Mercedes 190 SL Restoration

As I was growing up a friend of the family bought a Mercedes 190 SL that was bright red and would carve up the country roads of Cape Cod for decades.  Sometimes being driven topless by the owner and sometimes being driven by one of the children.  Over the years it continued to slowly succumb to the elements, the years, and living next to the Atlantic ocean.

The owner would sometimes ask me about how it could be restored and repaired.  I knew it would not be a trivial process and so I would talk about the realities of a full restoration in terms of both time and money.  Key to a meaningful restoration of any car is that it be done by competent and experienced hands.

A couple of month ago the owner notified me that he and his wife had decided to take the plunge and get their original 190 SL fully restored.  They had first searched around New England for a competent business, but were directed to seek out Bruce Adams in Aberdeen, NC.

They took a visit to the facilities and opted to ship their 190 SL to Aberdeen where it was evaluated.  The assessment of the car was shared with them, along with the projected costs and timeline, and after taking a deep breath, they gave the go-ahead to proceed.

Since the shop is about an hour away, we decided to take a day-trip and check out the progress on the car as well as get a tour of the facilities.  We called Bruce Adams ahead of time and he welcomed our visit.  He met us upon our arrival and led us into his shop. 

Bruce has been doing restorations on Mercedes and the 190 SL in particular for well over 40 years.  His shop and staff are basically in the business of completely dismantling and then rebuilding these special cars.



Each customer car is dismantled and all its parts are kept in its own storage area.


Not only the unitized body, but every component will be cleaned, rebuilt and refurbished.  Each engine and drivetrain is rebuilt.  Almost all work is done in house with the exception of re-chroming and cooling/heating systems. 

Our friend’s 190 SL will require extensive rebuilding of the unibody frame as well as some of the body panels.


Some of the replacements are fabricated in the shop and others of the more complex pieces are sourced.  The grey section above was the last piece of its type available and was sourced from Germany.


The above example shows just how involved a restoration can be.  It is a challenge that Bruce’s staff can handle, but it takes many hours of exceptionally experienced hands to accomplish.


Every body goes not only goes through complete disassembly, but also media blasting, initial primer coat, and many iterations of careful and complete sanding in order to get it prepared for initial painting.



Sanding and more sanding to prepare it for the first coats of base color followed by three coats of clear.  Then more sanding and more clear coats.  The end result is paint that looks as if you could dive into it.



The colors are matched to the factory colors.


There was a car at the facility that had been restored several years ago and was now up for sale by the owners.  I took a photo of it because it represents how our friends 190 SL will look when it is completed in perhaps another 12 months or so.


Bruce took us over to another area where the final finish work is done.  Here were examples of 190 SL’s that were in the final phase of completion.




Care is taken to improve these cars in ways that will not detract from the originality while ensuring that ownership remains trouble free.

An electric fuel pump is wired in to the choke so it is activated to prime the fuel system rather than straining the mechanical pump on initial start up.


The front anti-roll bar is increased in diameter from 18mm to 25mm.


The battery looks like a lead-acid style right from the 1960’s, but is actually a modern sealed unit in disguise.  The distributor is converted from points and condenser with advance weights and springs to a unit that looks the same but is all electronic.


The air filter has a K&N custom element installed that replaces the inefficient original air cleaner element.


Bruce and all his staff are dedicated to the work they do.  I was introduced to them all and it was clear that every one of them loved their work and the challenges of restoration.  We enjoyed the visit and feel we not only received the tour of our lives, but have made some great new friends.


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7 Responses to Mercedes 190 SL Restoration

  1. Noel Ward says:

    It’s always inspiring to see a full restoration of a car, especially a classic. There’s a place in Essex, MA called Gullwing Service Company that does many older classics, also Paul Russell & Co., which is affiliated with Gullwing.

  2. Walter M says:

    What a beautiful restoration!!! I am just north of San Francisco and my 91 yr old mother still has the 1961 MB 190SL that her and my father purchased in Germany in 1963.
    I am wanting to find the right person to restore this beautiful car for my mom! I think it is something she would really enjoy in her last great years of life!
    Any good ideas on great mechanic in my area?
    Walt M.
    Santa Rosa, CA

  3. jimsgarage says:

    Walt – Finding the right restorer of these classic beauties is not a trivial task. Honestly there is none better than Bruce Adams. I realize that would mean shipping the car to the east coast, but if you wish such a restoration to be done correctly…
    Be sure to click on Bruce Adams at the top of this blog entry as it will take you to his business site and that will provide you with contact information and more on his shop and process. He is known in many circles, even Jay Leno knows him.
    I imagine that spending its life on the west coast was far easier on your mother’s MB than on the one I knew from Cape Cod. If it doesn’t require a full restoration then Bruce might be able to recommend someone out your way.
    In any case, it sounds like you have a wonderful car that deserves preservation, if not restoration, and would certainly be worth getting it back to the condition of its youth!


  4. Jon reiter says:

    I also live in the Santa Rosa California area and have been trying to find someone to help us restore our 1961, 190sl. I notice that the link to Bruce doesn’t work any longer and I heard he’s out of the business. Is this true?
    I’d be nice to get in touch with Walter M if you have contact info. Thanks for the nice article! Well done and very helpful! Jon Reiter, Kenwood, Ca

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