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Old 02-05-2016, 08:59 AM   #1
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1979 31' Excella 500
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Mercedes R320 CDI towing 31' '79 Excella

My family and I, we're... well, nontraditional. I work from "home", my wife is a musician, we get a high when we get rid of stuff, we're downsizing from a 6 bedroom house to a 31' Airstream. By my parent's accounts, we've got it all wrong, but that hasn't deterred us from living more simply, intentionally and adventurously.

This mentality extends to our tow-vehicle selection for our resto'modded '79 Excella. We knew that our Tow Vehicle would be our only vehicle and that whatever we got it'd be towing about 1/4 of the time and driving our family around without the AS 3/4 of the time. We wanted a vehicle that was optimized for family, but could also tow if properly equipped.

Turns out there's a vehicle out that fits the bill perfectly... The Mercedes R320 CDI!

On the family considerations side, it's a 3-row 6 passenger vehicle. Lots of room for the kiddos and dog.

On the towing side, it's an turbo diesel V6 that makes 400 ft-lb of torque! For reference, that's more than some 3/4 ton trucks out there. It's all-wheel drive, 7 speed manually shift-able (tap up/down) transmission, has a looooooong wheel base, looooooow center of gravity, wide stance, short rear overhang, built on a truck chasis, big brakes and stiff frame.

We're going to Andy at CanAm to get a weight distribution system installed and any other modifications needed.

We found a R320 for sale used near us (turns out they're pretty ratre, only 32 listed in the whole USA for sale on autotrader). It needed a little TLC (even a little TLC in the Mercedes world equates to big $$$) but we haven't looked back.

I plan to update this thread with our experience with this vehicle since I only found one other post that even mentions this model as a tow vehicle.

Oh, and some eye-candy of a R320 pulling a 34'' AS through Vermont (courtesy of Andy at CanAm)!

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Old 02-05-2016, 11:39 AM   #2
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Sounds like an interesting tow vehicle solution. With a long and low configuration, the designers may have got the right parameters pulled together. Will be interesting to see how your experiences play out. Safe travels. Pat
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Old 02-05-2016, 02:54 PM   #3
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I've seen a bunch of those at WBCCI meetings in Ontario.

People who drove them really liked them, for all the reasons you gave above. It's not built on a truck chassis though, and doesn't have a frame either. Mercedes doesn't build passenger cars that way. It's a classic unibody with fully independent suspension all round.

I nearly bought one when we were looking for a van, but couldn't find one at the time.
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Old 02-06-2016, 08:49 AM   #4
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It's not built on a truck chassis though, and doesn't have a frame either. Mercedes doesn't build passenger cars that way. It's a classic unibody with fully independent suspension all round.

I thought I had read somewhere that it was built on a shared platform with a light-duty truck or SUV... Maybe I was mistaken? I can't seem to find any mention of that via Google now.
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Old 02-06-2016, 10:48 PM   #5
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I thought I had read somewhere that it was built on a shared platform with a light-duty truck or SUV... Maybe I was mistaken? I can't seem to find any mention of that via Google now.
It shares a platform with the Mercedes GL series, the Dodge Durango and the Jeep GC. All excellent tow vehicles, but none of them is body on frame.
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Old 02-07-2016, 01:06 AM   #6
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Be careful with hitching a uni-body. It must be done with welding and nut/bolts or... My first tow combination was a Rambler Ambassador (with uni-body) and a 3,600# Streamline 23' Duches. On the first RR track crossing the frame tore out of the un-body and the front cross bar almost snagged a rail. I barely made it back to the dealer who promptly fired his hitch shop.
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Old 02-07-2016, 11:25 AM   #7
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If you are going to Andy at CAN AM then you can stop worrying about it. They will make it right regardless of the body construction. The paddle shift will make it a really good TV for hilly country.
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Old 02-07-2016, 11:37 AM   #8
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Unless they attach the reinforcement to a vibration mounted suspension carrier. Then you might want to worry.
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Old 02-07-2016, 01:15 PM   #9
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Unless they attach the reinforcement to a vibration mounted suspension carrier. Then you might want to worry.
Wondering here why that might be worrisome. The reinforcing bar attaches to the suspension carrier so it's force is upward, same force on the suspension carrier when carrying the weight of the vehicle.
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Old 02-07-2016, 02:08 PM   #10
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Any movement of the reinforcement arm will not be straight upward at the carrier due to deflection.
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Old 02-07-2016, 03:59 PM   #11
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Would not the force be downward if weight transfer to the front axles is in play? Pat
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Old 02-07-2016, 04:22 PM   #12
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Would not the force be downward if weight transfer to the front axles is in play? Pat
Thank you for making me take a step back and look at the big picture again! So with WD in play the force applied on the carrier will be down and aft at some angle depending on load. At other times it will be forward and up again at some angle. It would be nice to know how often it is in each state, but it really doesn't matter. If all three sides of the triangle are not secure, you have no real reinforcement. It also puts undue wear on bushings that already have a short life. Thanks again Pat!
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Old 02-07-2016, 04:37 PM   #13
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Having never owned an M-B product, I can only recommend after owning GM uni-body products. I think that if you could find/fabricate a sub-frame connector for your vehicle, it might help safety/security-wise. That would "tie" your uni-body together and make it an even better tow vehicle. Just my thoughts, good luck and safe travels...
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Old 02-07-2016, 05:16 PM   #14
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Welding a brace between the hitch and the axle carrier also causes you to bypass the rubber bushings and transmit road noise to the cabin.
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