The Car

Mercedes 230 SL – Pagoda- 1966

The car

Our Mercedes 230SL was first registered in 1966. 
We purchased the car in the autumn of 2014 and asked Altena Classic cars in Holland to build it into a strong  classic endurance rally car. By doing so we used all the experience and learning’s from the Mercedes 280SE Coupe (1970) that we so successfully rallied in the 2008 Himalaya Trial , the 2010 Carrera Copacabana rally and the 2013 Peking to Paris.

The object of this build was to create a lighter and somewhat faster endurance car but still maintaining the safety and strength of the Mercedes brand. 
The car was finished in the spring of 2015 and we used the 2015 TransAmerica rally as a test for the 2016 Peking to Paris rallies. You can read about the detail en preparation of the car and rallies if you click on the rally shields on the home page of this website.

Out of Africa

Our beautiful Red 1966, Mercedes 230SL completed the Classic Safari , without any problems, but. when the Altena crew received the car back from mid-December there was still a lot to do.

As usual during the Africa rally I kept my ‘ service and wish list’ on the car.

In addition to a complete check of engine and suspension parts , I decided that I wanted to change the rather tired Recaro seats for a new pair of classic Recaro’s.

We converted the suspension back from the Reiger shocks  to the standard Billstein shock absorbers. This enabled us to re-fit the rear anti roll bars that we had to take away to fit the Reiger shocks.

The engine felt down on power so we checked all the necessary items and replaced the airlifter engine sensor.

Both adjustments have transformed the handling and engine performance big time.

We trying another type of tire.  Michelin Lattitude Cross.

After trying the Maxxiss rally tires during Peking-Paris 2016, we used Michelin Van tires for Africa. 

Good, strong but pretty hard and not so good in the rain.

Some competitors in Africa used Michelin Latitude Cross tires. They are made for the better 4x4 SUV’s and seem to perform very well on and off road and in the wet. 

We will know soon…

After she returned from Peking to Paris in 2016 we took the Pagode to Altena Classic cars for a thorough check up.

She came through very well and any breakdowns were complete due to driver error or fatigue from the crew and not the car.

The day after the Paris finish on July 17 , 2016, Anty and I drove the car back from Paris to Holland.

It is still quite amazing that after 15000 km through deserts and rough terrain, this 1966 classic Mercedes still drives like a comfortable modern road car. 
On the way back from Paris , Anty did most of the driving and I used the time to collect all the notes that I kept during the rally on what we thought needed doing to the car.

After coming home in Holland, I left the car in our garage for a few month’s before taking her to Altena in September with my list of notes.

Most attention went into the oil sump that we broke in the Goby desert, the oil cooling and the air intake that flooded the engine in the Mongolian river last year.

The entire front suspension was taken off to check for any damage and then rebuild with new bushes etc. Wheel bearings were replaced and the brakes checked. 
As some front suspension nuts worked lose during the rally all main suspension nuts were replaced with locking nuts.

We looked at replacing the aluminium sump with a steel version, as that would be easier to repair when broken.  However they were never made in steel for this engine and it proved too costly to make a one-off version. We therefore decided to make some changes to the location of the sump guard so that if ever we had an impact as we did in the Goby desert it would not be so close to the sump guard.

Although it was never a major issue in the P2P rally, we still wanted to improve the oil& water-cooling of the car. 

After considering various options with the Altena crew we settled on adding an extra 7-litre oil tank in the car with a special pump that could be switched on and off. 
When it gets too hot the extra oil gets pumped around giving the engine oil more cooling. Cooler engine oil means also cooler engine cooling water. The initial tests proved positive.
S-Africa will be quite hot in places so we will know soon enough if this will work.

Air intake:
In Mongolia the engine stalled because we drove into a deep river forgetting that the air intake in our car is situated in the front grill of the car and not as in our 280SE on top of to engine.

We were lucky to escape with bruised ego and not a broken engine, thanks to ERA marshal Jim who stopped us from restarting the flooded engine when the car was hauled ashore.

We have now relocated the standard engine air intake by a rather racy cone air filter that is located higher up in the engine bay near the louvers in the bonnet. It still means we need to be careful crossing rivers – certainly those with Hippo’s –

The cone intake makes the car sound even more like a track car.

Shock absorbers
We made a visit to the Reiger shock absorber factory to discuss the performance of our/their shocks in the last rally.

As a result they made some changes to the hand made shocks by allowing to shock to be set much softer for rough and off road terrain. We can set them stiffer when we are on-road again.
We will see how it works.

After using the strong ‘Van’ tires on all our rallies we decided on using some special Maxxis R19 rally tires for P2P.

Lessons learned from this:

  • These special rally tires make a hell of a whining noise on asphalt and it really starts to get on your nerves after a while
  • We started with two spare tires and by switching the rears in Russia we just managed to get to Paris on the full set. Only just.
  • On this sort of long rallies I do not think special rally tires are worthwhile having.
  • Don’t experiment with tires on such a long event as the P2P. Stick to what you know and test it out on shorter rallies

So for Africa we are back on ‘Continental’ Van tires. Strong and quiet.

All other suspension and moving parts were serviced and or replaced.
We updated or replenished the spares supply in the car and the ‘broken’ ECU was repaired so we carry a spare ECU with us again.
We replaced the wind deflector with a Perspex version to improve rear visibility. We need to keep an eye on the animals….
After the rebuild I test drove the car for about 800 kms and took it back to Altena for the final bits and pieces.

Altena purchased the car as a restoration project in 2014.

The car was completely stripped bare, repaired and repainted.
A roll cage and a larger 90 litre fuel tank were fitted. Duel fuel pumps are fitted in case there is a problem with one of them and the tank is equipped with a drain plug in case we find we have bad fuel on board. We found a good Mercedes 280 engine with a five speed manual gearbox were fitted . A new lighter and bigger radiator was fitted and a bigger cooling fan replaces the old heavy MB fan.

Suspension and brakes were improved.
Special Reiger shock absorbers replace the standard boge/bilstein units. Upon the advice of one of the ERA rally mechanics( sweeps) we have ordered and fitted Maxiss R19 rally tyres. This is a departure of the ‘Van’ tyres that we have always used on previous rallies. We take two spare tyres and one spare wheel.

The rear suspension/ springs are supported by small inflatable airbags to deal with the off road sections and the extra weight. The totals weight of the car including the roll cage is now 1275 kg instead of 1350kg of the standard Pagode without the roll cage. The interior was stripped to save weight and fitted with rally seats and belts and dual electronic trip meters.

There is a new fuse box which makes repairing or replacing the fuses much easier. After the Trans America Challenge I have persuaded Anty that we do the P2P rally with the soft top rather then the hard Pagoda Top that we had planned to use.

Driving with the top off, as we did most of the time in the USA, is so much more comfortable than with the top on. Its cooler most of the time and we get less dust in the car then with a closed car. We have a wind deflector fitted behind the roll cage.

Compared with the 280SE, room in the car is at a premium so we need to be very careful with what we can take . Essential spare parts, tools, tent and sleeping bags and clothes.