Some cars can’t help but ooze subtle menace and understated cool, and a good example of this are the classic ‘stack light’ Mercedes, the W108 280 very much included. Quite why this should be the case is hard to pinpoint, though it probably has something to do with this era of cars being widely considered to be the highpoint of Mercedes’ existence to date, an era defined by over-engineered models seemingly hewn from granite and with simple, understated good looks.
The W108’s importance wasn’t lost upon the Retropower team when the time came to undertake a Mercedes build of our own. Commissioned by a repeat Retropower customer, the project which would eventually come to be known as ‘Project Kaiser’ was fairly open-ended in nature, with only extra performance and suitably striking looks (both essential for trips criss-crossing continental Europe) stated by the owner when he dropped it off.
The customer’s willingness to allow us to get creative means that ‘Project Kaiser’ has become a very exciting build indeed, with the engine, a GM sourced LS3 crate motor, being one of the primary topics of discussion. Selected for its ability to provide ample power in a reliable, charismatic fashion, the LS has since been mated to another example of GM engineering, a 4L85-E auto-box. It’s a setup which we feel strikes the correct balance between performance and accessibility, not least as the tuning scene underpinning it is nothing short of vast.
We’ve nothing but respect for the engineering nouse shown by Mercedes when it came to develop these cars but not everything the factory did has stood the test of time quite as well as their looks, and their suspension and axles are but one example. Indeed, Mercedes of this vintage have been known to suffer from excessive camber changes, a problem only exacerbated if the car in question has been lowered – which this one most certainly will be!
Our solution has been to look to the UK for suitable upgrades, in this case the front and rear axles from a Jaguar XJ, the late ’90s X300 generation. Not only are these axles up to the task of transmitting over 400bhp to the rear wheels in a reliable manner, they’re relatively self-contained, small enough to be used beneath the W108’s surprisingly petite chassis. Our decision to go with Jag bits means we can also exploit its Limited Slip ‘Differential and enlarged brakes, so very much a win-win scenario.
Project Kaiser will eventually sit atop an Airlift Performance custom air suspension system, a way of retaining the class leading levels of ride comfort these S-Classes were renowned for while also getting it that much closer to terra firma. We’ve also re-mounted both front and rear sub-frames slightly higher within the shell, a modification which ensures that optimum suspension is retained and also that the car sits at a reduced ride height at all times, even when the Airlift system is full.
The temptation to go too far on a project of this kind is an ever present danger, and everyone associated with it has been only too aware of the danger of ‘over egging the pudding.’ To this end exterior alterations have been relatively low key, with only a change in colour (it now sports a stunning Infinity hue, Malbec Black) and wheels in evidence.
The interior is rather different however, with a series of unique modification, the kind which we’ve come to be known for in recent years. Daimler XJ40 front seats have been paired with a bespoke rear-bench. A single, unbroken centre console will run from front to back, and this will eventually be home to the air suspension, Alpine Freestyle audio and navigation controls, not to mention a custom area for a whiskey bottle. As for our favourite tweak, well that has to be the re-purposed window winders modified to function as switches for retro-fitted electric windows!
There’s still a long, long way to go before this build is complete but all indications are that it will be among the most striking of all Retropower builds, so watch this space.