Lê Phúc is a car enthusiast from Biên Hoà. He said he used to restore vintage BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars. Because he collects beautiful cars, it didn’t take much time and effort to restore them at first. The main job was repainting, redoing the interior, and upgrading the rims.

Phúc shared that he has a special love for vintage Mercedes-Benz cars. “I really love the 198x Mercedes because it was a stepping stone to transition to more modern models. Since then, the cars have had all the modern technology like ABS and Cruise Control,” he said.

“I fell in love with Mercedes initially because of its solid and cold design. Gradually, after driving it, I realized it also had a solid driving feel. Holding the steering wheel of a Mercedes, I can confidently turn corners. Moreover, Mercedes cars are very durable if taken care of properly,” Phúc added.

Trading his beloved car for a wrecked Mercedes out of passion and admiration.

After researching vintage Mercedes-Benz cars, Phúc started to dig deeper and found that the W201 series stood out the most. Furthermore, his idol, F1 racer Ayrton Senna, was associated with the image of the Mercedes-Benz 190E W201, which fueled his passion. Ayrton Senna used this series in his first racing competition to establish his name.

“I was surprised to find that there were many 190Es in Vietnam. However, finding a good one was really difficult as most of them were already sold. Eventually, I found one in Cần Thơ, but it was in a wrecked condition,” Phúc shared.

The journey to finding his dream car became even more challenging when Phúc had to trade his first love, a Lada Niva 1600, for the wrecked Mercedes-Benz 190E.

“I invested a lot of effort into the Niva just to get a wrecked Mercedes in return,” Phúc said.

Restoring the wrecked car

The 1988 Mercedes-Benz 190E, code-named W201, was initially in a complete electrical and interior distress. The power windows and control panel were made of paper, causing dampness and mold. These were the most expensive things to fix in the classic car market. Therefore, Phúc had to rework them entirely.

Phúc also mentioned that the engine was still in good condition. He took the opportunity to fine-tune many details. The transmission was replaced, and the engine mounts and shock absorbers were restored. Thanks to the German car technology and the low mileage of the car, the suspension was still solid. After the restoration, Phúc noted that the steering was tight and there was no wobble when turning at high speeds. The engine of this car is a 4-cylinder, 2.3-liter engine, M102 code. The power output is around 90 horsepower.

The entire body and interior were disassembled. The body was repainted, and the interior was revamped. The leather seats were redone, and the car now has a leather floor mat. Details like plastic parts or lights can be restored to look like new. Additionally, the car has been upgraded with a new Evo-style body kit and BBS multi-spoke wheels.

Phúc said it took about a year to restore the car. The most time-consuming part was fabricating and fitting the body kit and rebuilding the engine.

The struggles and lessons of a non-professional restorer

Phúc shared that the most memorable memory was the process of making the body kit. Initially, his craftsmen made the body kit using composite materials and plasterboard, but it was not professionally done and resulted in uneven hardness. Moreover, this material made the body kit very heavy. After all the effort and time spent on building the body kit, Phúc had to discard it.

Then, Phúc realized the mistake and made the body kit out of lightweight and durable steel. Now, the body kit is perfect. Through this bitter experience, he learned to approach car modifications more professionally.

“I realized how skillful copper craftsmen are through this experience,” Phúc commented after his car was completed.

Phúc’s 1988 Mercedes-Benz 190E is now fully restored and operational. Phúc plans to restore another Japanese car in the near future. A new project he has been dreaming of. The car is already there, and it’s time to start executing.

Photo: Lê Phúc