Words by Henry Phull / Photos by Steph Clarke
As of late the classic W114 and W115 Mercedes’ have been making a well-deserved comeback. One of the cars that started up this new found popularity in the UK is Rory Hamilton’s gorgeous W115 240D. I first came in contact with his car at the Ultimate Stance show back in 2014 when it was ‘mid-build’ and in a much more fragile condition. Since then, Rory has completely overhauled the Benz, resulting in a thing of pure beauty that oozes class wherever it goes. Unsurprisingly, Rory gets plenty of requests to use it as a wedding car – it’s certainly much cooler than any of the newer Mercs. An engineer for Rolls-Royce, Rory has always been interested in luxury cars, with Mercedes-Benz always on his radar, particularly the larger diesel cars with stacked headlights. “I have a great love of older engines and respect their simplicity and the quirky features that were applied to older diesel motors” Rory says, and mentions that his has a pull handle to start paired with a glow cherry, and an idle adjuster knob used for starting… “fantastically simple but effective”. Let’s take a look at how the build came about…
You may think the W115 is a strange choice of car, given Rory’s young age of 22, but I assure you, he has been through plenty of smaller and quicker cars over the years. “I’ve had more throw-away daily drivers than show cars, as I’m a lover of bangernomics” he explains. Starting off with Mk3 Golfs (five to be precise), to a modified Nogaro Blue Audi S3 which was eventually swapped for a street ported Mazda RX8. As fun as it was, the engine rebuild costs started to bankrupt him, leading to a sale and massive loss, but in hindsight it meant he was finally able to pick up the Mercedes-Benz we are showcasing today.
“I’ve always wanted a classic Mercedes-Benz” Rory exclaims. When he was growing up, there was a similar model just down the road from where he lived, which was literally part of the landscape. “The Benz had a bush growing out of it, smashed windows, and was covered in mould”, even so, he always wanted to own it. “I finally plucked up the courage to go and knock on the door of the house that I thought owned it” and it turned out that the chap had owned it from new when he was a politician, using it from 1975 to 1999 to commute to London from Portishead near Bristol. He simply parked it up because he wanted a newer car but couldn’t let the old one go. “Funnily enough the guy was also the president of the Mercedes-Benz Club of the UK for a few years and the very car in its terrible mimosa yellow colour is on the front page of the club magazines and cards.” he explains. However, he still wouldn’t sell it.
A year later Rory received a call out of the blue… The owner of the Benz had unfortunately passed away due to ill health and his family were offering the car at a price that he couldn’t refuse. Sadly, the car was in a bad state, and not worth saving, so Rory made the purchase as donor car. The engine, diff/driveshafts, full interior and a few other pieces were saved with parts ending up in Rory’s car, and the rest are kept as spares. If it wasn’t for this tired old example, Rory would have never had the final push to go out and build his own W115. Now he had a donor car, the hunt was on for a usable example and base for the project.
It was a 1974 W115 240D that caught Rory’s eye, the car was already in a respectable condition as it had been garaged and kept off the road for about six months prior. The paintwork was micro blistered, along with a few rough edges, but most importantly it was a solid car – most unlike his donor vehicle! After a deal was done, the top rad hose blew on the road home, disaster! Rory and an eager bystander ended up pushing the Benz up a motorway slip road, up a hill of course, until they were out of harm’s way. A temporary fix was issued with a piece of metal tube, jubilee clips and gaffer tape, which amazingly saw him the last 100+ miles home (with a constant cloud of white smoke left behind). So, not the greatest buying experience, but Rory cracked on regardless…
He spent a few months sorting out the motor, but even after changing the head gasket it was still not right and the problems were never-ending. Luckily, he had the donor car and engine. His Christmas was spent switching engines, along with a manual to auto swap which took some work. The engine itself is a stock OM616 4-cylinder 2.4 litre diesel lump, and the only modification made was to replace the old ‘loop’ glow plugs with a set of newer ‘pencil’ plugs. “This is probably the single best modification I’ve done to her as the old plugs (according to the manual) took between 30 seconds to a minute to glow, whereas the pencils take 10-15 and are much more reliable.” Rory explains. As he runs the car on 100% vegetable oil, good glow plugs are essential to get the car started with ease.
Eventually Rory pulled the head on the second motor and changed the valve stem seals and head gasket, along with all the manifold gaskets. Plus, every radiator hose with genuine Mercedes-Benz parts, a new oil cooler from Germany with swaged lines, uprated trans cooler also with swaged lines, a new water pump, reset the pump timing, fitted new vacuum hoses, and much more! In simpler terms, the engine was completely restored and made reliable for the many miles Rory now does in the car to various events all over the country. To finish things off, a full stainless twin exit exhaust system was created by Infinity Exhausts near Bath. The last six feet of each exit have been chromed for aesthetic purposes, and for an extra kick Rory added an electronic exhaust bypass valve just after the downpipe which means he can switch the exhaust to be extremely loud when he wants it to be.
With the engine and reliability issues sorted, it was time to think about the modifications we are really interested in, suspension! The idea from the beginning was to put the W115 on air ride. “I always wanted a bagged car” Rory explains, “I’d seen pictures of bagged Benz’s in the States particularly the ‘Colour of Money’ Benz and the ‘Steampunk’ Benz for those in the know”. Rory and a good friend of his took a few months to bag the car themselves, designing custom brackets and machining them to fit his chosen Slam Specialities RE-5 bags. They experimented with three different designs until they were completely satisfied with the drop and the way they sat on the car. The system was designed to use 1/2″ lines, so Rory ended up purchasing all the SMC 1/2″ valves from the States, along with a 8.5 gallon air tank, twin VIAIR 480c compressors and an Odyssey Red-Top battery.
“When I first started to drive her the air was so fast that it was uncontrollable, the valve would open electronically but when it went to shut the spring wasn’t powerful enough to to do so properly, so it would ‘latch’ open so to speak and either jump the car in the air or dump it on the ground.” To solve this, Rory fitted large flow controls to all four corners, making the speed a lot more controllable. Furthermore, with the diesel engine being much deeper than a petrol motor, it sits much closer to the ground. Instead of ‘raising’ the motor like most people would opt for, Rory fitted a large plate with a set of ‘skis’ on the bottom of the engine. Now when it airs out, the front of the car sits on the sump and amazingly the front wheels don’t actually touch the floor… “It’s a feature that I’m very happy with!” he chuckles.
With the suspension all set up, Rory was eager for some new wheels to set it off, ending up with a set of 16×7 BBS Mahle’s restored by a guy in Budapest. He chose these as they were similar to other sets at the time, but was worried about how he’d make them fit properly. The Mahle’s were already Mercedes-Benz fitment, 66.6CB and 5x112PCD. The offset was almost identical to his standard wheels so they’d be perfect for the car. It’s rare to find a set with the correct fitment, so Rory decided it was a no-brainer. Along with stretched 165/40/16 tyres all round, the wheels certainly look the part on the W115. For that extra wow-factor, the Mahle’s are fitted with BBS high centre caps and Titanium Lug Nuts supplied by Fourty Four Wheel Company. They were “a match made in heaven” he explains, as they sit the same height as the centre caps, plus the ends of the nuts look incredibly similar to the BBS caps, resulting in a gorgeous combination.
To compliment the rest of the car, Rory has made some changes to the interior. The first modification was to swap out the front seats for some with armrests, sourced from a W109 S-Class. Although they look very similar to the original examples, they are in fact wider. Rory had to modify the seat rails to fit, resulting in a lower driving position which he much prefers. “I love the look of diamond stitch in custom interiors, but I am also a great lover of the OEM+ look” he explains, and decided to commission John Brant at Bespoke Leathering Ltd. to carry out a full re-trim.
This included a complete new carpet in beige with underlay and mats, including sound deadening to the bulk head. Plus a custom headlining in cream, reworked and recoloured seats, door cards and A/B pillars in a stunning caramel (similar to the original colour). The dash and centre console were also coated in leather in the same caramel colour. To counteract the caramel, the top of the dash and some of the lower dash, and parcel shelf have been covered in a single stitch pleated diamond arrangement. The result is absolutely stunning, and works so perfectly against the white body colour.
As I mentioned earlier, I first saw Rory’s W115 a couple of years ago, before it had any fresh paint. It was seriously tired so the whole body was taken back to the metal and stripped by himself and a few friends between October 2014 and March 2015. The sunroof was filled in and then the car was fully resprayed in Sikkens Two-Pack DB737 (Classic White). Rory had all the brightwork re-polished, re-chromed and re-finished by Doug Taylor Metal Finishings in Banwell. Unfortunately some of these parts were well past repair so Rory ended up purchasing some new parts from Mercedes-Benz, along with new rubbers and window seals. These are small touches that a lot of people wouldn’t bother with, but it’s safe to say they bring the whole look together brilliantly.
Building one of these Mercedes-Benz’s is much easier said than done, they’ve always been one of the classiest vehicles around and sticking to that ideal is key. Getting the right balance is extremely important.. stay elegant but making sure you don’t go too crazy. Rory has certainly outdone himself with his W115, not only restoring it to a like-new condition, but adding simple yet effective touches to make it extra special. Although not a daily driver, he’s driven this thing all over the country over the past year with minimal issues, which you just wouldn’t expect from such a classic car, but it’s humbling to see that Rory is putting it to use. At the end of the day, it is a car – it’s meant to be driven! Unsurprisingly he doesn’t have much more planned for the car at the moment, as it’s been done so well to this point. The only things on his mind are a boot build to show off the air and there’s a possibility of another engine swap in favour of a rarer diesel motor “for the real OEM+ look” he explains.