When a rally car is to be almost completely rebuilt to race specifications, the biggest decision the driver makes is the choice of mechanics, or, as we prefer to call them: Team Suhrbier. After discussing options with several mechanics locally in the Coachella Valley (Palm Springs area), where the car would remain for preparation, I was convinced I had not yet found the right answer.
Research on mechanics led me the international artist, Hiro Yamagata, who uses totally restored 1954 Mercedes 220A’s for his “Earthly Paradise” series; he paints vibrant birds and flowers over the entire cars, then shows them in museums throughout the world and offers them for sale. To date, he has done more than twenty-two of them and has exhibited them in Los Angeles, Stockholm, Vienna, Venice, Rome, and other major cities. Hiro’s “point man” in restoration to perfection and the expert on resources for Mercedes parts worldwide is Joe Arhi and Arhi Classic Coachworks in Los Angeles. Once you see his work and get to know him, you would know why I consider Joe a great “find” and why he, with his crew, became an integral part of “Team Suhrbier”, and a great and loyal friend.
Our specifications were to totally restore, rebuild, or replace all mechanical parts in the car. In general, those included the rebuild of the engine, generator, distributor, and fuel pump, booster pump, and steering box. All of that work as well as the work on the accessories, suspension, brakes, and other items were done with emphasis on the requirements set forth by the Classic Rally Association but also great emphasis on safety and dependability. Larger 14 inch wheels were installed, with special high profile steel reinforced tires. An eight gallon racing fuel cell and a backup electric fuel pump were added to the existing sixteen and half gallon tank to provide a total 25 gallon capacity and resulting in a range of 400 to 500 miles. Skid plates below the oil pan and below the transmission offer additional protection. New shocks and heavy duty springs to raise the car body for 9 ½ to 10 inch clearance are engineered for 4200 pounds total weight. Heavy duty shocks are new and a triple core radiator will take the extreme heat of the Taklamakan Desert in China. A special fuel/water filter on a specially designed mounting bracket is mounted between the fuel filter and fuel pump in order to allow us to drain water from poor fuel we expect to be the only fuel available in the Eastern Islamic countries we will visit and from the fuel tankers that will meet us in the Taklamakan desert in Western China.
The greatest improvement for comfort was the removal of the front bench seat and the installation of two 560SL bucket seats which are necessary to better hold driver and navigator in place. Good leather seats are not easy to find; we will long remember the many phone calls which led us to a great old junkyard in Sun Valley (California) which just happened to have two that we needed.
A new roll bar gives added protection, as do the spiffy red racing 3” four position seat belts which come from a horizontal bar on the roll bar. A special custom 20 gauge steel lazarette console between the 560SL seats holds our Husky coffee cups, the mechanical Halda Speedpilot ( a thirty year old collector item for speed, time, and distance), our Terratrip 303 computer, and the AM-FM radio which will receive both US and European/Asian stations. Special wiring for emergency flashers, a glove compartment switch to a special fuel pump for the transfer of the fuel in the cell to the filter hose to the main tank which can be used while under way, a hoselike map light can be used at night , a 12V coffee pot which works from a special accessory cigarette lighter, dash-mounted compass,digital clock, these are just a few of the final touches “needed” for a world rally car.
The odometer and speedo were rebuilt. A Terratrip Terraspeed 303 was installed with new H.D. cables important – a kilometer gauge was installed, and we were able to obtain a prized Halda Speedpilot. We installed a Kenwood AM_FM radio and tape deck and speakers.
Harry of Harry’s Upholstery in Los Angeles has been a valued member of the team. His design and execution of the carpets inside and outside the security box, the installation of the bucket seats, the new and perfectly fitted “boot” and roll bar cover, all have contributed to the comfort and appearance of the car. To all of our questions, Harry kept saying, “Don’t worry about it” – he was right!
Part of the car preparation included special attention to an inventory of Medical Supplies. Antibiotics, bandages, over the counter ointments and tablets, syringes, compresses, splints, even “venous access cannulae” are on the required list of first aid supplies. This trip will be much like sailing in that everything will be in the right place at all times in order to keep order!
Spare parts require a great deal of “on the one hand, and on the other….” Apparently too much weight is the greatest reason some cars fail to finish, yet some parts are simply unavailable in many of the places we will visit. Our spare parts will include replacement carburetor, distributor, spark plugs and wires, fan belts, thermostat, oil, fuel filter, water/fuel separator, filters, fuel pump, exhaust fuel tank repair kits and a host of over-the-counter wire, duct tape, nuts, bolts, and a full set of tools. As in past world rallys, “jettisoning” of extra weight will be inevitable.
The preparation has taken nearly full time from March 24, 1999 through January 2000; it included a test drive to Seattle and back in October, frequent trips to Los Angeles from Indian Wells and a test rally, the “Iron Bottom” from Julian to Lone Pine to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Park and back to Julian , over 900 miles in two days on Friday and Saturday in late February.
Fine tuning and packing are all that are left in preparation!