Behind the White Wheel

Behind the White Wheel

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Before It's Too Late

I have always admired the Mercedes-Benz Fintail series. For some reason; mainly to be able to compete in the US cars’ market and to follow the 1960s trend, Mercedes-Benz “went crazy” and added “wings” or “tails” to the newly designed sedans intended to replace the already aging pontons.

The late style 180b/c ponton overlapped with the Fintail series (Photo: Nadim Bou Habib)

The early 190 Fintail shared the same wheels, front blinkers and grill with the late 180b/c. Notice the wrong star (Photo: Dona Bardawil)
A blue 4 cylinders 190 Sedan
The four cylinders (190 and later 200) and the six cylinders (220S and its variants and the rare 300S) models of the Fintail series, had a successful career and an impressive look. Particularly, the six cylinders models with their big wings and long headlights enclosing the front blinkers had an imposing “attitude”.

The imposing 220S, unlike the 4 cylinders 190, the front blinkers migrated from the rear fenders to the headlights
A rare automatic 220S; notice the beautiful design of the rear wings, the huge taillights and the 13' wheels
Pleanty of room to work on the powerful 220 liters 6 cylinders engine. Notice the dual carburetors
Two years ago; I spotted in Mar Mikhael - Beirut a tired blue with beige interior 220S Fintail. Upon close inspection, the car looked complete with a relatively acceptable interior. However, rust was peacefully and generously eating its body.

Broken headlights glasses and missing star. Notice the rust on the front fenders (Photo: Dona Bardawil)
To my surprise, I found out that the car was for sale; I quickly called the owner who turned out to be living in the building under which the car was parked. An old funny guy, who had bought the car new back in 1963 and used it extensively until he stopped driving due to health reasons.

Rusted trunk, and broken/faded taillights. Notice the reflectors added on the wings (Photo: Dona Bardawil)
I sat in the car, had a look at its engine, trunk and dashboard that surprisingly was still housing the original Becker LeMans AM/ LW tube radio.

Simple and classy 220S dashboard. Unfortunately, the dashboard of our 220S needs a lot of refreshing
2 front seats that can easily accommodate 3 persons; notice the discrete pockets on the front doors interior
Spacious interior and folding arm rest. Notice the wood strips on the doors' interior
I fell in love with the car and found it an excellent candidate for an extensive restoration that would give it back its formal glory; unfortunately, the owner was asking for 5000$ non negotiable, an amount that I found and still find huge for a sedan in a similar condition. 

Missing hubcaps and chrome strips. These strips are very difficult to find (photo: Dona Bardawil)
2012 passed, followed by 2013 and now 2014…Every six months I used to call the owner asking for the price of the car; he never showed any willingness to go lower than 5000$. I hope 2015 would make him change his mind; the car has a history and deserves to be saved.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Becker Mexico Kaputt

The radio sets originally supplied with the Mercedes-Benz Pontons are, like the cars themselves, of another age. The vacuum tubes need to warm up before the sound begins radiating from the speaker. They are prone to needing repeated adjustments, yet the audio quality is warm and inviting. There is something about sitting in a Ponton at night with the radio on, and hearing the barely audible buzz from the power supply that makes one believe if they were to tune the dial to the right frequency, they would hear voices and music from the past. - - Jeff Miller / April 5, 2002

Back in 1995, when I bought my 1961 Mercedes-Benz 180b ponton, the owner (I respect him tremendously for that) had left the original Becker LeMans radio in the car's trunk.
After restoring my ponton, and being a purist when it comes to original equipment, I deeply wanted to re-install the original Becker LeMans. Unfortunately, the radio wasn't functioning and operated only on the AM and LW bands which were both obsolete. 
These Becker radios operate on vacuum tubes and are composed of two parts: The radio itself and a heavy power supply that is installed under the dashboard. 

Time passed by and in 1999, by chance, I found a similar radio in working condition. The radio was a Becker Mexico. I bought it quickly and was amazed when I found that it operates on the FM and AM bands. I installed it in my car and the love story started...

Becker Mexico Tube Radio - the perfect fit
The Becker Mexico with its Wunderbar (Automatic Electromechanical Search System) was a piece of art on its own; it goes perfectly well with the car's dashboard, has a warm and inviting sound and is very practical to use while driving. The driver has to just push the wonderbar and the radio will start searching for different channels and stopping on the strongest one. I enjoyed this Becker Mexico for the past fifteen years up till two months ago when suddenly the Wunderbar stopped finding any station...

I had been used to conduct regular maintenance on the radio; this included cleaning the tubes pins, changing few capacitors in the power supply and replacing the buzzer by a solid state one. Other than these operations, the radio worked very well for the past fifteen years. 

Notice the heavy power supply and the Blaupunkt Santos Tube Radio
With the help of IPOG (International Ponton Owners Group), particularly Jeff Miller who had posted the schematics of these radios on I was able to get a hint on where to look to try to repair this defect. I changed a resistor and tried to calibrate a capacitor in vain...The Wunderbar would either not work or work sporadically. 

The variable capacitor that I tried adjusting in vain
Yesterday, as I was trying to source some capacitors that I thought might need replacement, I found by chance an old gentleman (Elias Kfoury) who used to repair these radios; he provided me with some additional tips on what to examine and where to look. Unfortunately, my trials all failed; the Wunderbar worked normally briefly and stopped again. I called Elias today, asking him to accept to work on the radio; after many trials and a lot of begging he accepted. 
I will give him the radio by the end of this week or early next week, hoping to get satisfying results. 
I kind of have a positive feeling about it, I have a strong favoritism vis-a-vis old technicians; they are artists who have a certain know-how combined with a very rich experience. They are, "like the pontons themselves, of another age". I enjoy listening to their stories; they are often proud to speak about their experience that makes them remember the "good old days". 

Elias, I am counting on you...I hope to publish a more detailed post once the work is done.