Old Benz, New Tricks: <br/>Slammed With a Small Block
Where Enthusiasm Is Born

Do you remember when you became an automotive enthusiast? I’m not talking about a realization that you ‘liked’ cars, because almost anyone can claim that. I mean the moment when you knew that modified automobiles were going to be a life-long passion, and there was no turning back. Were you born with petrol in your veins, or was it something you grew into? Did you see a special car that inspired you? Was it the rumble of a certain engine?

For Mike Merkt it all started when he was a young kid riding around in his parents’ classic cars, but even that wasn’t the defining moment…


While growing up around old hot rods will certainly make an impression on a small boy, Mike can actually pinpoint the exact moment in time when he realized he was a true automotive enthusiast. As a child, his family passed by a shop with a row of dilapidated old Benzes sitting on leaky air springs, and Mike instantly realized how badass those old German tanks looked sitting flat on the ground. Broken or not, those unintentionally lowered tri-stars fueled a fire inside Mike that led him to own the car you’re seeing now.


That vision of a dumped Mercedes hibernated quietly in the back of Mike’s mind until he saw this 1969 280S pop up for sale in a friend’s Facebook feed. Before he knew it his mom, dad and brother were driving to another state to retrieve his new project.


The car was already dumped when he got it. In fact, that’s precisely why it was up for sale. The previous owner smashed the oil pan so hard that it sent the fan into the radiator, and at the same time destroyed any desire he had to keep the car and fix it. It was the perfect time for Mike to pick up his childhood dream and make it his own.


Mike’s automotive passion is really no surprise considering what the rest of his family is up to. His dad owns a body shop, his uncle does paint and body too, and his cousin builds hot rods for a living. Was there really any question that this kid was going to be into cars?


But surely there’s more going on with this slammed Benz than cut coils though, or you wouldn’t be looking at it here on Speedhunters, right? Of course, and with that I’d like to welcome you to our V8 Swap theme that will be running for the next couple of days.


Yes, the car still wears its 280S badge, leading some to think there’s a 2.8-liter engine still sitting under the hood, but the Merkt family are American-bred car junkies. The anemic straight six never stood a chance once Mike signed the title.


This is where the real fun starts with this car – right here under the hood with a warmed up Small Block Chevy. It’s interesting, a Chevy V8 can be so predictable in some cars, yet in this case it makes the car positively stand out.

The Transplant

I’ll be honest, when you put the description of Mike’s 280S on paper it doesn’t sound very promising. An old Benz with a Chevy V8 swap? There are just so many ways it can go wrong.


When photographer Matt Jones saw the slammed silhouette roll by and heard the V8 rumble, he found himself running around Southern Wörthersee in the dark searching for the owner. He knew there was something special here.


Back to that hypothetical Benz that we put on paper earlier. In my mind, when you lifted the hood you would have been greeted by a rats nest of poached factory wiring, leaky stamped steel valve covers and an truck TBI unit on top.


Instead, we get this. Of course the small block is fitted with some nice parts, but the really impressive part is how absolutely current the bay looks with everything shaved and tucked out of sight. I feel like this is hot rodding coming full circle. First the hot rod and street machine builders created super-sanitary engine bays, then it worked its way into the import world and now we have cars like this: an older European marque with a classic American motor and an engine bay treatment that can hang with the latest builds.


It wasn’t the easiest task to swap in an SBC, but Mike and his dad have been around long enough to know what they’re doing. A foam mock-up engine was borrowed from a nearby race shop so engine mounts could be built and crossmembers modified.


There’s more to it than plopping the engine in its new home though, because it would have to jive with its German surroundings. Mike chose to keep a lot of things factory, such as the rear axle that just required a new driveshaft to mate to the 700R4, and the re-cored factory radiator that would soon be handling almost 400 horsepower worth of heat.


Things like a front-sump oil pan from a Nova and the blockhugger headers are old hot rod tricks to make a big engine fit in a small space. A rack and pinion steering setup was mounted behind the wheels and a custom steering shaft fabricated to adapt to the Mercedes column.


With the engine transplanted, Mike set out to smooth the bay and bring it up to today’s trending show standards. Unfortunately he found some shoddy repair work and had to chip away an inch-thick layer of body filler before he could even begin work. Two long weeks of welding up holes, grinding, filling and sanding were required to get it looking this good.


The final step was to add a set of tri-bar medallions to the classic finned valve covers, just to mess with anyone who doesn’t know what they’re looking at.

Quality That Lasts

I’ve been both surprised and impressed by a few things throughout this build. First, it was just how great a slammed old Euro can look, then it was the clean shave and tuck Mike did on the engine bay. The third trick this car had up its sleeve didn’t require much from Mike at all though, and that’s the gorgeous original interior.


He fixed some things up here and there, like refinishing the wood on the dash and installing a carpet kit, but the interior is largely original. The horn pad, dash and seat upholstery? Untouched.


The most radical modification to the interior is a trio of gauges to monitor the V8’s vital signs, housed within this factory-looking console built by Mike’s dad.


Forty five years on, the interior is miraculously still all there. We can attribute it to a couple things: The long-lost value for using authentic, solid materials and a series of owners who took care of the old girl.


The broken-in leather horn pad and lightly checked steering wheel ring contribute so much to the vibe of this car. It’s simply a solid old Benz, and Mike gave it the heart of a muscle car so it can scoot along with almost anything on the road.


I suggested earlier that the only thing this car has had done to the outside was a set of cut springs. That’s almost true, apart from the European-spec headlight swap.


It’s another mod that has a big impact on the character of the car, giving it a much more menacing face than the stacked round headlights that came on the US cars.


A few era-appropriate accessories, and the interior was sorted.


There’s even a vintage picnic basket to house the relocated battery in the trunk.


Mike tells me he almost didn’t make it to SoWo. Roadtripping across state lines with his brother Danny and friend Brian, the fuel pump decided to give out somewhere in Indiana. The boys found themselves sitting in lawn chairs on the side of the highway, and the thought crossed Mike’s mind to pack it up and head home.


That’s not what a real enthusiast does though, is it? Mike, like the rest of us, does this stuff out of passion, and he knew that the small town of Helen, Georgia was the destination. In retrospect, he’s glad they chose to soldier on, and that their epic Sowo weekend ended with an exclusive photoshoot with our own Matt Jones too.

Now tell us, where did your journey as a true automotive enthusiast begin?

Keith Charvonia
Instagram: SpeedhuntersKeith

Photos by Matthew Jones
Instagram: MatthewJonesPhoto

More Mercedes-Benz stories on Speedhunters
Southern Wörthersee 2014 coverage on Speedhunters

Mike Merkt’s 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280S

390hp & 455lb/ft at 4900rpm

1972 355ci Chevy Small Block V8 built by NVR Racing, shaved engine bay, Holley 670 carburetor, Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, Holley fuel pump, Sanderson blockhugger headers, custom stainless exhaust by Herald’s Muffler, MSD distributor, front sump oil pan from a Chevy II, stock radiator re-cored by All Kool Radiator, mechanical fan with auxiliary 16-inch electric fan, finned valve covers with Mercedes-Benz emblems

700R4 from Automatic Transmission Design, shift kit, custom drive shaft, stock rear axle, custom shift linkage

Custom rack and pinion steering, front crossmember modified for engine swap, custom transmission mount

Cut stock springs, Wilwood master cylinder, 7-inch brake booster

16×7.5-inch Centra Type 31, Hankook Optimo 205/55R16 tires

Euro headlights, shaved antenna hole, repainted factory tan, rechromed bumpers, widened transmission tunnel

Stock, mostly original interior, carpet kit, refinished wood trim on dash, wood floor in trunk with 1940s picnic basket to hide battery



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I love the site, but enough with the slammed cars!


That my friends, is a perfect car! An old Benz S-Klasse with a big V8 and a cool ride height. A+ from me.


Awesome photos!


Cut springs? really?


My journey into cars began with a 1998 prelude my friend purchased and he happily let me drive it. Ever since then I've been into making smiles behind the steering wheel.


Flawlessly executed, right up until the cut springs.


Aissirk realistically it's probably a period correct suspension mod. 1969, before air and affordable adjustable suspension was a thing.


Totally killer creation here, NICE feature SH!


With such an awesome build, I'm a little disappointed with him using cut springs. I understand it's just a cruiser, but there are much cleaner and more appropriate ways to go about lowering it. Cool car though!


Troll's log: Day 1,035 on Speedhunters. The situation grows more dire by hour. The sheer amount of features with the word "slammed" in the title has become overwhelming. I fear that Speedhunters' transformation into a full-blown stance blog is almost complete. They have just featured a Mercedes with cut springs. All that remains to stem the tide is Gatebil and Formula D coverage. To make matters worse, the comments section has been taken over by robots who think every car, no matter how heinous, is a gift from Zeus himself to auto enthusiasts. It won't be long now. I appear to be the last remaining advocate for function, taste, and good sense on the entire website, and I fear that I will soon be forced to abandon it. My only assurance is the knowledge that their folly in catering to hipsters will lead to their swift downfall. End transmission.


Big Pooky "No bags, no switches..."


Matt where you at? Should we still expect the full feature on the twin-turbo Gallardo?


@Jake Laird How come I never see you comment on a non stance related post? I have been following SH since 2008 and I have never come across a more obnoxious and grotesque individual than you. At least, JDMized seemed like an educated commenter who provided arguments on various topics. You seem to recycle the same ideas-statements again and again. Finally, there is more than cut springs on this automobile.


@Jake Laird You like some things. Other people like other things and will continue to like those things despite the fact that you might not like those same things.


This build is just amazing. And the photos are on point as well!

People should just appreciate the passion that others have for automotive culture. I'd rather read stories of car scenes I may not be all that into, then to lose automotive culture all together. Car enthusiasts are a dying breed with the world now concerned about MPGs and the "environment". So let's all just be happy that there are still others out there that love cars just as much as we do. Well done Mike!


WOW! Is all that comes to mind. 
Always did love the old small blocks and it fits in there perfectly. Keepin it original and creative at the same time, I tip my hat again to the builder.


It's so tidy under that hood.


@Jake Laird Riiggghhhttt because that's why it was featured..... because the springs were cut.. Did you not see the engine swap? How is that not done in the name of speed? The cut springs were just a side note. I hope trolololing provides you with what you seek, meanwhile everyone just thinks you're a d***.


@Jake Laird Yes, we get it, you don't like slammed cars. That's cool, but it's not our fault that you don't like certain trends in the industry that are big right now. I'm curious though, what is it exactly that you do like? Because going through our recent posts, we have something that covers almost every automotive subculture out there... surely there's something that tickles your fancy! :P


Haha! Nice post. I happen to like this car but good on you for posting what you think. Im tired of the "like what i like or stfu" of some posters. The irony is they want to censor you and in the same breath say how open-minded they are.


Saw this at SOWO this year. SOOOO clean.


Beautiful engine and bay, a work of art!


Tinj Aissirk just because it's period correct doesn't mean it's good


I never thought I'd say this, since I'm not a fan of slammed cars.
But this... is a masterpiece! Love that picnic basket battery housing. That's a nice touch!


aussieANON could you fax me a copy of that?


Tinj I'll send a telegraph for you m8


He bought it with cut springs... And if it works fine for him why complain? It looks good and the damn thing is so heavy it can't affect the ride quality that much


@tRolls Royce no clue. long gone, brother.


This is gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. I've been considering purchasing an old Benz for a while and seeing one this well built, and with a rad swap, (something I'm planning on since so many of them have blown engines!), is both inspiring and scary. The amount of custom fabrication required looks far beyond my budget and abilities! Still, as long as I keep seeing awesome builds like these pop up, I'll at least know it's possible!


I cant believe all the hate because he has cut springs. Maybe he ran out of money? Any of you apparently wealthy car builder/enthusiast/speedhunter trolls think of that? I have great idea! How about you all pitch in a few thousand bucks so this guy can get a full air system. Hell, begin a Kickstarter campaign and start taking donations. 

With that out of the way.

Amazing job with this old merc. We have a few old ones running out of San Diego on bags, but nothing this clean under the hood or with this much power.


@Jizanthapus666 Mike mentioned in our emails that he car rides great with the cut springs, so he saw no need to change the suspension. Considering he drove it across several states to be at SoWo I tend to believe him.


MartinBrandan Just jump in and do it!


MattyJones Yes, technically, yes.


Big Pooky Cut springs: 0$ and a good riding car. Bags: Ca$h, time, and a good riding car.


aussieANON Tinj Aissirk Hop in my W116 with 2 coils cut front and rear. Tell me it isn't good.


buzzboy Big Pooky


jackward prelude - such a good driving car. After I had my first, no car felt right again. Now on my 3rd and no way I'd give it up.


I too love the site, but more of the slammed cars!


Saw this thing at Cars and Coffee Minneapolis today. Great car. Looked like you would hope and was of my favorite cars of the day by far.


Saw him cruise by on Xerxes Ave in Minneapolis today - waved - he didn't notice - and had no trouble at all finding the car online!!!!  Cool Euro classic moment.


Does anyone know if there is anymore of this car somewhere. I'm swapping a chevy 350 into my W115 240 and would like to get some info on some different stuff


Hey Ben, feel free to shoot me a DM on instagram @mikemerkt

ranae hawkins

Fantastic ideas . I loved the analysis - Does someone know where I might be able to obtain a blank CA RE 205 form to use ?