Mid-Way Through the Grey Lady's Restoration

As many of you may have read in my post To Restore or Not To Restore: That Is The Question I decided to restore.  To summarize that post I took my car for a check up/oil change when I was told that I needed a new set of tires in order for the car to continue to be drivable - it wasn't exactly the response I was expecting.   Given that a decent set of tires were going to run me $900 and there was already a bevvy of other things that needed doing, I had a think on whether or not I wanted to put any more money into the car or just buy something new.  Ultimately I decided to just go for it and fix all of her problems, and its one of the best decisions I have ever made.

With that said, I dove head first into the process and have had a blast so far.  If you're an auto enthusiast and have never had a "project car" you're really missing out.  I personally never anticipated that spending money in this way could be so much fun (OK, maybe I did but I sure didn't know HOW much fun).  Day after day, with every new part, I get to see my beloved Grey Lady transformed back into her former glory.  So lets start with a refresher look at her before picture and a recap of the issues...

The issues:
  1. Numerous engine problems (stalling, trouble starting, poor idling)
  2. Rusted, hole-filled exhaust system
  3. Sunroof wouldn't open (this picture was taken about two days before it crapped out)
  4. Fog light housing broken
  5. Worn tires
  6. Radio antenna broken
  7. Misc. rubber grommets deteriorated
  8. Bumpers scratched to hell
  9. Windscreen cracked
  10. Paint in disrepair
  11. Wheels were curbed and peeling paint
  12. Center console wood was cracked and in poor condition
  13. Front window switches broken
  14. Tape deck broken
  15. Hood insulation was peeling
  16. A/C not working
  17. Cruise control not working
  18. Front leather seats cracked and torn in places
So the first thing the car needed was engine work and new tires.  Since I was going to be fitting some new rubber, I decided to spring for some new rims as well.  Thanks to Benz-World's for sale/classifieds section I was able to track down a set of original 15" AMG Aero's (post-merger) in silver with polished lips.  It was through this forum that I encountered my first Mercedes W126 enthusiast, Malcom, who very kindly offered to drive the wheels I was buying all the way from Mass. (to avoid shipping costs).  I thanked him profusely and his response was, "any excuse to get in my W126 and go for a bit of a road trip."  A true gentleman, thanks Malcom!

That said, these really are the most stunning wheels on a W126 body and might be the nicest AMG wheels all together - with the exception of the illusive AMG/OZ 3 piece wheels, which might as well be made out of gold because they are so bloody expensive.  I chose 15" because I really wanted to maintain the integrity of engineering and the ride quality.  Believe me when I say that I could have slapped on a set of 18" wheels, which do look a bit cooler but ultimately could have compromised the ride quality.  Looking at the below pictures compared to the one above, you can easily see the improvement.  These wheels really made a tremendous difference and gave the car a much more aggressive look.
New wheels the day I got them
First day after being fitted

Another shot of the front end

Service #1
At the same time that I had the new tires/wheels fitted and balanced I also had the following done/installed:
  1. Full fluid change
  2. Brake system overhaul with new rotors and pads
  3. A new hydraulic actuator pump 
  4. A exhaust system 
  5. A new fuel distributor 
  6. New control arms/bushings.  
This service made a huge difference.  It ran cleaner, stronger, tighter, more efficient and it came to a safe stop.  This also gave me a renewed vigor for some of the less pertinent items, which would be next on my list.

I then splurged on a new antenna, rubber grommet (for around the base of the antenna), wood panel (around the shifter), window switches and new fog light housings.  These things were simple enough that I planned on fitting them myself.  Some pictures below...
Old fog light surrounds after I'd taken them off my car
New fog light surrounds on the car
B/A side by side of the wood panel
Old wood panel still on the car
Old (left) vs new (right)
Old wood panel, bottom portion to show cracks
Center console without any panel
New wood panel installed
As expected, these small but necessary parts made a big difference.  The wood panel really classed up the inside, the new fog light surrounds were a tremendous improvement and the antenna meant I was able to pick up radio stations again. 

Service #2
The next few big things that I wanted to take care of was the driver side door lock, cracked windscreen and sunroof.  The lock before the repair meant that I continually had to lock and unlock the car via the trunk (those familiar with these cars know they have a vacuum system, so unlock any lock and the whole car unlocks).  Although it wouldn't seem like this would be a big deal, it was a huge pain in the ass.  The sunroof is also something I could live without, but when the roof is operable it makes the car feel so much bigger and enjoyable.  Same with the windscreen, though cracked it was still possible to see through, but it looked like sh*t.  So I bit the bullet and ordered a driver side door lock (custom cut to the VIN) and windscreen via Mercedes-Benz and booked the service to get them and the sunroof taken care of.  While I don't have any B&A's of these, trust me when I say that these 3 things were my favorite fixes, what a difference.

So after having all of that done I had a major cleaning session that lasted a full weekend.  I'd recently watched a video done by Larry Kosilla @ AmmoNYC  of him doing a full paint correction/restoration job on an old Porsche.  In the video he shows how to do it, in a very easy to follow way, step by step way and so I decided to give it a try.  I followed his instructions and the results were truly fantastic (side note: if you haven't watched any of Larry's videos I suggest you check his YouTube Chanel Drive Clean or see his company's website, AmmoNYC).  I also shampooed carpets, cleaned and conditioned the leather, treated the rubber seals, de-gunked the engine bay, polished the chrome, treated the windscreen...the list goes on and on.  The bottom line is that The Grey Lady went to the car spa and I paid with two shoulders and a headache, but it was totally worth it.  Here's a shot I took just as the sun went down on that Sunday evening.
The Grey Lady
After all said and done, she's looking and running a lot better.  Though I'm not nearly done with my restoration, I put a lot into the engine and mechanics of the car so far.  I've also made a some small cosmetic repairs that have gone a long way.  I liken these cosmetic changes to a beautiful woman with horrible teeth.  While the smile in the grand scheme of things isn't EVERYTHING, it detracts so heavily from everything else that the total package ends up not being not nearly as impressive.  But fix those teeth and it makes a HUGE difference, well I've fixed the teeth and then some.

I've still got quite a ways to go, and unfortunately the remaining repairs are still high dollar investments (A/C system, cruise control, leather for the front seats, stereo head unit and new bumpers).  But as I mentioned above, I've been having a blast doing this and every dollar has been worth it. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the months ahead and finishing up this project.  As always, I welcome any comments about my project.  Also, if you have a particular project car/restoration you've worked on or even dreamed about, I'd love to hear about that too!


  1. Well done, Chris. Keep the updates coming. I look forward to your progress.

  2. Thanks Chris! I'll be putting up a new post about the bumpers soon and how much effort you put into helping me get them.

    All the best,

  3. Luckily these cars are designed to be serviced - I did a lot of similar work on my '91 560SEL and although it's still not perfect it got me to and from VA this past weekend (1,000 miles) although it was a little warm due to the center vents still not working.....Nice work!

    1. Thanks for your comment/compliment Sam! They can be fantastic cars for the long hauls and in my opinion Mercedes doesn't produce this kind of over engineered quality any more. I'm glad yours held up well for your trip! Put up some links to any pictures if you have them!

      All the best,