Monday, 15 November 2010

A Project Too Far

It's better to regret something you have done, than something you haven't done. 

This sentiment rings loud in my mind as I write this in hope of catharsis, to sooth the aches of regret that currently course through every vein in my body, for I have just had to turn down the project I always wanted. 

A W126 S-Class is a big old unit, and the SEC coupe only marginally less so. It is heavy, too, and powered by a choice of various big-drinking petrol engines. It is therefore not a sensible car for somebody in my position to run as a daily driver, particularly with petrol hovering around £1.20 a litre. 

This particular machine, an '88 420SEC has the least desirable of the V8s. The 4.2 litre offers far less performance than the bigger 5.0 and 5.6 engines, but at damn near the same running costs. It is also smoke silver with brown leather, not the most desirable combination. 

Strike one. 

It's a non-runner. The car was recovered on a low loader following a gearbox failure. After the owner, who loved the car, was made aware of the repair costs at a main dealer he lost interest and the car was left sitting there. The service history has been lost to the mists of time, the brake discs are worn amazingly unevenly and who knows what state the engine internals are in. The car probably broke down as a cry for help, too little attention for far too long. When the owner returned and removed the Sony CD player and took it away, we knew that was it for the SEC. Abandoned, it sat forlornly, looking for a home and somebody to breathe new life into it. A brave somebody who was prepared to dive into the car and make good its various mechanical shortcomings. A guy like me, who can sense the majesty this car once commanded and who could revel in its pillarless elegance, who saw himself behind the wheel one day in his own, exclusive German coupe. 

It's in terrible condition for such a grand car. The bodywork, while only exhibiting body rust on a few edges, has lacquer peeling off the surfaces in sheets. Cosmetically, everything needs doing; easy work, sure, but expensive work to do properly. Inside, too, I like my cars to show a patina of use, it adds to a noble air of experience and wisdom, and this car wears every one of its 196,000 recorded miles on its sleeve. I could live with that, but ultimately I know it needs work. 

More troubling is the rear windscreen, which is delaminating on both edges, a sign of water ingress where the glass meets the metal, an area that was never properly sealed on any W126. Sure enough the metal is bubbling at the bottom of the windscreen, and if that rust has spread to the bulkhead and horizontal surface beneath the windscreen, we're talking serious work to put it right. 

Strike two. 

If I was to take this car under my wing I would have to face a list of real world issues. Ideally I would trailer the car to the barn, put it up on a big set of axle stands and set about stripping it down and tackling jobs where I found them. It would be a lengthy process, exacerbated by the fact that I don't have a barn, or anywhere else for that matter. My parents grudgingly allow me driveway space, and I can put my car in our workshop no problem, as long as I get it out of Dads way within a couple of days. A wheel bearing is fine, a ground up restoration isn't. 

So, I would have to rent barn space or a garage. And once any mechanical maladies are put right, before I start worrying about the cosmetics, I then enter the world of Twenty Two year old Mercedes ownership; big money road tax, big money insurance, big money tyres, exhausts, oil etc.  I will have pumped time, love and effort into getting this car back onto the road, and it will reward me with bankruptcy in short order. I would have to sell one of my cars; my daily driver Audi, as reliable as it is uninteresting, would have to go, leaving me with a big, thirsty scruffy, fabulous car that I would have to maintain every minute of every day. 

I just can't do it, it's an impossibility for me, right here, right now. It was taken away today, going to a specialist Mercedes-Benz breaker. I patted it on the bonnet and said sorry, like the big smelly Labrador you see at its last day at the dog pound, I just want somebody to take it home and care for it, but it just can't be me. 

Strike three, you're out. A Hoon can only live within his means.