Friday, 19 June 2015

1960 MERCEDES BENZ 220SE CABRIOLET - Thornley Kelham

Thornley Kelham: 1960 Mercedes Benz 220SE cabriolet



 The owner of this car has a significant collection of post-war Bentleys and Mercedes, including some of the most important and beautiful cars they produced. Although much of his Mercedes work has previously been done by top German restorers, he decided to try us out after reading an article in Classic & Sportscar (link hereThe 1960 220SE cabrio was the last in the line of the ‘Ponton’ models; in SE form introducing an early form of Bosch mechanical fuel injection. In right hand drive cabriolet form it is a rare car – only 26 were made.The car arrived in a shabby but ‘cool’ condition, but this collector is meticulous and was very clear on what was needed – a complete restoration to top standards with various upgrades – sound proofing, air conditioning (not standard to the car) music system, etc. This ultimately led to a major re-engineering decision – to convert the original column change transmission to a six-speed modern BMW ‘box with floor gearchange….
As with all of our projects the entire car is photographed closely and comprehensively.  This proves invaluable when the time comes to rebuild the car. The next stage is carefully to dismantle the car, logging all parts missing, broken or damaged, which again helps the flow of the project as we can begin to source replacement parts at this early stage. The parts and sub assemblies from the car are then labeled ready for individual attention in our various in-house departments.


Because of the type of construction of this particular Mercedes i.e. a monocoque, (meaning without a separate chassis) we decided with the owner to remove all paint, underbody sealers and any corroded metal by subjecting the entire body of the car to a 7 - stage dipping process. It is however, vital that no aluminium remains on the car for this process, and the 220SE has a very substantial cast aluminium front screen surround and 'A' pillar assembly which proved very difficult to remove!
When the Mercedes returned from this process it was clear that the car was in a much worse state structurally than we had expected. The rear of the car had very significant corrosion problems; the front half of the car proving to be in much better order. We made a full assessment of the work and parts required, which included two outer and inner new rear wings, various sections to remake the rear chassis and sections of the boot floor, and one front wing.
Since this is a production car, albeit made in relatively small numbers (26 in RHD), it is generally more cost-effective to purchase ‘pattern’ panels , despite the amount of work needed to ensure the perfect fit. We decided to visit the supplier in Germany to ensure we received the best possible replacement parts.  Once these arrived, the painstaking task of removing the old metal began. Only by carefully offering up the replacement panels throughout the job could we ensure perfectly even gaps on all panels was achieved. Once we had a complete and solid shell we fitted all opening panels, complete with their locks and seals. At the same time the chrome plating was sent to be stripped down to the brass, which we then fitted to the car, making any necessary alterations without fear of damaging the eventual chrome finish. With the panels ‘dry fitted’ with all the brass, our body and paint guys cast an eye over the complete shell to ensure they were happy with the fit and finish of the dry fit. The body was then dismantled again and passed through to our body and paint shop, and the brass (over 100 separate pieces) finally sent for chrome plating.
As mentioned above, this serious collector had a very clear specification which included:
  • 14" rims
  • 6-speed transmission, hydraulically operated, with floor gear change
  • Air conditioning to maintain a specified cabin temperature even in hot spells in South Africa (the car’s eventual home)
  • Modern sound system
  • Electric power steering
  • Long range fuel tank.
These were the key upgrades in a very detailed specification.


The steering components have been completely overhauled or replaced as necessary, with new dampers and track rod end joints. The steering box has been stripped and all bearings replaced, bushes manufactured and the whole unit painted. The column has been sent to a specialist for conversion to electric assistance. A 6-speed BMW transmission has been modified to fit; this included manufacturing an intermediate plate to mate the gearbox to the engine, which was done in our machine shop in-house.  This also involved modifying the pedal box so that the clutch pedal operates a master cylinder that in turn operates a slave cylinder operating a modified clutch thrust bearing arm. New mountings brackets have been fabricated to support the unit.


With the four brake drums skimmed, new linings with rebuilt wheel cylinders and a new servo all linked together with new lines, the brakes are as new. We sourced new Mercedes wheels and trims 1" taller then standard, to help achieve a relaxed and quiet cruising experience when coupled with the 6 speed transmission. We had to re-profile the boot floor to accommodate a larger spare wheel.


This car did not have an air conditioning system when new, so we set about designing a bespoke system from scratch. We began with the compressor - an unsightly unit so we had to re-locate the dynamo (we have had it re-engineered into a dynator to cope with all the upgrades) and placed the compressor below the dynator on a specially made bracket that incorporates the engine mounting. Next we made several modifications to the front shut panel of the car to make room for the condenser radiator and the necessary high output electric fan. To be able to keep the evaporator and both fans engine-side of the bulkhead we relocated the battery to the boot. Our design allows us to draw air into the evaporator from the cabin making a very efficient system.  Next it was a case of carefully locating the outlets in the passenger cabin to ensure a comfortable control of the cooled air.


The engine has been  completely rebuilt including a reground crank, new bearings and pistons, the head skimmed and  a full set of new valves fitted. New seals and gaskets are fitted throughout. The rear axle had the same treatment, including new bearings, seals and gaskets throughout.


We pay a great deal of care and attention to all our paintwork – in both the areas of the car you can see and those you cannot, and we began by mounting the Mercedes onto a rollover jig which afforded our painter perfect access to the underside and interior of the car. We then ensure absolute cleanliness of all the steel surfaces The shell is then coated with an epoxy primer throughout, and the undersides then coated with a modern two part anti-stone chip coating. This is in turn coated with a two pack semi-gloss black paint finish.
Our attention then turns to the interior, engine bay and inside the boot. In these areas the epoxy primer is rubbed down and then painted in several coats of two-pack semi-gloss black top coat.  When it comes to the main body shell and its panels and once a two-tone colour scheme had been chosen large panels our sent to our client along with a leather sample. Once these are agreed we move on to the primer stages and this involves firstly applying two or three applications of a two part high quality primer and then a ground coat colour and then because this car is two-tone the doors are put back on just to insure the break in the two colours is in line all down the side of the car. Then after careful masking they are then removed and the first of the solid two-part top-coat colours is then applied and after reversing the masking the second colour is applied.  
We then treat all paintwork to a meticulous polish to ensure we always achieve a glass-like finish.


The interior of these cars is a wonderful place to be. This particular car had not been used for many years but spent a period of its life as a wedding car – and the stilettos had done some damage! Nevertheless, close inspection of the leather with our client led to the decision that the interior as a whole could be saved by letting several panels of new leather of matching grain, and then a complete re-colouring of the interior in a colour which was both reasonably close to the orignal, and complementary to the new paint colours.  The hood frame was refurbished and then fitted with a high quality triple layered hood in double duck fabric with a headlining in alcantara. We also sourced a pair of headrests, had them retrimmed and recoloured, and fitted into the front seats. 
The car is now looking for a lucky new owner.



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