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BigDaddyDeek
BigDaddyDeek New Reader
5/31/23 10:36 p.m.

After roadtripping this luxurious beast from North Ga for The Challenge I got a few thread requests, so I present the ultimate road sofa:

This is my 1978 Ford LTD Landau with a Mercedes OM617 Turbodiesel swap. I'm going to give a quick rundown of the buildup of the car and hopefully continue to update the thread as I do more roadtrips and more driveability improvements.

I had just graduated college and decided the best way to spend my couple months of adult money was to buy the cheapest and most ridiculous vehicle I could impulse purchase on Marketplace. I got the vision of cruising down a long highway with a bunch of my friends in an absurdly large bench seat car. It was a vague idea of some quintessential American experience that died long before I came around, but that I had always seen romanticized in media and wanted to experience while I was still young and willing to drive really crappy cars cross country. A fictional vehicle that encapsulates a fabricated vibe somewhere between That 70s Show, Fear & Loathing, and Big Lebowski. Never having been into American cars and intending to do some undetermined obscure engine swap on whatever chassis I got, year or make/model were irrelevant, just whatever ostentatious listing capable of driving home made me smile first.

I purchased the car in Middle Tennessee last summer. When my roommate sent the listing for the LTD, I was immediately drawn in by the perfect patina, plush green interior, and the previous owner doing the dirty work of replacing the old gas tank and getting it running with a new carb. The car was one family and had been parked for about 20 years. It was put back on the road by a young member of the family who remembered everyone piling into the big boat to deliver newspapers around town each morning for many years. After a quick sunset first drive around the farm roads, I knew this was the experience I was missing in my life. We payed under Challenge price for the car, and I captained it 2 hours back to Nashville. 

 

I cruised, and broke down, around town a handful of times over the next couple months. It was fun to tinker with carb tuning and go for 6 person test drives whenever friends came over, but I'm not a magician and had no interest in learning the archaic technologies. Ultimately, the old V8 was tired and I had little interest in rebuilding a peak gas crisis boat anchor, so we pulled all 4.5 tons of smog equipment and the V8 that was attached to it. I wanted the drivetrain to go to someone who would use it, so I found a local concrete company who needed the core for the refresh on one of their older trucks. (That last anecdote about the engine going to a good home is to help sooth any American V8 purists who's heart skipped a beat or considered clicking away after the last paragraph)

 

The car sat in my landlord's driveway for the next many months, acting as a workbench, patio furniture, and a great nap spot out of the sun when working outside.

 

 

 

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
5/31/23 10:50 p.m.

I caught just glimpses of this car in Challenge photos and it caught my attention.  I'm glad to be getting the rest of the story.

Matthew Kennedy
Matthew Kennedy GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
5/31/23 11:40 p.m.

My contribution to the thread is the 4-deep autocross run we made at the challenge. For reference, my driving in the LTD was good for a run 15 seconds slower than my Jetta TDI.

buzzboy
buzzboy SuperDork
6/1/23 12:03 p.m.

I'm in for all Mercedes Diesel content. Beautiful work. Love this!

paddygarcia
paddygarcia GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
6/1/23 12:54 p.m.

It seats about twenty!

Nice work on what looks like a fun ride.

BigDaddyDeek
BigDaddyDeek New Reader
6/1/23 5:04 p.m.

Now that I had a very large rolling shell in my yard anchoring me, I started to question some of my decisions. I started making plans for what to do with the car. A few ideas were tossed around, but I eventually ended up doing a junkyard pull of an Atlas 4.2 inline 6 with intentions of swapping that in. The idea was something that was wacky and a little sacrilegious to any hardcore Ford or V8 people, but maybe had enough power to dolly around a smaller car like my Integra if the chassis was solid enough. 

That idea never really got off the ground though, and before I could get started on that swap this summer, a friend and fellow Wreck Racing alum reached out because he was building a Mercedes W123 rallycross car with the old 350 Chevy originally out of his C10. They had no use for the stock turbodiesel and thought it would be the perfect wacky swap for the LTD lawn art that I had. 

Not one to turn down generous offers of parts and help, and knowing that this mechanical diesel would probably go in way easier than the big modern i6, I graciously accepted. Somewhere along the way we also decided that keeping the builds under $2000 and driving to The Challenge in a couple months would be a great idea. So, the planning began and we decided first step was to get the car out of my gravel driveway and over to a friend's garage in Georgia for engine fitting and mounting with a lift and a real workbench. We would do the tow and mounting in one weekend, then tow the car over to another friend's house who had an open carport and guest bedroom where I could sleep and work remote while the car was being finished. 

The engine mounting process went extremely smoothly. The cavernous engine bay swallowed the turbodiesel with ease. Both the OM and the original V8 were front sumped so the crossmembers were in a great spot. We were a little too concerned with optimal weight distribution in the boat and getting the engine down and back, and have since found a slight interference between the harmonic ballancer and the swaybar, but the first couple test runs quickly clearanced that. 

Being mechanical diesel, a couple wires for the starter and glowplugs and a soft hose fuel line tucked into the frame to add a tank return was all it took to get a first start. 

I had to take a quick return to Nashville for some family plans, and to finish the suspension refresh on my e32 so I could get it off stands and it could get me back to Georgia. At the beginning of May, I made it back to the LTD and resumed work getting it ready for the 12 hour roadtrip in 4 weeks. I got a custom driveshaft at a local shop where the owner refused to sell me an 80 inch one-piece driveshaft and made an appeal to math and common sense to convince me not to put an extremely long rapidly rotating noodle right next to my legs, commence remeasuring and center support mount addition. 

Once the driveshaft was in, it was time for a first drive. The battery was dead, the alternator charging wasn't hooked up, and there was no vacuum solenoid to turn the engine off from outside the engine bay, so we connected a jumppack to the starter wires and piled 6 people in for a spin around the block. First impressions were the noise, open turbo 5 cylinder diesel sounds wonderfully agricultural. Next, the monumental slowness, the foot must be held at the floor for a substantial breath while the turbo spools up to it's max boost of 8psi. Eventually, the torque converter begins to deliver power to the rear wheels and the hopeful 180 lbft of turbodiesel torque is immediately lost to one heave of the blown suspension. The car violently pitches back and begins to be pulled through the air.

The wafting suspension and extreme boost lag make it feel like the car is a boat getting on plane, which is only added to by the luxuriously overboosted boat-like steering experience. Each acceleration from a stop feels like a cosmically significant event as the boost swells and sweeps under the car. Space and time begin to slowly move around the cabin, hood dump billowing little puffs of black smoke, tractor flap and body panel clattering drowned out by the screaming turbo. The car was even better than I remembered and I quickly worked to get the body panels on for some extended driving around town.

Around this time, I was supposed to go home for a couple weeks and return just before the roadtrip to The Challenge. However, my BMW had other plans and decided to BMW it's alternator immediately followed by the cooling system. Being no stranger to the German ownership experience, I sacrificed three goats just to be safe: One to repent for doing preventative maintenance, another as apologies for fixing a different car in my fleet, and the last as thanks for BMW knowing what was best and breaking so I would stay and actually polish up the swap before the trip. I'm not sure for which reason I was ultimately smited, but the sacrifices and some rockauto parts did the treat.

In the meantime, I had been finishing up the LTD  and dailying it around town while waiting for German parts. The swap was wonderfully reliable and the chassis continued to be issue free, but I had started to notice some disappearing brake fluid. Narrowing it down to the master, I replaced it with a new part and was immediately met with no brake boost. The boosters for the 70s Ford fullsize has proved to be unobtanium, and with The Challenge roadtrip coming up in a couple days I didn't have the time for some unexpected custom brake setup experimentation. After some attempts at identifying the vacuum leak, I found stuffing the junction between the master and the booster with wheel bearing grease gave it enough seeling to regain some brake feel. The vacuum pump on the diesel can just barely keep up with the leak, and needs some revs to refresh the boost sometimes. Just the right amount of sketch, perfect.

 

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
6/1/23 9:26 p.m.

I am so sorry that I didn't get to drive an autocross run in this. I love the old full size sleds. I'm looking forward to more from this project  



Here's my 79 I mentioned when I was working grid, photo taken in Gainesville in 1994, headed to the outer banks. One year newer, lots smaller and lighter (3700 lbs).


 

BigDaddyDeek
BigDaddyDeek New Reader
6/1/23 9:59 p.m.

Haha, that's an awesome picture, thanks for sharing! It was great meeting you on grid and hearing about your car, glad I got to share the LTD with so many people who were happy to see it exists.

Stampie
Stampie GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/1/23 10:04 p.m.

In reply to BigDaddyDeek :

IIRC those diesel Mercedes had vacuum pumps.

BigDaddyDeek
BigDaddyDeek New Reader
6/1/23 10:27 p.m.

In reply to Stampie :

Yes, there's a big pump unit bolted to the front of the engine. Vacuum reservoir and a booster rebuild are in the plans to help it out and get full boost brakes back. 

https://harmonclassicbrakes.com/rebuild-and-return/

These guys seems to have a lot of classic booster rebuild kits and were the only ones I could find with '70s Ford car booster parts in stock. I'm going to be attempting an order from them soon.

 

buzzboy
buzzboy SuperDork
6/1/23 10:45 p.m.

Putting 6 guys in and going for a drive...

When we bought our 300SD that's the first thing we did. Man was it slow with a 1000lbs of meat inside.

But god do I love the sound of a 5cyl TIDI. Ours with the straight pipe and the idle turned down to 700(W116 had manual idle speed control in the cabin) was like a baby cummins.

MadScientistMatt
MadScientistMatt UltimaDork
6/3/23 12:56 p.m.

The late '70s had some rather laughable ads where Ford compared the Granada to a Mercedes.

This brings it full circle.

eastpark
eastpark HalfDork
6/3/23 9:15 p.m.

      "The wafting suspension and extreme boost lag make it feel like the car is a boat getting on plane, which is only added to by the luxuriously overboosted boat-like steering experience. Each acceleration from a stop feels like a cosmically significant event as the boost swells and sweeps under the car. Space and time begin to slowly move around the cabin, hood dump billowing little puffs of black smoke, tractor flap and body panel clattering drowned out by the screaming turbo."

 

Thats some fine writing. I'm really looking forward to seeing more updates. 
 

Cheers, Paul 

BigDaddyDeek
BigDaddyDeek New Reader
6/4/23 10:15 p.m.

Before the drive down to Florida, friends began arriving in North Georgia for the caravan. 

The LTD got put up for a couple days for what I thought would be some quick body work. The roof was previously  wrapped in vinyl faux-alligator, which was mostly torn off well before I bought the car. There was some visible rot around the window trim, lots of old adhesive residue, and a couple different bondo jobs of varying vintages, the most recent of which was left unsanded and freshly slathered on. While the rest of the car isn't exactly concourse quality, the appearance of the roof and unfinished fix had always bothered me against the barn-find appearance of the rest of the body. The plan was a quick personal satisfaction job to sand on the lumpy bondo before a Challenge-quality paint coating. That was thrown off course when I removed the first outer skin of bondo and it was completely uncured under the first layer. It immediately gunked up my sand paper, so I ended up scrapping and chiseling multiple layers. This obviously led to a round of rust sanding, coating, and re-bondoing for me which ate up an unexpected day of preparation.

A cheap and dirty job, but it's a cheap and dirty car. Maybe I'll go back and deal with the rot a little better, maybe a new vinyl covering at some point, maybe I don't.

Now, onto some real rot. The biggest safety concern for me on the body was the trunk rot which was extending into the support for the gas tank straps. Because what's the point of a big car if you can't haul all your buddies and all their crap? I was running out of scrap stock, but luckily a local driver ran down some convenient material right next to the shop.

Background featuring two unfortunate souls pulling freeze plugs and boroscoping a datsun for some waterpump veins that had magically disappeared. Chinese waterpump yummy stamped impeller.

During a last minute parts run in the LTD after dropping it down from the body work and some quick finish jobs, I started feeling a weird vibration that quickly turned to a clunk. I pulled into home keeping easy on the throttle, and got under the car where I quickly saw the loose driveshaft bolts on the Merc flange to U-joint adapter, which had somehow been missed in my preflight bolt check.

Being the night before the trip, I had no time to ponder my bolt check thoroughness or the sudden loosening of critical components, so I went to bed and woke up at 5am to run to home depot and grab a lot of red locktight and backup hardware. After a quick bolt install with liberal gooping, we loaded up the trunk and hit the road for Florida.


 

BigDaddyDeek
BigDaddyDeek New Reader
6/4/23 10:26 p.m.

CHALLENGE ROADTRIP PHOTODUMP!!!

The Challenge was great, it was awesome to meet up with everyone and always fun to see some friends win some plaques. The car performed flawlessly, 6 autocross runs and a drag pass with no hickups on the 12 hour roadtrip or many cruises around Gainesville. The best bonus was that I'd been wondering what my 0-60 time was, but my 22.1 second pass at 61mph gave me a nice official answer!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/5/23 4:09 a.m.

Great have your crew and LTD at the event. 

Thanks for joining us. 

Matthew Kennedy
Matthew Kennedy GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
6/5/23 4:30 p.m.

In case anybody was wondering what it looks like in an autocross run:

 

buzzboy
buzzboy SuperDork
6/5/23 4:52 p.m.

Every new post I love this more. My gutted 300SD did 19.9 at 66mph weight ~3250lbs.

Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter)
Professor_Brap (Forum Supporter) UberDork
6/5/23 4:55 p.m.

Love this, and can't wait to see the evolution. 

Matthew Kennedy
Matthew Kennedy GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
6/5/23 5:07 p.m.
buzzboy said:

Every new post I love this more. My gutted 300SD did 19.9 at 66mph weight ~3250lbs.

We could shoot for the "most trap speed gained by adding an intercooler" world record.

Mr_Asa
Mr_Asa UltimaDork
6/5/23 10:21 p.m.

edwardh80
edwardh80 Reader
6/6/23 11:26 a.m.

Happy tractor noises and more roll than the USS Midway in a storm! That autocross video is rad!

RileyDavidson
RileyDavidson New Reader
8/16/23 6:09 a.m.
BigDaddyDeek said:

After roadtripping this luxurious beast from North Ga for The Challenge I got a few thread requests, so I present the ultimate road sofa:

This is my 1978 Ford LTD Landau with a Mercedes OM617 Turbodiesel swap. I'm going to give a quick rundown of the buildup of the car and hopefully continue to update the thread as I do more roadtrips and more driveability improvements.

I had just graduated college and decided the best way to spend my couple months of adult money was to buy the cheapest and most ridiculous vehicle I could impulse purchase on Marketplace. I got the vision of cruising down a long highway with a bunch of my friends in an absurdly large bench seat car. It was a vague idea of some quintessential American experience that died long before I came around, but that I had always seen romanticized in media and wanted to experience. Of course, I used to want to have an expensive and status car. But then I remembered the novel The Great Gatsby that I read in school and thought about what it means to be an American in the 21st century. I came across a detailed analysis of this book at https://gradesfixer.com/lit/the-great-gatsby/ which is designed to help you get a better grade. And it seems that the protagonist's efforts to show his status through luxurious cars and furnishings did not lead him to the goal. The "American Dream" today is an empty illusion that makes us chase after material goods. So while I was still young and willing to drive really crappy cars cross country. A fictional vehicle that encapsulates a fabricated vibe somewhere between That 70s Show, Fear & Loathing, and Big Lebowski. Never having been into American cars and intending to do some undetermined obscure engine swap on whatever chassis I got, year or make/model were irrelevant, just whatever ostentatious listing capable of driving.

I purchased the car in Middle Tennessee last summer. When my roommate sent the listing for the LTD, I was immediately drawn in by the perfect patina, plush green interior, and the previous owner doing the dirty work of replacing the old gas tank and getting it running with a new carb. The car was one family and had been parked for about 20 years. It was put back on the road by a young member of the family who remembered everyone piling into the big boat to deliver newspapers around town each morning for many years. After a quick sunset first drive around the farm roads, I knew this was the experience I was missing in my life. We payed under Challenge price for the car, and I captained it 2 hours back to Nashville. 

 

I cruised, and broke down, around town a handful of times over the next couple months. It was fun to tinker with carb tuning and go for 6 person test drives whenever friends came over, but I'm not a magician and had no interest in learning the archaic technologies. Ultimately, the old V8 was tired and I had little interest in rebuilding a peak gas crisis boat anchor, so we pulled all 4.5 tons of smog equipment and the V8 that was attached to it. I wanted the drivetrain to go to someone who would use it, so I found a local concrete company who needed the core for the refresh on one of their older trucks. (That last anecdote about the engine going to a good home is to help sooth any American V8 purists who's heart skipped a beat or considered clicking away after the last paragraph)

 

The car sat in my landlord's driveway for the next many months, acting as a workbench, patio furniture, and a great nap spot out of the sun when working outside.

 

 

 

Wow, this is a fantastic project! You have made an absolute beast with the Mercedes turbodiesel. It sounds like a fun adventure. This apparatus must have a new life.

I love this car

BigDaddyDeek
BigDaddyDeek New Reader
5/13/24 11:47 a.m.

I figured I'd dust this thread off with some pictures from the last year. The LTD has been a faithful member of fleet, great for chauffeuring to the bar when friends come to visit and always a good time at the local car shows.

 

I have not had to touch anything on this car since beginning the roadtrip to The Challenge in Florida last May, but there are a few things that need tending to. The goal is to get it ready for another roadtrip in the next month or so, probably to the North GA Gambler event coming up a the end of the month. Stay tuned for more updates and some work progress very soon.

 

BigDaddyDeek
BigDaddyDeek New Reader
5/13/24 3:44 p.m.

The power brakes had been fading on the car for a while due to a leak in the original master cylinder into the booster. This generation of Ford booster was not purchasable online and the car just kept running, so I got used to the mostly manual brakes and continued driving around town. The first thing I did when it was time to disable the car was send the booster off to be rebuilt. 

While that rebuild was happening, I did some work on the other Mercedes turbo diesel. Powertrain mounts that met critical failure during parking lot shenanigans and a couple injector seals (preventative part to the "black death" leak on these CDI engines). Injector seals were pretty painless for how dreaded they are online. First one I tried with just some sandpaper on a stick and scotchbrite to clean the bore down in the injector hole and it leaked worse than before. Second time around I picked up the cheapest eBay seat cutting tool and no more problems. Make sure to also get the slide hammer attachment that hooks under the injector, they get really stuck in there if the seal is leaking.

After doing the engine mounts, I had a phantom coolant leak. Took a couple days to show itself fully, but it appears jacking the engine to do mounts also bent and cracked this 180 degree molded hose bit for the EGR cooling, I couldn't buy the hose new domestically so I grabbed one from the junkyard and kept moving.

New booster, back to the LTD:

Also started throwing on some of the new rock auto parts I've been stacking. Old American cars are so cheap! 

Dropped the fuel tank to finally address the trunk rot. Cutting everything out and patching with some aluminum road signs I had. Quick rivet job will greatly help the cargo capacity.

\

Next steps will be finishing the patching and installing new steering joints. With the new shocks the car is incredibly comfortable and the car feels twice as responsive, but the loose steering is incredibly hard to drive when wheel inputs are actually translated to the road! 

Currently wrestling with the rabbit hole of how many old parts to replace. Ball joints and control arm bushings are mighty crusty, but feel solid still. Resisting major suspension work and crossing fingers that everything lasts another trip.

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