Car Restoration Projects
From basket case to concours winner – M-B 170V
It took Lutz Baseler just 14 months to achieve the outstanding result you see in this story. This meticulous restoration is an inspiration.
To say that this quietly spoken man is a perfectionist is an understatement. Maybe it’s inherent in his Teutonic nature? But the fit, finish and metamorphosis from two-door sedan to cabriolet has been beautifully done.
The restoration project he chose was a 1951 Mercedes-Benz 170V (W136). It left the factory powered by a 1700cc side-valve, petrol, four-cylinder engine with an output of 28kW at 3400rpm, driving through a four-speed synchromesh transmission.
This model ran both pre- and post-WWII, with production beginning in 1935 and winding up in 1953.
The ‘V’ in the 170V’s name denoted ‘Vorn’ (front) and differentiated the car from the contemporary Mercedes-Benz 170H, where ‘H’ denoted ‘Heck’ (rear). The latter model used the same engine, but positioned at the back of the car, where it was not well accepted by potential Three Pointed Star owners.
The 170H was the brainchild of Dr Ferdinand Porsche and it looked similar to the VW Beetle, which of course Dr Porsche later designed – the Volkswagen or People’s Car.
Why a 170V?
Lutz had previously owned a diesel-powered version, coded 170S, back in his native Germany, before settling in Australia in 1969. It was a model he was quite fond of and thought that he may one day own another.
That opportunity came when he was looking through a Mercedes-Benz wrecker’s property near Port Stephens (NSW), where he discovered a 170V half-hidden by junk, in the corner of a shed.
Lutz was interested in taking on its restoration and once again being able to experience the pleasure of driving a Mercedes-Benz model that had taken his fancy when he wore a younger man’s clothes.
He and wife Inge mulled it over; decided to make an offer and a deal was done. Later, with fellow car club member Guy Fluke’s car trailer in tow, the 170 was retrieved and settled at Moruya in readiness for its renaissance.
However, this wasn’t to be a straightforward restoration, as Lutz was keen to morph the old girl into a cabriolet. He acquired factory drawings in order to craft the 170 as close to the factory production model as possible.
Firstly all traces of the previous owner were removed and dismantling started in earnest.
The engine was removed and handed over to another club member – an engine reconditioner – to overhaul.
After initial cleaning, the next step was to sandblast the chassis and bodywork to find any sections that needed to be repaired.
The contour of the mudguards was the tricky to restore, because they had compound curves.
“Apart from repairing the mudguards, one of the hardest tasks was the refit and alignment of the front suspension, which has two transverse leaf springs,” said Lutz. “The rear wasn’t so bad, being sprung on coils.”
Lutz and Inge’s grandson helped with the bodywork welding, while Narooma Upholstery trimmed the seats and made the new hood for the newly crafted hood bows.
With the refreshed bodywork re-sculptured as a convertible, Lutz set about replacing the woodwork. This was a job he enjoyed, as working with timber was more in his comfort zone.
The Mercedes-Benz Club in Canberra became aware of the car – a very rare model in Australia – and some members persuaded Lutz to enter it in their Concours d’Elegance. So he joined the club and took up the challenge, but the timeframe was short. The annual event is held each spring around the time of Floriade.
So the pressure was on to get the restoration finished and the final detailing done.
The Mercedes-Benz Concours in Canberra was a triumph for the Baseler team, because the judges were greatly impressed with the thoroughness of the restoration and, in particular, the quality of the process that had turned a sedan into: ‘the finest example of a factory built cabriolet they’d seen’.
The finished result was so close to factory finish that they awarded it the 2009 Winner – Club Division – Class A.
Jim Gibson said it was an absolute pleasure, visiting the Baseler home to talk with them about their car, but what he also uncovered was just how happy they are living in Australia – having become citizens as well.
“In 1969, we saw an advertisement in a German newspaper that said, ‘why not live in sunny Australia?’,” said Inge. “We thought, ‘why not, this should be a real adventure’.”
Lutz began the process, by writing to some Australian companies that were operating in his area of expertise as a textile machinery engineer and he scored a job.
After all the paperwork was completed they set sail in 1969 with their three small children. The Suez Canal was shut at the time, so they sailed via the Cape of Good Hope and six weeks later arrived in Melbourne. Inge said she never want to sail on a ship again.
Lutz started with his new employer almost immediately.
After a short time they built a house in outer Melbourne. Their kids went to school there and Lutz bought a car to commute to and from work.
“It was a Holden,” he confessed. “But don’t tell anyone!”
Inge said with a smile: “We’ve never looked back since coming here. “We’ve had a wonderful life, it certainly has been a great adventure and we’ve enjoyed every moment of our 45 years in Australia.”