17 June 2013

Old-fashioned Summer Vacation: The night the lights went out in Georgia

When we last left the Suddard clan, Classic Motorsports magazine Publisher Tim Suddard and his family were getting ready to take a 3,500-mile trip in their 47-year-old Mercedes to visit us at Hagerty headquarters.

They ran into trouble literally as soon as they left their driveway. Right off the bat, they realized that although they had ride-tested the car with what should have been enough weight to simulate luggage, they had miscalculated. The car was so low in the rear, the exhaust was actually dragging over bumps. So the first leg of the trip was a three-block journey before they returned home to jettison all nonessential items and redistribute the weight of the luggage.

Of course, the tools and spares were the first to go, as they were the heaviest.

After that, these Hagerty customers headed out into the Okefenokee Swamp. Tim Suddard, the car’s owner, says he figured it like this: “What could possibly go wrong? This is a Mercedes and we sorted out everything before we left. We won’t need tools and spares.”

Wrong. As darkness fell, the Mercedes cranked along with the driving lights on, the air conditioning blowing cold and the stereo cranking out some sweet tunes. The trip through the swamp seemed to be going great… until the lights started to dim. The newly rebuilt stock alternator was either not keeping up with the demands of all the equipment that had been added to the car—or it was failing.

Alternating between steadily dimming low beams and a very bright SureFire flashlight (with the lights off to allow the battery to recharge), our intrepid travelers made it to their first stop of the night very late, stressed and tired. Driving through the wilds of southern Georgia on a moonless night lit only with parking lights and a flashlight will do that to you.

A quick check of the ignition switch at that stop confirmed their worst fears: The car would not restart. So the weary family trudged into the hotel hoping that after a good, if short, night’s sleep, things would look better in the morning.

Things looked the same in the morning. The car would not restart, so a short walk brought them to a K-Mart, where they purchased a battery and some tools. In short order, the fresh battery got the Suddards back on the road. Although nothing was really fixed, they knew that during daylight hours, an old car uses very little electricity with all the accessories off, and the family hoped to limp to a friend’s Mercedes restoration shop a few hours away to address the underlying problems.

That friend, an old racing buddy of the senior Suddard, is Pieter van Rossum, owner of Silver Star Restorations (http://www.silverstarrestorations.com/) in western North Carolina. He and fellow “fintail” Mercedes enthusiast Drew Thibken tried to locate the problem, but were forced to settle for giving the Suddards some piece of mind in the form of a spare alternator and voltage regulator. With daylight burning, the family clambered back in their Merc and headed north through the smoky Mountains, eager for less adventure.

Hagerty customers can get more details on the Classic Motorsports project Mercedes by clicking on www.classicmotorsports.net/try to receive the next issue at no charge.

2 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Stan Womble Thomasville GA June 19, 2013 at 18:17
    We would have loved for Tim and his family have come over to Thomasville in southwest GA and spent some time. We have a great local shop that specializes in Mercedes and BMW's and the repairs could have been done here and saved worrying about getting up to the Smokies and had time to enjoy their trip. Maybe next time try coming through Southwest Ga until then enjoy the Classic cars.
  • 2
    David SF Bay area, California June 19, 2013 at 19:32
    Heck, you don't need a classic to have the same experience. Our 2001 Subaru Outback wagon must have been 5 years old when we set out for Yellowstone Park. Coming into Elko Nevada the charge light came on and stayed on. Made it to town and got a motel for the night. No Subaru dealers. In the morning, a Sunday, the car started and the charge light stayed off but to be safe (I thought) I bought a new battery. Both part stores said it would take at least 2 days to get a replacement alternator. 2 Mistakes: Should have bought the battery the night before, had them charge both old and new batteries overnight, and kept the old battery. Maybe 20 miles north of Elko the charge light came on again. Stopped to pull the fuse on the DRLs and with AC, fan, & radio off we kept going until the dash display went dark. Switched off and coasted, stopping near a small road sign that cast a shadow. NO CELL reception so we flagged down a ride for my wife and son who called AAA from the first service area only to find that we were our of their service area. Not to worry, they would reimburse us for all towing costs. After sitting in the shadow of the sign for 1-2 hrs a crew cab pick up with a trailer goes by and pulls a U-turn and loads us up. The driver took us to a motel in Twin Falls Idaho, the closest city with a Subaru dealer, waited while we unloaded the suitcases we needed for the motel, then took me to the Subaru dealership to drop the car and then back to the motel. Gave the driver a nice tip (not reimbursed by AAA). Called the dealership first thing on Monday morning and got them working on it. They told me I had no idea how lucky it was that they had the correct replacement alternator as the 2001 had different apparently non-interchangeable models and mine was the rare one. Close to $400 for a rebuilt alternator plus a new serp belt as the 2nd time the alternator stopped it must have frozen a bearing, and we were on our way before noon on Monday. Next trip to Yellowstone I'll consider taking the Tatra and see if its generator holds up. ;-)

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