Home » A Catastrophic Suspension Problem Nearly Stranded Our Ski-Klasse Wagon On A Gambler 500, Here’s What I Think Our Car’s Fatal-ish Flaw Is

A Catastrophic Suspension Problem Nearly Stranded Our Ski-Klasse Wagon On A Gambler 500, Here’s What I Think Our Car’s Fatal-ish Flaw Is

Klasse Fail 2
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Over the weekend, I did something four out of five mechanics would probably recommend against and I took our lowered snow racing car off-roading again. This time, I drove our 1999 Mercedes-Benz E320 ‘Ski-Klasse’ wagon down to Tennessee, where I, briefly, got to have a blast with friends old and new. Then, the car’s hydraulic suspension failed in a spectacular manner, leaving me with a 9.5-hour ride home and literally no good options. What happened to me could happen to anyone with these cars, which is why I’m about to call this failure a “fatal-ish” flaw.

Now, a lot of you might be wondering, or maybe even furiously typing a comment right this moment, why did I do this? Didn’t I learn my lesson from taking Ski-Klasse to 4Fest? While Ski-Klasse was initially built for snow racing, one of our future plans for the car is to see how it handles dirt, desert, and other off-roading disciplines.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

It’s part of why Bill Caswell completely overbuilt the front end of Ski-Klasse. I won’t say it’s trophy truck strong up front, but it’s pretty darned great. I’m somewhat convinced that if I crashed into a Ford F-150, the truck would lose.

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All of us at the Autopian office wanted to see how well a snow car could perform off-road. Hindsight being perfectly clear 20/20, I’m not entirely sure what we expected to happen. But we did learn a few things in taking our wagon into the sticks. In going to the Gambler 500 in Tennessee, I think I found a sort of fatal-ish flaw with these old Mercedes. If you buy one of these cars with a self-leveling suspension and it fails, you can end up stuck wherever you are. An actual Mercedes specialist couldn’t patch the car up in the field. Only by sheer luck did I end up at a racetrack with lots of gearheads with muscle and tools to get me back on the road.

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How I fixed the car will be covered in a second part entry to this. What you’re about to read is how the car got messed up and why I think it’s nearly a fatal flaw.

The Gambler 500 Tennessee

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I’ve written about my exploits at the Gambler 500 many times before. If you’ve missed them, I’ll explain what these events are. The Gambler 500 turns conservation into something thrilling. You’re encouraged to buy the worst car you can find on Facebook or Craigslist, throw some chunky tires on it, and then take that car out into the woods with a bunch of other similar-minded weirdos to pick up trash. It’s a navigational rally, not a race.

The Gambler 500 is an event where a Chrysler PT Cruiser is cooler than a Toyota Land Cruiser. In fact, so many Gambler cars are vehicles with no business being off the pavement. The challenge of making such cars survive off-road is part of the fun. The other major part is trash cleanup. At the Detroit auto show, Gambler 500 founder Tate Morgan informed me that the Gambler 500 is now the world’s largest trail cleanup organization. Participants pride themselves not just on making a clapped-out Corolla survive a beating, but also on dragging a boat out of a forest on the roof of said car.

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A lot of folks also theme their cars. At a Gambler 500, you’ll find pop culture references from Cannonball Run to Jurassic Park, Mad Max, Back To The Future, and the A-Team. You’ll also find just plain silly builds like a Chevy S-10 bed mated to a Ford Fusion, a Corvair on a Blazer frame, or a Smart Fortwo jacked up on huge tires and acting as a trail taxi.

Also amusing is the fact that there are a number of Gambler vehicles that were discarded boats now living new lives as cars. There’s a Jeep Cherokee somewhere under this boat!

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The Tennessee edition of the Gambler 500 has long been one of my favorite events. Tennessee is a gorgeous state and, within its borders, you’ll find miles and miles of public trails, many leading to exciting places you won’t find on a travel website or on your phone’s maps. My wife, Sheryl, proposed to me in one of these “off the map” locations locals call the Free Car Wash. It’s a small waterfall under a bridge in a place so rural the sole area gas station has ancient pumps that only dispense 87 octane.

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The Gambler 500 Tennesse has evolved over the years as well. Hosting sites have changed as have the routes. Thus, you could come back every year, as I have tried to do, and you’ll still find new things. Something else pretty awesome about the Tennessee event is that the organizers are pretty good about choosing checkpoints that can be accessible to someone driving a stock car. You can pick a route that fits the capabilities of your vehicle!

This year, the Gambler 500 Tennessee started from an expansive property and trail system in Bon Aqua. The property served as our base camp, but also a fun place to enjoy a bonfire (a gutted Ford Explorer turned into a fire pit) or some nighttime trail rides. I figured it would also be the place to conclude our off-road testing of the Ski-Klasse.

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I departed for Tennessee right after Friday’s Mercedes’ Marketplace Madness posted. I hit the road around 6 p.m. and drove 562 miles through the night. When I left home, I decided to not stop for anything but fuel. Ski-Klasse is so comfortable that a Cannonball-style trip like that is totally possible. I arrived at camp just before 3 a.m., nine hours after leaving home. Ski-Klasse once again proved to be a fantastic travel companion.

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I got just a few hours of sleep before the morning driver’s meeting and the eventual departure of a massive convoy of Gambler cars. I positioned myself near the front of the pack behind my friends, Austin and Nikki, in the Ford Fusion wearing the bed of a Chevy. Their car was only just a touch taller than Ski-Klasse. So, I figured if they could make it through something, I could probably get Ski-Klasse through without damage. But, I was going to figure it out only by hitting the trails, so I hopped in line and started following.

My Mission

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To be clear, the goal was to get the car through without damage. Or, at the very least, as little damage as possible. Many, if not most Gambler 500 participants trailer in their vehicles. I commit to driving my vehicles to the events and back from them. So, full sends are not allowed. Before every event, I examine my vehicle, identify weak spots, and formulate a plan to avoid those spots.

Ski-Klasse has a number of things going against it. The first is that Bill lowered the car about an inch. This is great for activities that don’t need a ton of ground clearance, such as racing on an icy lake or in the snow. Obviously, it’s not a great pairing for off-road trails. But again, this was just us experimenting with the car in its off-season from the snow.

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Lowering the car didn’t just make it practically grounded to the ground, but it made approach, breakover, and departure angles atrocious. I didn’t measure the angles, but I would be surprised if they were greater than single digits. I accidentally ripped off the rear lower apron during 4Fest. This time, I decided to delete the front lower apron by hand.

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Sadly, this apron did take a hit during 4Fest so it was already pretty fragile. So, taking it off helped preserve what remained of the apron. If we want to, we can install it back later. I also removed one of the fog lights. The other light didn’t want to come out, so I left it there.

As I noted before in the 4Fest write-up, Bill’s work on this car is phenomenal.

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Bill Caswell

 

Bill Caswell

Seriously, words can’t really describe how epic this car is. Since the car is oh so low, that front structure and the skid plate were constantly taking hits left and right. But none of it relented. If I hit a rock, the car’s bank vault-like structure either forced the rock out of the way or skipped across it. When I high-sided, which was often, the front structure usually kept the rest of the underbody safe. Bill told me he built the car to take glancing blows and he had no idea how it would handle taking on rocks, earth, and the other abuses of off-roading. Well, in both our 4Fest and Gambler tests, the structure is just beastly.

We even had another vehicle to compare it with. There was another W210 wagon in Tennessee. That one was lifted and it had just a skid plate without any additional reinforcements. That car left on a trailer as its skid plate bent upward, taking out the radiator. Our skid plate didn’t even budge. Score for Bill! I cannot praise his work enough.

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Still, the car had one major area of concern: the gas tank. At first, the lowest part of the car was the muffler, but I deleted that back in Detroit. What was left was the gas tank, which sits behind the rear axle just a few inches above the ground. Thankfully, its proximity to the axle meant that so long as I could straddle the rear wheels over an obstacle, the tank could make it through without taking much of a hit.

If I knew the car was going to take a hit, I directed the hits either to the skid plate or to the rockers. My logic here was that the skid plate was good enough to ram bits out of the way for the rest of the car. But if I knew what I was going to hit was going to reach the rear of the vehicle, I’d rather hit the rockers and the strong Vredestein tires than hit the gas tank. In other words, carefully picking a line, even on a mild trail, is crazy important. But, I have tons of experience off-roading cars that aren’t meant to be off-road, so this was a familiar routine.

Hell Broke Loose, Anyway

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For a while, it seemed as if Ski-Klasse was going to get through this Gambler 500 with little more than some new pinstripes and maybe a few extra bumps to the undercarriage. The convoy I was in took mild trails and dirt roads. There were times the Ski-Klasse got challenged, but the car handled those challenges with surprising grace. In one instance, I got through a mud hole that a lifted Volvo wagon had some trouble with. It helped that this area of Tennessee was going through a bit of a dry spell. So, even the mud holes weren’t particularly deep.

One thing Ski-Klasse had going for it that other vehicles didn’t was the ability to really hustle through dirt. Ski-Klasse effortlessly performed dirt donuts and high-speed turns on smoother trails, stuff that would make your butt pucker in a $500 Jeep ZJ with a collapsed suspension. The drifts were also equally awesome and to me, made up a lot for the lack of ground clearance in other situations.

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Yet, despite all of my careful planning and line-picking, the car still found a way to break. Sometime after noon, my convoy decided to take a trail that led to a nice sandy area under Interstate 40 as it crossed the Tennessee River. While there, a few of us took a refreshing swim in the river while others played in the small mud pit behind some foliage. It was the perfect place to stop, relax, and cool off after getting dusted and rocked in our vehicles for hours.

After I saw a nearly stock Subaru get through the aforementioned pit without drama, I figured I could get Ski-Klasse through the pit as well. The others were doubtful. I mean, I couldn’t blame them, the car basically scraped on pennies in the road! Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but you get what I’m saying.

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The mud hole was pretty uneventful. I heard the skid plate take a hit and I hit a bump, that was it. The tires didn’t really even lose much traction.

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After the hole, I noticed that there was a stream of fluid leading to the car. I also saw that the rear end was down to the bump stops, which I hadn’t ever seen before. At first, I blew off the fluid as water dripped from the mud hole. But why was the car on the stops? Again, it wasn’t a hard pass. The car took way harder hits earlier without a problem.

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Fear began to sink in that I had somehow killed the hydraulic suspension. I popped the hood and found that the hydro reservoir was still full, so it couldn’t be that. But, still based on fear, I fired up the engine and poked my head at the origin of the trail of fluid. When the engine was running there was a constant stream of leaking hydro fluid. And when revving, the stream was straight up a spray.

I immediately texted both Matt and Bill with initial pictures of what was going on. After what felt like a year of waiting, Bill got back to me, guesstimating that I somehow blew a hydro line in the mud crossing. He then explained the nightmare I was facing:

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But wait, it gets worse!

Right, so, this car’s self-leveling system (SLS) has been pretty great. As the name suggests, the vehicle uses hydraulic fluid, accumulator spheres, and hydro shocks to keep the ride height at the rear level. The ride has been smooth and the system can keep up, even with a full load of tires and tools in the back. It’s all automatic, too. There are no buttons to press or anything to monitor. Bill told me he replaced the spheres during the vehicle’s build, so I never really thought of the suspension as a factor to worry about. Also, as Bill explains, the hard lines have some weird routing. The gas tank should take a hit long before the SLS lines.

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It’s pretty clever how it all works, from Pelican Parts:

The pump is always creating pressure and pushing fluid through the system. The leveling valve maintains the level of the rear end. It does this by maintaining pressure or diverting it to raise or lower the rear. When the car is unloaded and sitting at the proper ride height the leveling valve is in the Neutral position. In the neutral position the struts and accumulators are still pressurized which maintain the unloaded height along with the springs. The valve maintains the neutral position pressure in the struts and the accumulators by not allowing the pressure to bleed off and also directs the pressure that the pump is creating to back to the reservoir. When a load is put into the back, the lever arm on the valve is deflected into the fill position which diverts the pressure and fluid flow to the struts and accumulators. This pressure expands the struts which lift the rear until the lever arm is in the neutral position again. A check valve in the leveling valve keeps the increased pressure from bleeding off until the arm is deflect into the return flow position. When the load is removed, the arm on the leveling valve is moved to the return flow position which allows the increased pressure in the system to drain off, until the valve returns to the neutral position and the rear of the car to its normal unloaded ride height.

At first, we worked on the assumption that I had destroyed one of the hydraulic lines. If I filled the reservoir to the brim, the car would spit it out in just 5 minutes. The SLS system was so damaged that it never built enough pressure to get the rear end off the bump stops.

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This turned out to be somewhat disastrous when it came to limping the car back to camp. See, I still had to drive back down a trail, but now with half of the ground clearance I started with. On the way back, the car scraped on everything and it was pretty much impossible to stop it from happening. All I could do was drive at a crawl’s pace, try to straddle what I could, and brace for impact, a lot. The gas tank took a lot more hits than it wanted to. At one point, the tank took a hit that crumpled it a little.

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Still, after taking three times as long getting out of the trail as I took getting into it, I emerged with a working Ski-Klasse, albeit one that had already run out of hydraulic fluid.

Indeed, as Bill explained above, the system that runs the SLS isn’t just for the suspension, but also for power steering. And that pump is driven off of the engine’s accessory belt. So, if it runs dry and it seizes, I will have many more problems than just hemorrhaging fluids. To make matters worse, the serpentine belt takes enough twists and turns that we couldn’t figure out a way to bypass the pump utilizing a shorter belt. That’s assuming we could even find a shorter belt that would fit. I mean, we were basically in the middle of nowhere, too.

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Faced with no good options, I took the option that would at least get me back to camp: take the shortest route, drive slowly, and refill the reservoir as I went. Ski-Klasse emptied its reservoir every 5 to 7 minutes. Thus, I basically raided the shelves of every gas station I passed in the 50-minute drive I had to do to get back to camp. And, remember, this was more or less the middle of nowhere. None of these gas stations had the proper MB-spec oils, so I bought every single bottle of generic power steering fluid I could find. And when those ran out, I had to go with transmission fluid.

Somehow, after some of the most nerve-wracking miles I’ve ever driven in my life, I limped the car back to camp. I failed in my mission to keep the pump with fluid. There were just too few gas stations and too far of a distance back to camp. I rolled in without power steering and some concerning chatter from the car’s pulleys. It was just 4 p.m., but the Gambler was done for Ski-Klasse.

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Thankfully, I set up camp next to an independent Mercedes-Benz specialist. This guy brought five MBs for him and his friends to enjoy. There was a W123 diesel wagon, a Smart that was turned into a buggy, a lifted SLK, another W210 wagon, and a first-generation ML. Apparently, word about my catastrophic suspension failure spread around the event, so he knew something was wrong before I even asked for help.

The next morning, we did a janky operation to get the Ski-Klasse into the air. Once its rear end was up, we were surprised to learn that the hydro lines were actually in perfect condition. Instead, the left side shock had blown. When the SLS attempts to pressurize the shock, hydraulic fluid just sprays all over the shock, control arm, brake backing plate, gas tank, and wheel well.

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Bill informed me that the shocks on this car weren’t new, but he felt it was unlikely the shock blew up. But, we inspected the car a couple of more times and could find wetness only surrounding the shock. Both Bill and the mechanic at camp came to similar conclusions. It may not have been specifically the mud hole that killed the shock, but the hard bump from the mud hole was the last bump the shock was able to take before it failed.

I had been beating myself up over the whole thing. I kept thinking that had I just not gone into the mud hole, the car would still be ok and I would still be Gambling with my friends. But, the morning inspection revealed that if that shock was getting ready to fail, it probably would have just blown up somewhere else. Maybe not in the mud hole but on another trail or maybe even a pothole in Chicago or Detroit.

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Once I stopped kicking myself over it, I realized I was in trouble. These shocks aren’t cheap, the nearest Mercedes-Benz dealer was about 45 minutes away and already closed, and I would have been willing to bet that it didn’t have the part, anyway. Oh, and it was Sunday, so people needed to get home for work and such. Only one person at camp knew how to work on the SLS, and he told me there’s so much work involved in fixing this in a shop, let alone on uneven grass. In other words, a proper fix wasn’t happening.

I couldn’t just drive the car in this state. I would probably go bankrupt filling the hydro tank every five minutes, plus, that’s probably not good for the environment. But, running the pump dry for my nearly 10-hour drive home could end in disaster. If the pump seizes, I would almost certainly lose the belt, which means no charging and no water pump. That’s compounding a bad problem into something even worse.

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So, we tried to do some bodge fixes. If we couldn’t do a proper repair, maybe we could delete the SLS or tell the system to stop pumping fluid to the shocks. We tried a bunch of different bodges and none of them worked, or they worked for just a couple of minutes. The complexity of SLS always won out and the car always found a way to spray hydraulic fluid at an alarming rate. Not even the experienced Mercedes specialist was able to patch up the system in the field. I’ll cover what we did in the second part because it gets pretty crazy and somehow, it also involves a 24 Hours of LeMons race.

This Is Sort Of A Fatal Flaw

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So, why am I calling this a near-fatal flaw? This is a suspension failure that has a high chance of leaving you stranded somewhere. Consider that not every owner of a car like this is going to be a car person. Also, given the car’s age, someone buying this might not be flush with cash. I’m willing to bet that many of these cars today are driven around by college students and the like.

Alright, now imagine that college student hitting a pothole and bursting one of these shocks. The car pukes hydraulic fluid and tells the driver it’s out of fluid. Soon enough, they don’t have power steering, either. Now, a non-car person may not know that running the pump dry may kill it. So, they may continue to drive until they can afford to fix it, burning the pump up as they go. It’s even worse if you put that vehicle owner into a situation where they’re states away from home when the shock fails.

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If that pump decides to seize as it burns up, now you have a thrown belt, which, if not tended to, means an overheated engine. Us car people know how to handle this stuff, but the large number of episodes of “Just Rolled Into The Shop” shows that not everyone does. To me, it just seems weird that technically, a blown shock could lead to an overheated engine and being stranded.

Of course, hydraulic suspensions aren’t anything new, so I’m late to the party in realizing this downside. And I’ve been informed that some hydro suspension designs have better failure modes than this one. Still, if you aren’t prepared for the Mercedes SLS to fail like I wasn’t, it’s going to be a very bad day.

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At any rate, I did find a way to temporarily fix the SLS and I did make it home, albeit after 3 a.m.

On the drive home, the ride quality was so harsh that a window regulator failed with violence. So now I have a window that’s stuck open and maybe even broken. You’re going to hear about how the car got fixed really soon, and it’s going to warm your heart. Getting Ski-Klasse safe enough to drive home actually reaffirmed my belief that there’s still a ton of good in this crazy car world of ours.

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Until then, I will continue recommending going on a Gambler 500. Buy the cheapest piece of junk in your neighborhood, put some tires on it, give it a silly theme, then join the rest of us in the wilderness and pick up some trash. You will not forget or regret it. Just… maybe you’ll want to leave the lowered car at home.

(Images: Author, unless otherwise noted.)

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Jay Maynard
Jay Maynard
6 months ago

Yup, BTDT on a W210. Well, not an SLS failure; the read hydro shocks were bad when I bought the car, and the dealer I bought it from replaced them. Still, you might go looking for an SLS delete.

And the window regulator is an easy repair, once you drill out the rivets holding the old one in.

As for being an outstanding highway cruiser: now you know why I buy Mercedes, despite all of the …interesting times you have working on them. My W210 was the first car I’ve had that I could load my night-shift-working roommate in and take I-80 across Illinois and Indiana, going from stop-and-go to full-out autobahn, and have him never once wake up. I can get out of a Mercedes after 900 miles on the road in a day and not feel like I’ve been hit by a truck, and there are very few other cars I can say that about.

Oldskool
Oldskool
6 months ago

Have to agree with some of the others. Spending all of my years in snow country, the last thing I’d want is lowering. And any kind of fluid power suspension, no way. Keep it simple with different springs or coilovers or other solid parts. I did it with one car after a never ending battle with air suspension. I also wondered immediately why no skid plate over such a critical area as the gas tank?

In any case, good to hear you made it back without a rescue rig. That’s always a relief.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
6 months ago

K I don’t want to sound like a dick, but I am just going to be blunt. I’m not trying to be abrasive although it may come across that way because internet words don’t show emotion, so I will add some smiley faces.

This is not surprising at all. Everything has been wrong about this build from the start. RWD, automatic, hydraulic suspension, and lowered? Almost any comparable Audi from the same time period would have bulletproof suspension, quattro (torsen based, and if its pre 95 you can lock the rear diff with a button), manuals were available, and dead nuts simple suspension with a stock ride height that would be fine for this and snow racing. 🙂

I think you guys need to give up. This is not a ski wagon. It’s just a wagon, and ever aspect about it makes it terrible for what you are trying to do. 🙂

Audi makes ski wagons, BMW has the X drives too, but the ‘holy grail’ of ski wagons will always be the RS2, and you can get pretty close to that with a modified UrS4/S6, or any other audi of that era by swapping parts around. 😀

I live in a mountain town in CO. There are a lot of Subarus and Audis. There are zero old benzes. There is a reason. 😛

You can keep trying to ice skate up hill but I’d pull the plug on this endeavor and get a car more suited to what you are trying to do, or you’re just going to keep having failures. :\

Bonus: Bone stock C4 Audi avant in massive snow storm.
https://youtu.be/S0ul5GUFeoo?si=B-QjekD7RuNC08F8

Last edited 6 months ago by ADDvanced
Mike B
Mike B
6 months ago

One still needs ground clearance for snow, lowering this car was such a terrible idea.

I normally like automotive stupidity, but at least pick something that’s even remotely close to being the right tool for the job.

Now rip out all that hydraulic garbage and throw some longer coils and 30″ tires on it.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
6 months ago
Reply to  Mike B

You also need SOFT suspension for snow racing. Having lower/stiffer springs just means it breaks loose suddenly and it’s harder to control. This is the wrong car for this job, it will never be a ski wagon.

I officially challenge Ski Klasse up wolf creek pass this winter. I’ll be in an Audi wagon. Let’s do it.

Mike B
Mike B
6 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

I’ll join in my XC70.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
6 months ago

Like so many others, I am confused as to why it was lowered in the first place. But can you now rip out the air suspension and plop some steel springs on there? Make it taller while you’re at it.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
6 months ago

In the next article: how Mercedes changed her name to Toyota.

Lardo
Lardo
6 months ago

So I must have missed the reason for lowering a snow vehicle? While 6 in. lifts aren’t required or desired, last winter in Ut. Co. Wy. Id. Mt. Ca. regular Subaru’s couldn’t get out of the parking lot some days after a heavy snowfall during that day. It was a record year, but ummmm? So lower it and then take it off road trailing? Seems like you almost wanted to break it? Talk about creating content.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
6 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

Agreed, I thought that when they lowered it during the build. A few years ago we got a really big dump and the only people getting in and out of our neighborhood were pickups on 33’s or bigger.

Davey
Davey
6 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

This is one of the reasons I tell people why CUVs and anything that has more ground clearance is better in the winter than a sedan. Anyone who experiences real winter knows more ground clearance is better.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
6 months ago
Reply to  Davey

counterpoint: Behold C4 Audi, Torsen based Quattro:

https://youtu.be/S0ul5GUFeoo?si=B-QjekD7RuNC08F8

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
6 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

I bet a C4 has about the same ground clearance as most new crossovers.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
6 months ago
Reply to  Davey

This is true with extremes but also from experience it depends wayyyyy more on tires. my buddy and I went up a mountain pass with about 8″ to a foot of snow on the ground and I had to absolutely send my pickup on A/Ts and a foot of ground clearance. His VW alltrack on newer all terrains with a 3peak rating just walked right up everything while plowing snow.

Obviously this does not work as well with wet snow.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
6 months ago

I hear the pump runs dry if you run low on blinker fluid? I don’t understand these over designed cars that combine vital systems intertwined with basic systems that have a good working design already.

CopperFireMist
CopperFireMist
6 months ago

That thing was a fatal flaw when it rolled off the assembly line.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
6 months ago

I recommend not having a radiator to take out. Aircooleds FTW.

We drove out to this weekend’s Lonestar Gambler 500 in the VW 411 because it was close to home, but in a car that can sustain about 55-60 mph max over a longer trip, we all but have to trailer it out to further events for safety’s sake. The interstate that heads out to the Gambler 500 Mexico in Big Bend is the absolute worst in a tiny gutted VW, can confirm. It’s gotta go back there, though. Absolutely has to. The desert is an aircooled VW’s natural habitat, and it might be reliable enough to finally trust going with the group into Mexico.

I think it might just become a full-time Gambler now, though. I’d love to give it one last hurrah in Lemons after some engine upgrades (oil cooler, ditching that stupid single carb), but IDK if the cage still meets Lemons’ requirements. Besides, those old VWs have solid ground clearance from stock! I love it so much.

Last edited 6 months ago by Stef Schrader
Paul B
Paul B
6 months ago

With regards to the environment from all the spilled fluid. You can run vegetable oil to save the pump. Vegetable oil has no life in a hydraulic system, but if you’re just pumping it on the ground, the life is measured in seconds anyway.

If ever you get a hydraulic leak where you can’t disable the pump:

connect the high pressure side straight to the reservoir with a hose.

You don’t need to worry about the pressure rating of the hose as pressure only develops with a restriction. The hose has minimal restriction, so minimal pressure to worry about.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
6 months ago

I guess that kind of kills the idea that this gen MB wagon could be the “cheap” Volvo wagon for the next gen.

Matt Hardigree
Matt Hardigree
6 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

YUP!I got that one wrong. High mileage ones of these aren’t plentiful because they are easy to fix, they’re just super overbuilt so they don’t break easily. But when you do brake them…

J3FFER50N
J3FFER50N
6 months ago

could you not run a coilover setup on this and delete the SLS
then you could raise it for clearance and a larger wheel and tire set up for offroad then spin them down and run the winter/ice set up

GenericWhiteVan
GenericWhiteVan
6 months ago

‘I’m going to take a lowered car offroad’ is kind of like ‘I’m going to touch a hot stove’.

Most would agree that neither is a good idea.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
6 months ago

Doesn’t it negate some of the environmental benefits if you spray a couple gallons of hydraulic oil along the trail?

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
6 months ago

In the grand scheme of things, we humans have done a lot worse. I can’t fault you because you were there to cleanup and I think overall the Gambler has done more good than bad.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
6 months ago

For a temporary fix, could you just use a pair of vise grips and pinch off the hydraulic line to the one blown shock, then refill the system? That one corner won’t sit right, but the rest of the system would still function, right?

HOT_HATCH
HOT_HATCH
6 months ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

A quick google shows SLS line pressure around 130 bar, so you’d need some serious vice grips.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
6 months ago
Reply to  HOT_HATCH

I just did a quick Google, too, and a typical power brake system runs at 800-2000 psi, depending on how hard you hit the pedal. 130 bar is about 1900psi. 2000psi is braking hard.

People who like to do radical burnouts will sometimes pinch the rear brake lines to be able to hold the car in place while applying max power to the rear wheels.

I would assume you’d have to really stand on that brake pedal to achieve that, so I ask again, why not just pinch that one hydraulic line shut, if only just to get you someplace for a more permanent fix?

It would, at the VERY least, slow down the hemorrhaging, right?

Last edited 6 months ago by StillNotATony
10001010
10001010
6 months ago

Q’aplaH!

Staffma
Staffma
6 months ago

Love it Mercedes! Keeping it real with the Gambler 500 content and spreading the Gospel! I haven’t made it down to the Tennesse event yet, but it looks tremendous! I’m aiming for the West Virginia Event in about a month. Still have some repairs to do from Catskills and Coontails here in NY a couple weeks ago. Interestingly my shocks also failed- although that is due to a bad brand-new part, and not wear.

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
6 months ago

Step one: reroute feed line into return line
step two: buy 95 Ford Ranger front struts (rwd), non SLS w210 LCAs, 430 sedan springs (500 probably works too, p sure its the same spring), the metal collars for said springs. Two m17 bolts.
step three: install
step 4: profit

I’m pretty sure there’s different years of stuff that work. Like I don’t think the front strut off a ranger is single year specific. But there’s an old popular post on Benzworld that list the model year of the parts, so I gave you what I could remember. Idk if someone has attempted to use the Bilstien B6 for 211 wagon SLS, as I think length is close. So those mighttttt work.

When SLS goes, unless you stop driving it immediately. It has a bad habit of taking out parts downstream. As the pressure in the line is mathematically considered a shitton. Be done with Hydro-SLS. Just like Mercedes-Benz when they switched to the even more problematic air version in the 211.

Lardo
Lardo
6 months ago

Any kind of conversion makes sense for more than one reason. The SLS is automatic, could cope with little or no load to a heavy one. So what? There isn’t enough cargo space to put a very significant amount of weight, not more than a coil over conversion can handle. Any now ride height is whatever you want it to be pretty much. You can even carry a spare but the need to due possible failure is remote. The B6 has a lot of fans.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
6 months ago

No struts in a 1995 Ranger they are just basic shock absorbers.

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
6 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

Sorry, I call everything struts. So it’s the shock absorber of a 95 Bronco fwd. it’s a divorced coil multi link. So replacing the spring with the heavier sedan spring that will take over on structural duty, while the shock will just absorb stuff. Looking at the best measurements Autozone has to offer. It should fit.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
6 months ago

I’m surprised no one offers a conversion kit for them. I know that for at least some of the Volvo Nivomat systems there are kits with springs that will take the full load and standard shocks that were cheaper than replacing one Nivomat, and of course there are steel spring replacement systems for many of the air suspension vehicles.

EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
6 months ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

A lot of these were put out to pasture when their owners got the first SLS repair bill. Bleeding the system alone use to be, I think, six hours Mercedes Benz dealership book time. Once you add in diagnostic time and parts plus swapping time. Even a basic sphere job could exceed the value of the car. Plus the w211 was considered a really upgrade. Still surprising Arrnot doesn’t, since they have one for every other Mercedes.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
6 months ago

I really love what the Autopian has built, but that indeed is a silly fatal flaw which I need to remember every time I get the itch to own a Mercedes. Or a BMW, or an Audi…

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