Mercedes 190 Project
Late 2003. Having travelled far and wide in the Sahara on trail bikes and in 4WDs, there is not much more to prove with these types of vehicles; not surprisingly, they work fine. With my Land Cruiser and Honda XRL sold I had plans to get a normal car, but could not resist something that, with a minimum of expense, would also make a functional desert car too.
Two-wheel drive exploration in the Sahara, dates from the British WWI Light Car Patrols and as we know, the LRDG roamed all over the Libyan Desert in Chevrolet trucks. Fast forward and these days the likes of the Plymouth Dakar Rally shows that 85% of old bangers can make it across the desert so, with a bit of work, a robust two-wheeler should do well in all but the sand seas.
I was looking for a well-known and plentiful, reliable, economical, tough, basic big diesel for around £500. I started with Citroen ZXs, lingered over Peugeot 405s and 205s - but was not convinced by FWD. Although I couldn't recognise one in the street, I considered Toyota sedans but, with their great reputation for reliability, they're expensive for an old car. I then discovered how cheap and prolific Mercedes 190s were; a Poor Man's Merc from the mid 1980s. The usual web resources produced promising reports: high mileages were common with no rust problems and great reliability.
Most diesel 190s seem to be up north where I eventually picked up a five-cylinder 2.5D with 228,000 miles for £800. Problems added up to only small oil leaks (common and not worth worrying about) and... that's it. Everything worked, the inside was amazing for the mileage, it had had a recent cheap respray and there was no rust (or so I thought...). Engine oil pressure was good too, though the machine was much plainer than I imagined for a car from a classy marque; it sure looked like a basic entry-level Merc inside. I did however like the sun roof - what a great feature.
On the way home the well-known chronic gear change manifested itself, and also an annoying fore-aft wobble on slow changes as if the engine mounts were shagged. And... what a slug (after a torquey HJ61). I'm sure glad I didn't go for the 2-litre four. Still, it sits on 80+, brakes and corners very nicely with no slack in the steering or worrying noises. First mpg was 46 - pretty damn good for a quarter-million mile diesel.
First thing was to do a few long runs to try and find some more faults, but nothing except that wobble cropped up. So after a month I decided it was safe to take the plunge and fire up the shopping trolley...