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Andrew Atwood

After making the plan, time to take the car apart. Here are a couple of good rules to follow during a tear-down, and some tips along the way.

Andrew Atwood

Restoration Project – Part 3
Down to the Nuts and Bolts

Last installment, I cautioned you not to do anything until you had decided on the level of restoration you wanted to perform and how much you were prepared to spend, and determined the  extent to which you wanted to preserve originality or make modifications, then established a rough timeframe for the project. Now that you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to take the car apart.

First things first

There are a couple of good rules to follow during a teardown. First, regardless of your restoration goals and no matter how badly corroded or weather-cracked a part is, remove it with care and try to keep it in one piece unless you have the new one in your possession. There is a horrible sinking feeling you get when trying to find an item that was destroyed during removal – particularly when it is no longer available new or rebuilt and a seller wants astronomical amounts of money for a beat-up used one in worse condition than the original part.

Second, get a decent digital camera and use it prolifically, storing each day’s images by date on your computer. I usually take pictures of the finished assembly first and then take a picture after each major item is removed. You can never have too many pictures – I took more than 500 pictures of my project during the teardown – and when you’re putting the car back together, you will appreciate this. Silly things – for example, not knowing which way a little bracket should face or the position of the bolt and nut – can stop a project dead in its tracks until you figure it out. Keeping a log of what you do each day will provide an assembly manual when you finish the teardown – just work backward through the log.

Take lots of pictures as you begin to disassemble the car, because you won't remember where every one of these wires goes.

Those pictures will be essential when you begin putting everything together.

Getting gritty

So your car is on jack stands or a hoist and it’s teardown time. I generally start with the interior. Seats first and then carpets and all floor trim and moldings; don’t forget the camera. I placed all the mounting hardware for the seats in plastic zip-lock bags and taped them to corresponding seats; this is extremely critical for concours restorations as each fastener has its place and on older Mercedes, they used a lot of 14mm nuts and bolt heads with the 8mm x 1.25 bolts and nuts but on the later cars they used 13mm heads. Only a few appreciate this attention to detail, but it makes the satisfaction of an accurate restoration worth the trouble.

A good set of shelves will help you keep everything in order, so you can find it again in two years when you're ready to begin assembly.

Next I removed all the door panels and then disassembled the window mechanisms, door handles, latches and chrome trim, and then the window channels and guides. I stacked the interior parts on shelves according to their location in the car – everything from the front-left door panel to each little nut and bolt and window channel went on one dedicated shelf. This made life so much easier four years later when I needed to reassemble the driver’s door; I knew that any leftover parts either had been replaced or still awaiting installation. If the headliner needs replacement, it can be removed. Be careful removing it because it may need to be used as a template by an upholstery person. I also labeled every clip and bow position for later installation.

When it came time to strip the dash, I removed the front and rear windshields to pull the wood and dash assembly without damaging them. This is easier than it sounds – especially if you are replacing the windshield seals – but if you have any doubt, hire a glass company: Its removal cost is cheaper than a new windshield. Use a plastic, not metal, wedge or pry tool to gently remove the chrome trim surrounding the windshield, then use a box cutter on the outer lip of the rubber seal to expose the entire glass edge all the way around.

Next, run the box cutter around the inside and, with the help of a friend, you should be able to remove the glass. You’ll now have unrestricted access to the dash and all its components, which will make wood removal much easier.

Grease-monkey time

With the interior stripped, I turned my attention to the mechanicals. This required massive documentation – tons of photographs and tagging everything as I removed it – because I was removing all the fuel, brake and air lines, as well as the entire wiring harness. As I disconnected each wire, I tagged it with a piece of duct tape, which lasts longer, and labeled its location. This works for the rest of the wiring harness as well. Trust me when I say that my wire labeling made it a one-day job to install the entire wiring harness in the car years later. 

A Mercedes engine comes out as it went in, most easily from beneath the car. First remove the fenders and front trim.

Now there are several ways to remove an engine and some, I believe, are better than others. However, it again depends how deep you are going into the restoration. I will describe a couple different methods, as well as what I did and why. On all Mercedes-Benz models up until the early 1970s, the entire engine and transmission assembly can be easily removed at the same time. If you are using a car hoist, then after unbolting the shocks, brake lines and all other attaching items – including the subframe bolts – the body can be raised off the engine subframe assembly.

Once everything is disconnected, the body can be lifted off the subframe and the the engine can be rolled out on the front suspension.

As I did not possess a vehicle hoist at the start of my project, I chose to unbolt and disconnect all components from the subframe and then used an engine hoist to lift the body of the car up off the engine and rolled it out from under on its own wheels. Either way accomplishes the same feat. The old-school method of pulling the engine out from the top will work as well, but can sometimes cause damage to the body or core support during removal; this is why I chose the to remove the engine the way Mercedes does it. However you decide, remember safety first when using the jack or hoist. Getting an experienced person to help is the best advice I can offer.

With the engine out and the chassis on rollers, you're ready to begin paint stripping and body work.

What happens if you can’t figure out how to remove a specific trim piece or odd mechanical part? This is another sad story I’ve heard many times over. For example, I’ve seen many an M189 water pump destroyed by an ambitious soul who thought he had figured out how to remove it, only to crack the housing or break the delicate aluminum flange trying to disassemble it, thus destroying a rebuildable original item. Even with the relatively less complex carbureted flathead Mercedes engine of the early 1950s, there are special tools and techniques for taking certain items apart.

If you’re in the slightest doubt, do your research before trying to remove the component. There are tons of books and workshop manuals available that are worth the asking price, especially when compared with the cost of replacing or repairing parts that could be damaged during teardown. A lot of the old books I’ve collected through the years were sourced from online auctions and swap meets. The online forums are also an invaluable way to find someone who has already solved the problem you’re facing. When it comes to the specialized tools, most are long gone, but can be re-created again at a cheaper cost than replacing the part.

There are tons of books and manuals available for reference, essential to a good restoration.

Next came the removal of delicate aluminum trim and chrome moldings. Most Mercedes trim is attached with plastic clips; however, be very careful here as many of the trim pieces use a metal sliding bolt with a nut at the front and sometimes the rear-most part of the trim piece. This can make for a series of four-letter expletives if one is forgotten and the trim breaks or creases, so proceed slowly and carefully. Most of the time you will find an odd-sized nut or bolt (usually a 7mm) way out of sight and can just be reached with two fingers. If you are wondering about the “why?” it’s because the cars were hand-assembled. Once I had every nut, bolt and trim item removed from the body, it was time to clean the parts and plan for the next stage.

For cleaning the body and other body panels, I chose to have them media blasted. My research and the old-school body men I consulted all concurred: soda was the best media choice. All agreed that sand and aluminum-oxide medias would be more thorough, but could cause more damage to the 1950s’ body. It cost me more to have it soda blasted – more time spent to get all the body filler and undercoating off – but it was well worth it as less work was required to clean the sheet metal that was still in good shape. Of course, media blasting will also unveil just how good or bad the body really is. On mine, quite a few body panels had to be replaced, but what I found and how I rectified these issues is a topic for another day.