Posts from the ‘Staff Cars’ category

I must say – what a week it has been, and we’re just only getting through the middle of it!

Progress with our little restoration project has been moving steadily. We previously left off with the 300SE pretty much in pieces – her engine had been extracted, dash had been removed to give space for welding and was awaiting a supposed ‘windscreen expert’ to help lift both front and rear windscreens.

I must say. This new “glass” is really clear

Well, thankfully that day came and went rather swiftly, and most importantly with no mishaps. In no time, welding to her floorboard, front fire wall, front LHS wheel arch, battery tray and rear windscreen frame could finally take place. The results, to say the least are amazing.

From here, I will let the pictures do the talking:

Finally, a clean battery tray area! Awaiting a NOS battery tray – Merc aficionados will know this to be extremely hard to find!

Post welding: The new metal that had been welded on also received a fresh cost of anti-rust paint – which is what gives off that matte, black finish

Top: Cutting out rusty bits of metal on the rear windshield frame
Bottom: the welded, final result

It was a huge sigh of relief to be able to close the chapter on the 300SE’s bodywork. It definitely feels reassuring to know that the spread of this “cancer” has now been stopped. Hopefully this is a sign of remission – I guess this will be the case as long as she is parked under shelter for most part of the day, and has her drain holes cleared regularly.

With her rust work sorted, our team at Tropical Success was able to commence piecing her back together, whilst awaiting the appointment with the ‘windscreen expert’ to secure her windshields back on.

Slowly working towards putting her dashboard back on – but first, fresh bulbs to illuminate the various gauges and buttons

Whilst that was happening, her engine too, was slowly being lifted back into her bay and had all her hoses and wires being connected back together. Her newly refreshed radiator and cooling hoses too, were reinstalled:

Moments before her radiator was lifted into place

Almost ready! A last minute run to grab a brand new alternator was made to ensure that no old and possibly worn out component would be left out of this round of work

Whilst all this was taking place, I took the opportunity to go about refreshing her interior. The folks at tropical noticed a small rip in the upholstery on the rear bench – we were lucky enough to be connected to an upholsterer who had a roll of NOS MB Tex material left in his stock to help us replace the ripped panels.

Since the 300SE also had a missing front passenger seat pocket, I took the chance to engage him to fashion one in the very same material.

Alright, this might not be concours spec and although there is a colour mismatch owing to new material vs faded plastic, I must say its close to the original! (and of course massively cheaper and easier than finding a W126 seatback from the scrapyard)

NOS MB Tex was an amazing find

One of our fellow W124/ W126 owner-friends (you may remember him from our introductory post), who turns out to be quite a skilful craftsman and hands-on restorer, very kindly agreed to help with the refurbishment of the 300SE’s cracked AC wood panel.

Its veneer hadn’t totally cracked off, which made it a prime candidate for light restoration and revarnishing.

Thanks Mr B!

Clockwise, from top left hand corner: Veneer that was cracking and lifting from the wood panel had to be glued back on (rather ingenious use of clothes pegs there) before it could be sanded down, had filler and walnut stained applied, and finally before the application of multiple layers of varnish. Although the last picture shows the panel only in near-completion stage, the result is nothing short of mesmerising

Stepping into the interior, it would be too easy for any of you to point out the many other niggling bits within the 300SE that requires replacement or rework. But the objective here was to focus on the larger chunks/ main touch points so that she would at least feel “good” to sit in (and not resurrect the OCD-monster within) when Day 1 comes.

Well, looks like we are inching closer to day 0. With more (re)assembly work to come, I’m sure we are all definitely looking forward to seeing her come back together in the next few days.

Look out, this old bruiser will be back on the road in no time!

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Having spent three days in Bangkok during Songkran, we felt that it was time to venture a little further out for a quick “breakfast run”. Tollways linking from other provinces towards (and out of) Bangkok were free of charge from the first day of Songkran (Wednesday 13 April), at least till Monday the 18th of April – a nice touch given that these fees can be pretty hefty. *A drive from Bangkok to Pattaya costs around THB150 for toll fees alone, but you’ll benefit from roads that are of much better condition than those that run parallel to tollways.

Leaning tree almost gave me a concussion, phew…

This time round, instead of heading southeast (read about our trip to Rayong a week ago), we drove eastwards to Chachoengsao province, shooting past Suvarnabhumi Airport and went for a quick 2 hour drive (both ways) to grab some pastries. The journey was a mix of straight stretches from the elevated tollway, tapering off to narrow streets flanked by padi fields.

Headed Eastwards this time – a quick L-shaped route to stock up on pandan cakes

We reached our first destination – Pu Ka A Bakery. Apparently this place is famous for its triangular-shaped pandan cakes stuffed with generous coconut slices. The carpark was already half filled at 9 am, by those we reckon who want to return to Bangkok before the post-Songkran jam piles up.

Old-school satisfaction

Now that we’ve settled our tea breaks for the week, we made a quick dash back home. This time, Google Maps alerted us to a “megafactoy” just opposite the bakery. Toyota Motor Thailand’s Assembly Plant (Ban Pho) I believe is one of three factories in Thailand. This specialises in assembly, and after some Googling, my car could very well have rolled out from this factory three years ago!

Likely the birthplace of most Toyotas in Thailand – more investigation required

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Toyota cars bound for the local market have vehicles tested within this factory’s vicinity. At least from my experience with the Yaris, the suspension soaks up potholes the size of craters well. There’s still much to be desired when tollways make way for twisty roads though – the car does not tempt you to embark on corner carving activities. I had to take it slow, and signal to allow raging Ford Ranger / Isuzu D Max drivers overtake me on B roads.

Averaged 95km/h on the tollway, pretty glad with the result. On par with the VW Polo 1.2 TSI tested 8 years ago…

It was a short 2-hour drive in total, 120km clocked, but a fulfilling process nevertheless. I will be back for sure to grab more pandan cakes, while also telling myself that I will be driving the Yaris homewards, to where it all started…

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From the time the introductory post of the 300SE went live, many of you have been checking in over the course of the past 1-and-a-bit week (now close to 2 weeks) on progress of her restoration work. I will share the same here – guess there isn’t much to complain about (perhaps some to celebrate over?) as work has been moving along at a decent/ satisfactory pace!

An old friend came to visit 🙂

We are now approaching the 1-month mark since I took ownership of this W126. To be honest, I initially expected this to be a relatively quick job – with minor rust/ welding, engine and undercarriage work to be completed. But the more components were removed, the more we discovered and the more we wanted to do for this old girl.

OCD-ness has almost taken over fully, with job upon job being dovetailed and stacked on top of each other. Do reach out if anyone of you manage to find a cure for this disease!

Let me explain;

Since our last update, the SE’s M103 engine had been extracted from her shell. Going by the sheer number of seals that had to be replaced + a leaky rear main seal, our partners at Tropical Success advised that it would be easier to work with the engine out.

Out and ready for a wash of the engine bay. The amount of room in here is surprising!

Feels odd to have this gaping hole

Now this released the floodgate of old and worn components to be changed and jobs to be undertaken – engine dampers + rebuild, timing chain, oil pump chain & guide replacement + rebuild, water jacket replacement, exhaust manifold gasket, water jackets (to not bore you I shall stop here)

Not too shabby I’d say – her engine has been looked after but can definitely do with some sprucing up

Being fettled with

Well since the engine was out, why not sand blast and repaint all these metallic components? I must say, the ensuing result speaks for itself.

Lovely – nice and shiny

Strewn across the workshop floor

M103 (almost) in all its glory – can’t wait for it to go back in!

Remember what I described as rather minor rust repair work? This turned out to be (in my terms) rather major. What happened here could only be explained by a leak that started from clogged drain channels below the front windscreen, that overflowed from the LHS drain pipe near the car’s A-pillar onto the wheel arch and into the front passenger footwell.

Front end components removed to expose the sheet metal

Like limestone dripping from stalactites, how her floorboard got to this “crispy” state was not so much due to pooling rain water, but dampness that was not able to totally dry out in our humid weather.

Measuring up the pieces needed for welding

And same goes for that small patch at the bottom of the rear windscreen, which I also noticed that it had been around since the time of publishing of that ST article we quoted in our last post. For these, both front and rear windscreens are waiting to be lifted before the grinding and welding work can commence.

A rusty battery tray area – could be much worse, and can definitely be resolved

As for that battery tray area… remember how our folks had to keep a spare bottle of “battery water”? More often that not, having to top up one’s battery water into a small hole would inadvertently result in some spillage of that corrosive liquid onto the battery tray. Guess it is not very reasonable to expect every owner to lift up a heavy battery to ensure the area is dry before closing up their bonnet.

Full view of her front LHS wheel arch

Because of the extent of the rust, the W126’s dashboard had to be removed to further expose the condition of the sheet metal underneath it, just to be sure we weren’t missing out on any other areas. Now thankfully, for the front end, rust was only limited to the floorboard, battery tray and minor spots on the front wheel arch. Now since the dash was out…. why not replace the old air-conditioning system components? New temperature switches (we actually found that an AC switch belonging to a Toyota Dyna single cab pick up truck had been installed by a previous owner!), an evaporator and a cooling coil were swiftly ordered.

Goodness, the list sure doesn’t end!

New evaporator! This will last for some time (and of course keep us cool in our tropical heat)

Now, our undercarriage work will seem minor compared to the aforementioned. With our front brake assemblies out for replacement of those notorious 90’s Mercedes Benz ball joints and for easy access to those large caster bushings, a rebuild and refurbishment of the front brake callipers followed. Again, another surprise as I had not asked for these to be done for the car. What great service from the folks at Tropical!

New discs, rebuilt & resprayed callipers and refreshed rubber bushings replaced!

And of course, being no stranger to Benz’s from the 90s, typical wear components of the cooling and fuel system are being replaced. After having been stranded with a broken fuel pipe and experiencing massive coolant loss due to a cracked radiator pipe with the previous W124, no chances will be taken with this old girl.

Critical in managing water flow through its drainage system, sun damage to this front windshield cowling will have to be rectified in-house as it is out-of-production. One of the few workarounds that had to be taken in restoring what is a 30 year old car

As we speak, the 300SE is waiting on a supposed windshield expert to aid Tropical Success in the removal of her front and rear windshields so that welding to her front, and that minor rust spot on the rear can take place safely. Fingers crossed that no mishaps occur!

With company like this, I guess the W126 is in good hands

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By Gerald Yuen

A week before Thailand’s new year (Songkran) – not a wise move to make a short 2D 1N trip out of Bangkok. But we went ahead with it anyway, as traffic would most likely pile up on roads leading northwards. Given that we were heading south to a quiet seaside town of Rayong, we gave it a shot! And we got lucky…

Jap-inspired coffeehouse next to a rubber plantation

I refer to Rayong as a “sleeper city” – very quiet, just a few roads linking up the city centre, and nothing else, really. But for petrolheads, this city might interest you. BMW Group assembles cars in Rayong. Great Wall Motors (GWM), one of the top three vehicle manufacturers in China, has set up shop in Rayong too.

Lost a tyre valve cap. Big C to the rescue. It’s the least fancy design of the lot. The other one? Rocket-shaped…

And because of this you will likely be driving alongside trailers filled with brand new cars en route to Bangkok, stickered up with protective film, ready for delivery. We saw three trailers filled with Volvo XC40s, and one filled with Toyota Hiluxes. Of course, trucks still form a substantial chunk of vehicle sales here in Thailand – 44% of annual sales come from trucks, with Isuzu the preferred brand!

Not a bad figure, but EVs are spoiling the market!

Ok I digress, but it is often the journey leading up to a destination that makes these trips memorable. I am sure petrolheads can relate! The route tempts you to embark on a fuel consumption challenge. 100km of straight roads, 3 lanes wide, so you can keep in the middle lane and hold steady at 80km/h. The Yaris did well this trip – 22+km/l with 80% highway. Half a tank used and with RON95 now at around THB39 per litre (ouch), it cost us around S$30 for the entire trip.

Bangkok looks small compared to neighbouring provinces

We’ll be back for more drives to Rayong. Will likely explore further East (towards Chantaburi the next trip) once the infamous Songkran traffic subsides!

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It must have been a shock for me when my wife and I decided to take the plunge and buy a Toyota Yaris Ativ in Bangkok back in Jan 2020, just before the world turned upside down. A back to basics Yaris (aka Vios in most other markets) in the #LenspeedOwned fleet – what’s going on?

Day 1 – red plates belonging to the dealership indicating that it has not been registered, but we can still drive it within the registered province (Bangkok, in this case). Official white plates would normally arrive 1-2 months later.

The 25-year old me would have laughed at my 33-year old self. One that was exposed to the Airtrek Turbo with the bulletproof 4G63 motor in his early driving years, and then moved on to the MkV GTI, FD2R and MkV R32 (gosh, even our Citroen DS3 was fun when you’re in the mood for spirited driving). What is a CVT-equipped sub-100bhp Toyota doing in our garage?

First few kilometres, sweating in the Bangkok jam

I told myself to look at this ownership experience from another perspective. Why are there so many Toyotas in Thailand? What’s the pull factor? I didn’t have the answers just by observing the millions of Toyotas plying Thai roads – aided by the inauguration of Toyota Motor Thailand in 1962 capable of manufacturing 760,000 cars annually.

Pic taken on day 1, looks exactly the same 2 years later. 91bhp, 109Nm – hilarious figures

These figures are so difficult to comprehend, especially for a Singaporean exposed to the “unique” system of car ownership, with numbers that pale in comparison. Imagine: 10,000 Toyotas were sold in Singapore the entire 2021. 5,000 Toyotas were sold at Bangkok International Motor Show 2022 – an event that lasted only 12 days.

Heading towards Pattaya from Bangkok

You might be wondering why I didn’t focus on how it drives. That’s because it is nothing special, really. Yes, it can achieve 23km/l with 90% highway driving at 90km/l, and a ridiculous 27km/l with uninterrupted traffic at a constant 70km/h (holding steady at 1,400rpm).

Home advantage

Here comes the important bit – this car served as a catalyst for me to understand more about the car industry in Thailand. Without this car, I might not have dug so deep into fact-finding, driving past countless dealerships and always asking how in the world this brand can manage 150 dealerships and 400+ showrooms around the country. It’s a scale so massive that I still cannot fathom. An absolute eye opener for me, humbling even..

Not a flattering view – droopy tail pipe and non-existent stance. But a no nonsense soi-hunter

Do I feel that I need something more fun to accompany this in the garage? Absolutely. Do I have regrets purchasing this car? Absolutely not. There is certainly inertia to buy an imported car, given that taxes are tagged at 300%. Of course, prices still pale in comparison to those in Singapore. But I feel that the prices between a locally-made car and a full import here in Thailand is so drastic to a point that it makes imports less appealing, at least for those that want a reliable, sensible daily drive.

This field was totally submerged a week later due to the rainy season. Pasak Chonsalit dam – highly recommended

If there is one attribute that I find most fascinating, it is that the car was made from scratch 100 kilometres from where I stay. And in between the factory facility there are countless dealerships I can fall back on if something goes wrong – at least I can try my luck with my broken Thai to replace a faulty alternator. And we need not camp on USPS to track shipment timelines. Parts for a Thai-made Toyota might even be transported in a Thai-made Altis taxi! Toyota in Thailand has an ecosystem so deeply rooted in the country that I am still trying my best to unravel – I am only scratching the surface of it all.

15 inch, 185 section rubbers telling me to be very, very careful

I now have a newfound appreciation for Toyotas in Thailand. Unpretentious in its nature, delivering uninterrupted journeys in a manner that even made me forget that I am even driving. I will turn up the volume to mask the CVT drone, and just enjoy it for what it is, a point A to B companion – not good from an enthusiast-led point of view. But we need cars like these to allow us to dream. An Evo V project car in the works next? Perhaps. I just know that I have a Thai-made Toyota to fall back on, to fetch me from the Samut Prakan-based workshop that has worked on that cranky project car’s build for months!

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I would probably be shot if I were to go out proclaiming that there was no replacement for displacement, especially since we are well into the 2020s. There’s just something about the creaminess of a straight or V6 (or V8 for that matter, if finances allow) that can’t be replicated by a L4.

The predecessor – humbler roots

Having experienced various L6, V6 engines belonging to fellow classic Mercedes Benz club owners, including one of our very own staffers, I just knew I had to get my hands on one.

A variety of (very credible) candidates were on the cards, including one within the Lenspeed garage. Not sure if you’d call it a triumph of common sense but I eventually decided against adopting a newer W211 E230 in favour of an older (and simpler) W126 300SE.

Screen grab from The Straits Times

What made it such a no brainer were both the facts that it was formerly enthusiast owned (with its ownership history traced within an hour) and that it was a rarer short wheelbase spec – for Singapore at least, where most W126s came in the ‘SEL’, long wheelbase variant. Having came from a W124, which was from the exact era – I was felt rather confident in bringing her back to her former glory despite some niggling issues.

Still very majestic looking

On the whole, she idled well – a strong indicator that one of her previous caretakers had paid attention to her complex vacuum system – but was slow to shift (an indication of expired automatic transmission fluid or a need for adjustment?).

Rear windscreen water channel rust – an issue that commonly plagued W126s from the first generation cars of 1979 up till last in 1991 

Her bodywork needed some urgent attention, with prominent rust spots around her rear windscreen water channel and around the battery tray area (a very common issue for street-parked Mercs of the 90s). And so did her interior, with various bits being sun-aged or entirely missing.

Creamy – the ubiquitous M103 3.0 L straight-6

MB Tex still holding up extremely well after more than 30 years

Despite the subpar condition of her exterior, and although I was initially apprehensive about taking on yet another project, I dropped in for a second look with a fellow MB classic club member (whom actually graduated from the W201, W124 and presently owned a W126 300SEL).

Collection day

After a quick test drive to stretch the 3.0 lite M103’s legs and an all-round inspection by our go-to classic MB workshop mechanics, a deal was struck and the old dame was welcomed into the fleet.

It has been about a week since the 300SE has been in ownership and she has found home to the workshop since. The broad plan for this initial round of work, as a start, is to ensure that her bodywork has been rid of all its existing rust, leaks and have basic wear and tear items throughout her undercarriage and engine sorted before bringing her home.

At the local MB stockist

The past few days have been spent liaising with our trusted workshop manager for parts required, examining diagrams, compiling various part numbers (which have totalled up to a list of 50+ items by now) and playing courier by making multiple trips between our local MB stockists to the workshop to deliver parts.

Playing parts courier

Somehow, despite the (dismantled) state the dame is in, confidence of the final result is pretty high.

She’ll be calling this cosy corner of the workshop home… for now

Stay tuned for further updates in the coming days for this little project of ours, and our journey to returning to this W126 to its former, stately glory!

Yikes! All that rust!

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Text by James Wong
Photos by Ethan

Wow, it’s been ages since I wrote on Lenspeed.com.

Put it down to work, other commitments and just growing up in general. Time has become an extremely precious commodity with many more things now vying for it.

But believe me, Lenspeed is still alive and well. We are most active on our Instagram page, because that’s where it’s easiest to post up content from our phones. Go follow us if you haven’t already.

Besides my day-to-day work, which is completely unrelated to cars, I’m also active on OneShift and Horizon Drivers’ Club. In fact, I wrote about the very car in focus today in the latter. So I won’t repeat the story again about the car’s provenance.

Why I am writing here again is to document about the ownership journey of the 300E, which always has been an important pillar of Lenspeed, the ‘Owned’ section. We have a hashtag on IG as well called #LenspeedOwned where we share about our staff cars. It’s very personal, not really sanitised and very real. Content like this doesn’t quite fit elsewhere, and where else better than to revive it again than on Lenspeed.

We have plans to rope in more guest writers to share their restoration journey here as well, so we can become some sort of a ‘Help Me’ database for people driving old, illogical cars who can’t get any love from mainstream channels. We are here for you!

So back to the 300E. Why did I buy it? Well, it’s dawn for ICE, and I didn’t want to be stuck driving a generic ICE engine. It had to be something I never experienced before, or something special. So the M103 was quite key to my choice. If it was the 200E, I would not be interested at all.

It’s just passed a year since I got the car, and I covered about 15,000km in that time. The car needed a fair bit of wear and tear work at the beginning, and that’s where most of the spend went to. I found a nice set of hubcaps for it, got its paint corrected (it’s still subpar but it’ll do for now), corrected its suspension to stock, put on rear passenger door blinds, period plates and solved a recurring overheating issue once and for all. Other routine stuff included window tints (light, so it doesn’t look camp), a dashcam and remote central locking.

After the initial lump sum of approx S$6k, the car just needed minor work every 3 months or so. The wipers were bumping the bonnet a little so I got the wiper assembly changed, as well as replacing the wiper stalk as speed ‘1’ was not working. A low coolant light popped up but it was just a simple $40 sensor replacement. I changed my fuel pumps as well as they were getting noisy.

The most recent work needed was on my fuses. The car started to run hot and it turned out to be a bad fuse to the cooling fan. I got it changed but the problem persisted – thankfully I was monitoring it closely otherwise more damage would have happened! In the end, the workshop helped me to bypass that particular fuse and all’s good now, but I will need to replace my fuse box at some point.

As of today, I still need to sort a warm start issue. After the car sits parked after a drive (15 minutes or more), it will not start on the first crank. It will need a second crank before it catches fully. It’s an annoying problem but not a huge issue yet. Will need to get to the bottom of this, hopefully I can get replacement parts from Australia to fix this in June.

 

1989 W124 300E

Performance: 2960 cc inline six-cylinder, 188 hp, 8.4 secs 0-100 km/h (approx)
Efficiency as tested: 6.7 km/l
Odometer to-date: 124k

 

 

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By Team Lenspeed

IMG_8032

Hopping into the MkV R32 certainly brought back good memories. We had the MkV GTI for three years before swapping it for the FD2R. This unit comes with a Bastuck exhaust, a massive Forge intake and Sparco rims. Although we prefer to keep it bone stock, the addictive VR6 grunt aided by the catback exhaust definitely elevates the overall appeal of a Golf. It’s a left-field choice, we admit, but that’s precisely why we fell in love with it.

On the move, nose heavy tendencies can be felt the moment you chuck it hard into a corner – not unexpected considering that the VR6 takes up the entire space of the engine bay (even the battery needs to be relocated to the rear boot!)

At 1500kg, this is one heavy hatchback. You could definitely feel the heft while ploughing it through the corners. I prefer to let it waft on the freeway rather than keep it on the boil, as it can’t match the urgency of the FD2R’s K20A. What’s pleasantly surprising is the low end torque that instantly reacts to my input, a very different feeling compared to the MkV GTI where the turbo takes time to spool for it to gather serious pace. It’s not as reactive as a K20A of course, but still receptive enough to derive direct response and pleasure only NA motors can muster.

Technological progress have indeed helped turbocharged units to identify gaps in the torque curve and throttle response, but in our opinion, purists will still crave for the combination of an authentic engine note and accessible throttle response. The R32 will not be a petrolhead’s first choice primarily due to its heft, but old school ingredients are well in place for an enjoyable time behind the wheel, which is why Lenspeed is always on the hunt in the classifieds for rare finds. And in our opinion, the R32 fits our list and will be part of our staff fleet for the long haul. In-depth updates soon!

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