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Mercedes-Benz 350SL

Mercedes-Benz 350SL Published: 28th Oct 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mercedes-Benz 350SL
Mercedes-Benz 350SL
Mercedes-Benz 350SL
Mercedes-Benz 350SL
Mercedes-Benz 350SL
Mercedes-Benz 350SL
Mercedes-Benz 350SL
Mercedes-Benz 350SL
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Our Alvis-owning contributor was not so lucky when he bought this ‘cracking’ SL! CAR: Mercedes-Benz 350SL YEAR: 1976 OWNER: Robert Couldwell

I was delighted when I discovered my 30 year old son-in-law wanted an old car although slightly concerned he fancied a very specific classic; a Mercedes SL (107). I tried to convince him he should perhaps start with something a little more simple, easier and cheaper to repair like an MGB, a Spitfire, Sprite or Vitesse but he was having none of it!

He had heard about a 107 for around £6000 and showed me a photograph in which the car certainly looked good but I have found after years of buying classics that cameras do lie.

We went to see the car, kept in a lock-up on a council estate and from a distance it looked fine but close up was dreadful, having been subjected to an amateur restoration. I explained to my son-in-law that it would cost tens of thousands to bring up to decent condition and we duly left. I could feel his disappointment. To be fair, the vendor sold it on the next day (Friday) for £7000, too, which supports my view that the 107 is on the way up in the wake of the Pagoda which can now fetch six figures with ease.

I said to Piers that he was not going to buy a decent 107 for his budget and as I had just sold my Jaguar for a good price, I decided to invest some of the profit and go in with him. We then started looking at cars of between £12 and £15,000, hoping to find a sound, properly restored car in condition 1/2 that Piers could improve. Concours 107s fetch around £40,000 and rising, so there is some scope.

We looked at one which had been skulking at the back of a Mercedes specialist restorer and it was obvious they couldn’t justify bringing it up to the standard of their more illustrious projects like 190SLs and 280SE Convertibles, so they were selling as it was. It wasn’t bad but as it was only the second we had looked at, we decided to carry on looking.

Hook, line and sinker?

Next was a 300SL at a classic dealer in Hook. We made an appointment to view and took the post code from the web site and couldn’t understand it when we arrived to find a garage which wasn’t the one we were looking for. On telephoning the dealer, we were told it had moved! When we arrived another guy was looking at the car and the dealer said he thought he was the one who had made the appointment. So we stood back and looked at some of the other cars on display to be told by the dealer we should wait outside. When we were finally allowed to look at the car the salesman hovered over us and when I pointed out some rust under the bonnet to my son-in-law, he accused me of pushing through and making a hole when I hadn’t even touched the car! Needless to say we made a sharp exit for a Carlsberg at the local pub…

The next one was a 350SL, at a well known dealer, (name withheld but we know who they are-ed) operating not from a showroom but from a couple of barns on a farm in the middle of nowhere, quite near Cobham. The barns were full of fabulous cars: two and three year old Bentleys, Astons, Ferraris and a Maserati and there at the back was this bright yellow 107.

If it had been my sole decision, I would have left then but Piers liked it. It just reeked of the 1970s with its brown cloth upholstery and brown dashboard and door cards.

It even had brown centres on the hub caps – a good sign. The guys had a much better idea of how to treat customers and left us to look through the history file and crawl over the car. They managed to extricate it from the back of the barn and invited us to take it for a test drive unsupervised. In an ideal world it’s a good idea to take a marque specialist when buying a car but few of them are prepared to do ‘house calls’ and vendors aren’t exactly keen to drive their cars to them…

The car had done a claimed 88,000 miles from new and while the registration documents showed four keepers, the car had been driven by one lady whose husband had transferred the car to various of his companies over the years. My wife does about 2000 miles a year so the 88,000 over 30 or 40 years seemed feasible.

On the death of the owner the car had been inherited and then restored to a reasonable standard although unfortunately the engine had not been taken out so the engine bay was not brilliant. The vinyl dashboard had a nasty crack in it which can be repaired but the cost is in taking the dashboard out which takes several hours. Some of the chrome was also a bit ‘iffy’ but that can be sorted over time as everything is available from main dealers and at reasonable prices.

They wanted £15,000 for it and on the way back from the test drive we decided our maximum budget was £13,500 and we should walk away if it wasn’t accepted. After some discussion with the boss, the offer was accepted as they were somewhat overstocked, running into the autumn. We insisted on a new MoT which showed no problems and Piers arranged a post-purchase inspection with a so-called Mercedes specialist in Hove. The guy that did the inspection said it was the part of his job he liked least as he often had to give people bad news. The only problems he could unearth were a propshaft bearing, an oil leak and a petrol leak.

It was duly booked in but my son-in-law was somewhat irritated to be told the car was ready – only to get there and find they had only done the bearing and charged him £280 for the privilege!

So it was back to Dangerous Dave, my garage mate, to sort the oil and petrol leaks. That is when the problems started. Dave noticed that the crankcase breather pipe, which should discharge into the huge air filter pan had been re-routed to discharge below the block. Having been a garage proprietor for 40 years, Dave immediately diagnosed the situation.

The oil had been passing worn or ‘gummed in’ piston rings and filling the air filter with oil which had obviously been causing starting problems. He was convinced the car had done a lot more than 88,000 miles and suggested ‘backing’ the car on the dealer.

 

All that glitters…

In the meantime a proper R107 specialist had been recommended by a neighbour, who has a beautiful 230 SL Pagoda, and so we arranged a full inspection. Clive Jordan of Autocheck, Thakeham Garage, Storrington, West Sussex, confirmed Dave’s diagnosis but unfortunately found a lot more problems, four of which should have caused the car to fail its MoT two months before including loose seat belt mountings, front tyres rubbing on wishbones, leaking steering box and perished anti-roll bar bushes.

The list of problems Clive found with the car on the ramp was a sorry tale as the following taken from his report shows.

 

  • As there has been water retained behind the bulkhead, it is likely this will result in severe rust and the necessity to replace the bulkhead which requires the removal of the windscreen trim, wings and fascia. There are also other areas of rust in the chassis rails, offside front wing and O/S front floor
  •  

  • The engine is ‘over-breathing’ to the extent that somebody at some time has tried to disguise this by re-routing a breather pipe away from the air filter housing. The heavy oil emissions were obviously causing starting difficulties. This is likely caused by a lack of servicing and oil changes during the car’s life as the oil rings have become clogged with carbon, causing high oil consumption and bore wear. This is exacerbated by fuel injectors not sealing, causing fuel to ‘wash’ the bore when the ignition is switched off removing any oil and thus lubrication. New injectors and seals are required urgently. There is also a leak from O/S area of the cylinder head
  •  

  • The rear brake discs are corroded
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  • The brake and clutch fluids have obviously not been changed for a considerable length of time
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  • The fuel pump bracket is broken and is held in place by cable ties. This puts pressure on the fuel line and wiring connections. Fuel lines are brittle and there is evidence of leaks. What service history?
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  • The vacuum-controlled central locking is not working and the mechanism is incorrectly located
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  • The tyres appear to have been manufactured in 1983 and are showing signs of perishing. While not an MoT failure as such, they should be changed
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  • During the car’s ‘restoration’ the passenger side window was incorrectly set meaning that hood is not waterproof
  •  

  • It is obvious from inspection of the underside that the car was left in the open for a long period at some time in its life explaining the poor condition underneath
    • We would have changed the tyres as a matter of course but the rest of it was beyond contemplation. Needless to say, the description of the car on the dealer’s web site was somewhat at odds with the inspection report!

      Piers e-mailed the specialist report to the vendor who basically countered our concerns that the car was ‘as described’ and could not be expected to be in good condition as it was 40 years old. The ‘duo’ were simply not interested. After various texts going back and forth we decided to take them to court.

      I had also considered the small claims court where I had achieved successes in the past, admittedly for hundreds of pounds rather than thousands. Also the small claims court only covers amounts up to £10,000 and the government website warned that if the application was not perfect, the case could be thrown out.

      We decided therefore to employ a suitably experienced solicitor who suggested the fast track service, but cautioned us that it could cost as much to re-claim £13,500 as £100,000 with mediators at up to £5000 per day, specialist witnesses and barristers.

      Garage proprietors that I spoke to, said ‘the trade’ never win in court so we embarked on litigation. The dealer’s solicitors denied that the vehicle was either misrepresented and/or contrary to the Sale of Goods Act 1979 as amended and added we had unrealistic expectations of the vehicle that was 40 years old.

      But the crucial paragraph for us was: That said, our clients do live in the real world and accept that there is a degree of risk in any litigation Fast Track despite believing that your client would fail should he take it that far. In an attempt to resolve the dispute without judicial intervention our client is prepared to mediate……..they will consider making an offer to re-purchase based on what they see….

      We knew at that stage we would recover most of our money; it was just a waiting game. Cutting to the chase, we finally received £12,000 on May 11th, taking a total hit of £2500 including legal costs.

      It could have been worse to be fair and we’ve all had bad experiences when buying old cars. But we thought we were buying from a good specialist – something we always advise you the readers to do so as not to be lumbered with such a lemon. So what do you do now?



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