Project S55 Build
So what does it take to put a humpty dumpty S class back together? The TL;DR answer: a lot.
3/4/15 – A few weeks ago I picked up a non-running 2002 Mercedes S55 project car. I bought the car to have as an interesting project and to build a cheaper version of the CL55 Cannonball car, continuing to solve some of the strategic and engineering problems that it had posed to me as I prepped it for the NY to LA run in 2012. That would include servicing, increasing fuel capacity, and installing countermeasures. When it arrived the truck driver had lost the key. That was apparently something that the car was as accustomed to as being crashed and sold. All 8 possible key slots had been taken so the new key had to replace one of those, which happened to be a multi-hour long learning process. That communication required the dash to work so we had to figure out what the issue was there. It was traced back to the non-serviceable fuse block but we found the right fuse to short out and it is now on the mend. Soon the car should be started, suspension lifted, and its way to get some comprehensive maintenance.
This was consistent with what the Carfax has already revealed.
Ultimately I was able to buy the car for $1,500 which was considerably back of what a normal wholesale value would have been for a running example. That put me ahead of the game but I still had ground to make up.
3/5/15 – The beast is alive. We shorted out a faulty fuse, added a bit of Active Body Control suspension fluid, charged up the battery, and got it to start. Eventually it lifted itself from the muck, mire, and collapsed shocks. Getting consistent power to the dash meant we could figure out how many miles were on the car. Turns out it was just over 92k which was a bit better than expected. The previous owner thought it had about 110k but the Carfax had implied a bit less so the bill of sale had stated 95k . We drove it about five miles and it appears to be a real car. Needs a few bulbs, probably a litany of suspension components, brakes, tires, and the deepest cleaning a car has ever experienced. It will be something to rival the 2004 Gallardo I bought from a local prostitute.
3/14/15 – We had some time to start getting the car cleaned up today. The paint oxidation/discoloration is terrible. There is some very exotic tree sap all over it. The interior was absolutely disgusting.
3/18/15 – Last night we were able to do a bit more cleaning, replace the fuses that we had temporarily shorted through, and really figure out the condition of the car. Soon to come will be some new wheels and tires, fresh fluids (oil has been in the car for 17k miles based on windshield sticker), we will replace the blown bulbs, and finally do some real road testing. This stone dead, 12 owner, salvage title, air bags out and [hopefully] back in, painted all over, once-super saloon car has come back to life with a few simple fuses, a bit of suspension fluid, a battery, and enough disinfectant to make the anti-vaccine movement not matter anymore in the US. It is really coming together.
3/19/15 – Being that this is a project AMG Mercedes, and being that I’m me; making it capable of going very fast for a long distance remains a compulsion. Last night we did some examination of the stock fuel system and while it is in relatively good shape, 23 gallons just never seems like enough. I decided to do some research. Fortunately, a nearby establishment called The Benz Store recently pulled an identical tank out of a salvage car. I decided it would be a great sacrifice to some experimentation.
3/24/15 – The miss-matched tires and cracked/curbed wheels really wouldn’t do so I picked up a set of wheels that were identical to the ones that I have on the CL55. I survived an eBay encounter without being even a little bit abducted and got them put on the car.
Of course, getting the car up in the air reveals that it doesn’t like holding onto all of its fluids.
In other good news, fun stuff is starting to arrive from Amazon.
We were also able to get the bumper snugged a bit, allowing this beauty to not show its salvage title cards so clearly.
4/4/15 – I took the car out for a bit of a shakedown drive today. It certainly needs an alignment and some brakes but the car runs nice and smooth. The AC doesn’t work but the cooled seats do, as do the massaging seats. I was able to get it into triple digits for a bit. It looks like it might turn into a decent workhorse.
4/7/15 – This $1,500 car just passed emissions! It has spent so much time without electricity that I was worried that it might never get out of readiness but I drove it around another ten miles or so today and decided to give it a shot. It passed without too much trouble. On to the title office.
4/13/15 – In the process of shuffling around cars for our Mountain Drive yesterday, I ended up with 3 of our cars at the house rather than their usual outposts at the dealership. It should help make my case to the HOA for a garage expansion.
I dropped the car off today at my master fabricator’s shop. Should be a productive few weeks down there.
4/14/15 – Looks like the tank in this S55 is a bit different than the one I had sourced. The replacement would likely be compatible but it looks like we are going to modify the existing fuel cell to ensure fitment.
4/16/15 – Fun things happening.
5/7/15 – Michael has been playing around with the fuel cell design. The goal of this project is to make an inexpensive facsimile to the CL55 that we used for the NY2LA record. While the transfer pump method was effective, I really wanted something that had OEM functionality without frequent interaction. The design resulted in a 73+ gallon cell where the factory gauge should work and require no transfer method. It should be awesome.
The fitment seems great, the design should retain OEM functionality, and it looks amazing. He also created a spare tire holder that anchors to the fuel cell so that it can still be stored in the factory location and removed from underneath the car. That means that the back seat location that we used on the 2013 drive would not be necessary if this were ever to be driven in haste.
5/17/15 – We ran into a bit of a road block (of the leaking gas variety) re-installing the tank. One of the O-rings needed to be replaced. We sourced that and borrowed a crazy huge MB socket and a couple other special wrenches to tighten everything down. Should be in business soon. Also got a great deal on a transmission conductor sleeve that is leaking.
3/27/15 – Tonight I picked up the car from Michael, my master fabricator. He made what is probably the most impressive modification to a distance driving car that I have ever seen. It is a ~75 gallon OEM functional fuel cell. By elegantly enlarging the existing tank and doing some amazing welding, the car functions in a perfectly stock way without any transfer requirement. Next stop – Salvage inspection.
6/16/15 – We are about four months into messing with this car and have run into another fairly significant electrical issue. After getting the fantastic 75 gallon fuel cell installed, I brought the car back to my house.
The car was looking great and seemed ready for its Georgia Salvage Inspection and then to head off for suspension repairs, new brakes, and a comprehensive service. Then…it decided that starting was for the birds. There is an issue with the ignition cylinder communicating with the ECU. Being electrical, there was some thought that heat might help so I tried this.
It did not work. Therefore it had to be pushed onto a truck and is off to more knowledgeable powers for further diagnosis. The pre-broken transmission position lock out continues to prove useful.
6/18/15 – The car is not here but a lot of its toys are. Lots of fun electronics to play with.
7/28/15 – It appears that the ignition issue came from an arc welding issue during the fuel cell install. Mercedes says that the EIS unit cannot be repaired. We have heard that before. My trusty and supremely resourceful confederate in this endeavor decided to attempt it. He found a fracture in one element of the circuit board.
8/1/15 – Miraculously, it worked. The Great White Whale is back to life.
It appears that it is now suspension repair time!
8/7/15 – I had a great great excuse to make a Lambo Road Trip to Birmingham, AL where the S55 is being worked on. It is even more yellow than I remembered it but it starts, runs, and drives. Lots of fun coming in the next few weeks with this one.
8/10/15 – Things are a’movin’! Apparently the previous repairer(s) of this fine automobile had taken it upon themselves to convince the car that it was not equipped with certain features like airbags, soft close doors, sun shades, etc. When the car was re-coded with the proper items listed as being present, luxuries began to abound.
There is an issue with a traction control sensor that is causing an error, manifesting through an ABS dash error. Fortunately, this is due to a faulty yaw/lateral acceleration sensor in the traction control system and should not be a complicated or expensive repair.
8/23/15 – As discussed earlier, the car leaks just about everything. The most immediate concern was the transmission fluid leak. We were able to locate a used gasket and electrical conductor sleeve. This was important because the fluid was leaking into the transmission control unit. It was entirely filled with fluid but fortunately once drained and cleaned it functioned perfectly.
The car also long overdue for a differential fluid change. Fortunately we were able to find some of the good, old-school, non-limited slip diff fluid at a great price. That is in and the smelly green stuff is out.
At some point the previous maintainers of this car had left the covers for the hood compartment module covers off. As the car appears to have never felt the loving warmth of a garage, this meant that the weather was invited into the engine control unit connectors. Fortunately at the moment they were dry but there was some significant corrosion. That has been cleaned and functionality remains.
The car refuses to retain any of its washer fluid (the CL55 from the 2850 run does the same). Some re-sealing and gluing may be possible but in my experience, if you leave the cars outside when it freezes this will happen.
8/31/15 – Ride height and suspension calibration time.
9/1/15 – It turns out that whomever had previously put the humpty dumpty S class back together was not terribly concerned about it ever crashing again. The seat belts were not exactly anchored in. Due to a trust excess of OEM clips, they now are.
Also, it turned out that the yaw rate sensor was not the issue. One of the pins in the connector was mangled but fortunately it was able to be repaired. The ABS light is extinguished. The SRS light is back on but that is only because we have the driver’s airbag removed as we perform an alignment on the car.
Everything is testing well. We may end up with a fairly capable car on our hands.
9/7/15 – Idler tensioner/pulley failure is extremely common on these cars so it was the next point of inspection. The belt was very worn so we one in a batch of used parts that we had been able to source. Upon removal, we found that the pulley had already been replaced (2013 date code) so it was good to go. The tensioner was original (2001 date code), meaning it had been re-installed after that failure and a remained after each of the cars accidents.
Now, ready to rock.
Oil change time. The filter was miserably mangled. Fortunately there was no debris in the housing.
The air filters were disgusting as one might expect. There was a set in the used parts batch along with the tensioner. They are in.
The AC has not cooled since I got the car. After recharging the system the temperatures are appropriately cool but there is likely a leak somewhere. We used some dye to locate the leak.
The trusty stash of used clips came in handy again to secure the completely loose radiator fan.
The new Active Body Control silencer ball is in. The suspension is whisper quiet and staying level. It will not take the ride heigh calibration from the Mercedes computer yet, though. That is likely due to someone buggering with the settings trying to “lower” the car for one of the previous 11 owners. We will need either the sensors or their attachment rods so they are now on order.
9/17/15 – Still making progress. In their infinite stupidity – the band of morons that put this thing back together most recently decided to reduce unsprung weight by fitting smaller C class brake disks.
I had entertained fitting the larger Brembo brakes that were standard on the 03+ AMG cars but they were prohibitively expensive for this project. I have a set of stock rotors coming this way with some aftermarket pads that should help with fade. The checklist for things coming up is:
- Fix poorly routed fuel line
- Repair minor coolant leak
- Replace Fuel Filter
- Replace leaking suspension valve
- Perform Alignment
- Secure front bumper, likely with aesthetically poor solution
- Create and install radiator shielding mesh
- Re-install undertray
- Install Hawk Yellow Pads via Amazon
- Install OEM Rotors
- Replace Brake Fluid
- Order and Install GX or similar HID Bulbs
- Source extra oil for spares kit
- Source ample supply of suspension fluid for spares kit
- Complete salvage inspection and hope they do not mind a 75 gallon non-original fuel tank
9/27/15 – It has been a very busy week with lots of late nights. The car is really coming along nicely. The brakes were one of the first business items. I sourced some new rotors and aftermarket higher performance pads. One of the previous idiots to work on this car had modified the brake pad/disk interface which made the install of new parts more fun.
The suspension level control sensor was also bent and corroded.
New one installed.
It should be fixed but it had been modified so that it could be adjusted. No benefit their on than indulging the laziness of previous repair parties.
Due to the extensive (all) time the car has spent outside in its troubled life, the housings for the rear lights were heavily corroded. After some cleaning, they returned to predictably functionality.
Notice the second round of Georgia temp tags, required because the car is still not quite ready to face the salvage inspection. The plate lights were simply burnt out but we are now fully legal on the lighting front. As you can see in the photo above, though, the trunk was still not latching properly. The electronic/hydraulic component had not been working since we got the car but it would stay closed. That was becoming more questionable as the second detent of the latch was not working at all. Some disassembly and exotic epoxying was necessary to avoid the purchase of a very expensive latch mechanism.
It would maintain alignment and allow the full intended functionality of latching the trunk. The hydraulic close mechanism was not working and the factory claimed it was a non-serviceable part and offered no advice on the proper fluid to fill its now-empty reservoir with. Here it is disassembled. Once the pump was re-assembled and pressurized, run with the polarity reversed to clear everything out, and re-installed properly, it worked to open the car with either the key or button in the car. Luxuries abound.
A similar epoxy mount was made to re-secure the missing tooth of a parking sensor void on the front bumper. It is now in place and functional.
The side marker lights were of too low a wattage and tinted blue. Just what the doctor ordered to hang out behind and amber lens right? Repaired.
The brake fluid had definitely been attended to in recent history.
We needed to do a bit more work on routing the fuel line out of our monster tank. Fortunately, our cache of used parts was rather helpful.
Much better clearance and stability now:
To avoid having the spare wheel/tire in the back seat as we did on the CL, we created a hanging mount underneath the monster tank to keep it in the stock position, just with an exit cut beneath the storage position. Big quality of life improvement inside the car.
The spare we are using is actually one of the original wheels from the CL. My wife, Megan, was driving it a few years ago and ran over something, breaking the other front wheel. I ended with 3/4 of a spare set after buying a new set of wheels for the car.
There was a minor leak in a coolant vapor hose. It was a very expensive hose, so it got patched.
The fuel filter was still original from the 2001 manufacture date.
It was clearly as disgusting inside as the rest of the car started out.
Most of the major suspension components are actually in pretty good shape. The shocks are holding pressure and the hydraulic pump is working well. It did need one of the pressure regulating valves.
The front valve had already been replaced around 2007. Good for us.
Some minor crowbar work on the body panels around the wheel wells returned to stock clearance.
New pads and rotors look good. Factory parking brake assembly looks bad. Some cleaning and functionality improved.
The heat shielding on the catalyst sensor was not secured. It is in place now. The early AMG exhausts were pretty cool. Very one-off feel.
The old transmission mount was completely collapsed.
New one looks much better.
A remnant of the stock idler pulley that was replaced earlier.
The right transmission oil cooler hose was chafing against the left transmission cooler line.
Proper alignment achieved.
It was also rubbing at the radiator attachment. Proper spacing achieved.
One of the ABC lines was rattling because it was re-installed previously without a dampener. Fortunately, the friend helping me in this never throws anything away.
Both of the front control arm bushings were fracturing.
New ones installed:
Brake bleeding time.
In addition to the salvage accident with airbags and frame damage and the second major accident two years later, this car has spent a lot of time running into things. We cleaned up the front splitter a bit. It is tough to see in this photo but one of the hard encounters with something hard even gauged out part of the oil pan.
Another battery check for good measure. We had sourced a cheap used battery for it. Still working great.
The area underneath that used battery was not ok. Its predecessors had clearly not maintained all of their fluids.
The corrosion had gotten to the mounting hole for the battery bracket. Safety concerns dictated some time spent drilling that out and re-securing the battery holder.
I was concerned about the status of the spark plugs and wires. They are platinum tipped, 2 per cylinder, very expensive. The wires tend to break when you play with the plugs so replacing them all could be about half as much as I paid for the car in the first place. We decided to let them stay. The crankshaft position sensor was another story. They are highly prone to failure and this one was original, built in the 43rd week of 2001.
We went ahead and replaced that.
9/28/15 – The progress on the car is truly unbelievable. It was in derelict condition and it is become quite the effective workhorse. I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to continue solving problems relating to fast cross country driving and my friend/Mercedes tech is demonstrating himself to be the most helpful and capable technician I think I have ever seen. The parts that he has fixed without needing to replace have kept the cost under control and the outcome is excellent. This 13 year old, once $100k super sedan is returning at least in part to its former mechanical glory. Perhaps we can find some more glory for it to be proud of soon.
9/29/15 – Lots more fun stuff happening. The cabin filters were disgusting.
The cover on the parking brake was missing, not that the parking brake was in terribly good shape.
But we found a used on lying around. We would hate to have such barbaric bare metal around.
Before performing a good alignment on the car, it made sense to check the steering rack position. This car had been smacked around pretty good so it was quite surprising to find that it was actually in very good knick.
Of course, when this car has been apart and back together, there seem to have generally been some parts left over. In this particular case, a sealing ring around the right side rack boot was missing. Nothing a little blue sealant can’t handle.
The glove box latch was broken. Not a drivability issue but a convenience we would miss. Some heavy duty epoxy to the rescue.
Another aesthetic issue – the wood trim was bowing away. A few spare clips remedied that.
The ends of the struts on the front of the car had separated slightly. They maintain ride height and adjustment settings but at the end of travel, the sensation can be slightly disconcerting. New struts all around would be $4,000, difficult to justify on a $1,500 car. My miracle mechanic fashioned some rubber spacers to keep them in place.
The car leaks oil from pretty much every place possible. Most are inconsequential but the seal around the oil cooler was really starting to accumulate.
New seals look good.
And we now have all 12V outlets functional.
Fun stuff. This beast is getting close to becoming a real car again.
10/3/15 – Starting the last few steps to button up the car. We disassembled the overhead panel to try to quiet a fan noise. It was unsuccessful. The noise is from the aspirator motor for the climate control interior temperature sensor. It is located on the circuit board for that also handles automatic climate control, sunroof control, interior lighting control, windshield wipers, self dimming mirrors, door locks, alarm system, hands-free phone connection. It was not worth jeopardizing those functions to further quiet the noise. Blew the dust of and re-assembled.
The driver’s side rearview mirror was vibrating badly. Some disassembly and epoxy work got it back in order. The mounting points on the backing were badly damaged.
Another part left over after a past re-assebly was the bolt that held this hydraulic hose in place. It was vibrating against the transmission bell housing and preparing to cost me a lot more money.
It needed some new sealing rings and crankcase ventilation hoses onto the air guide at the throttle housing/air mass sensor interface, and the valve covers.
The oil separator housings on the left and right valve covers would not stop seeping even after having the fasteners snugged up. They were wetting the ignition coil’s with oil, which eventually ran down onto the exhaust manifold. We removed, resealed, and reinstalled the crankcase vapor separators/”calm space” on each valve cover, while taking care not to disturb the secondary condition system components that are mounted on the valve covers. Manipulation makes them failure prone, and the parts are expensive to replace.
We used some sealant to take care of that.
The sunroof wasn’t working reliably. We removed the wind deflector that was damaged, cleaned and lubricated everything, and put it back together. I am not one to care about a sunroof but now it is back on track.
Pretty much nothing in the center console worked. The light didn’t work, the phone didn’t work, the rear climate control didn’t work, and there were wires hanging out of it.
Now we have a working phone module (02 Tech) and illuminated controls.
The bleeder nipple on the right front caliper was seized. We tried a few things to drill it out but had no luck. Had to replace the caliper.
Bled that corner and got a significant pedal feel improvement. The first 100 mile road test went well, stable at speed, and great fuel economy.
The fuel gauge is also working perfectly even with the monster tank.
10/4/15 – The car is back!
The S55 is back home and driving great. We took it out for a few miles and did find one issue. There is so much fuel in the monster gas tank that when you brake hard or for a sustained amount of time, fuel will splash into the vent and into the secondary evap system. This caused the car to stall a couple of times so I disconnected and plugged the vacuum line and sensor. That seems to have cured the problem, albeit with a check engine light.
10/6/15 – It is time for the long awaited Georgia State Salvage Inspection. I scheduled a time for the inspector to come out. I was concerned about what he would say about the fuel tank so we got some factory looking stickers and put them on it to give it an OEM feel.
The disconnected evap line had caused a check engine light and the passenger occupancy sensor seems to be messed up so I needed to clear those two lights before the inspection. I drove the car into work today, reconnected the line and sensor, and cleared both lights. As long as the car wasn’t driven hard or far then the CEL could be avoided. The SRS light would stay off until someone rode in the passenger seat.
It worked. He breezed right past the fuel tank and the lights stayed off. He went around and looked at the lights and safety systems and found the to be operational.
And the great white whale is ready to swim again! Big victory here.
10/11/15 – Today we did some work on the car, polishing headlights, and testing radar systems. Sunny the LamBoa wanted to help.
Then we decided to play with some radar toys.
10/22/15 – Toll passes are here
10/23/15 – Electronics are going in. A huge thanks to Monty Knight at Conceal-Pro (www.conceal-pro.net, 678-922-2558) for his help with the wiring. He did the setup on our CL55 for the 28:50 run as well. This might be even better!
And finally the Great White Whale was ready for its intended use – The 2015 running of The 2904
Here is a full photo gallery of the car “as campaigned” in the event.
Here is an article on Jalopnik about this build.
Update – 2/3/16 – Carfax just rolled out a feature where they tell you what your car is worth. They must have some way to account for provenance because somehow my $1,500 Mercedes just became worth $11,730!