exhaust pipes cut
Pipes are cut and also a slit is made lengthwise with an angle grinder. Care is taken to not cut all the way through to th einner time.

After the pipes were separated I could remove the old exhaust system. The old stubs of the outer pipes are just as stuck and a slit have to be cut down the middle and care have to taken in order to not damage the inner tubes. The only tool for this is an angle grinder. Watch out for sparks in your face!

Split the pipes
Split the pipes with a sharp punch and drive it in with a hammer. Eventually the metal will split. Use ear protection since it tends to be very loud.

When there is a slit along the length of the pipe I could use a punch with a sharp end and drive it into the slit until it grew larger and eventually the pipe will split along its entire length. Then it was super easy to remove the outer pipe.

Splitting pipes with a punch
Splitting the pipes with a punch. Super easy!

I was surprised of how effective it was, and it was sour that I wasted so much time trying to free the pipes with different methods before I ended up doing this. I was also surprised to find that there was essentially no rust that was binding up the pipes, instead it looked like the metal had expanded into each other and exhaust coke had made this kind of glue between them. Now that the old exhaust was removed, I could mount the new system on.

Stage 3 – Fitting the new pipes

This was the fastest part of the job. It was basically lining up the three exhaust part components, putting on the clamps and tighten them. When the full length is assembled I could slide it under and mount it to the down pipes. Don’t forget to slide on the clamps before joining the exhaust pipes.

Hangers different from old system
Shape of hangers different from the old system.

I found having some help with the assembly part is useful due to the quite heavy and large part that needs to be aligned, but also doable alone if you plan all the moves ahead in time.

The exhaust kit came with four new rubber donut muffler hangers. These rubber hangers crack at an incredibly fast rate due to the heat of the exhaust and they rarely lasts more than 1-2 years before they break.

New exhaust system
New muffler being very shining, almost looks fake.

Stage 4 – Road trip

Luckily I managed to sort it out the evening before and could leave the next day.The road trip went fine and went without issues all the 3000 km. The tail pipes of the new exhaust have a slightly different shape and the heat reaches the rear bumper a bit more making a subtle bluish tint on the chrome which is quite cool.

280CE in Lofoten

I have the habit of doing jobs in hurry lately where I needed to travel shortly afterwards. Unfortunately this introduces a lot of stress and takes the joy out of fixings cars a bit. I need to plan better indeed.

Cheers, Robs out.

How to change the front shocks and sway bar links in Mercedes w140 S-Class

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Changing out worn shocks might be most effective and cheapest fix that can transform the ride handling of your car for the better. My S600 had very noticeable up and down wobbling when driving over bumps and a quite large body roll making in tight corners. It was becoming a bit boat like there at the end. The S600 is a very heavy car and needs good handling when going fast. A flatter ride in corners also makes for a more comfortable drive overall, so your passengers don’t wake up from their naps.

Changing the shocks will reduce wear on other more expensive suspension components like bushings and tires, while overly worn might damage the suspension. Changing the shocks is in your interest to be an economical DIYer.

The front suspension uses normal a McPherson setup with separated gas shocks detached from the springs and can easily be removed. The rear suspension on the other hand uses the more complicated SLS leveling suspension setup and don’t use shocks at all. Instead it uses hydraulic rams along with pressure spheres. More effort and money is needed when doing maintenance on the rear suspension than the front. The SLS however normally lasts a lot longer if you remember to change the fluid once in a while.

When changing the shocks you should also use the opportunity to inspect/change some other wear items easily accessible in the front suspension. This could be sway bar links or the brake rotors and pads. The sway bar links wear down faster than the other suspension components due to their tiny ball joints and should be replaced whenever cracks appear in the sleeves or any slack starts to be noticeable. Worn sway bar links can make annoying sounds for you and your passengers. We all know expensive cars are known for being the most squeaky cars around, let’s change that!

Preparation

You should expect to use around half day to a day on this job, depending on your skill set, the amount of rusty bolts and your tools at disposal. It’s something you can do easily on a weekend. When doing the job I was even under time pressure since I had to catch a flight the same day. I managed to catch the flight and get the job.

If you want to bundle more front suspension jobs while doing the shocks, I recommend removing the front wheels and inspect the suspension such as the sway bar links, brake pads and rotors as well as the tie rods. Any more advanced jobs than that you will will require a lot more time invested so be sure to plan accordingly. Usually large front end jobs require a re-alignment of the suspension, but is not required here.

Parts needed (as described in the article):

  • 2x front shocks. I recommend premium brands such as Bilstein or Meyle
  • 1x Left front sway bar link
  • 1x Right front sway bar link

Tools needed:

I ended up using quite a tool collection because of rusted bolts on the sway bar links, but this might not be the case for you. I think this collection of tools goes into most home car mechanics tool box, but there might be a couple of them you should consider getting. Always better to be prepared than sitting there stuck without finishing the job.

  • Jack and 2 jack stands
  • Socket set
  • Long breaker bar
  • A set of long spanners
  • High quality hex sockets
  • Torque wrench
  • Hammer
  • Rubber/plastic hammer
  • Pin punch driver
  • Locking pliers
  • Long Hex keys
  • Propane blow torch (super handy when things are stuck)
  • XZN (12-spline) sockets (super handy when Hex nut gets rounded off)
  • Blue thread lock (for brake caliper bolts)
XZN socket set
This is how XZN Sockets looks like. They are always a savior when hex bolts gets rounded off.

Procedure

Start by raising the front of the car and remember to use the E-brake together with wheel stops. Place the front on jack stands. I also like to keep the jack in the up position as redundancy on the side I’m working with. You can lift the w140 with the jack on the rubber jacking pad and place the jack stands more towards the center of the car under the sub frame.

Jacking up a Mercedes w140
Jacking up the w140 with a garage jack and jack stands. Notice the rubber pad location is used with the jack and the jack stands are placed under the sub frame. Always use some padding between the car body with the jack and the jack stands, such as hard rubber or some wood to protect the under body from rust.

The shocks can be removed when the calipers are in place, but to remove the sway bar links, both the calipers and the brake rotors need to be removed to access it. I will first describe how to replace the shocks since it is a much easier job. Then I will describe how to replace the sway bar links.

Shocks

Start by removing the lower bolt. Use a long breaker bar and a large spanner to break the bolt loose. Then move to a ratchet to get the nut off. Use the jack to lift the lower suspension arm a little bit to relieve some tension in the bolt through the bracket hole. Then use a punch to smack out the bolt with a hammer. Be careful if the bolt catches too much, then try to relieve more pressure before continuing. Most shocks do not come with replacements for the lower bolt and nut, so try keeping these in good shape.

Removing lower bolt on damper
Remove the lower bolt on the damper.

When the bolt is loose, open the hood and locate the top nut. The top part of the damper can look different from each other. You have to keep the strut bar still with a hex socket or flat pliers while using a spanner to unbolt it. There exists a special tool to do this with a socket, but is frankly unnecessary except if you’re addicted to tools. This locking nut always comes with a replacement nut and you should throw away the old one. When the locking nut is off you can easily remove the old damper.

Location of top part of damper under the hood
Location of top part of the damper. This old damper uses a hex setup for keeping the damper still while loosening the locking nut.

Before installing the new damper, push it completely down a few times to relieve tension. The installation orientation has no influence if the brand does not specify it. Start by installing it with the top part and the top locking nut. When installing the new damper you must take of not letting the damper shaft rotate while turning the locking nut. Keep it secured while fastening the locking nut. This is to reduce the risk of breaking the internal seal of the damper so it will start leaking. The nut does not need to be extremely tight, but do tighten it until you feel it is secure. It is very important to make a re-tight after the car is on the ground. I will remind you of this again shortly.

Now you will probably notice that the new damper is quite shorter than the old one when you took it out. You therefore have to compress the spring by jacking up the lower suspension arm until you can align up the bolt hole. This might be a bit tricky and use a hammer to punch the bolt through since it is nearly impossible to align them up 100%. Again take care of not ruining the threads on the bolt. The lower bolt and nut should be torqued to 80Nm.

Front shocks w140
Old Vs New shocks. Notice the old one even leaks oil!

Front sway bar links

Now on to the more fun part where you can expect to meet more of a challenge. First you need to turn the wheel you’re working on all the way out to get access on the backside. Start by removing the caliper, it is held by two bolts. You may require some force to break them loose. Prepare some method too hook the calipers up in the spring to relieve tension on the flexible brake hoses. Never let them hang freely. I used long zip ties here and I could just to cut it off when done. But a simple S-shaped hook would have been even easier!

Front suspension and caliper
Turn the wheel out completely before starting.

The caliper might be difficult to get off if the brake rotor has a lip on the edge. Use a pry bar or the back side of a hammer to press in the outer brake pad by using the rotor for leverage. Be careful not to damage the pad material. When the caliper is loose, secure it up onto the spring.

Location sway bar link w140
Location of sway bar link. Notice only one accessible bolt. The other one is behind the disk rotor.
Brake caliper w140 removed and hanging
The brake caliper is remove and secured in a zip tie from the spring to relieve tension in the flexible brake hose and brake caliper sensor.

When the brake caliper is loosened you can start remove the break disk rotor. It is secured by a tiny hex nut, but you might find this lost or broken. Mine was broken off on the right side, but the left one was fine. Loosen the nut with a hex socket. If the brake rotor is sticking to the hub, try hammering gently on it with a plastic hammer. If it does not pop off, it can be quite frozen due to rust and you’ll need heat to loosen it. Ignite up your blow torch and heat the area just around the hub. This should expand the rotor just enough so it will pop off with a light hammer blow. Over heating the hub might make the hub grease melt and run out, so be careful with the heat.

Brake rotor locking nut w140
Brake rotor locking nut with hex. This might have broken off already.

Now it’s the time to locate the outer sway bar link nut. Cross your fingers for no rust. It is located right under the brake rotor. The locking mechanism is not the best engineering, since you’ll need either a special tool or trying to combine a socket with some magic tricks. I used a socket, secured it with locking pliers and then used a hex key sticking through it. After some fiddling I managed to get the nut off. You can usually loosen the bolt the first few turns by using just the socket normally.

The upper nut should be the easier of the two to get off, since the lower one usually gets all the rust and is easier to round off the hex bolt head. Soak it thoroughly with rust penetration fluid and let it work for 15 minutes. Then use a hammer and whack that nut good a couple of times.

Removing front sway bar link nut w140
Removing the lower sway bar link nut. Cross your fingers that the hex will not round out. I only got a 50% success rate.

I got lucky with one side, but the other side I had to drive in an over sized XZN socket with a hammer so it’s surely stuck in there. Then I could get enough torque to loosen the rusted nut. This will obviously destroy the part, but it’s thrown out anyway. Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of this process since I was struggling a bit and running out of time.

Broken sway bar link sleeve
The sleeve was broken on the sway bar link. This does not take long until squeaking starts!

Now you should be able to remove the sway bar link. Go fetch the one that fits depending on the side you are working (hopefully you order the correct ones). Fit the top side first, then you move on to the lower side. It can a be a bit tricky to fit the lower side onto the sway bar again. Get a long bar or a long spanner and wedge it between the spring to get leverage to push down on the sway bar.

Use leverage to fit the sway bar link to the sway bar
Use leverage to fit the sway bar link to the sway bar.

It is not necessary to tighten the sway bar links very hard, just snug with enough force so they sit on. Remember these will probably rust tight faster than you can say cheese and the hex bolts will round off again.

old vs new sway bar links
Old vs New Sway bar links.

Caution: Before assembling the rotors, make sure you brush off any old rust off the hub face and the inside of the rotor. This is to prevent rumbling while braking and that the rotor sits on straight! You can use a steel brush and a rough pad to do this. Also brush off any surface rust on the front side of the rotor where it meets the wheel.

The front caliper bolts need a layer of blue thread locker on them since there are no shims or similar. Use 115Nm torque when tightening the caliper bolts.

It can be a bit tricky to mount the wheel if the little rotor locking nut is missing, so a replacement might come in handy here. Otherwise you have to align the hub with the rotor first and then with the wheel when sticking in the bolts.

Now I hope you will take on this task without paying stupid amounts of hours for mechanics to figure this out at a workshop. Go do it yourself!

Cheers, Robs out!

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 in a 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 the electrical system. Mercedes is a better built car overall, 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 (12-14 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 a bit slow to react, much faster to manually stick in S with the auto transmission.

Complaint 3: Plain interior and cheap plastic is used. The author points out the spartan interior, sparse use of real wood and really nasty cheap plastic used for 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 looking plastic used on the doors rarely breaks. This is another story for the notorious 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 large and flat non-aerodynamic mirrors. Poor engine noise insulation is pointed out too.
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 in the end.

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 since you need to get the revs up since it lacks the low end power of a V8. 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 the economic reasons why Mercedes has reintroduced them in their new cars and is planning to discontinue 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. I also recommend to go for the Bilstein dampers!

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 with 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 and have a modern compared to other classic cars. Many do indeed enjoying the weird features and 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!