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Azryael New Reader
10/2/19 2:27 a.m.

So I figured I may as well start a thread for another one of my cars, one that after owning it nearly a decade, I need to get cracking on it.

A bit of a recap, I was born and raised in Germany (Army brat, but also had a German mom, meaning plenty of relatives) and spent much of my life moving back and forth between various bases in the US and various bases overseas. My uncle is a master mechanic for MB back where I was born, and the brand has been a part of my life since birth growing up wrenching with him on various MBs the family owned or would be brought to the house.

After having to leave behind our '89 2.6L 190E (should have just paid to get it fit for regs here), I swore I'd get my hands another. I spent the first year back in the states scouring Craigslist for the perfect 190E, but never could find what I wanted. Nothing manual, all beat to hell, and overpriced. It was at that point I decided to just keep an eye out for a European spec 190E 2.3-16, and stopped my hardcore search just browsing CL from time to time to see what was available. I'd grown up around the 126- and 140-chassis S-Class sedans, having driven several (260SE, 280S, 280SE, 300SE) throughout high school in various conditions, but I never considered one here in the US due to the god-awful bumpers that stuck out into the next county.

I came across an ad for a '84 500SE, never offered here in the US, so it was a gray market car; it had US-spec headlights and tail lights, but the flush European bumpers were still present. I felt compelled to go look at it. Meeting with the seller, I come to find out he's selling the car after only a month because he's come across a 635csi he'd rather have and his wife said it's the 500 or the BMW, and the BMW was more his thing. He handed me the keys and let me take it for a spin around his area and I immediately fell for the car. Sure, it was an automatic, and it had some age-related issues and some cosmetic things that needed to be resolved, it wasn't a 190E, but it was amazing to be back in an MB. I had to have it. We agreed on a price and I drove it home that same day.

It came with a stack of paperwork that included the import and EPA/DOT documents. The car was originally delivered to an American working at the embassy in Beirut, Lebanon sometime in 1984. After the situation got bad there, the original owner decided to return to Texas, bringing the car with him. The "Federalization" (or bastardization, as I like to call it) has taken its toll on the car, but I'll go over that later. The car spent most of its life in Dallas before coming down here to San Antonio.

This was the day after I brought it home:

Here it is two years later, still sporting the US-spec headlights:

Later that same year I returned from a mission in Ft. Sill, OK, to a box from another enthusiast with my fresh headlights. Even after a 7-hour drive from OK back to the house, I was excited and undeterred and got them swapped in right away:

At some point, I had the car on some Ronal R9s that I never got around to painting, but also remembered I had a Hotwheels 126, so I snapped a photo of the two:

As I mentioned, the car is not without its faults, but it only left me stranded once (when the chain guides gave out, yikes) in the last 9 years. Since I've owned it, I've done all the wheel bearings, rebuilt the HVAC box, power steering pump, headliner, and much more.

I've been undoing damage done by the Feds and Independent "Mechanics" and still find a few lazy "fixes" to this day, but it's still a joy to drive, mostly (we'll get to that in a bit). Here's one of my favorite "fixes" that I've come across:

Yes, that's a washer meant to act as a means of sealing the injector as opposed to replacing the inexpensive insulator below it that was all chewed up.

Now we'll get to the "mostly" part I mentioned before. I love driving this car, I really do, but the automatic really saps the fun out of it. I care not for "luxury" provided by the 4-speed auto that seems to shift whenever it damn well pleases, and my experience in other short wheelbase 126-sedans with both 4- and 5-speed manuals with M110s and M103s felt peppier, lighter, and way more fun than my 500SE with a V8. That's strike one, not the car's fault, but MBs (in my opinion, anyway).

The second is that the Bastardization process has left this car in a state where it never really idles correctly. My car idles about 200RPM lower than anybody elses. In park, it's at 550RPM (should be about 750), and in gear it drops down to as low as 350RPMs! It never stalls out and seems okay, but this is definitely not something I want to live with for another 9 years either. It seems at some point the rudimentary throttle position sensor for the CIS must have gone bad, so some independent mechanic found some way to simply bypass it all together and likely screwed with the plunger in the fuel distributor to get the idle "reasonable". The TPS is supposed to assist the idle speed control module against the firewall to determine the position of the throttle plate to and adjust fuel/air as needed. There's no real "mixture" control with CIS, but people screw with that plunger anyway because it "does the trick". It screws up everything else.

So here's the connector to the TPS, just sitting there, with nothing to connect to. Someone took it upon themselves to remove entirely what this was supposed to plug into. I can't find another pigtail that's meant to go there anywhere in the engine bay:

This car will stay with me til one of us croaks, so I'm pondering the long term way forward to preserve drivability and reliability as the next decade goes by. I love the chassis itself, but I'm not in love with the M117 and the problems that come with this aging motor in terms of parts availability. Don't get me wrong, they are great motors, and folks on other forums will spend tens of thousands of dollars to build these up (they could have probably just gone with a different motor and had money left over to go on a cruise...), but I don't think it's a good fit for me.

The first option is to keep going with undoing the damage done three and half decades ago, bringing the CIS and ignition systems back into spec by restoring parts that are missing, all while finding a way to get a manual transmission behind this motor (plenty of threads out there on it, but all require some engineering which isn't an issue).

Option two is to keep the M117 and look at aftermarket engine management (MS, or even FrankenCIS) while still doing my manual swap.

Option three is to look at the M119, which has significant improvements over the M117, including the resolution of the fatal timing chain guide flaw. I could go with an early model for a close to direct swap with CIS, or simply move on to aftermarket engine management system. A manual transmission solution would still be a requirement.

And the last, final option, is to look at a domestic drivetrain solution which would certainly solve the transmission dilemma while also allowing me to get motor parts and aftermarket support for said motor for years to come.

Option one maintains the status quo, and is the least desirable option for me. I'm split evenly on the other three options. The biggest hurdle for me doing just about anything is time. Between work, house work, wife-related things, I hardly have any time and energy to do the things I want to do.

That's pretty much it for now! So my other cars don't feel left out, I'll share them here too.

My '97 Wrangler (my first car):

My dream car, '85 190E 2.3-16:

The big truck, '96 F350:

The little truck, '98 Durango:

If you've stuck around this far, thanks for reading!

yupididit GRM+ Memberand UberDork
10/2/19 6:20 a.m.

And the G63...

kevinatfms GRM+ Memberand Reader
10/2/19 6:32 a.m.

My dad had an 85 500SE that he imported from Germany. Looked exactly like this, white with the greyish cladding, tan interior and those wheels.

He had some work done to it before it was imported over and some how when it hit the port here in Baltimore they allowed him to take the car without the federalized modifications. So it had the original headlights/tails(including the headlight wipers), tucked bumpers and exhaust.

Sold it in mid 93 to buy a BMW(BIG mistake) and he always talks about that Mercedes. Def. going to keep an eye on this thread.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
10/2/19 6:48 a.m.

I have a gray market BMW M535i, so I know what you mean about the modifications that were made to cars when they were Federalized.  For example, I'll bet that if you were to take the euro bumpers off your car you'd find some sketchy reinforcements hidden inside - on my car there were some big hunks of flat bar that looked like they came off a farm implement.  smiley

buzzboy HalfDork
10/2/19 8:32 a.m.

Following excitedly. I have very similar feelings about my SClass and what I want from it. 

Azryael New Reader
10/2/19 12:07 p.m.

In reply to yupididit :

I helped buy it, but I don't really consider it mine.

Azryael New Reader
10/2/19 12:08 p.m.

In reply to kevinatfms :

Ahh, he was lucky! I know there were some who managed to get their cars in without any changes whatsoever; depended on what kind of connections you had, I guess.

My 190E is an import as well, and doesn't have nearly as much of the chopped wiring and such as the 500 does.

Azryael New Reader
10/2/19 12:10 p.m.

In reply to stuart in mn :

Believe it or not, they didn't do anything behind either bumper as far as I can tell, but they DID install bars inside the doors. You can see the plate that holds it up right there on the side of the door. Different cars received different levels of bastardizing, unless you were lucky to get away without any mods needing to be made.

That said, I still prefer a gray market car over a domestic version any day!

Azryael New Reader
10/2/19 12:13 p.m.

In reply to buzzboy :

I hear ya. Most folks will tell you to leave it as is, or sell it and buy a Honda or some condescending garbage like that.

I don't own this car to sell for a profit years down the road. I own this car because I love the brand, love the body style, and love the reactions I get when I drive it.

What model do you have? I recall seeing it somewhere, but I've forgot the details.

Also, I can't seem to multi-quote. frown

buzzboy HalfDork
10/2/19 3:57 p.m.

Not super worried about keeping mine stock wink I just want more power and a manual transmission. It's a 79 300SD, gutted, caged, cut springs and... that's about it. I just love how this car, and every other 80s/90s mercedes, drives. It feels very planted yet also spry. I'd like to drive a v8 car as I'm sure I'd love the power. Hottest one I driven was a post facelift 300SEL which isn't the fastest thing on the road but plenty quick while also a very lovely cruiser.

Azryael New Reader
10/2/19 4:03 p.m.

The 116s have such a great look if you can get the euro bumpers or pre-1973 US bumpers.

That 617 of yours is ready for a manual, and plenty of parts available to do so without much worry. Even the pedal box wouldn't be much of an issue. All you'd really be looking at is a custom driveshaft, potentially.

In your case, I'd keep it diesel an look into an OM606! A BMW manual behind that thing, a turbo, and you're good to go!

I love the Planet Express Ship look, btw. It looks like you're on those CLK steelies, as well, am I right?

buzzboy HalfDork
10/2/19 5:52 p.m.

Aesthetically I prefer the w116 body style but the w126 feels like a more refined version especially on the street and spawned my favorite luxury coupe of all time. The om617 in mine has about 160k street and 5k track miles. It's really tired and has been BADLY overheated on track. Currently it's tough to work on because I still have garage space in the town I used to live in, 5 hours away from my summer job and 45 hours away from my winter job. That will change.

I'm thinking OM60x with BMW transmission or something newer and sillier, yet also diesel.

They're the CLK wheels, but not the steelies. They're CLK320 Lightweights. 16x7j and only 13lbs each! They're really modernize the car, but I do wish they were a little bigger, say 17x8j. Plus they're worth good money, like 200each, if we ever decide to sell them.

I love the wheels on your Cossie. Those have always been my absolute dream car and that's a gorgeous example!

Azryael New Reader
10/2/19 5:59 p.m.

I love both bodies, and would love to get my hands on a 6.9, but those have shot up in value so ridiculously that even the regular 450SEL with the 4.5s are climbing!! A W108 would also be nice, but I've been told no more cars till I have a place to put them all crying

I'd love to do either a 123 or 124 wagon with an OM606, for a the perfect family hauler, but I've got a few things I need to finish up first.

Lightweights! That's the word I was looking for but couldn't remember, the word "steelies" just replaced it. They're definitely a popular choice due to how lightweight they are.

Yeah, the Ceginus wheels were a must when I got this car; bought a set that needed refinishing and shipped them off to Dallas to keep the machined finish. So glad I did. The car is in great shape mechanically, but it needs some cosmetic work to be perfect. The paint and clearcoat is in bad shape up top from sitting out in Cali for 10 years or so. Paint and body are the only things holding the 16V back from being the perfect car. I hope to get to that eventually.

Rocambolesque Reader
10/2/19 8:38 p.m.

Drop a M119 in there with a manual transmission and megasquirt.

Azryael New Reader
10/2/19 9:38 p.m.

In reply to Rocambolesque :

You know, my more adventurous side would love to toss in the M120 V12, but parts are getting prohibitively expensive for that motor and wouldn't necessarily do well for what's meant to be an every day kinda car.

But that's kinda what I'm leaning toward. I'd love to get started this winter, but not sure if this year will be the year. Megasquirt has base tunes available for the M119, so I should be able to get it to run just fine without having to incorporate most of the factory stuff, which would save some time.

Given my experience with CIS, an early model M119 with CIS-E puts me in the same boat once more.

Azryael New Reader
10/3/19 1:08 p.m.

Currently, I have a spare M117 block and a T5 from a turbo Z-car that I can try playing around with to get cracking on an adapter plate. Flywheel will still take some engineering as any baseline I choose will have to be modified.

Some have used a BMW flywheel, bolted to the automatic flywheel to keep the starter ring gear in place. I suppose the same could be done with any flywheel, really.

I've found another car that could serve as a test bed for a lot of this, as well as providing the top end I need to perhaps get my car running correctly as it was from the factory. Right now I lack space, and the shop I work at on the side is full, and pending a new tenant so I'm probably going to lose shop access entirely by the end of the year. Bummer.

The goal is to get a new house with all that I want, but that's predicated on the sale of other property and whether or not I stick with my primary job... I still have my 170S project as well, but I want to shift my focus to a quicker project that will keep an otherwise sorted car running and driving.

The manual swap is the biggest thing I want to get done ASAP. I can live with the fubar'd CIS and the M117 as a whole, but I can't live with that 722.xxx any longer. I'm envious of those of you who have the means to do a lot of this work at home; I hardly sleep and that time could easily be spent engineering a solution, but the shop where everything is, although a short drive up the road, is cluttered with unfinished customer jobs that I keep pressuring someone to get done.

SA hasn't been the greatest place to meet like-minded enthusiasts either, and it seems all the really active folks live on either coast!

Rodulrich New Reader
10/3/19 3:06 p.m.
Azryael New Reader
10/3/19 4:30 p.m.

In reply to Rodulrich :

Nice example. Paint and body on that one is wayyyy better than mine, but I paid a lot less than what this bad boy is going for.

I got mine at just the right time, it seems. I've seen these cars climb in value over the last few years, it's nuts! People are becoming aware of what they are.

Sparkydog Reader
10/3/19 5:36 p.m.

I might have found the missing pigtail to your TPS. Aren't those some cut wires I see peeking out behind the survivor wire?

Azryael New Reader
10/3/19 5:38 p.m.

In reply to Sparkydog :

If that's the case, my eyes are already beginning to fail me...

I will check when I make it home this evening. I'm still stuck at work.

Azryael New Reader
10/3/19 8:34 p.m.


You wer absolutely right!

It's been jumpered, so we'll have to see what happens when I disconnect and plug it back in. I tested the TPS itself with my multimeter and it seemed like it was toast.

It is a bear to get to as the throttle body is way down below the fuel distributor and air flow meter. This will mean likely replacing some boots and vacuum lines as a good section of the top end will have to come off.

Now I just need to get a new pressure gauge set to test the control and working pressure to get the CIS back up to speed.

Azryael New Reader
10/3/19 8:54 p.m.

Well, with the jumper removed it will idle at about 850 in Park, and then drop down to 750 in gear, definitely higher than what it should be, but still more reasonable than 550 and 350, respectively.

However, plugging it up as it should be yields the same low idle. This leads me to believe that the TPS has failed, and jumpering it basically sends a static signal to the idle speed control module, one that must make it think it's idling higher causing it to compensate and lower the idle.

yupididit GRM+ Memberand UberDork
10/3/19 9:07 p.m.

In reply to Azryael :

I feel you. Once I moved to SA my circle of enthusiast dropped. 

Azryael New Reader
10/3/19 9:16 p.m.

In reply to yupididit :

We need to meet up at some point. It's just finding the damn time.

I'm too damn young to be this preoccupied.

yupididit GRM+ Memberand UberDork
10/4/19 9:24 a.m.
Azryael said:

In reply to yupididit :

We need to meet up at some point. It's just finding the damn time.

I'm too damn young to be this preoccupied.


We need to share a workspace for our Benz.

Older Mercedes enthusiast aren't big here in SA. Dallas has some though.

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