Mercedes – Last gasp, but what a gasp

This weekend, I was in the South East again. I appear to have a lot of friends and family in the area. It was Rachel’s cousin’s birthday and this being a public website and me being kind, I shall not reveal his age. The South East is a long way away and I’m afraid that immediately made me choose a vehicle other than the 2CV. Yes, my love for the Tin Snail has been thoroughly reignited, but hours of motorway driving are better conducted in something rather more suited to it. A cop out perhaps, but my hearing is already damaged! I don’t want to make it worse and I wanted something capable of maintaining an actual 70mph (not an indicated 70mph) for hours on end.

The BX estate was the obvious choice. Swift, comfortable, economical and fitted with an excellent stereo. It had a brand new balljoint and inner track rod end and so was in better shape than the last roadtrip. Or so I thought. Then I spotted an LHM leak. Oh bother. This was bad enough for me to abandon a journey after the STOP light came on. I tried to investigate and thought for a time that I’d repaired it. By the Thursday before we were due to depart, I’d decided the BX would be ok.

Fortunately for me, I decided to go and look at a Ford Puma that was advertised 12 miles away on Ebay. It looked like a jolly sort of a distraction, but it turned out to be a bit of a duffer. So, in an incredibly rare event, I declined to purchase said vehicle, even at just £450 with 12 months MOT. I’m amazed too. On getting back home in the BX though, I noticed that LHM was pouring out of the back of it. I wouldn’t be taking that to London then!

I was therefore left with no option but to take the 1990 Mercedes-Benz 300E. Yes, it would be thirsty, but it seemed to stand the best chance of getting there in peace and quiet. I was slightly concerned about a leaking radiator, especially as I actually have it on Ebay at the moment! I’d got to the point that I was getting very little pleasure out of it. The last tank of fuel delivered only 16mpg, which told its own story. I was only taking it out every now and then for a full-blooded hoon to get the fluids circulating (yes, 5000rpm is necessary for this, and fun). I was somewhat terrified about taking such a thirsty machine on a 500+ mile roadtrip, but having not bought a Ford Puma, I did at least have a little disposable cash. What the hell eh?

I filled a container with water ready to top up the coolant, noticed how rich it is still running and ran out of time. I loaded up and off we went. We left home at half past one in the afternoon. After two hours, we reached a motorway. I then drove at an indicated 80mph for two hours. The M4 was beautifully clear as London emptied – all the traffic was the other side. My wife slept (though she can sleep in a moving 2CV) while I enjoyed the sheer majesty of it all. Even at 80mph, there are just a few flutters of wind noise and very little engine noise. It’s absolutely serene. Best of all, people seem to glance in their mirror and move over as the three-pointed star hoves into view. I’m not at all used to this. Unlike when I’m in the 2CV, people don’t seem to feel the need to re-overtake me as soon as possible either! Having power in reserve means no slowing down for hills, and no struggles to overtake trucks.  It was incredibly relaxing.

Then we hit the M25 at half past five on a Friday afternoon. This was unsurprisingly sticky and we soon slowed to a crawl. Here, I was able to take my mind from the frightful effects on fuel economy of slow-speed running by enjoying the automatic gearbox. It really does make driving in heavy traffic almost joyous. Actually, I’m a huge fan of the Merc’s gearbox. It’s hard to imagine a better transmission. First gear is only for use in traffic light grand prix, so generally isn’t used unless you really boot it. So, for the majority of the time, it’s a three-speed unit. That’s great. It’s also very reluctant to kick-down. That’s also great. It’s got a thumping great six-cylinder engine with bags of torque – it’s nice to be able to use it. Modern automatics want to kick-down too readily by far, which makes progress frustratingly jerky.

As we spent the next two hours slowly crawling towards Beckenham in Kent, I became ever more grateful for clutch-free driving. We eventually arrived six hours after departing. We hadn’t managed a break in that time, other than when stationary on the M25. I don’t really applaud that sort of thing – taking a break every two hours really is much more sensible. I was impressed that I could get out of the Mercedes after that length of time without assistance though!

Here’s the Merc at rest in Croydon the next day. The capacious boot was useful for transporting party goodies (wine, food etc).

Mercedes-Benz W124 on driveway

Merc looks right at home in Croydon

It does rather look like it belongs doesn’t it? The house belongs to my wife’s aunt and will shortly be on the market. Mercedes-Benz not included sadly. You’ll have to buy your own.

Today, we went to see a friend in Surrey before heading home. I filled the car (again!) before we set-off for Wales. Another £65 which revealed that fuel consumption on the way there was 27mpg. Given that the car was hooning up and down Welsh hills (2hrs), cruising up the M4 at 80mph (2hrs) or crawling in nightmarish traffic (2hrs) that’s really not bad! Especially as it’s still running rich. I reckon that the motorway cruising must have been delivering over 30mpg. Astonishing for a 3-litre six-pot.

The homeward journey took 4.5hrs but as I’m not going to fill the tank again, I won’t know the MPG. Rather more sensibly, we did take a break after a couple of hours this time. What really impressed me is that the coolant didn’t need topping up at all. In fact, the car ran beautifully and now seems to be starting much more cleanly in the morning. It really is a marvellous machine.

So, why on earth am I selling a marvellous machine? Well, the problem is, it’s a great car for that sort of distance journey. I don’t actually undertake that many long distance journeys. Yes, I’ve done two this month (three if you include taking the 2CV to Birmingham) but that’s pretty unusual. It seems slightly ridiculous to have a car sitting around the rest of the time waiting three months to be used on an ideal journey. Truth is, the Merc is a bit hopeless in Wales – in much the same way that my Citroen CX estate was. It’s just too big and wobbly.

The hunt is now on for something that can be as impressive as the Merc on a motorway, but that isn’t big and wobbly. What will I find?

What are your thoughts? Do share them!

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