There’s a very good chance we at Retropower will look back upon the creation of the Mercedes W108 you see here, Project Kaiser, as one of the most significant projects in our decade-long history. It marked the first time we were entrusted with the complete, clean-sheet restomod of a car as complex and valuable as the East African dictator-spec ‘Benz, and has opened the door to a slew of other, just as challenging Stuttgart projects.
The genesis of Project Kaiser can be found in the owner’s desire to own something fast, comfy, stylish…and completely unique – all very much Retropower specialties. Like many of our customers, the individual in question had had his fill of ‘off the peg’ M-power BMWs and even AMG-fettled Mercedes, and as such we were given the go-ahead to create something rather more special using his own, pre-existing W108. Game on.
We began in our customer manner, by stripping the ‘stack light’ Merc to a rolling shell, before baking, sand blasting, and zinc-metal spraying, after which we were well placed to set about ridding it of half a century of parking dings and supermarket-acquired ‘war wounds.’
This early stage also saw us taking drastic steps to improve the chassis of the car, one we knew would have to deal with far, far more power than its maker ever deemed feasible. The exact nature of the chassis engineering now in place is too long winded to detail here, though some spec highlights include the front and rear axles from an X300 generation Jaguar XJ, giving us both more advantageous suspension mountings and a Limited Slip Differential.
Speaking of suspension, Kaiser makes use of air instead of springs, a decision made early on after consultation with the owner revealed his desire for the finished car to be both immensely comfy and able to make insects fear for their antennas when parked up and ‘laying frame.’ We’ll leave it to you to judge the visual effectiveness of this call, though we (and the owner, more importantly) are well and truly smitten with Kaiser’s manhole-bothering looks.
The appeal of a restomod project of this sort, one built to your own, personal specification and with no thought or credence paid to the opinion of others, isn’t hard to see. However, this same, rigid commitment to match the personality of the individual fortunate enough to have their name atop the V5 also means that the big Merc is unlikely to appeal to all, particularly those with a more ‘purist’ mindset. Case in point, its LS3 engine.
Now, there are those who’ve bemoaned our decision to plump with GM’s finest over something from Stuttgart’s own eight-cylinder stable, and we did give thought to the idea. However in the end, the prospect of near 500bhp – and 500bhp delivered in the sort of rock-solid, utterly unstressed manner the LS is famed for – was too tasty a prospect to ignore. And if you ever get to hear Kaiser for yourself, you’ll agree!
It’s perhaps inside where the scale of the work demanded to create a restomod car of this calibre is most obvious, and also where the tastes and mores of the owner are most evident. This being said, we doubt anyone will find cause to bemoan the one-piece centre console running unbroken from front to back (complete with recesses for ICE, wireless charging and even a bottle of single malt scotch), nor the matching one-piece dash with flip-up console. Both were fabricated by Stu from high grade ally, before being hydro dipped to give this dark wood grain finish.
Other elements of Kaiser’s interior are every bit as special, with Daimler seats with drop-down lap trays (also hydro-dipped in a matching wood grain), lashings of Porsche Nappa leather with purple stitching, and even a bespoke rear-bench. All of this work was designed and completed by our own in-house trimmer, Trimworks.
The paint, a Nissan shade called Malbec Black, strikes optimal balance between old and new, but the wheels are the true stars of the show as far as exterior changes are concerned. As is the case with much of this build, the clues are there for those willing to take the time to look, though it’s probably safe to say that only the most ardent of Merc-o-philes will be able to guess at the work invested in the wheels.
“We felt that the Mercedes hub caps were one of this car’s distinguishing features, so much so that it’s hard to picture a Benz from this era without them,” explains Callum. “Still, we needed the caps to be bigger in order to fit the large steels needed to cover the equally chunky brakes, which is what led us to create some custom hub caps of our own using spun down originals.”
The effect is as subtle as it is effective, so much so that clocking just what’s changed involves some mild detective work, or at the very least a keen eye and a willingness to bend down and get up close and personal with the wheels themselves. You know what they say, the devil really is in the detail – and the devil is no doubtless partial to restomod Mercedes saloons!
Now complete and recently returned to its (delighted) owner, Project Kaiser stands as a testament to both our willingness and ability to tackle large scale, incredibly complex restomod projects. Get in touch if you fancy something similar.