Saturday, December 30, 2006

Meet Eleanor -- the new 1987 Mercedes-Benz 300TD Turbo Wagon

So, we went for it & picked up a new Mercedes on December 16th (2006). We've decided to name her Eleanor.

She's a 1987 300TD Turbo, which is a 7-seat turbo diesel touring wagon, originally from Germany, but imported into the U.S. by her original owner while he was in the service. We purchased her from his nephew. She's got a wonderful & comfy velour interior that matches her bronze-copper exterior. Her stereo has been upgraded to feature a CD player & an aux-in port for an external device (.mp3 player or whatever).

We plan on upgrading her to run off of either biodiesel, straight vegetable oil or regular diesel, but when we purchased her she still had a tank full of petrodiesel. Right now, after driving her up to Portland (Oregon) and back for the holidays and fueling up with as much biodiesel as possible along the way (including some B99 in Santa Rosa), she's running on what probably amounts to B60.

Now, it's just a matter of finding the right buyer for the Saturn. We spent all day on Sunday the 17th cleaning both vehicles thoroughly, inside & out -- really detailing them. Eleanor because she needed it, and the Saturn in anticipation of showing to a potential buyer. The Saturn has been a great vehicle, but my beautiful yet not quite fearless girlfriend Carryh has deemed it to be "too fast!" So, it's out with the Saturn and in with Eleanor.

Another modification that I'm considering for Eleanor is to install a hydrogen-boost system, such as this one. The idea is that a line from the alternator powers an electrolysis tank, which electrolyzes straight water into hydrogen ion (and oxygen ion). This output is fed directly into the air intake of the engine. Once inside the cylinder, it mixes with the diesel fuel, causing it to combust more rapidly. The principle has been explained this way: Imagine a prairie brush fire, moving in a line through dry grass. It moves at the speed that it can jump from blade to blade. Now, imagine if a line of gasoline is laid in front of it. Once it reaches the gasoline, it combusts more quickly than it did with just the straight prairie grass. The hydrogen ion acts in much the same manner with the diesel fuel, causing it to combust more quickly, and thus at a slightly higher temperature. The effect is to produce more power per stroke, meaning less fuel is needed to perform the same work. The net effect should be increased fuel economy, increased power and decreased emissions (since the fuel is combusted moe fully within the cylinder).

We shall see if this proves to be the case with Eleanor. First, I must sell the Saturn. Then, I can invest a little bit more in the new vehicle.

Some notes on how she operates now: After giving her an oil change and replacing/repairing some of the vacuum tubes under her hood, she drove the 1400 round trip miles between San Francisco and Portland like a dream... like floating on air. No real problems to speak of (knock on wood). Her 148 horsepower turbocharged 6-cylinder engine brought her up to speed quite nicely, and kept her there without trouble. Only thing is, she weighs 3388 pounds empty (1.7 tons), so on some of the mountain passes, she slowed down considerably... from 80 mph to 65 mph or a bit less. Much of this was because I'm a bit reluctant to use the kickdown gears just for the sake of speed, since I know how much fuel that causes her to use! She can pull up a hill at 75 mph if she's floored and drops down into 3rd gear, but that's got to really suck the diesel for a 5 mi long hill! Better to let her cruise up it at 65mph or 60mph, then make up the time on the downhill side or the straightaway, and save a little fuel.

One final note about her fuel tank: The hose doesn't go all the way down to the bottom of the tank. It apparently stops short, about 3/4 of the way there. We ran out of diesel the first day that we took delivery of her, because we decided to cruise up to Fairfax in Marin County for lunch and back, with a bit les than half a tank of fuel in her. Well, on Hwy 101 on the big hill before the tunnel on the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin side, we were trucking along at 75 in the fast lane... and then 65.. and then 40... and pretty soon, Carryh was leaning out the window and I had the 4-way flashers on and we were pulling over to the exit ramp just shy of the crest of the hill. Couldn't even make it over the summit! She just plain petered out. Called the previous owner, and sure enough -- out of fuel with 1/4 tank showing on the guage still! Luckily for us, a nice couple had followed us onto the ramp, and they offered me a ride back into Mill Valley to get a spare tank of fuel and bring it back. They were sure our guardian angels that day, as we needed to make it back to my place to play host to a MoveOn showing of Al Gore's _An Inconvenient Truth_!! (Ironically fitting somehow, huh?)

More news is sure to come on this latest chapter in vehicle adventures. I always said that my next vehicle should outperform the Saturn in every way. Well... I meant my next *new* vehicle. Though, Eleanor may still find a way to meet that criteria yet, if the Hydrogen Boost kit is installed and able to perform wonders for her fuel efficiency!!

And finally -- I look forward to doing all my own work on her (or as much as will be possible given my lack of a full service shop or any professional mechanical training). Especially after paying $125+ an hour for service at the Saturn dealer on the Satty!! The oil change and the vacuum hose servicing was just the tip of the iceberg... I can't wait to dive in & keep her in tip-top shape!


craig said...

already a bit old but i must admit, it still looks great! good luck on your improvement plans with it. Trust me, everything will turn out greater than what you've planned. for your parts needs with the improvement plan, check out

Albia said...

Gret job on doing everything possible to get off gas and oil and foreign occupations. Truly a Peace vechicle Lady Eleanor. I have a Mercedes TD 300 7 seater station wagon redwood red 1982 forsale, if you know anyone interested. It runs well on bio diesel 100 and the other one I have 1984 station wagon has the vege conversion kit on it which I could place on the redwood red one. Thanks for the explanation of hydrogen assist.

Ron Pfisterer said...

I an currently looking for a 1987MB 300TD wagon myself. It sounds like your pretty happy with it in your comments. Are you still happy with it? Did you add the Hydrogen Boaster? How many miles are on your wagon? Any advice for me in my search for a wagon?
Thanks Ron

Gregory said...

The problem with your fuel tank is not that a hose only goes down so far. The hoses come out of the bottom of the tank. There is a filter screen in the tank that gets plugged up. This has been the case on two of my 300TD's. If you look at the bottom of the tank there is a big drain plug requiring a huge allen wrench. I have never found one big enough so I just use a vice grip on the outside.

The other silly thing is that the fuel pickup is on the front of the tank. When going up steep hills the fuel runs to the bank of the tank and can leave the pickups dry.

Garlynn Woodsong said...

Update, December 2010:

Eleanor just got a newly rebuilt tranny dropped into her, and is now running like new again. Her odometer reads ~138k, so I've added about 30k miles since I got her. There's usually some small electrical issue plaguing her -- currently, it seems to be that the trunk assist motor appears to be blowing the C circuit's fuse/shorting out somewhere.

I never did add the hydrogen assist system -- while it seemed promising at the time, further research led me to question the real benefit that would be derived, and comparing the low and median ranges of the estimated benefit, to conclude that with my low rates of driving, the payoff period might be too long to justify the cost. So, rather than pursuing lower gas mileage, I just don't drive very much... Eleanor mainly gets used for hauling stuff or for road trips. (Yesterday, for instance, she took us up to Sonoma County to visit the Lagunitas tap room, pick up a bale of hay, grab lunch in Sebastopol and see the nice countryside up there.)

Gregory, thanks for the advice on the fuel tank, that is silly, but it explains everything...she seems to run dry while running up hills with a quarter tank or less in her.

So, in short, I'm happy with Eleanor... she's a good car. She's STILL the newest diesel wagon imported by Mercedes into the United States!! No idea when they will next import the new diesel C-class or E-class wagon, or when they will finally produce a plug-in hybrid version of such... until then, she's a very one-of-a-kind vehicle, along with all the rest of the 1987 model year diesel wagons.


Unknown said...

Hi there. I'm looking at a 1987 MB 300TD Turbo Wagon with 166+k miles. It's a manual 4 speed automatic. I'm pretty much dedicated standard transmissions, but for the first time trying to be willing to purchase an automatic - because I really want to find a Mercedes to run on WVO & biodiesel. Is your car standard or automatic? Was the tranny issue you had to do with the automatic transmission? thanks!

Eva said...

Oops - I meant "automatic 4 speed" (not manual automatic 4 speed).

Garlynn Woodsong said...

Hi Eva,

Eleanor is a 4-speed automatic; I've never encountered an American 1987 300TD with a manual transmission, though that would be an interesting vehicle!

Because when we bought her we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area -- where you're pretty much doing stop and go driving most of the time -- we were fine with the choice of the automatic tranny, as it is just less work than wearing out your ankle on the clutch to creep forward at ~3mph...

And, you know, over the years, I haven't really grown to miss the stick shift. If I want to run through a bunch of gears... I'll ride my bicycle. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Why Is It I Have The Same Car and Park it in the same exact Location? Quite ODD