I have wanted to log the restoration of my 1976 Mercedes 6.9 for a while now, but I thought I was too far along in the deal to start writing about it. After the events of the past few weeks I thought the ordeal was too humorous to go undocumented. Here goes the recap of this wonderous expedition...
About two years ago I was looking to buy myself a car, I had a loose criteria for the vehicle and really I did not know what I wanted. Long story short, I somehow gravitated toward older Mercedes diesels, namely the W123 300d, and I ended up buying a very clean 1980 300d. After I got the 300d I could not think of any car besides a Mercedes-Benz. I started researching the old Mercs' and I learned about the slew of weird, fast, and one-off vehicles the have produced through the years. Through my many hours of internet research I came across a wonderful company in California that restores these black smoke beasts. After spending hours looking at the company's cars that have been restored in the past I was amazed by the quality of the work, so I gave him a call and chatted for a bit, just casual talk. I soon became interested in a avocado green 1978 240d. When I say "interested" I mean I fell in love, could not stop thinking about it. The coating on top of this green painted, tan interior car was a 4 speed manual. Before the 240d I had never driven a manual besides five seconds here and there. I went ahead and bought the car, and have not regretted it one bit since. The manual transmissions is delightful, the tailpipe belched a plume of black smoke when I had to get going, and the engine screamed on the Texas highways. The 300d and the 240d were both in mint condition, pristine examples of the Mercedes diesel. That's where something dramatically different comes into play, the 450sel 6.9.
While at a friend's ranch I was cruising around the property, taking in the beauty of the Texas hill country I came across a small out building. About a mile from the main house there was a small guest house that I believe used to be the main house but was now abandoned. Besides it was a car port with a large vehicle beneath it, covered. I had to know what the car was just being the car nut I am. So I drove back to the main house, spoke to my buddy and asked about it. When asked about the car he simply responded "Some old Mercedes" and the moment he said that my mind immediately filled with all the possibilities of what could be in that abandoned car port. To be honest all I could think of was what kind of W123 it was. I was not well acquainted with the all the other Mercedes in the wild and I really was obsessed with the W123.
After expecting a W123 under that cover and seeing a what I saw was truly shocking. As I peeled back the cover on the 18 foot long mega sedan I first saw the front end. I immediately knew off the bat that it was a European W116 vehicle but that is where my knowledge ended. I continued to roll back the cover and as I looked down at the wheels I noticed the suspension. I thought to myself "Man, the suspension is shot" and then I continued on my way back. I got to the boot lid to look at the badging. I first saw the "450sel" badge and I was slightly familiar with that, I then pulled the entire cover off. I started my walk around to asses the condition of the body. In doing so I noticed something out of place, something that looked factory but I have never heard of. This was the 6.9 badging.
I was completely lost when I saw that, I had no clue what I was looking at and I could only assume, by modern Mercedes badges, that it refereed to the engine. By that alone, a 6.9 litre sedan the size of a boat was intriguing enough as it is. With that info, I sat in the drivers seat, pulled out my phone and Googled "Mercedes 450sel 6.9." The first I saw and read was the Car and Driver review from the late 70's, that got me interested. I then learned about the suspension, that go me intrigued. I then learned about its engine, that engine, it made me want it. After many months of going back and forth with the owner I finally acquired the beast and that is where it all started...
After a minor shipping ordeal of getting the car from San Antonio to Dallas it was at my mechanics shop. The 6.9 had some work done to it while it was living in San Antonio by a friend of mine and he went through the complicated procedure that it is starting the 6.9 litre engine after a 20 year sleep. He got the car started and running but it was overheating, the condition of the transmission was unknown, and the suspension was collapsed. All typical 6.9 problems.
At the shop in Dallas there was some minor mis-communication between the two mechanics. The shop took the car in under the assumption that it was a running car. In a way they were right but the car was not "running" as per-say. As the mechanic was working on the suspension, he replaced a part and the rams starting pumping up, miraculously. As the engine was running the mechanic described to me a large pop sound had come from the engine, he figured the car had ran out of gas. He fueled it back up, went to crank, and it would not start. He was flummoxed so he began running diagnostics and under further inspection he discovered the number eight cylinder had no compression. He then came to the conclusion that the piston had hydrolocked, was not moving, and the rod had possibly been thrown.
After much contemplation and numerous conversations with other 6.9 owners I decided not to rebuild the engine or even attempt to repair it. I called shops all over town and not a single shop was interested or willing to do the job. They all knew of the 6.9 but simply declined the offer to rebuild. After that, the search for a engine began. I became friends with another enthusiast here in Dallas and he sold me an engine. It was an American engine and I had a European car so I was reluctant to install the engine in the car. I have always been a nut for originality so the thought of having the wrong engine in the car was unsettling but the price was right and I decided to buy the engine. The engine turned out, under further inspection to have a cracked block so that was out of the question. The seller was very kind and refunded me, he has proved to be an invaluable resource to me for knowledge and advice.
I eventually sourced a European parts car in Florida and for only 1000 dollars, the vehicle was a blessing. The engine had ran in the past year and the suspension was good. After paying for the vehicle and friend of mine went to go pick it up.
The trip into Florida was uneventful and my friend made great time. When he went to go pick it up he was greeted with a torrential downpour and a car far off the beaten path. He had to weasel a 20 foot trailer down a hill and around a heavily wooded property. He wormed his way around the travel trailers, cars, and low trees to find a rusty old Mercedes 6.9 roughing the elements. There were no blocks to chock up the suspension and no assistance with the car besides his friend. He un-hitched the trailer and drove his 1-ton duelly down the property and tied his truck to the 6-9. He had to creep up the hill as the low riding sleeper dragged its belly all the way up. After using a broken come-along he finally got the car onto the flat bed trailer.
Back on the road again everything was going fine until out of the blue a wild vibration developed on the trailer. The tire had bubbled up and was about to blow so he pulled over, jacked up the 5,000 pound payload and replaced the tire with the spare. All was well while cruising through the scenic Apalachicola National Forest until the boot lid flew open and a mess of bed sheets and century old dirt flew from the trunk. He had to pull over and clean up the mess the 6-9 had made in the forest. The next day as he got on the road he had yet traveled 50 miles until another tire went out, this time with no spare. He limped into town and found a tire shop to replace the tire. Once again no sooner did the last tire get replaced the third one blew and this time while on his way to town he was pulled over by a Florida State Trooper. The Trooper advised my friend to unhook the trailer, get the rim, and drive into town to get a tire on the rim. He left the 6.9 on the side of the road and drove to town. After getting the new tire installed he got back on the road and thankfully without any more problems. I have to admit, I am greatly in debt to this friend of mine because when no car carrier would pick up the vehicles he would and always get the job done.
This is where the story ends, the parts car is now in the hands of my mechanic and I will begin work on it myself tomorrow. Do not dismay, the misadventures of the 6.9 will continue for there will always be work to be done! I will continue updating the story on Oppo and I hope yall enjoy my foray into Auto Journalism. This is my first real attempt at this so advice is greatly appreciated! Thanks.