Behind the White Wheel

Behind the White Wheel

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Once Upon a Time...Beirut by Bus

I grew up in Beirut, witnessing its unique chaos, traffic, noises, cars smoke, Mercedes-Benz W114/115 "atech" and W123 "laff" honking all around looking for passengers...etc. I grew up without noticing that my city had almost no public transport...oh with the exception of these old always empty white and blue Berliet or Karossa buses blocking the roads, stopping everywhere, desperately competing with privately owned, newer and smaller Brazilian Mercedes-Benz buses. I admit I was never able to draw their pattern or to discover their route...

Abandoned Berliet PR100 in Mar Mikhael old train station - Beirut
Photo courtesy:
I grew up listening to my dad's stories on how he used to jump of the Tramway traveling from the old downtown to Bliss street...and on how in 1964, the Tramway service was discontinued, replaced by buses commonly called "Jahech El Dawleh" (the State's Mule).

The Tramway in downtown Beirut.
They were green before being painted red & white in the late 50s
I never had the curiosity to ask about these buses, their operating system, their routes...etc. No one seemed to have stories to tell, no one seemed to have any related memories except that they were used as streets barricades in the 1975-1976 phase of the civil war.

An abandonned Saviem-Chausson in Beirut. Courtesy: Imad Kozem
Time elapsed, downtown Beirut was destroyed then rebuilt in an awkward manner and I started looking for old pictures desperately trying to live and feel the long-gone spirit of the city.
In the many pictures I found, in addition to my favorite Mercedes-Benz 180/190 ponton, there was always beautiful off-white and red buses’ traveling on the main axes of the city.

Jahech El Dawleh going from Debbas Square towards Bechara El-Khoury square.
Notice the Mercedes 180 and the W114/115
Beautiful SC-3 awaiting next to Parisiana building
What was the brand of these buses? What were their characteristics? What was their route? Were they clean? Were they reliable? Etc. All these questions had no answers…

Two Saviem-Chausson facing Rivoli building.
Direction: Bab Idriss then Bliss Street
Heavy rain on the Corniche and an SC-3 driving "a contre-sens"
My primary search led to the following results: The buses were French made Saviem-Chausson, a brand I never heard of before! The Saviem-Chausson buses were the fruit of the merger between two French companies obviously Saviem (Société Anonyme de Véhicules Industriels et d'Equipements Mécaniques) and Chausson Cars (a French company manufacturing utility vehicles since 1903). The Lebanese government and in an attempt to ameliorate the public transportation and decrease traffic jams in the city ordered 150 new Saviem-Chausson buses that would replace the already old tramway. These buses were the SC-3 model, the topnotch of the bus' industry back then.

A green SC-3 in France. Courtesy:
Whether the bus system was efficient or not was the second question that came to my mind! Up till now, I am still not able to gather the needed information. Kheireddine El Ahdab, a friend living in Montreal and deeply interested in all the detailed aspects of daily life in the old Beirut described the bus service as inefficient, always late due to traffic jams, not having specified stops and generally lacking the required cleanliness. On the other hand, my aunt Annette described the bus service as efficient, clean and on time. She frequently used to take it from the National Museum Street to Koraytem.

A Saviem-Chausson facing the National Museum. Courtesy: Imad Kozem
With the beginning of the 1975 civil war, the heart of Beirut was destroyed, the State paralyzed and the links between Lebanese cut. Whether these links were social, emotional or physical didn't matter; the war was there to cut them… The bus system as a physical link stopped, the Saviem-Chausson were mostly destroyed and used as street barricades; an ironical fate for a vehicle destined to solely connect the various parts of the city.

Another SC-3 on Debbas Square going towards the Martyrs' Square.
Notice the many Mercedes-Benz 180/190
The Martyrs' Square in all its splendor. Notice the Saviem-Chausson
The war ended in 1990, Lebanese were told that they should re-connect together, without having the opportunity to discuss the past, why they fought and killed each others, why they destroyed their country…etc. Everything suddenly stopped, a page was turned and a “wanna be new starts” emerged… Quickly, the physical scars of the war were erased and downtown Beirut was transformed into a huge empty plot of land awaiting new constructions…and new “illegitimate” owners. No true efforts were done to heal the emotional wounds that the war left; no small actions were taken to re-connect people together. The once “big heart” that gathered and mixed all Lebanese together became a giant private property unable to tolerate one single bus stop where ordinary men and women could wait, discuss the weather…etc. before a certain “ja7ech el dawleh”, maybe the grandson of the famous “Saviem-Chausson”, would arrive and take them home, to loved ones, to work…etc.
Destroyed Saviem-Chausson SC-3 in Beirut. Courtesy: Imad Kozem
Few days ago I passed by an old bus “sanctuary” on the “Corniche du Fleuve”. Some buses are still there; among them this Saviem-Chausson bearing deep marks of the war…I bet they mirror those engraved in people’s hearts.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Swissvax Time

Keeping a classic car in perfect shape is on its own a demanding task especially if its owner is kind of perfectionist. For me, the cleanliness, shining and immaculate functioning of my Mercedes-Benz 180b is subject to no jeopardizing under any circumstances; I always look for original parts, trust two extremely well experienced mechanics and use the best, yes truly the best, paint caring products.
My car’s exterior color is the DB040 Black which on its own is one of the most difficult colors to take care of, hence the need to use the best products available on the market arises. After trying many brands I discovered Swissvax: a bespoke handmade series of waxes that vary in carnauba wax concentration and of course price. Using Swissvax on my car made me discover a new perception of “smoothness and shining”. In fact, I opted for the 2nd best product which is the Swissvax Concorso. The Concorso has a 52% concentration of natural carnauba wax along with many vegetable/ natural oils and aromas and constitute the best quality to price ratio in my opinion.
To keep my Mercedes-Benz’s paint in immaculate condition, I wax my car every 3 to 4 months using the non-abrasive Swissvax cleaner fluid and the famous Swissvax Concorso. The key to get the best result is the patience and love one puts in every polishing and buffing stroke! As a start, I clean my car from the garage’s dust and apply the cleaner fluid. Once done I wipe it out and buff it with the special Swissvax microfiber cloth. Afterwards, I apply the wax by hand and let it dry for few minutes before buffing it again.
The result is generally immaculate, making me forget the fatigue and stand speechless with amazement in front of my shining Mercedes-Benz. Time has come for waxing! I will try mixing two waxes together; the Swissvax Concorso and the Swissvax Shield - a new blend that is able to fight nature's harshest conditions - hoping to get an even better result…stay tuned for new pictures…

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Ponton Planet People"


By writing the below paragraph on the IPOG (International Pontons Owners Group) forum you woke up in me old feelings I used to have back in the late 1990s and early 2000s when once school ended I would run to Kfarhata, put my ponton's battery on the charger, take off the famous Carcoon and "launch the season"!
Days have passed, my ponton's odometer flipped back to zero and I admit I still enjoy my car as much as the day I first bought it.

Jeff Miller's 1957 190
Note the fender's turn signals and the 190sl fog lights
"Ponton Planet People":

 "My 1957 190 sedan finally saw daylight this afternoon. Put the battery charger on it for an hour, and it came to life in less than 30 seconds (not bad for not running at all since last October). The original Blaupunkt tube radio (refurbished last year) played well. Brought the tire pressure up to 32 pounds, shifted into first, and went for a nice country drive. The heater was nice because it was only 46 (albeit sunny) degrees. Brakes worked well (no pulling, etc.), lights and blinkers all functioned. Even tested the cigar lighter, heater fan, and windshield wipers just for good measure. Next step (if it ever warms up): put some soap and water to the body – it was real dusty looking. Looks like 2013 is off to a good start!"

My 180b in the old streets of Batroun

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Blown Head Gasket

Les Caprices of the Pagoda "sont revisited"...

That is how I elected to start this post! I read once in my favorite magazine Auto Retro, that an old car "fait des caprices quand elle est maltraitée". So here we are..."she" was left alone for many years and suddenly we are trying to "get close to her" again...What would you expect?

New shift lever bushing

I finally got the new shift lever bushings when Bechara (refer to the previous post to know who is Bechara) called me:
"Ramzi, how are you"?
Me: "I am fine and you"?
Bechara: "I am fine too...but the car isn't fine"

Head still installed
Note the water dripping from the 3rd plug hole
Apparently, the engine was misfiring. Upon inspection, the 3rd spark plug was fouled with...water!!!
When water sneaks to a combustion chamber or mixes with oil, the head needs to be removed, maybe repaired and of course the gasket replaced. I was hoping it did not need any major work.

We finally took off the head, and to our good luck, all the water holes were intact. The problem lied in the gasket itself! Extremely thin machining was needed though.

The oil and water holes are still intact
I am still waiting to find a new gasket on the local market! If I succeed, the car will be running in a matter of days. If not, I will have to order one from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center.

I hope the car stops "caprice-ing" after this reparation...

The fuel pump is worrying me for no specific reason...

Friday, January 25, 2013

"Les Caprices" of the Pagoda

Following the route towards a perfect pagoda; unexpected surprises come along the way! Hence, a month ago, while taking the car for a short drive, I suddenly felt that the automatic shifting gear lever became too loose. I tried shifting from 4 to 3 but nothing happened! The gear was stuck on the “4” position making it impossible to shift to P or to N or to R.

Luckily I wasn’t far from my cousin’s home; I succeeded to make a U-turn and to park the car.
Then Christmas came with its usual festivities all preventing me from effecting any reparations.
Like all cars freaks, I didn’t want to stay in the dark regarding this issue especially that my cousin mentioned that few years ago the same problem happened with the car!

In fact, and after a preliminary examination I discovered that the bushings (# 760 on the exploded diagram) connecting the lever to the gearbox detached from their male connection due to the normal movements of the engine and gearbox when the car is running.
Why do they detach? After careful inspection and analysis, I discovered that this happens for two reasons:
  1. The bushing itself is weak
  2. There is play in the whole lever mainly due to worn bushings number 728 in the exploded diagram.
 A quick fix would consist of re-attaching bushings number 760 to its correspondent “head” or “male” and tightening the whole with a metallic wire! Will I do so? I might if and only if I am unable to find bushings 728!

Yesterday, I decided to finally take the car to the repair shop; the same one who had put it back on the road.

Bechara Ghsoub will decide what will be the best and most practical solution. Personally I tend to change all the worn out bushings if new ones are available…Yes! If new ones are available! That is the challenge!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Observing a 1953 Buick Roadmaster Coupe

And comes the time to try something new! I admit I have never driven an American car older than my dad's 1988 Pontiac Bonneville that he owned from 1992 till 1997. I wonder how driving a 1953 Buick Roadmaster with automatic transmission would feel like.

Acquired few years ago and completely restored, this car belongs to my uncle who has kept it sitting for few years. A quick look at it shows that it might only need new tires, some normal fluids change and the usual tuning.

The year 1953 marked Buick's Golden Anniversary year. On this occasion, the old straight eight engine was replaced by a legendary new, smaller and more powerful V8 engine that would fit the newly designed Buick Roadmaster.

Simple yet rich in chrome, this Roadmaster gave Buick the needed momentum to venture into the golden era of the 50's.

The car will need waxing to give the red paint its usual amazing shine and the chrome will need polishing to take out the dull spots in some areas. I will be tackling this issue as soon as I start the car and take it for a short drive.

The interior of the 1953 Roadmaster is spacious and simple. The emblem on the center of the steering wheel was specially designed for the Golden Anniversary: It has the Buick's logo in gold surrounded by the famous "Power Steering" in gold too. In fact, the power steering became a standard equipment as of 1953.

My favorite part in the 1953 Buick Roadmaster's interior is its radio and the chrome speaker housing. The radio operates only on the AM band and is provided with the "Selectronic" also known as the "Wonderbar" among the Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts. The "Selectronic" is an electromechanical system that allows the radio to automatically search for, and stop on, available stations. I can't wait to start the car to check if the radio functions, if it has good reception, if the "Selectronic" works...etc.

Those are my preliminary observations vis-à-vis this car. Certainly, driving it will be a unique experience. I can't wait to have it running, waxed and cleaned.