This Mercedes has had a long journey back to roadworthy status after being overlooked for years. Love it or not, it’s not an AMG; it’s an… OMG
Words & photography: Steve Edwards
Steve Cooper bought this Mercedes Benz 300CE on eBay, back in 2001 when he was searching for a cool daily driver. The car was the rare manual version, and had been lowered a little with shorter AMG springs, and was wearing a body kit from the same source, both of which were fitted at the factory, which made it an attractive proposition for a car guy with an eye for a bargain.
The 3.0 fuel injected straight six was quite sprightly, with 180hp on tap, allowing it to reach 60mph in eight seconds. That was until Steve had his head turned by a very naughty red 1991 Pontiac Firebird, which took over the daily duties, and unfortunately the Merc got left on the sidelines for several years. Other cars came and went but Steve always had a fondness for this car and so, even though it was suffering the rigours of neglect, he never felt that he wanted to sell it on.
The time came when the planets aligned, to snatch the Merc from the jaws of the impending scrapyard crusher. Steve approached a couple of people who informed him that the car was too far gone, and he should find another project with less tin worm. To be fair it wasn’t just a bit of rust that put people off; it was the distinct lack of floor pan, inner wings, boot floor, quarter panels and sills that had completely dissolved over time, that made them think it was an insurmountable task.
Steve then approached John Shipwash, who he’d known for a while as they attended the same car meets. John is well known in Kent and the South East as his 1972 Mini Clubman does stand out a little – it could be the bright yellow paint job, or the Cosworth V6 that features twin turbos and six throttle bodies, or perhaps it’s the handmade steel wide body that John built himself. Whatever makes John’s Mini unique, Steve knew he was the man for the job and, after an initial inspection, John accepted the challenge that others had declined. He took on the job with the sketchiest of briefs: the car had to feature one of John’s hand crafted steel wide bodies, and it had to be orange.
John has all the tools and equipment to rival a professional set-up, but he has never studied any formal engineering qualifications; instead, he preferred to learn by doing. He was a HGV driver by trade, but had always been interested in anything mechanical. The Merc was systematically stripped of everything that would not be used in its new incarnation, included the four buckets seats that had been installed, the air-conditioning and in-car audio system.
The standard wheels were also dispensed with – the guys had hoped to replace them with some cool split-rim alloys, but sadly they were far too expensive to be an option and so an alternative was sought. The only rims with the required offset came from an unlikely source: the space-saver spare designed for an Audi R8. Steve bought five brand new items off eBay as, of course, a spare would be required, and dispatched them to Steve Fethers at Banded Wheels Essex (find them on Facebook).
Steve has been banding wheels for quite some time, and his old workshop was featured on an episode of Wheelers Dealers, where Steve’s expertise was used on a set of wheels they put on an old Splitty. Despite being in business for years, he’d never had a request like the one he received for this build. John knew he wanted to put a wide body kit on the Merc, and used the German DTM Touring Car Series as his inspiration. Of course, a wide body meant wide tyres, especially at the back, and the ones sourced are more commonly found at the ass end of a Porsche 997 or Lamborghini Aventador. With the tyre size chosen, Mr Fethers then began the arduous task of fabricating the widest set of banded steels he has ever constructed, which ended up being an mammoth 11J at the rear and a more conservative (by comparison) 9J at the front.
While this was going on in Essex, over the water in Kent, John was busy fabricating the one-off body – you can’t really call it a kit, as it’s all made of steel and welded into place. He had started by free-styling the offside front wing, which was constructed by adding no fewer than 10 pieces of steel that had been beaten into submission to get the look that was required. Once he was happy with that side, he set about making cardboard templates to make sure the opposite side matched perfectly. It won’t be a surprise to find out that John likes symmetry, and is a little OCD about it, which is why there are two towing eyes front and back with matching decals. He was a little upset to have to add a fog light for the MOT, but overcame the imbalance by placing a single LED unit in the centre of the rear panel.
That rear end has been custom built to house the twin sets of truck lights, that rear wing with its custom supports, a dummy fuel cap and that mental diffuser. It’s all metal there, too; John doesn’t like to work with fibreglass. The front splitter was formed from two pieces of a pallet that were cut to fit, shaped, wrapped in ali and sprayed in KTM Orange to the match the rest of the car. Ben at BH Bodycraft (bhbodycraft.co.uk) in Canterbury took care of laying down the two-pack paint, while John swathed the wheels in a gloss black. Luke at Heron Workwear & Graphics (heronworkwear.co.uk) was tasked to cut and painstakingly apply the race-styled graphics. Kent Waterjet Cutting Ltd (kentwaterjet.co.uk) were commissioned to make the three pointed star emblems for the wheels, which were painted to match the car, and were also asked to cut the cool wing brackets too.
The race inspiration has spread to the interior, too, with none of the original equipment making it back into the car; instead, a pair of appropriately coloured bucket seats were spotted on eBay, as was the steering wheel. The dash has been replaced with sheet steel, with just the essential gauges plus a monster tachometer with shift light. The rear seat area now houses the only space saver bought not to be banded, as it will fulfil its intended purpose should the need arise, while in the boot there is a race-spec foam filled fuel tank.
Mercedes never fielded a 300CE as part of its touring car line-up, but if they had, it would have probably looked like this. One thing is for sure, if they had it would have been constructed in a surgically sterile environment, whereas this build was carried out in a temporary structure in John’s garden and on a very small budget too – a little over £3k. Love it or hate it, it certainly can’t be ignored, and this once-wannabe AMG has definitely made the transition to OMG.
1989 Mercedes Benz 300 CE
- Colour: KTM Orange
- Engine: 3.0 Straight Six
- BHP: 180hp
- Wheels: Audi R8 space-savers, banded to 9″ front, 11″ rear
- Tyres: 265/30R19 front, 305/30R19 rear
- Suspension: Stock but with AMG lowering springs.
Thanks to: Matt Rogers at Buckmore Park Kart Circuit (buckmore.co.uk) for allowing us to shoot on their 1000m international circuit.