Hate being the center of attention? If you like old cars but dislike being stared at, a Mercedes-Benz 240D isn't a bad choice. No one will ever see you because no one will ever look. A Westinghouse white, Diesel-powered Mercedes 240D is a rolling Roofie-it will roll by and you won't remember a damned thing. I mean, look at it-upright lines, lots of chrome, the standup hood ornament, ribbed taillights, color-keyed hubcaps, 14-inch steel wheels, and what's this...whitewall tires? While it's a 40-year-old car, it still renders itself anonymous on the road, which is exactly the point of a sleeper. You never see it coming.
Pop that hood-yes, the grille is attached, so watch your head-and discover a Toyota 2JZ VVTi, liberated from a JDM Aristo, with a single-turbo conversion and pumping out 400 hp. That's roughly five times what the original Diesel cranker put out back in the day. What the hell?!
We posed this very question to Bill Peron of Leesburg, Pennsylvania-the man who built this particular Merc for Rob Bailey, owner of the Flag Nor Fail clothing line, Warhouse Gym, and Speedwarhouse, the shop where this car came to fruition. "Rob likes old, quirky cars and doing things that are out of the ordinary," Bill tells us. This brick, purchased somewhere in darkest New Jersey, ran when Rob bought it; he drove it two hours home.
2JZ motivation took place simply because Bill is comfortable playing around with those engines: "We're big Toyota fans at the shop; we love the 2JZ because of its capability and its reliability. We've got five Supras, three IS300s, some other 2JZ swaps into other vehicles. This engine was a VVTi 2JZ that came from a JDM Aristo. Usually I'd pull the head and inspect everything, but the goal was an easily attainable 400 hp. We wanted to do it on a budget, and not opening the engine was cheaper." Most of the power gain comes from the conversion to a single Borg-Warner S366 T4 turbo in place of the factory twin-turbo setup, and the associated fuel delivery mods (bigger fuel pumps and injectors, endless computer mapping) needed to feed it.
Usually rear-drive engine bays that accommodate four-cylinder engines are wide enough to drop in a V-8, but thanks to Mercedes' variety of available engines, including a straight-six, there was enough room for the 2JZ to live. Mostly. "There was a good amount of fabrication to get the engine and trans to fit," Bill says. "The 2JZ was a little taller than the original diesel engine, so I cut, re-welded, and reinforced the factory subframe to accommodate. I also made the motor and trans mounts that both bolt to the factory locations. I didn't have to modify the radiator support or anything, though I used a smaller Honda radiator for a tidy look. I did mount the intercooler as far forward as possible; it literally touches the grille when the hood closes." There isn't even an exhaust tip peeking out under the rear valance: "We're running an open downpipe and 3-inch exhaust that dumps out halfway underneath the car," Bill explains. "The sound kind of gives things away, but man, the 2JZ just sounds really great with no mufflers."
Wiring wasn't quite done from scratch, but it might as well have been, considering the time Bill took to integrate a custom Wiring Specialties pro engine harness into the Merc's factory wiring. "The amount of wiring this 40-year-old car had was really surprising, and integrating the harnesses was quite a bit of work," he tells us. "We moved the fuse box. It was in the engine bay, but now it's under the dash. But everything works; the power sunroof goes all the way back, and we could retain all of the functions except air conditioning, and this car didn't come with factory air conditioning anyway."
Rather than the Toyota-co-developed Getrag 233 six-speed that this car would have come with, and with the original Mercedes automatic out of the car, Bill only had to cut the trans tunnel to clear the five-speed W58's shifter. The shift boot lives where the original factory PRNDL shifter lived for 40 years. The front of Mercedes' two-piece driveshaft was removed, replaced with a length of Toyota driveshaft, then collared and welded into a single piece. It's the transmission that limits Bill's ability to stir in more power, and we would be remiss if we didn't underscore that the open 3.69 gear in the largely untouched factory rear is taking nearly quadruple the torque it handled from the factory. Mercedes chassis are legendarily overbuilt, but even this might be pushing things. "Power, reliability, and cost play a big part in what we do here. We just wanted to make it fun-not go over the top."
Part of the aesthetic was an antiseptic engine bay that looked as if it could have come from the factory that way-yet was unnaturally clean and free of foofaraw. "We spent a lot of time on the engine bay-shaving things, filling in a number of holes, painting it to match the body," Bill says. "We didn't fill or smooth everything in there; an over-shaved engine bay can be too much, and putting smooth plates over things makes it look unrealistic. We wanted to make it look brand new and original; I call it a 'functional shave.'" Bill credits pal Mike Perez with making things look as good as they do. "He's helped me paint other cars, too. We do everything in-house, but we can always use the expertise." The engine itself-including the block, turbo, and all of the plumbing-was painted black, though the cam cover matches both the engine bay and the interior. It's another move that eschews bling yet is visually striking and demands that you know what you're looking at in order to appreciate what's going on here.
The factory suspension-all independent, with coil springs and antiroll bars at all corners-was largely scrapped in favor of a home-brewed airbag setup using a variety of pieces rather than adapting Mercedes' own airbags, as seen on the 450SEL 6.9 and other grosser Benz models. "We were just winging it, since no one offers a kit. Someone in Germany had posted a DIY airbag setup on a website, so we pulled some info from there. We're using Slam Specialties bags front and rear with a generic tank and two pumps."
For something with no real blueprint, the Merc was completed in haste: just 15 weeks from running 240D to running 240D with a 2JZ swap. Bill concluded, "Yeah, I don't sleep much. We're all really busy people and I know that Rob rarely has time to screw around. Friday lunch is our time to catch up with each other and to enjoy our projects. Right now, this is our Friday lunch cruiser; we usually take it to the Chinese lunch buffet." And if some kid with a ride full of bling gets punked by Grandpa's car, with driver and passengers alike cackling like looks, well, so be it.
That's the other thing about roofies. Much like this sleeper Mercedes-Benz 240D, they really knock you out.
What the hell is this thing?
Think of it as a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry for Germany, embracing the solidly middle-class values of the day, and you're not far off. Mercedes' W114/W115 chassis, launched in '68 and ending production in '75, measures to within a couple of inches of a Toyota Cressida in just about all dimensions (the Merc is a little bigger and longer). It was not only mechanically sorted by engineers, but seemingly styled by them as well, their stylists clinging to their T-squares for dear life. Actually, that's not true: History tells us that Paul Bracq penned this and the majority of Mercedes' '60s and '70s output. Still, you'd think that for a car costing north of 10 grand (in '74 money), you'd get something a tad more stylish than this, but the enginerds in Sindelfingen were far more interested in solid build quality, passive safety, driver comfort, and outright efficiency than they were with what the exterior looked like. Some will call it clean, classic, and timeless; others will wonder what the fuss is about.
Outright performance wasn't a priority, either: A variety of four-, five- and six-cylinder gas and diesel engines were available in the W114/W115, but this particular example was born with the four-cylinder diesel engine. A stock '74 240D offered less than 65 hp for a 3,500-pound car, with the quarter-mile drag taking a glacial 21 seconds. (Granted, there was a gas crisis in 1974, when the Middle East turned off the oil spigots and gas prices trebled seemingly overnight, and the 240D's trade-off was a car that got the best fuel mileage this side of a Datsun B-210. Forgive them their trespasses.)
At the same time, it upheld a standard that few cars were willing to meet at the time. Most models came standard with fuel injection; American and Japanese carmakers only had fuel injection across the board starting in the '80s. The all-independent, coil-sprung suspension had antiroll bars at both ends. Four-wheel disc brakes were hardly advanced then, but even today, some cars still stop with drums on the back. Even radial tires were a big deal when the W114/W115 launched in the late '60s. It was a far cry from the luxury sleds like Cadillacs and Lincolns that dominated America's highways at the time. Car and Driver praised the W114/W115 thusly: "[The suspension] allows the car to rush across bombed-out New York City streets as though they were freshly paved. The control of body roll and wheel motion is thickly damped; the cornering grip is tenacious and well composed with a gradual increase in understeer to signal the traction limit. [The Mercedes] is a complete and proficient machine that only needs a driver."
Mercedes sold 1.85 million versions of the sedan worldwide over eight selling seasons. Their reputation for reliability and solidity won them favor worldwide and helped solidify Mercedes' reputation for building pretty terrific cars that didn't necessarily break the bank (home-market pricing was considerably cheaper than what the company asked of its international clientele). The high buy-in price was offset by the idea that these would last forever; plenty of those 1.85 million W114/W115s still exist and very few of them are fast, which is surely part of the reason why the sedans (gas or diesel-powered) generally don't approach 10 grand (in '15 money) in the value guides.