Behind the White Wheel

Behind the White Wheel

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Visit to the Homeland of Pontons

While surfing the net, "ebaying" for ponton parts I allowed myself to save some old pictures proposed for sale on eBay.
What I liked about those pictures, is the fact that they reflect genuinely the daily life in Europe back in the 1960's and early 1970's.

Here above, the legendary taxi driver stands proudly next to his ponton! The Mercedes-Benz pontons remained the taxi drivers' faithful companions for years!

A typical old european country side road. The Ponton is part of the decor. Note the old style street light; this same model was used in the streets of Beirut back in the 1960's.

Modernity by the 1960's standards: A 180b parked behind a VW Beetle and what appears to be a gray Fintail in front of a luna park in Berlin. All three cars are legendary.

A picture from the late 1960s or early 1970s. Youngsters selling dairy german products. Note the relatively tired 190b with the "Germany" badge on front grill. The architecture of the building on the right is typical that of the late 1960's early 1970's.

A policeman in a German village. The serenity of the countryside is explicitly shown in this picture. Again, popular cars parked next to each others; a ponton, a beetle and what appears to be a Fiat Cinquecento.

Band members? A folkloric group? The 190 ponton with the remarkable "D" (for Deutshland) metal oval plate, the big square license plate and the roof rack seems to be a reliable and comfortable car for the group.

Beetles, VW Samba, an Opel Kapitan station wagon and a 190b. Note the extremely tall antenna! What was the radio this ponton had? A Becker Mexico? LeMans? A Blaupunkt? A Philips? Or perhaps a rare Telefunken?

The 220S/SE was the top of the line of the Ponton series. Note the large white wall tires; an option on all the Mercedes-Benz models of the era.

An austere looking hotelsilber (silver hotel) with the typical late 1960s architecture. The 180b or 190b is as usual there...

A typical European "Auberge" or small hotel most probably in Germany or Austria. Note the 2 Mercedes-Benz ponton, the VW Beetle and the popular Renault Dauphine.

A group of tourists contemplating the mountains. Which mountains are these? The ponton is a rare two tone painted car. An amazing scenery that makes me want to drive my ponton there!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hoping for Syria

I still clearly recall the old yellow Syrian taxis traveling on the Beirut – Tripoli highway. As a kid, obsessed with cars, I used to ask my dad, every time we crossed one, about the brand, type and year of manufacturing of a specific car. I used to cross old Desotos, Buicks, Chevrolet…etc. Of course there was no need to ask about the Mercedes-Benz fintails (often seen) and the Mercedes-Benz 180/190 pontons; I was already an expert…
My dad had always a story or a remark related to each model. He used to give me the exact year of manufacturing and how the model was perceived when it first appeared.

Back then, owning a car in Syria wasn’t something easily accessible because of the economic restrictions. People used to preserve their cars and pass them from one generation to the other. Today, years later, these cars have disappeared; replaced by new Hyundai, Kia, Toyota…etc.

Looking back at those days and at the memories I have from the few times I traveled to Damascus visiting some relatives, I wonder if, God forbids, the Syrians lost the unique spirit their cities (Damascus and more precisely Aleppo) had, in the same manner Lebanese lost the unique spirit of Beirut!

Looking at the ruins of the Aleppo’s old souks, I see myself, and without any effort, comparing them to those of Beirut’s old souks! The places where all the people from different background mingle and mix together, these fusion hubs that fortify and unify the society, that make the identity of the Syrian society, are being destroyed!

I can’t but wonder if these destructions are made on purpose! Only time will tell and only the reconstruction process will show!

I hope the Syrians and with the help of strong Syrian public institutions will be able to rebuild their cities “from crap and not from scratch”, as Naomi Klein says! I hope the extremely rich Syrian/ Arab heritage will be preserved, the original roles of the old Souks will be safeguarded and the productive society relying on its resources and creativity will be shining.

Hope and faith are all I have! Till then, I will be once again looking at old yellow pontons, fintails…etc., associating them with gone good days…

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Route to Perfection: Episode 1

The 1970 280sl Pagoda I am writing about in this post belongs to my cousin. It has been "sleeping" since 1998. Few months ago, she decided to restore it and re-use it. A close inspection of the car made me realize the following:
• The engine still turns
• The interior is still in very good condition with the exception of the dashboard wood
• The body contains what looks to be some deep rust spots under the 25 years old dull white paint
• The weather strips are shot
• The tires are extremely dry

After pulling the car out of the garage, and turning the engine manually to get some oil pressure, I poured gas into the tank and tried to start it. I had to crank the engine a lot only to get some brief and non-continuous firing.

Obviously, the Pagoda needed a specialist's intervention. Few days later, I transported the car to Bechara Ghousoub's repair shop. Bechara is a mechanic with more than 40 years of experience in Mercedes-Benz cars.

Bechara started by examining the fuel tank. Indeed, it seemed full of old fuel and blocked by rust. The cleaning process was long and painful since two helpers had to fill it with a cleaning product, sway it then let the liquid out. They repeated this process around 10 times until no more rust was coming out!

Once done, Bechara re-installed the tank with an additional fuel filter before the fuel pump intake in order to collect any remaining residues. Once re-installed, we poured some gas and tried to start the engine. Two or three cranks were enough to let it start after almost 15 years of "sleep". The engine ran smoothly with absolutely no smoke.

Now that the engine was running, we started doing the usual maintenance work such as changing the engine's oil and filter, brake pads and seals, gearbox oil, thermostat and coolant. We will install four used tires in good condition and grease the suspension.

Once completed, and the car running flawlessly, my cousin will decide on the right time to paint it and change all the weather strips! Definitely, this is an amazing experience with a unique car! Stay tuned as the journey to reaching perfection has just started…

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Time for New "Shoes"

When tires become old, suspension becomes stiff!
That’s exactly what I started feeling while driving my Mercedes-Benz 180 ponton. The first thing that came to my mind was a problem with the shock absorbers, with some rubber pieces, some bearings…etc. Careful examination of the car's underneath showed absolutely no defects!
Then, came to my mind the tires! I have installed new old stock 6.40-13 radial tires back in 2002! I had not changed them since! They looked good but were in fact full of hairline cracks! Time to change them!

What size should I put? A question that’s easy to answer for modern cars but extremely tough for old ones! Ideally new 6.40-13 shall be installed! Basically, these tires are not in production anymore!!! Automatically one needs to start looking for the best replacement!

Thorough research, especially on, led me to the following conclusions:
1- The sizes of tires are not expressed in inches anymore, but in cm
2- The 6.40-13 means, a section width measuring 6.40 inches and a 13inches rim
3- The best equivalent modern size is the 175/80R13 or the 185/80R13

In modern terms, what do these numbers mean?
The 175 or 185 is the section width size expressed in cm. The 80 is the aspect ratio, in other terms it means that the height of the tire (from the rim to the tread) is 80% of the section width size. Finally, the 13 is in inches and it designates the rim size.

Now came the toughest part! I need to find these sizes!
Asking all the local tire shops in my area led to no results vis-à-vis the 175/80R13! Michelin proposed to order them from France at an extremely high price! The closest available were the 165/80R13. I believed they would look thin and short on the car.

On the other hand, relatively better results showed up regarding the 185/80R13. Only the Maxxis dealer had this size. A quick search on the internet showed very good reviews on this brand in general.

To my surprise, the Maxxis tires had a white wall! Now I faced a new dilemma: Should I install the white wall inwards, thus making it invisible, or install it outwards? Another night of thinking and reviewing photos made me decide to install it outwards!

Quickly, I installed the 4 new tires and drove the car! Not only the suspension became smoother, but the general handling improved drastically, add to it that the white walls gave the car an amazing classy appearance!

My car has new shoes! In four years I'll hopefully change them and order the 175/80R13 Michelin- my favorite brand of tires!