A Grand Sedan: 1965 Mercedes 220

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South of Sacramento is the Sacramento San Joaquin river delta which covers over 1,000 square miles with over 1,000 miles of levees protecting, about 700 miles of river channels forming 57 Islands. About 30 miles down the river is Walnut Grove, the home of Morris Motors. It’s a well-known shop in the area for Mercedes restoration and mechanical work. This old Benz has been sitting in their side yard for 10 years. It’s a one owner car with complete records, but with a sad tale. The chrome and woodwork are really nice and the interior is even OK. There is no rust anywhere. The engine, sadly, is not OK. Some unfortunate event caused it to lock up. It could have been a disaster like a thrown rod, but whatever it caused the problem left it needing expensive repairs? Why you may ask, do I describe it as grand? That is what they are asking for the car. The engine was going to be too expensive to repair, so the owner gave it to the shop. Mike, the shop’s owner, was deep into repair work, so I did not get into further detail about this car.

The story goes that after years of faithful service there was a transmission problem. It had a four-speed on the column. After having the transmission replaced, it seems the problem was actually the linkage and not the transmission. They had the transmission linkage changed to a floor shift. The other transmission resides in the trunk, but Morris did not do the transmission work. Shortly after that, the engine failed and it’s been parked ever since. The interior needs a good cleaning now but looks pretty nice. The dash pad even looks nice, but it looks like it may have been recovered and it shows a few wrinkles and a couple of seams. All the rubber seals need replacing. A lot of the interior, like the wood trim, is nicer than a similar Mercedes I restored over 20 years ago.

It is messy under the hood, but it’s complete and original. I didn’t see any sign of oil or water leaks and there’s no sign of water in the oil. It doesn’t look too bad for having been sitting outside for 10 years. Perhaps it could be rebuilt, but it rebuilding it won’t be cheap. Then again, if all you pay for the car is $1,000 it should leave some money in the budget for a rebuild or a swap.

When these “finback” Mercedes were introduced in 1959, they were very advanced for their time. They are the first production car with a crumple zone and they had disk brakes, a locking steering column, fully independent suspension and available fuel injection. They handled really well for cars of the day, especially against American luxury cars. And about those fins, or “Flossen”. Mercedes preferred to call them “Peilstege”, or marker bars to help with parking. Uh, sure they did. This poor Mercedes was very well maintained for so many years that’s it’s too bad that it was left outside for so many years. The paint will likely buff out and the chrome should polish up nicely. It could be a great driver for someone for many years. Fixing the engine will be very expensive, especially if the block and crank are damaged. There were lots of used engines around a few years ago, but they are scarce now, especially with the rising prices of the SL 230s. Used engines are at least $2,000 and would likely need an expensive rebuild. I would love to see this 220 restored, but costs might exceed the value of the car. Sadly, the parts on this car would sell for much more than what you would buy it for, so it might be purchased to be parted out. If I still had a shop and a more understanding spouse, I’d bring this Benz home and bring it back to life. How about you?

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Comments

  1. Ted Donahue

    That’s much too nice to be a parts car. I wonder if someone could do a GM motor conversion like they used to do on Jaguar & Rolls. And that dashboard is awesome.

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  2. Cool Hand Luke

    I agree, Ted. A conversion would be the way to go. Perhaps something with some serious horsepower…

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  3. Maestro1

    David, I would do the same thing you would do if I had the room. I’d buy it and make it and me proud. I would have an expert look at the driveline and tell me the truth and then fix it, including putting the shift back where it belongs which is on the column.
    These are getting rare and there is a narrow upside market in them. The point here is I would be doing all this to keep the car, so the original investment would be prorated over years.

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    • David Frank David FrankAuthor

      Thank you, it would be nice to see this car saved. I have enjoyed my 220S for 23 years now. It’s been a wonderful car. They are getting rare, but of course, not valuable.

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  4. Robert W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    Maestro1, Mercedes did make a floor shift, it was an option, I have a couple. Pretty much the same as the 230/250/280SL. The knob looks incorrect but the shaft looks like the delicate stock one.

    The 4th gear synchro was the weak spot in the tranny. Never lucky enough to have the linkage fail happen, always had to crack open the box. Never wanted to put in a used one and six month later have deja vu. Loved the 4-speed auto box though.

    Definitely too nice an example but it is the bare bones model, which means little wood and usually MB-Tex, a.k.a., vinyl. The smaller twilight scare a giveaway along with the lack of chrome running down the fins from the tailight to the rear door.

    There was a time I’d just put in a 5.0 Ford, but now I’m wondering what it would be like with a new gen 4 cylinder of some type.

    Like 1
    • David Frank David FrankAuthor

      This one has wonderful woodwork. It is in beautiful condition.

      Like 1
  5. Doug

    Given the economics of the situation, an aluminum LS engine seems like a decent way to go – If you wanted to stay with a manual trans, McLeod makes a
    5 speed that is the same size as a Muncie 4 speed…..Summit carries them…or you could just go with one of the GM overdrive automatics. I’d speculate that you could cruise at 70+ all day and get 30+ mpg….

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  6. Ching-A-Trailer

    Not all of the “Finback” cars had disc brakes, my first 190 and 200 had drums all around, but they all had the coolest speedometer ever fitted to a car! Too bad about the floor shift conversion – the “four on the tree” is exceeded only by a Bentley’s gated four-speed shifter! Assuming nothing is broken or cracked, an easy engine to rebuild – I rebuilt one in my driveway during a Santa Fe winter!

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    • Peter

      You are right about the speedometer. A vertical scale instead of a rotating needle. Changed color as it rose in speed. Yellow to orange/red etc or the other way around…it was a while ago ( :

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      • Fring-A-Trailer

        Yellow to stripe to red/orange.

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  7. chad

    “…rebuilt one in my driveway…”
    or a running diesel frm wrecked W-123 (’76 – ’85).. the ‘million mi motor’.

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    • Smoke-A-Trailer

      But putting a diesel into one of these wonderful cars would ruin it, strip it of it’s soul and character. Most of the guys who want diesels have never owned one!

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  8. HoA Rube GoldbergMember

    Very little interest in a car like this, even though, there’s no doubt, it was the best car made in the world. I’d have to think parts, while probably still available ( I read somewhere, German cars have the best older parts network) would kill you.

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    • Zing-A-Trailer

      Actually, old British cars have the best parts availability – as all the manufacturers from Austin to Rolls-Royce used the same parts & pieces! And, for even the very smallest of auto manufacturers, if they built even two cars, there’s a club for it, and if they have even three members, they have a “spares scheme” to ensure parts continue!

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  9. Dave Wright

    I am amused by the lack of knowledge of people that want to replace a sophisticated high quality Mercedes engine with substandard American junk. This is the cheapest S body car of the time. If it was an SE, I would do the car. I am not interested in a carbureted model. That being said, this car would not be that expensive to do the engine. They are simple quality machines with great parts availability well within the ability of a good backyard mechanic skills to rebuild. I know the guys at the shop where it is located, used to live next door on one of my boats and they worked on my Mercedes and 356 over a decade ago. One of the favorite cars from my past was my 1965 300SE sedan……..have been looking to replace it for 4 decades.

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  10. Brake-A-Trailer

    You echo my earlier comments, particularly when I reported I overhauled a 220S engine in my driveway in Santa Fe, NM during a cold snowy winter. They are not hard to rebuild and parts are still available – I think these cars were amongst the very best ever built by anyone! I may have specialized in Rolls-Royce and Bentley but at the time this car was built, there was nothing better in the entire world!

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  11. JESUS ALONZO

    i have one just like it with 34,000 miles.guraged for 45 yrs if you part out let me know i could use a fuel pump and lsft rear tail light. thanks

    Like 0

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