It’s been an entire five months since I bought a new car. That’s approaching the eight-month record I managed between January and August last year, though in truth I did reclaim a car in that time.
I’ve spent hours agonising over what to buy and have made my decision. The car is now in my garage. Was it the right choice?
I drove a Mercedes-Benz R107 300SL recently and that must have made quite an impression. I very much liked the typically-excellent Mercedes-Benz automatic gearbox and the engine that could turn from wonderfully smooth to rorty and powerful depending on throttle pedal position. I spotted a Merc 300E W124 on Retro-Rides, and that it had been for sale since August. This looked like a slightly left-field view of temptation. It was up for £700, having dropped from £750 last summer. Given that the MOT was less than a month, there was no way I was paying that much. £500 was deemed to low, so I upped the ante to £575 and a deal was done. By text message.
Last night, I get a text from the seller’s son saying that the car is misfiring so I should bring a trailer or cancel the deal. A tricky one. I’d kind of decided I really wanted the car by this stage, and had insured it and everything. Cancelling would cost me £15 for nothing. Given that the only real option was to go and have a look at the thing anyway, and try and diagnose the fault, I thought I’d go ahead. What could possibly go wrong?
My Skoda-loving friend conveniently decided to move from the North East to pretty much on my doorstep not long after we moved here and the idea of a stupid road trip was very appealing. He collected me in his modern Octavia VRS thing, which allowed me to laugh at the complete lack of suspension for almost the entire journey. It really was rather firm. I am very grateful though!
We arrived at the vendor’s house not too much later than planned. He was at work but his wife gave us the keys and logbook, as well as a key to the lock-up garage and directions on how to find it. No money had changed hands at this point. I love how trusting some people are! The logbook was even signed.
We traipsed to the garage, opened the door and blinded a Mercedes with the sunlight.
It was about as interested in moving as I had been at 7am this morning. The starter wheezed a bit. No dice. The Octavia was put onto jump start duty. Still no dice. We poured a can of fuel in, seeing as how the gauge didn’t move in the slightest when the ignition was turned on. Eventually, after much will-she, won’t-she, the Mercedes deigned to fire up. Hoorah! That meant I could drive it out and have a good look at it for the first time.
Seemed alright. A touch of corrosion in the offside rear arch but the front wings were new and the underside looked sound – especially around the front suspension mounts. We drove the short distance back to the vendor’s house, but the car started spluttering. I took it for a spin around the block. Very spluttery, but it did clear. I did the only sensible thing I could do. Handed over money and plotted the 150 mile drive home. The car refused to start and needed a jump start. This boded well!
Our journey started well. Which means that when I tried pulling out onto the main road, it died completely. I nervously reversed back around the corner with no PAS and a brake servo rapidly loosing pressure. They should teach you that on the MOT. In a car with a pedal-operated handbrake. Anyway, car parked up and we dashed off for more fuel, thinking stale unleaded might be the problem. It wasn’t, but it felt better having a fuel light off! Then it wouldn’t start again.
We were at least getting quite quick at the jump-lead shenanigans now, so soon power was restored. I realised that light throttle allowed it to pull away but give it a good shove of throttle and it died in dramatic fashion. This made roundabouts very interesting but I managed to get as far as a petrol station, where I only managed to get 56 litres in. Off we limped, with a few more ‘exciting’ moments on roundabouts.
In fact, pulling onto the motorway roundabout, the car died again. I pulled onto the verge while the Skoda gave protection from the rear – a big, blue crumple zone. I got it running again and considered the insanity of driving onto a motorway in a car that was clearly very unhappy. What the hell. The sliproad went down, so that should help. Off I spluttered.
And she came good. 70mph was swiftly arrived at and everything felt good. The odd belt squeal here and there, but that eased as the miles clocked up. With a warning of OMG TRAFFIK KAOS, we came off the M6, where I discovered that this car seems to be allergic to roundabouts. We pulled into a layby where I did a hot-wheel check – no brakes binding. Excellent. However, the car stank of richness – and I don’t mean the money-type. Revving it up caused more spluttering and I now had to accelerate onto a dual carriageway. Splutter, splutter, OMGTHERESTRAFFICCOMING, splutter, vrooooom! A man could get very fed up with this.
After a spell on the A45, I decided to take us back to the M6. Roundabouts were hell and motorways tend not to have them. Problem is, they have traffic jams. Thankfully, the car behaved itself impeccably as the traffic ground to a halt. I could gawp snobbishly at the three-pointed star and ponder the lack of buttons in such an executive machine. However, there is a button that makes the rear head restraints collapse, so it’s not all bad. The temperature gauge rose to somewhere slightly above 90 degrees, but the car was entirely unflustered by our lack of progress. Given that all throttle input was minimal, there was no misfiring. I’d forgotten how awesome an automatic is in traffic. Bliss.
Soon, we got onto the M54 and I could really open the taps. By golly. 188bhp is twice what the BX turbo diesel has, in a car only 50% heavier. It’s brisk. And very civilised. I could get to like this. Then the motorway ran out and we approached Shrewsbury. Here, I could keep my speed up, even on the roundabouts thanks to good, deeply-treaded rubber. Don’t get me wrong, I was hardly getting all Ken Block in my Teutonic Barge, but if the revs stayed up, the car behaved. Then we stopped for a break.
This was a mistake as I attempted to sneak through a small gap when we restarted our journey only for the Merc to stall in the middle of a busy road. Gah! Hopefully the misfiring as I struggled to get the thing moving proved to the annoyed folk who’d had to stop that I was having problems.
Welshpool was even worse. I had to stop at a roundabout and pulling away, it just spluttered and splutter. I gave it more throttle, it died even more. I was learning now though. Don’t pump the pedal, just hold it down and it’ll pick up. Sadly for the car which was about to overtake me, it picked up at just that moment, and 188bhp launched me down the road like a stung Alsation. In fact, I then went sprinting past a truck at an indicated 70mph, at which point I spotted two Police cars in a layby. Thankfully they didn’t consider my behaviour bad enough to investigate.
I managed to get home without much further drama, but was concerned that the car might not actually have any anti-freeze in it. The coolant is entirely clear. The screenwash was certainly plain water. So, the 2CV has been turfed out of the garage and the Merc squeezed in. Tomorrow, I hope to get chance to try and investigate the misfire. The distributor is the first thing to check, though that wouldn’t make it rich, or explain why it only misfires when hitting the throttle from fully-off.