From the scrap heap to the Highlands!

The story of Hua Ying's labour of love.
Labman culture 20 min read

Katie SimpsonPublished 4th Oct 2022

Labman’s Robotics Engineer Hua Ying Baker has spent the last ten months restoring an old W202 Mercedes-Benz (first generation) C-Class back to a driving state. His project was made possible with the help of the kind people of Labman, the use of metal working equipment, knowledge, and general use of the facilities (not to mention leaving it in a colleague’s garage for two months on a lift - thanks Ed).

Once restored back to a non-scary driving state, the vehicle was taken on the ultimate Scottish road trip, the NC500 and Hua Ying tells us all about it.

After getting over the immediate buyer’s remorse of ‘oh, what have I done?’ and ‘why is it dropping rust every time I close the bonnet?’ it was time to write the list. This list kept getting bigger and bigger, with almost no end. If it weren’t for the help and expertise of my colleagues, I would not have known where to start. The amazing thing was that some of my colleagues had spare parts for the exact vehicle!

Restoring from a point where it was a little bit scary to drive, to something that is now very competent, I could have not asked for a better outcome. Fortunately, the Labman Workshop has all the equipment to build bespoke automation, robots and car restoration.

I put the car in for an MOT a couple months after buying it expecting to get a ‘Major’ shopping list full of things to do, but to my surprise, the car came out with an immaculate test. This then gave me the confidence to continue with the venture and to attempt to see it through.

The car being purchased relatively complete, except for a couple of rust holes in the front wheel arches, served as a quite a nice starting point… especially considering that this is my first time to attempt anything at this scale.

The main thing to consider on an old car, especially when it has been stood for years on end, is the decay of all the rubbery bits; particularly on the rear subframe bushes. This caused the car to be more than ‘bouncy’ when accelerating.

Over time it had accumulated a bit of the dreaded tin worm, especially in the front offside wheel arch. This turned out to be the root cause of the car dropping bits of rust every-so-often when closing the bonnet. The front end had to be stripped down and new material (badly I must say) welded back in. With thanks to my colleague that allowed me the use of his lift during this process, otherwise I would not have been able to get this bit done affordably.

Like most old cars of this vintage, the headliner had the inevitable droop. Restoring it was arguably the most unpleasant part of the entire project. Glue just got everywhere and it only it had a mediocre finish when completed. This step, I would undoubtably recommended to outsource.

After a wash and taking it on the road in a somewhat complete state, the first thing I remembered was

Under that huge bonnet – there’s a 1.8 litre, 4-cylinder engine which develops exactly the same amount of power as an egg whisk.

Jeremy Clarkson (when he had hair. Yes the car is that old).

This statement is holding true, the car is not that powerful and is somewhat slow for the amount of fuel it drinks compared to modern standards; however, this is unfair a comparison as fuel was averaging 65p/l in 1998. This fact doesn’t stop this car from taking on motorways and long-distance driving with ease and comfort.

If there is anyone out there on the fence about buying an old car, with reasonable structural integrity, I’d say do it! I have learned unforgettable lessons with working on cars and once the pain of restoration is over, you are able to have an unforgettable adventure. It took 10 months of on and off working on it, which I think was time well spent with the amount of skills and knowledge gained from the endeavour.

There is nothing more satisfying than driving a car that is a month younger than yourself to the tip of the Scottish mainland, touring them and back home with no issues. It is now on daily driving duties. The car is still a little rough around the edges, however it has earned a polish and it awaits the next adventure.

I would like to say thanks to:

  • Labman Automation for letting me use the facilities and tools for personal project work.
  • Colleagues that I must have annoyed getting this thing into a decent state.
  • Colleagues that politely reminded me that I was wasting my time and money in the early days.
  • To the mechanics who gave me their advice, help and ‘kind words’ of encouragement!

If anyone knows the previous owners of the car, as it was previously registered in Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough, please shout out and direct them to this article, as I would like to organise spare keys if they have them to hand!