1964 Mercedes-Benz 220 Fintail – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

There is something undeniably cool about a big old luxury car that has a bit of age to it. You know the kind of thing, a bit of pitted chrome, the odd blemish here and there, leather seats that have been worn into a deeply comfortable state. Patina is what they call it on barn hunting reality TV shows. We just call it a bit of charm. And crucially, it’s also something that can’t be faked. That’s not to say people don’t try to add it, with fake rust and forced damage, in a bid to make a car look aged. It’s never convincing though. A true, used and patinated car is something special that you can’t just knock up on the driveway. 

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Then there is the potential for use. A mint, shiny, buffed to within an inch of its life classic is, make no mistake, a beautiful thing to own. But it’s also a stressful affair, worrying if the weather will turn, if roads will make it dirty or, god forbid, if someone might ding or damage it. Immaculate classics can take some of the fun out of driving them. One that’s a bit worn and dogeared though, that’s the sort of classic you could use every day. Imagine, for example, sticking this gorgeous brown 1964 Mercedes-Benz W111 in the office car park next to the Astras and Foci. How cool would that be? 

What is it?

The W111 Mercedes-Benz was positioned in the market as a midsize luxury saloon, and built on the good work done by the earlier W105, the W180 and the W128. Though of course, if it was going to take over from three cars, it needed to be exceptional. Happily, the German engineers obliged, and the resultant car was a triumph of engineering and quality. Make no mistake, this car comes from a period when Mercedes-Benz really knew how to screw a car together. Even now, in the condition it’s in, the doors close with a reassuring ‘thunk’. 

The car here is a 220, meaning a 1,195cc straight-six petrol engine. Unusually though, this one has a four-speed floor-mounted manual transmission, which is a very rare find indeed. Furthermore, this is the 200SEb model, which means Bosch fuel injection and as such, a whopping 120bhp. Okay, it’s not whopping, but it’s better than the 95bhp this engine normally had. 

Painted in, well, brown. And with lashings of good condition chrome, it still cuts a dash even today, and even in the condition it is in. However, before this old Benz takes to the road, there is a fair bit of work to do. However, given the rare transmission and the overall condition of the car, it is well worth saving. 

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Why is it a project? 

There are a number of reasons that this W111 is a project. The first one being the impressive amount of rust to be found. The sills, the boot floors and plenty of other areas all need to be looked at. Outriggers, some chassis work, bulkhead, so on and so forth. The sad reality of the W111 is that it had a depressing tendency to rot from the inside out. However, old cars need welding, that’s par for the course. And this one hasn’t been poorly repaired in the past. As such, it can be a ‘clean sheet’ repair, rather than needing to fix other people’s work. Plus, the rest of the car is remarkably solid. The doors, roof, bonnet, boot, pillars and wings all seem to be pretty solid. 

Then there is the interior. It’s all present and correct, but it also needs some love. The driver’s seat isn’t fitted at the moment, there are no carpets and everything needs a damn good clean. However, with the exception of the driver’s seat, not a lot looks to need replacement. It just needs to be cleaned up and put back into service. 

Finally, you have the mechanical aspects to contend with. The good news is the engine does indeed run, and it makes good oil pressure. But then, the straight-six fitted to the W111 was and still is a hardy beast. Sadly, the rest of the driveline does need attention. The gearbox selects gears, but sadly the clutch has seized, so the car can’t drive. And if it could, the brakes wouldn’t let it get far, as they are in need of attention too. Basically, the car has been sitting for a long while, so it needs a complete going through. 

It sounds like a lot, but remember, these cars are a joy to work on. Chunky in their construction, you can tackle them with a decent quality tool kit and emerge triumphant. Plus, for the bits you might struggle with, there are myriad specialists out there ready to step in. Mechanical parts are also easy to find, which will save some stress. 

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Five things to look for:

1) Rust

Before buying, you need to get in, under and around this W111 to see exactly what it needs. It might be welding that you’re comfortable to take on, or it might be something you need to farm out. The seller thinks there is about 100 hours worth to be done, so budget for that. 

2) Trim

It all seems to be there, both inside and out. But even so, it never hurts to check the condition. We’ve seen this car, albeit briefly, in the metal and everything seemed to be in good but tired condition. But check for yourself. Chrome and model-specific trim is going to be hard to find. 

3) Electrics

The loom is fairly simple on these old cars, but have a look anyway. Is it all in one piece, has it been chopped about in the past, does it all look safe? 

4) Engine

As mentioned above, the engine does indeed run, and the mileage shows as being just 22k. However, check the engine for leaks, check the core plugs, listen for any knocks or rattles. It’s easy enough to get parts, but given the rest of the work needed, it would be nice to tick the engine off the list at the very start. 

5) Brakes

Jack it up and whip a wheel off. How are the brakes seized? Does it look like an age issue, or is there damage? What about extensive corrosion? Check the brake lines and the master cylinder for any damage, too. 

What should you do with it? 

The current owner had the perfect build in mind. He was going to sort the mechanics out, get the interior looking good and then dress the car up in a style reminiscent of the old Monte Carlo rally cars of the ‘60s. We think that would be a great way to go. We would even get a proper signwriter to do some faded, period livery on the body to really sell the idea. Being a four-speed on the floor car, it would be a believable look and one that would certainly turn heads at the shows. Plus, it would mean you could leave the perfectly patinated body as is. It would look excellent. 

Yes, this car needs a lot of work, but even so, it is dripping with potential. This could be something unique and outlandishly cool if bought by someone with the vision to see the project through. Just imagine what it would be like to cruise around in this big old Mercedes-Benz? That could be you.

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