Beaten Up But Not Beaten Down - Mercedes-Benz E320 Estate

Blog Feature

Not every project starts pristine or even how we expected it to. This story involves three different Mercedes-Benz vehicles, three different engines, and a whole lot of work.

Many times, when magazines and blogs feature a car, we only see the end result of the build. Often times, we don't get to see the work in progress unless the car is a project build that's being documented for the magazine or website.

Even then, many car builders work with sponsors to assist them in sourcing parts or labor for the build. This is precisely why we decided to shine a light on this 2000 Mercedes-Benz E320 wagon owned by Abraham Kinghorn.

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We usually try to shoot photos of cars from only the best angles to show off the best sides of the car. Abraham admitted, "it's not pretty from all angles. There are some portions of the car that are a bit beaten up."

This isn't normally the type of description we might assign to one of our feature vehicles, but it was Abraham's story that piqued our interest. When he told us his story of how he built up this E320, we knew we just had to share it.

To start, we must begin with a different car entirely.

Abraham began his project with a Mercedes S210 that had 86,000 miles on its odometer and also had a salvage title. As Abraham recalled the start of his project, he explained, "It was a fully Lorinser kitted 1998 E320 Wagon. At first, I thought it would not be a bad platform to build on, but upon further inspection when I got it home, the condition of the entire front end was one of the worst I had ever seen."

Zip ties, duct tape, and wood screws were holding the front end together while torch marks show the back-alley surgery of a frame repair the previous owner had done to it. He learned the hard lesson on why this salvage-titled S210 had such a low price.

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Since the car was in worse condition than he originally thought, he tore the car down, selling some of the parts to recoup the money he initially spent.

He kept the engine and Lorinser body kit and ended up buying a second E320 wagon - the car you see here. The original salvaged E320 engine had fewer miles on it, so in theory, it should have been a great engine that wasn't beat to hell. Although he had only performed an engine swap once before, Abraham decided to swap the engine from the salvaged E320 into his new body shell. It all sounded so good in theory, so he resealed and installed new gaskets and installed the engine into this wagon.

Soon thereafter, the engine started idling worse, and a few weeks after that, he found out why. "It turned out that the previous owner ran the car hot and boiled the head gasket," said Abraham. "Unfortunately, his fix was a 'pourable' head gasket solution from a local auto parts store." The head gasket solution eventually broke down and seeped its way into the cooling system, which resulted in compression lost in two cylinders.

"Broke and now angered," he continued, "I felt inclined just to sell the car and drop the whole process." Who could blame him? He decided not to sell the car after all. Instead, he decided to temporarily swap in another used engine and began to enjoy driving the wagon again. 

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If you're not into wagons, you're probably wondering why he spent so much time and effort on it? Why not just get an SUV if you want to stretch your legs out? "Oddly enough," Abraham said, "growing up, I wanted two vehicles - a Crown Victoria done up proper and an S210 Mercedes Wagon. I remember drawing them in class in 7th grade and having my friends think I was weird."

"I built this car because it is such a utilitarian vehicle," he replied when asked about the direction of this wagon build. "I love it because it's a seven-seater Mercedes-Benz, with the largest interior cubic capacity in its class. It's larger than most SUVs while still retaining better gas mileage, more horsepower than most vehicles on the road... and it even has a roof rack!" Hey, if you're not going off-road, why get something like an SUV when you just need more space and practicality, right?

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While the seats are standard E320, the steering wheel is an Avantgarde wooden wheel with an AMG airbag. His reasoning? "They never made the E55 AMG Wagon available in the USA," Abraham replied, "You must source OEM AMG parts from outside of North America."

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The wheels are a set that any Mercedes sedan builder would die for - the Lorinser LM1 made by Ronal. The front wheels are 19x9 with a +44 offset but have a 20mm spacer to push them out more aggressively. The rear also features a 20mm spacer but on a 19x10 +40 wheel. The tires are Continental's ExtremeContact Sport in 215/35R19 front and 245/35R19 rear. Inside those wheels are a set of AMG brake calipers with matching rotors.

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"It's in a class of its own," says Abraham, "topped off with air suspension and an AMG V8 for the icing on the cake. It's weird, it's quirky, but it's obviously unique and blatantly eye-catching."

Yes, you read that correctly. Abraham eventually got rid of his second engine in the E320 so he could swap in his dream engine, an AMG V8, which was sourced out of an E55 parts car that he purchased very inexpensively.

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He bought the entire E55 AMG parts car for only $1200 and even drove it for a few months before ripping both cars apart and swapping over all of the AMG parts to his E320 wagon make the swap work.

The entire process was admittedly time-consuming. It took Abraham over a month to complete the engine swap because he had to transfer more than just the engine, but he still ended up doing everything himself. At 20 years old, he completed a swap most people wouldn't even consider due to the complexity, cost, and time. The result is an engine that looks like it could have been there from the start.

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Since the salvaged car he originally purchased came with a Lorinser body kit and exhaust, he decided to use the exhaust on his project wagon. It certainly made the awesome M113 AMG V8 from the E55 parts car sound even better.

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To ensure a proper stance, Airlift airbags are used with AMG-specification Bilstein shocks in the front. In the rear, Abraham found a set of used Bilstein shocks for a Ford Ranger to use with his air setup. The E320 wagon also has a set of AMG sway bars, front and rear subframes, and everything else he swapped over from the donor E55 AMG.

The entire exterior uses the Lorinser body kit from the first salvaged E320 wagon he bought. Lorinser's aero package includes a front lip spoiler, side skirts, front and rear bumpers, and a rear hatch spoiler.

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The Lorinser rear hatch wing is a nice addition to the kit, as it makes the long roof look a bit more sporty.

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"Fast-forward to today," says Abraham, "at 7 months and 14-thousand-miles later, the car is still a dream. I'm proud to be able to say I did it all myself without help, in my garage on weekdays after work. I spent weekends trapped in the garage, slaving away on it, and it all finally paid off."

A true testament of staying with a project and not throwing it all away - that is the lesson you can learn from Abraham and his E320 wagon. It might be rough around the edges, but it has a beauty that you can only see when you learn more about it. Too many car owners we see today are afraid to work on their own cars and would rather pay a shop or let an issue hinder the build.

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His closing remarks say it best, "No matter your age, no matter your ability, no matter your background, if you're into cars and you find it an amusing passion, don't just watch or drive. Work on your own car. Put your hands all over it, and don't be afraid to mess things up. Break a thing or two, it'll help you in the long run with being able to understand the car. Knowing how to work on it will increase your overall engineering ability."

More importantly, if you're in the same spot Abraham was in when he noticed all the problems of the salvaged car, and when his engine took a dive, don't give up. Stick it out. Not every project will go smoothly. That's why they are projects and are meant for the long run. Step back, take a breather, and remember what Abraham was able to do with this E320, overcoming all obstacles in his way.

Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia 

If you like this E320 Estate, you can find additional Mercedes-Benz content at mercedes.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.

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