A MERCEDES FAN IS TAKING HIS 1964 220S ECB TO THIS YEAR’S RALLY OF THE INCAS
Gary Boyce is a Mercedes nut with a preference for two-door coupes and convertibles, many in a condition so pristine it’s hard to believe they’ve ever turned a wheel. But parked among them is a car that’s very much there to be driven, and driven to extremes. For his 1964 Mercedes 220S ECb is entered in this year’s Rally of the Incas.
Ordered new by an elderly gent from Wellington to US specifications to ensure imperial instruments and left-hand drive, it has European headlights as he collected it in Germany, stayed in Europe for a year and shipped it back to New Zealand. But realising he wasn’t comfy driving a LHD car on the left, he covered very little mileage before he sold it.
Boyce had bought his first Mercedes in the 1980s, and this was his first “toy” car, acquired in 1994. He entered it in club events and rallies, because it’s comfy, “and my wife doesn’t like too much wind in her hair”.
Boyce has literally been all over the country in it, and even broken down in it — most notably between Haast and Jackson’s Bay.
“It was running on five cylinders, so I collapsed a piston and drove it back to Auckland. It took two litres of oil to get to Jacksons, and 12 to get back...”
Mercedes nut Gary Boyce with his 1964 Mercedes-Benz 220S.
In 2005, the car got a birthday with a rebuild for the 2.2-litre in-line six-cylinder engine and a complete bare-metal repaint, and every piece of rubber changed to make it watertight, before it was shipped to Europe.
For two consecutive summers Boyce and his wife flew over and drove it in events in the UK, Germany — including a few laps of the Nurburgring, Austria and northern Italy, sometimes with friends. “It’s big enough for four, and luggage.”
It certainly should be. The platform was shared with the four-door finback but completely restyled by Paul Bracq, “not one panel is the same as the four-door it was based on”.
This car boasted cutting-edge tech back then, with four-wheel disc brakes, four-wheel independent suspension, window washers with two-speed wipers, dual-side heating.
“The specification for the time was way, way up there,” and it was deemed to be, Bracq says, “the last of the hand-built cars”.
You’d think he’d want to cosset such a thoroughbred, but no. Preparation for the Rally of the Incas is well under way.
The car will tackle 9677km over 23 days of driving during the 27-day rally, starting in Buenos Aires and heading to Patagonia, across into Chile, north into the desert and then across the low Andes. Back into Argentina and pointing north, climbing steadily, it’ll cross the high Andes — and it’ll have to run faultlessly at 4511m (787m higher than Mt Cook’s peak) — before finishing in Lima, Peru.
It’s a regularity rally, with race-track, gravel-road and transport sections, and if my notes are correct, each team is given a handicap ‘factor’. You multiply the stage length by your factor to get the time you must complete the stage in, timed to tenths of a second, and you then calculate the average speed you need to achieve that, on strange roads in challenging conditions.
I suggest pushing the pace, then stopping short of the line, stop-watch out. But there are hidden checkpoints, a ban on stopping within 100 metres of the finish, and an in-car transponder ...
He’ll also have to maintain the Merc and keep it going, “over some pretty tortuous terrain”, so Boyce has been prepping the car for the trip, lifting the under-hood horns, installing straps round the engine to help hold it in place in case of “an off”, rebuilding the brakes, bolting on new suspension and springs to cope with rough roads and increase ground clearance, connecting a Terratrip and fitting larger wheels with commercial eight-ply tyres.
Jobs still to do include fitment of sump and fuel-tank guards, and packing the spare starter motors, alternators, shocks, fan belts, fluids, brake cylinder kits... Many of the spares come from old engines, the fuel pump is new, but the original is his spare.
Climbing aboard, I spotted one more adaptation — the rear seat squab has gone so the four-point harness belts can go in, and be removed later without leaving a visible trace.
Otherwise the car is standard, right down to the old radio, the original red-leather upholstery and the beautifully refurbished wood. It’s 52 years old, yet can be used as a capacious and comfortable daily car.
“This car was built as a grand tourer, and you can cruise at 140km/h average on the autobahn for hour after hour.” But maybe not today — the new tyres are causing an odd harmonic Boyce is certain will be fixed by a slight pressure alteration.
Luckily he’s using the car a lot in the lead-up to the rally to be sure everything is working as it should.