Author Topic: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235  (Read 228 times)

jtucker

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2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« on: 10 July 2019, 12:43 PM »
Every summer I take a road trip from my home in Dallas to Vail, Colorado to escape the Texas heat.  This year my wife and I decided to make the drive in our 1979 450SEL 6.9 (#6235).

The history and details of #6235 has been fairly well documented on the International M-100 Group website, but here is a little bit of background on the car...

I purchased #6235 in 2012 and am the third owner.  The previous two owners were in Colorado Springs and Denver, so the car has no rust and it has been cosmetically very well preserved in the mountain air.  With the car came all service and maintenance receipts from the first two owners.  It’s a rather large file that I was very glad to receive, as it documents everything you would want to know about the car’s history.

The first owner put most of the miles on the car, racking up 128,000 miles between 1979 and 1992.  The good news about the second owner is that he kept the car in amazing shape cosmetically.  The bad news is that he only drove it 4,000 miles between 1992 and 2012.  When I bought it there were 132,000 miles on the clock.

I started driving the car immediately and thoroughly enjoyed the power of the 6.9 liter engine and smoothness of the hydropneumatic suspension.  That said, I found that putting miles on the car was something akin to “shaking the cobwebs loose,” as all sorts of issues stemming from little use over the previous two decades began to surface.  The list of issues is too long to list in detail, but it includes rebuilding the cooling system, transmission, and engine.  All sorts of smaller issues were also addressed over the past seven years, including rebuilding the sunroof mechanism, replacing various relays and regulators, as well as wheel bearings, tires (Michelin XWX), filters, timing chain, hoses and belts.  We also chased down numerous vacuum leaks and replaced the alternator, starter and water pump.  The five suspension accumulators were also recently replaced.  When the engine was rebuilt two years ago with 141,000 miles on the clock, we took the opportunity to install the higher compression Euro pistons (NOS from Mahle in Germany) and disconnect the EGR system – and the power increase is very noticeable!  Oh, and we also replaced the clogged heater core, which required the entire dash to be taken out and re-installed.  Cosmetically, the only thing I have done is to replace the stock US bumpers and headlights with proper Euro spec units (I saved all the original parts). 

All the work on #6235 has been performed by Steve Ady in Dallas, a genius mechanic who knows Mercedes inside and out.  I can’t imagine tackling all this work without Steve.
 
At the beginning of my road trip from Dallas to Vail and back, the car had 148,225 miles on the clock, so a little over 7,000 miles since the engine was rebuilt.  The car runs beautifully and I’ve been looking forward to stretching its legs on a long road trip for some time.

Here are details of the trip, along with the following link to photos...

https://jeffreytucker.smugmug.com/Texas-to-Vail-in-69-6235/n-m7CCMB/

Departure - Friday, June 28 to Saturday, June 29, 2019

We began late in the day for the 366 mile trip from Dallas to Amarillo, where we stayed for the night.  Prior to the trip Steve Ady performed a detailed inspection of the car, so I was confident that it was ready to go.  That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a little bit of trepidation at the beginning of what would ultimately be a 2,300 mile trip in a 40 year old car.  Traveling with me were my wife and our dog, who was comfortably ensconced in the back seat that was fully covered to protect the leather.  The trunk was also fully loaded and I estimate the full weight of luggage, people and dog at around 500 pounds, which is enough extra weight to feel from behind the wheel.

Despite the 95 degree weather between Dallas and Amarillo, the car performed wonderfully.  The engine felt terrific and, not surprisingly, passing other cars was no problem.  The only minor issue was the air conditioning, which strained to keep up with the heat from the ambient air and driving at sustained highway (err, Autobahn...) speeds.  The car’s AC normally blows very cold, but I knew this would be a stress test for the system.  That said, we were still quite comfortable.

I’ve put over 16,000 miles on the car over the past seven years, so I’d like to think I’m extremely familiar with it and know what makes it so great.  But a long road trip really reminded me why the 6.9 is so superlative.  The power of the engine, the smoothness of the suspension, and the interior ergonomics (visibility, seating position and large steering wheel) all combine to make it an amazing road car.  Is it as good as a modern car?  No, but I well recall taking trips like this with my family in the 70’s, and I can say with absolute confidence that the 6.9 just blows any American car of the same period off the road in terms of quality, comfort and performance.

We covered the 366 miles in five hours, including stops.  The best fuel mileage I recorded was 12.9 MPG.  The temperature gauge hovered around 185 F the entire day, never approaching the 200 F mark.

I knew the second day would be more enjoyable as we exited the Texas heat and headed through the northeast corner of New Mexico and into the cooler mountains of Colorado.  We left Amarillo early and the AC performed flawlessly in the lower temperatures. 

Our route took us through the panhandle of Texas to Raton, New Mexico, then north on I-25, passing through Pueblo and Colorado Springs.  Upon reaching Denver we headed west on I-70 for the drive to Vail.  As our altitude increased, I could feel the gradual power decrease resulting from the thinner air.  This was much more noticeable on I-70 as we went through the Eisenhower Tunnel and through the Vail Pass (elevation 10,666 feet).  But the engine still felt powerful and passing other cars was no issue.

Once again, the car drove flawlessly and I couldn’t have been happier.  We arrived in Vail after driving a little over 600 miles in 9 hours, including stops for lunch and fuel.  Not bad at all for a 40 year old car!  Fuel mileage suffered in the mountains and the best I recorded was 10.7 MPG.

We spent 8 days in Colorado, over which time I put another 250 miles on the car.  While the 6.9 is fast, its no sports car, but I still found it to be immensely enjoyable on winding mountain roads.

Return - Monday, July 8 to Tuesday, July 9, 2019

My wife elected to fly home for business reasons, so it was just me and the dog on the return trip.  We left Vail at 9:30 AM, ready for the 9 hour drive to Amarillo.  In terms of the car’s performance, the return drive was almost identical to the departing drive.  The outside temperature was in the mid-80s F for most of the way between Vail and Amarillo and the AC kept the car comfortable.  Unfortunately the temperature between Amarillo and Dallas was over 100 F.  My 6.9 is black, which made matters even worse, as the AC strained to keep up.  I estimate that the inside temperature in the car was somewhere between 75 and 80 F, so not exactly pleasant.  This was really the only issue that highlighted the car’s age (and just how good modern cars are). 

Undeterred by the heat, we made it back home to Dallas after a 9 hour stint to Amarillo and a 5 hour drive to Dallas – almost identical drive time from the trip up there.  MPG was also very similar, ranging between 10.6 and 12.5 MPG.

Conclusions

I can think of no other car from the 1970’s that could make a 2,300 mile road trip through extreme heat and high altitude so flawlessly.  The 6.9 was comfortable, fast and reliable.  What an amazing car! 

I have to express my thanks to Steve Ady, as this trip would not have been possible without his commitment and expertise in preparing my 6.9 for such a trip.  Long ago he told me that, besides rust, the only known enemy of these cars is the garage.  I have heeded his advice and driven the car regularly – and it seems to thrive on the miles. 

I should also note that driving a vintage S-Class across the US elicits interesting reactions from other drivers.  I’d say that 98 out of 100 people just think it’s an old Mercedes.  Many ask if it’s a diesel, not even knowing what a 6.9 is.  About 2 out of 100 people, however, get it, and give an approving thumbs up as you pass.  Even fewer walk to the back of the car, see the 6.9 badge, and know what a rare and special car it is. 

Sorry for the long-winded story but I hope it encourages other 6.9 owners get their cars out on the road!

daantjie

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #1 on: 10 July 2019, 01:34 PM »
What a great result for you and a great read! Thanks for sharing  8)
Daniel
1977 450 SEL 6.9 - Astralsilber

ptashek

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #2 on: 10 July 2019, 02:20 PM »
Great to read another story of perseverance topped off with a successful road trip. Welcome to the Org!

I have made it my goal to take my 450SE on the Autobahn every year, for as long as I can afford the fuel bill, or for as long as there are petrol stations.
I always encourage other classic owners to drive their cars, and not only to the odd show once in a blue moon.

"besides rust, the only known enemy of these cars is the garage"

 ;D
1993 "Pearl Blue" W124 280TE
1979 "Icon Gold" W116 450SE (history, resto)
1977 "Milan Brown" W116 350SE (parted out)

rumb

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #3 on: 10 July 2019, 02:22 PM »
It's great reading about all that have done road trips this summer.  I look forward to the day that I can accomplish the same.
'68 250S, '77 6.9 euro, '91 300SE, '98 SL500 '14 CLS550

karmann_20v

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #4 on: 10 July 2019, 06:07 PM »
Great read and glad the car is being enjoyed the way it's supposed to!

Doesn't look too shabby either:



I for one would love to see this car on the highway, passing me.

revilla

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #5 on: 10 July 2019, 10:05 PM »
Very inspiring reading! To the point where we began last night to plan the details of our 1K kms to Stuttgart in August.
Beautiful car!
Congratulations, but especially THANK YOU for sharing such a nice story.
Robert
W116 1977 280SEL & 1979 280SE

w116john

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #6 on: 11 July 2019, 12:00 AM »

great trip great looking car, thanks

Squiggle Dog

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #7 on: 11 July 2019, 10:46 AM »
That car is immaculate! I have a rear seat cover like that for my dogs, too. It's nice to see that some people on this forum actually drive their 6.9's. Last year raueda1 drove down from Utah in his 6.9, which he let me take for a drive.
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1980 W116 300SD Turbo Diesel, DB479 Walnut Brown, Sunroof, Heated Seats, 347,000+

Mick74

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #8 on: 11 July 2019, 12:56 PM »
Congrats, Jtucker, on a great road trip and I agree with Squiggle Dog that it's great that we drive our cars. Of course, I would say that seeing as I'm just back from my own 2,750 mile jaunt. I'll post up the tale anon, and I may copy your title, Jtucker, if I can!
It is great to see them on the road. We were south of Stuttgart and up ahead I spotted a W116 (cyprus green, I think). I accelerated to catch up, just as he took the next exit. It was 280SE and had a young couple and children on board, so we blew the horn and waved like mad, and they responded even more enthusiastically. It was a nice moment, and I hope that they will remember it as I will.

adamb

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #9 on: 11 July 2019, 02:58 PM »
That was a really good read. I share the philosophy of making sure old cars get used. Living in a city sometimes I just need to create an excuse to go for a drive. In UK there are plenty of thumbs up these days for the 116. It's become truly rare, whether the 6.9 or another model.

MARSBENZ

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #10 on: 12 July 2019, 08:16 PM »
great report....always encouraging to know that there are 6.9 owners all around the world with the same appreciation and response to driving "the best car in the world"....as per Jack Brabham's quote.
1978 450sel 6.9 #4986
1968 300sel 6.3
1984 380sl
1959 220s
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misc new classics

MARSBENZ

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #11 on: 12 July 2019, 08:31 PM »
to correct Sir Jack Brabham's quote......." the most fantastic car I have ever driven".
1978 450sel 6.9 #4986
1968 300sel 6.3
1984 380sl
1959 220s
1984 230te
misc new classics

willie_86

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #12 on: 13 July 2019, 05:07 AM »
Great read, thanks for sharing. We are planning to spend this summer in Greece with my wife. Looking to rent this sweet 450 SEL W116 '75 and have a road trip from Athens to Thessaloniki. We were saving money to buy villa in Greece for several years and I think now it's the best time. Do you know any other car rental services for Europe? Would be great to have some other alternatives.


raueda1

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Re: 2,300 mile road trip in 6.9 #6235
« Reply #13 on: 14 July 2019, 06:17 PM »
Wonderful trip report!  Having driven my 6.9 all over the west in summer I can relate.  It really is a special experience and fun when people take notice.  We're preserving history here.  Hope I'll be able to post something similar when I get my baby back on the road.   Cheers,
-Dave
Now:  '76 6.9 Euro
Before that:  1966 230S, 1964 220SE coupe, 1977 Carrera 3.0