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Car & Classic: The Rescues – W124

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By Chris Pollitt

Our Editor can’t resist a cheap car, so when he was presented with the opportunity to buy this slightly dilapidated W124 230E Mercedes-Benz for £100, he simply couldn’t say no. Though for once, there was a reason behind his manic car buying, and that reason was our blossoming YouTube channel, through which we’ve launched our Rescues series. In this series, as we did with the little 1953 Austin, we rescue old cars and bring them back to life. And life is what the Mercedes most definitely needed.

Before we go on and tell you a bit more about what went on, consider this your spoiler warning! If you haven’t watched it, the following words will give the game away. You have been warned! 

As we said in the other post, we bought the car from Lymm and got it over to our mates in Huddersfield. Here you will find, in the Yorkshire hills, the Crap Car Collective. This is a group of mates who share a bit of industrial space and within it, they work on old cars. Though, the name is a bit tongue in cheek, as not all the cars are crap. There’s an E21 BMW for example, and an Anglia van, and a Maestro… though the last one only serves to validate the name. But hey, it is a track car, so that’s something. Anyway, the CCC were more than happy to play host to the W124 while we did the work. 

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Unlike in the Austin episode, the goal for the Mercedes was somewhat more considerable. We wanted it to get through an MOT. When we bought it, it had about 72 hours of test left on it. It had done minimal miles in the year previous, so we figured it would be simple enough. How wrong we were. We stuck it in for a test as soon as we got it. We knew it would fail, and as such, we needed that fail sheet to get a list of stuff to do, rather than just go at the car blindly. If we knew the failure points, we knew what to focus on.

The logic here was simple. The MOT would be the goal for the video, that’s point one. Point two is that a car that’s road legal is a lot easier to work on than a car that’s not. Getting an MOT on the old Mercedes wasn’t going to fix it, but it would at least take logistical issues out of doing work on it as we move forward. 

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The MOT fail was… considerable. The offside front wing was so rusty it was a danger to pedestrians, the exhaust was broken, the tyres were split, there was a whopping great hole in the rear structure, the brake lines were rusted and there were advisories for corroded fuel lines. Fun. 

We got the team together and set about the car and, as you do with these things, made some alarming discoveries. Firstly, the car only had about 75% of its wheel bolts. Not only that, the ones it did have were of varying lengths. This hadn’t been picked up on the MOT. We decided it would not be going back to the same garage when the work was done. 

W124, Mercedes-Benz W124, Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes, Classic Mercedes, project car, E Class, 230E, carandclassic, motoring, automotive, classic car, retro car

Other discoveries were more pleasant. The rot at the back was outward facing, and so easily accessible. This was soon plated and protected. It may come back, but as we plan to drop the rear suspension and subframe for powder coating at some point, we’re not too concerned. The brake lines were indeed corroded, but at the front at least, they were serviceable. Clean up with a wire brush, bit of Hammerite, job done. Why they make them out of mild steel we’ll never know. The rear was a different matter though, as some hard line had to be replaced. A bit of a faff, but Rich made light work of it. New flexis were fitted, too. 

Tyres were easy. The good people at Falken sent us a set of new rubber. We like Falken tyres, not because they sent them, but because they’re a good all-round tyre, which is what we needed. The Yokohama rubber that was on the car was decent once, but had started to break up over the years. It wasn’t safe. The new rubber wasn’t for the eight-hole alloys though. For reasons known only to him, our Editor hates those alloys. He bought a set of fifteen-hole rims instead and the new rubber went on there. Tyres – done. 

W124, Mercedes-Benz W124, Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes, Classic Mercedes, project car, E Class, 230E, carandclassic, motoring, automotive, classic car, retro carThe brakes themselves were heavily lipped, so we threw on a new set of discs from EBC. A British brand, there’s not a lot EBC doesn’t make brakes for. The ones we got were grooved, which might be overkill for an old Merc, but hey, we need to stop. 

Exhaust again was simple. We managed to get a brand new, complete system for £96 – not bad for manifold back. Though we only needed to use the mid-section back parts. The front section now lives in our spares pile. 

W124, Mercedes-Benz W124, Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes, Classic Mercedes, project car, E Class, 230E, carandclassic, motoring, automotive, classic car, retro carEverything was going well right up until the point we were bleeding the brakes. First of all, the brakes didn’t want to bleed, which was a pain. But soon it didn’t matter, as we found another problem – steam pouring out of the engine bay. Having collected it in the dark, we didn’t notice it. Turns out the radiator was holed and weeping – the bottom half was sopping wet through. This was it, game over. We put down our tools and went home. 

It was two weeks before we were back, but when we were, we had a new radiator (£79 off eBay) and a Sealey Tools pressure brake bleeding kit. We were not being beaten this time. Though the car had other ideas, as it wouldn’t start (despite being fitted with a brand new battery) and two tyres were flat. Great.

W124, Mercedes-Benz W124, Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes, Classic Mercedes, project car, E Class, 230E, carandclassic, motoring, automotive, classic car, retro car

Turns out the garage that mounted the tyres just left the old valves in, and they were borked. Different place, remount, balance, new valves, job done. As for the battery, we stuck another one on and the 202,000 mile machine keenly barked into life. Turns out the boot light doesn’t turn off, and thus drains the battery. Bulb removed, sorted. 

The rad went in without fuss. Honestly, it’s a five minute job. Couple of clips, couple of jubilee clips, job done. All we had to do was the brakes, and let us tell you, that pressure bleeding kit from Sealey is an absolute godsend. You fill it with fluid, attach it to the master cylinder, then connect it to an air compressor. The device then pushed the fluid through. No pedal pumping, just a quick twiddle with the nipples and it was done. Wheels on, car finished. 

W124, Mercedes-Benz W124, Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes, Classic Mercedes, project car, E Class, 230E, carandclassic, motoring, automotive, classic car, retro car
The day of the MOT was tense, but you know what that’s like. There is a stark difference between putting a car in for an MOT and putting a car in for an MOT that you have done all the work on. It becomes personal. Imagine how devastated we were, then, when the tester said it was failing on emissions. But how? They were fine on the previous test. It even has a new exhaust now. “Wait…” says the MOT man, as he looks at the car. “Does this have a catalytic converter?”. It does not. He was testing it as if it did. He changed the settings on the machine and, phew, pass. 

W124, Mercedes-Benz W124, Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes, Classic Mercedes, project car, E Class, 230E, carandclassic, motoring, automotive, classic car, retro car
And just like that, this car that was possibly ready for the grave was instead road legal. As we type, it’s still up north. We’re going to get it and drive it back to Bristol tomorrow, and while we have bought breakdown cover just to be safe, we’re quietly confident. And then, once the car is back home, we can start on the next project of sorting out the million advisories, as well as smartening the old girl up a bit. But that’s another video. Until then, we hope you enjoy this one. 

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