Behind the White Wheel

Behind the White Wheel

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"The Imagination of a Generation"

It is always fulfilling to read positive comments about my favorite car the Mercedes-Benz 180/ 190 (W120/ 121). 
While surfing the net, I came through the article below; a test drive performed by Paul Stassino from Classic Cars Magazine in Australia on a 1959 Mercedes-Benz 190b. Paul's description was so accurate that I felt I wrote the article by myself. 
Indeed, "The 190b Ponton (or 180b in my case) captured the imagination of a generation, and helped cement Mercedes-Benz's commitment to excellence." 


Enjoying a beautiful ride in my 1961, 180b (photo: Dona Bardawil)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Rebuilding the Engine

Back in 2010, the engine of my 180b (its original engine) started burning oil excessively leaving behind the car a blue/whitish cloud of smoke. Back then, I had a rebuilt 180b bloc that I have kept for years. I didn't know exactly how it was rebuilt but I knew it was ready to be installed. Quickly, I took out the original engine and replaced it with the rebuilt bloc keeping in the back of my mind the idea that this replacement is temporary until I find the right time to rebuild the original one. After Christmas and New Year vacation, and with 2014 announcing major changes in my life, I decided to take the opportunity and rebuild the original engine.

Dismantling going on

I faced the dilemma of which mechanic to choose for the job. It was either Bechara Ghsoub or Abdo El-Hage. Both are experienced mechanics who have more than 50 years of experience in Mercedes-Benz cars. Finally, I decided to opt for Abdo El Hage for mainly his free time (he is retired but has kept his garage), for his continuous enthusiasm and good speed of work.

Abdo working hard on taking out the bloc
The original engine did not need boring; the pistons (standard size) were fine and the cylinder walls too. Of course new rings and polishing were a must. Looking at the crankshaft, we noticed that it needed boring and that it was already bored 4 times! It hence needed replacement! Among the many parts I had, there was a crankshaft that was only bored two times! Perfect match! The head needed new valves, guides and seals, a few hours job with the availability of the parts. Finally, I had a completely rebuilt engine ready to be installed.  
New bloc installed

Assembling the head after valves, guides and seals change
The installation process took few hours, the "new" engine quickly took its original place. Abdo, with his usual enthusiasm, and after saying few prayers, asked me to jump behind the wheel and start the car. Three cranks were enough to let the engine start! I was amazed by how smooth it appeared despite everything being new and hence still rough.
Assembling at its final stages
I took the car for its first ride. Nothing seemed unusual except its high idle which was left on purpose to smoother the engine. I drove around 100km, from Beirut to Batroun and back. I was happy no overheating was signaled and the oil pressure remained straight at its max.

After a thorough cleaning
When I finally arrived home, I noticed some oil dripping from the front crank seal; a deception after all the work performed. The seal I had installed was a NOS piece: I learned the hard way to never install NOS items when it comes to seals, joints and rubber pieces as these items tend to loose their elasticity and sealing properties with time. I ended up buying a new one from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center.

The seal number 15 leaked oil
With the new front seal installed, I started driving and enjoying more and more my car. The break in period has been completed now: An oil and filter change, greasing and an engine bay wash is all what is required.
The next project will involve the rebuilding of the heating system; I admit it is a big challenge. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The 1 Euro Picture

An eBay find...a beautiful picture showing a family proudly posing in front of what seems to be a newly acquired Mercedes-Benz 190b ponton.
This type of pictures was very common back then. The car symbolized a certain social status, a certain success. I don't know who are the persons in the picture, I know it is taken in Austria in 1959. From my analysis, the "grandfather" or father (person supposedly taking the picture) of the little boy has acquired this car. On a sunny weekend day, the whole family went out of Vienna or whatever other city to enjoy a nice ride in "dad" or "jeddo"'s new car. The young boy reminded me much of my childhood when I used to wait for Sundays to go on a 1 hour ride to a certain restaurant where endless family lunches took place. The ride to the restaurant was always more enjoyable than the ride back home...when the Sunday afternoon down-mood syndrome attacked me...when my mind started excessively worrying about a homework I have not completed or an exam I am about to get its results...
This picture has awaken in me all these feelings, of course we never posed in front of a Mercedes-Benz ponton when we were kids as these cars had already became obsolete and almost disappeared from circulation but we have posed in front of a 1983 Honda Accord, a 1988 Pontiac Bonneville and a 1994 Cadillac STS...not to mention the exciting ride in ammo Walid's (my dad's best friend) 1970s white Jaguar...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Once Upon a Time...Beirut by Bus

I grew up in Beirut, witnessing its unique chaos, traffic, noises, cars smoke, Mercedes-Benz W114/115 "atech" and W123 "laff" honking all around looking for passengers...etc. I grew up without noticing that my city had almost no public transport...oh with the exception of these old always empty white and blue Berliet or Karossa buses blocking the roads, stopping everywhere, desperately competing with privately owned, newer and smaller Brazilian Mercedes-Benz buses. I admit I was never able to draw their pattern or to discover their route...

Abandoned Berliet PR100 in Mar Mikhael old train station - Beirut
Photo courtesy:
I grew up listening to my dad's stories on how he used to jump of the Tramway traveling from the old downtown to Bliss street...and on how in 1964, the Tramway service was discontinued, replaced by buses commonly called "Jahech El Dawleh" (the State's Mule).

The Tramway in downtown Beirut.
They were green before being painted red & white in the late 50s
I never had the curiosity to ask about these buses, their operating system, their routes...etc. No one seemed to have stories to tell, no one seemed to have any related memories except that they were used as streets barricades in the 1975-1976 phase of the civil war.

An abandonned Saviem-Chausson in Beirut. Courtesy: Imad Kozem
Time elapsed, downtown Beirut was destroyed then rebuilt in an awkward manner and I started looking for old pictures desperately trying to live and feel the long-gone spirit of the city.
In the many pictures I found, in addition to my favorite Mercedes-Benz 180/190 ponton, there was always beautiful off-white and red buses’ traveling on the main axes of the city.

Jahech El Dawleh going from Debbas Square towards Bechara El-Khoury square.
Notice the Mercedes 180 and the W114/115
Beautiful SC-3 awaiting next to Parisiana building
What was the brand of these buses? What were their characteristics? What was their route? Were they clean? Were they reliable? Etc. All these questions had no answers…

Two Saviem-Chausson facing Rivoli building.
Direction: Bab Idriss then Bliss Street
Heavy rain on the Corniche and an SC-3 driving "a contre-sens"
My primary search led to the following results: The buses were French made Saviem-Chausson, a brand I never heard of before! The Saviem-Chausson buses were the fruit of the merger between two French companies obviously Saviem (Société Anonyme de Véhicules Industriels et d'Equipements Mécaniques) and Chausson Cars (a French company manufacturing utility vehicles since 1903). The Lebanese government and in an attempt to ameliorate the public transportation and decrease traffic jams in the city ordered 150 new Saviem-Chausson buses that would replace the already old tramway. These buses were the SC-3 model, the topnotch of the bus' industry back then.

A green SC-3 in France. Courtesy:
Whether the bus system was efficient or not was the second question that came to my mind! Up till now, I am still not able to gather the needed information. Kheireddine El Ahdab, a friend living in Montreal and deeply interested in all the detailed aspects of daily life in the old Beirut described the bus service as inefficient, always late due to traffic jams, not having specified stops and generally lacking the required cleanliness. On the other hand, my aunt Annette described the bus service as efficient, clean and on time. She frequently used to take it from the National Museum Street to Koraytem.

A Saviem-Chausson facing the National Museum. Courtesy: Imad Kozem
With the beginning of the 1975 civil war, the heart of Beirut was destroyed, the State paralyzed and the links between Lebanese cut. Whether these links were social, emotional or physical didn't matter; the war was there to cut them… The bus system as a physical link stopped, the Saviem-Chausson were mostly destroyed and used as street barricades; an ironical fate for a vehicle destined to solely connect the various parts of the city.

Another SC-3 on Debbas Square going towards the Martyrs' Square.
Notice the many Mercedes-Benz 180/190
The Martyrs' Square in all its splendor. Notice the Saviem-Chausson
The war ended in 1990, Lebanese were told that they should re-connect together, without having the opportunity to discuss the past, why they fought and killed each others, why they destroyed their country…etc. Everything suddenly stopped, a page was turned and a “wanna be new starts” emerged… Quickly, the physical scars of the war were erased and downtown Beirut was transformed into a huge empty plot of land awaiting new constructions…and new “illegitimate” owners. No true efforts were done to heal the emotional wounds that the war left; no small actions were taken to re-connect people together. The once “big heart” that gathered and mixed all Lebanese together became a giant private property unable to tolerate one single bus stop where ordinary men and women could wait, discuss the weather…etc. before a certain “ja7ech el dawleh”, maybe the grandson of the famous “Saviem-Chausson”, would arrive and take them home, to loved ones, to work…etc.
Destroyed Saviem-Chausson SC-3 in Beirut. Courtesy: Imad Kozem
Few days ago I passed by an old bus “sanctuary” on the “Corniche du Fleuve”. Some buses are still there; among them this Saviem-Chausson bearing deep marks of the war…I bet they mirror those engraved in people’s hearts.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Swissvax Time

Keeping a classic car in perfect shape is on its own a demanding task especially if its owner is kind of perfectionist. For me, the cleanliness, shining and immaculate functioning of my Mercedes-Benz 180b is subject to no jeopardizing under any circumstances; I always look for original parts, trust two extremely well experienced mechanics and use the best, yes truly the best, paint caring products.
My car’s exterior color is the DB040 Black which on its own is one of the most difficult colors to take care of, hence the need to use the best products available on the market arises. After trying many brands I discovered Swissvax: a bespoke handmade series of waxes that vary in carnauba wax concentration and of course price. Using Swissvax on my car made me discover a new perception of “smoothness and shining”. In fact, I opted for the 2nd best product which is the Swissvax Concorso. The Concorso has a 52% concentration of natural carnauba wax along with many vegetable/ natural oils and aromas and constitute the best quality to price ratio in my opinion.
To keep my Mercedes-Benz’s paint in immaculate condition, I wax my car every 3 to 4 months using the non-abrasive Swissvax cleaner fluid and the famous Swissvax Concorso. The key to get the best result is the patience and love one puts in every polishing and buffing stroke! As a start, I clean my car from the garage’s dust and apply the cleaner fluid. Once done I wipe it out and buff it with the special Swissvax microfiber cloth. Afterwards, I apply the wax by hand and let it dry for few minutes before buffing it again.
The result is generally immaculate, making me forget the fatigue and stand speechless with amazement in front of my shining Mercedes-Benz. Time has come for waxing! I will try mixing two waxes together; the Swissvax Concorso and the Swissvax Shield - a new blend that is able to fight nature's harshest conditions - hoping to get an even better result…stay tuned for new pictures…

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Ponton Planet People"


By writing the below paragraph on the IPOG (International Pontons Owners Group) forum you woke up in me old feelings I used to have back in the late 1990s and early 2000s when once school ended I would run to Kfarhata, put my ponton's battery on the charger, take off the famous Carcoon and "launch the season"!
Days have passed, my ponton's odometer flipped back to zero and I admit I still enjoy my car as much as the day I first bought it.

Jeff Miller's 1957 190
Note the fender's turn signals and the 190sl fog lights
"Ponton Planet People":

 "My 1957 190 sedan finally saw daylight this afternoon. Put the battery charger on it for an hour, and it came to life in less than 30 seconds (not bad for not running at all since last October). The original Blaupunkt tube radio (refurbished last year) played well. Brought the tire pressure up to 32 pounds, shifted into first, and went for a nice country drive. The heater was nice because it was only 46 (albeit sunny) degrees. Brakes worked well (no pulling, etc.), lights and blinkers all functioned. Even tested the cigar lighter, heater fan, and windshield wipers just for good measure. Next step (if it ever warms up): put some soap and water to the body – it was real dusty looking. Looks like 2013 is off to a good start!"

My 180b in the old streets of Batroun

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Blown Head Gasket

Les Caprices of the Pagoda "sont revisited"...

That is how I elected to start this post! I read once in my favorite magazine Auto Retro, that an old car "fait des caprices quand elle est maltraitée". So here we are..."she" was left alone for many years and suddenly we are trying to "get close to her" again...What would you expect?

New shift lever bushing

I finally got the new shift lever bushings when Bechara (refer to the previous post to know who is Bechara) called me:
"Ramzi, how are you"?
Me: "I am fine and you"?
Bechara: "I am fine too...but the car isn't fine"

Head still installed
Note the water dripping from the 3rd plug hole
Apparently, the engine was misfiring. Upon inspection, the 3rd spark plug was fouled with...water!!!
When water sneaks to a combustion chamber or mixes with oil, the head needs to be removed, maybe repaired and of course the gasket replaced. I was hoping it did not need any major work.

We finally took off the head, and to our good luck, all the water holes were intact. The problem lied in the gasket itself! Extremely thin machining was needed though.

The oil and water holes are still intact
I am still waiting to find a new gasket on the local market! If I succeed, the car will be running in a matter of days. If not, I will have to order one from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center.

I hope the car stops "caprice-ing" after this reparation...

The fuel pump is worrying me for no specific reason...