“Oh! The Mercedes has yet another issue?” You say, smugly, whilst riding around in your SUV that you pay $300 a month for. Never mind the fact that you’re on your phone while driving, seems everyone is these days, you still feel superior piloting your 3 ton machine around and getting dismal fuel economy. Well, fuck you I say, because my car cost a whole $500 and it has so much more character than your beige mobile could ever dream of. “Oh, yes, $500 to buy and then how much did you spend getting it running and driving, hm?” Still with that smug smile. Sure, Mercedes Benz parts can be expensive. They can also be engineered around, relatively easily and inexpensively in some cases.
The answer is just about $2000 all in; new tires, mounting and balancing, shocks, a realignment, brake pads, all sorts of small things, license plates, then collectors plates and even insurance. They don’t really care though. Anyone can have a cheap and fun ride, they just have to be willing to put in the effort. The kind of person that pays $3600 a year for some soul crushing SUV? That person probably isn’t willing to do the work. That person probably doesn’t scan Craigslist for projects in their free time or to see how much depreciation they can take advantage of. That person doesn’t have a list of dream cars because all they want is something they view as reliable. What do they sacrifice for that perceived reliability? It could be the joy of driving. Maybe they end up with a vehicle that leaves you numb to the road. It could be that they give up individuality. Now they’re just another gray Civic in a sea of black, grey, or beige commuters.
Oh I’m guilty too, my Mazda3 is a commuter car, and grey to boot. It’s also a fun car, a car with soul, a car connected to the road, a car I’ve never let a shop work on in my 60,000 miles of ownership. The person with the smug smile wouldn’t drive a Mazda3, it’s small and under powered and it’s a hatchback. This is the kind of person that feels like working on cars is a dirty habit or something for the poors do out of necessity. “What!? Wash my car with my own hands? Me? No thanks, that’s what those drive through washes are for. Cars are dirty” I imagine they’d say, perhaps while clutching their pearl necklace in terror. I spend several hours of my weekend running wax over all the little imperfections in the Benz’s paint. These imperfections don’t bother me, they come with the territory, they add character. The Benz is 46 years old, I don’t pay $300 a month for it. What would the stranger do if their vehicle had such imperfections. What would the neighbors think.
They relish complaining about how much an oil change costs, because they still have someone else doing it for them. “It took them 45 minutes last time. You’d think they could be quicker about it” they gripe, not knowing the oil capacity of their engine or even the displacement unless it’s got a shiny badge on it. They don’t get dirty and they don’t bond with their vehicle because they don’t care about it. They don’t understand the incredible engineering that go into making such a thing, it’s magic they use daily and can’t even bother to comprehend. It’s all taken for granted and when the suspension gets bouncy after 40,000 miles of suburban hell, they’ll be angry at the vehicle like it’s suddenly unheard or for standard wear items to actually go bad on a Honda or Toyota, just like any other brand. They don’t get cars, they don’t care to get them, they don’t enjoy driving. These people make me sad, with their ironclad refusal to drive something interesting. These people treat me like I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I bought an old, German made sedan.
Don’t worry, you smug smile wearing anonymous person, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. Well, maybe not entirely, but I’m well enough equipped to deal with the issues I encounter. I enjoy working on my cars (most of the time), I enjoy learning my cars and I sure as hell take pride in keeping them running. That’s not to say they don’t catch me unawares, they certainly can spring a good surprise every now and again. The Benz has had it’s share, it’s left me stranded two times in the two years I’ve been driving it. That’s not horrible, given the amount of miles I drive, the fact that it’s 46 years old, and the style of driving I often put it through. When it happens twice in the same few weeks though, that’s bad.
I think I’ve figured out the latest issue, random ignition issues and a form of sudden death syndrome while out and about. This has happened twice. The first time it died, it felt like the engine had just stopped firing. I popped the hood and found that I was getting gas and I certainly had enough air, which left spark and compression. The compression probably isn’t great at this point, but it’s been enough to keep running so I decided to first test spark. I’d recently replaced the spark plugs, so I wasn’t sure if I’d done something wrong or upset some delicate balance.
After having my mom run out with the truck to pull me home, I hooked up the timing light to see if I was getting any spark. The timing light I was using flashes when it gets a magnetically induced pulse, such as when a spark plug fires. My plugs wires are new from last year, and it wouldn’t make much sense to test each wire if I wasn’t getting any pulse from the ignition coil. That’s where I started, and that’s where I found my issue. The distributor wire was a bit crispy, so I picked up a replacement for about $4 at Weavers and swapped it out. I also cleaned the connections from the optical ignition as they’re pretty well covered in oil that mists from the many leaks the Benz has. Another test and I was still having an issue getting spark, I now know better, but I logically deduced that it was a dead ignition coil and ordered one from Amazon.
I’m pretty lazy, so I didn’t want to entirely remove the old coil in case that wasn’t the issue. I went ahead and disconnected the old one, swapped the connectors to the new distributor and made sure everything was nice and tight. The Benz fired right up, so I went ahead a wrote it off as a success. The Benz had other plans. Later that night, we made it about half way back from Phils place before Phil had to give us a ride home.
Yes, that’s Ali in the Mazda towing me about two miles home and yes, that is a box full of hornets. I was just trying to find a towing chain, instead I found a lot of hornets and a mouse that was quite unhappy with my checking in. I checked the distributor wire again and found it was fine, so I checked the connections on the coil and still wasn’t able to get the car to start. At this point, I was thinking I would have to install a new electronic ignition setup. I headed to PelicanParts, because these folks have a whole lot of knowledge on these cars, where I struck up a conversation about getting a Pertronix system. This led me to checking my distributor for the model number as the Pertronix kits are based on the distributor, and that’s where I found my issue.
The good news is that I’ve got a genuine Bosch distributor, which is something I wasn’t expecting after 46 years of use. I guess I don’t need a new ignition system after all. The bad news? The distributor base is broken. The bracket that holds it to the engine broke clean off. On top of that, Pertronix doesn’t make a kit for my particular application. Now, I’m not entirely sure what would cause the base to break, perhaps working on the distributor and putting more stress on that bracket than I realized? The aforementioned 46 years of use and abuse? Either way, it’s broken and that was allowing the distributor to rise up off the engine meaning it could no longer engage the ignition rotor and thereby fire the spark plugs as it was supposed to. That explains the ignition issues as well as the random dying whilst driving. My guess is that every time I worked on it, I managed to push the distributor back into place enough for it to fire and run fine until it popped back up. Voila, mysterious ignition issue.
I’ve dropped the base off over at MGD Welding to see what they can do. Hopefully they can weld it right up, otherwise I’m going to have to see what Mercedes can do. I’ve scoured EBay and only found one for a 230, which uses a 4 cylinder engine and I think it has a different distributor base. I might be able to make that work, but it’s probably going to be expensive either way I go.
Still, I can’t complain for a $500 car.