1957 Mercedes-Benz 220S Ponton

Jeff Bennet / Auckland, New Zealand

Overview and History

The car was sold new in Christchurch in 1957. In the 1990s, after several owners, it ended up in a museum in Christchurch (earthquake city) where it got new upholstery and a cosmetic paint job.

It's fairly "low spec" (no radio, no sunroof, no exterior mirrors, with vinyl upholstery), but it was cosmetically restored nine years ago. Having a two-tone paint job, I thought it would make a nice addition to your photo gallery. I like the profile photo best.

It was purchased by the previous owner in 2000 and taken to Gisborne (North Island east coast town). In 10 years, he drove it less than 1,000 miles. The odometer currently shows 240,000 miles.

I bought it for $8,000 from Gisborne some 14 months ago, and trucked it to Auckland. The car was mobile, but had a few issues and wasn’t ready for a lengthy road trip. A condition of sale was a new Warrant of Fitness (six-month inspection) and she failed, so had to get a new front suspension (king-pins, trunnions, etc.).

There was some rust in all four doors (the sound insulation in the doors had decayed and blocked the drain holes) and a little in the rear fenders. There was the odd spot in other places, but the floor pan and boot (trunk) were sound. There was a rumor that the engine had (at least) a top-end rebuild, and a new gearbox had been fitted at some stage, but nobody knew for sure. The syncromesh is strong in all gears.

All four engine mounts had collapsed, and the engine was tilting over to the left, but at least it started, and ran tolerably well. The first transformation came when new engine mounts were fitted, the engine was flushed, carburetors synced, valve clearances set and timing adjusted.

At this point she ran well, and got better every time I took her out. We fixed the speedometer (a loose gearbox nut) and I took her up to an indicated 80 mph, but the vibration and noise was extraordinary, with a fair bit of blue-brown smoke. The ancient cross-ply tires made steering a challenge.

Next was the de-rust and paint job. I found an enthusiastic owner of a body shop about 100 yards from my office. He restores Volkswagens and was keen to do the car. We reached an agreement that he would only work on it when he wasn’t busy with accident repairs, and the price would be affordable. It took nine weeks to complete but he did a complete de-rust and rust-proof and a full two-pot autoclaved repaint. We could not get the doors off the car without wrecking stuff, so did them on the car!

The next transformation was when I found a set of Maxxis 185.80.R13 tires with narrow-band whitewalls. They were made in 2011, so the rubber was nice and fresh. The difference was unbelievable. This was followed by new U-joints in the drive shaft. Then she would do 90 mph without trying to shake herself to bits, and I could cruise at 70 with one hand on the wheel.

Sound insulation was next on the list. I wanted a lot less noise since I was planning a trip of a couple of thousand miles during the summer of 2012.

Every weekend, the driveability became better. She started instantly, idled smoothly (I did the tappets again – two were a bit loose) and pulled from low revs. smoothly without objection. She could be a daily driver – after getting new seals for the doors and trunk to keep the rain out.

Remaining Issues

I’ll keep driving her fast – she seems to like it. The magic 100 mph mark is only a few weeks away!

Best Regards,

Jeff Bennet
Auckland, New Zealand
July 18, 2011

Created: July 18, 2011 / Jeff Miller
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