Project: Wheel Wells

What's behind that shiny wheel?
It's the most unflattering view possible of a car. It's also very telling about the vehicle and its owner. A car isn't truly clean until its nether regions—wheels wells, undercarriage and engine bay—are as tidy as all the other parts. This is what separates the men from the anal-retentive men. It can also be downright maddening since access to these areas for the purposes of cleaning can be truly awkward. And is there any more sisyphean exercise than cleaning something that is a magnet for grime and debris just moments later?

Cabriolet owners take heart. Unlike the underside of a more utilitarian vehicle that no amount of scrubbing can make attractive, the bottom of an A124 Cabriolet can be quite appealing. In classic Mercedes style, everything is nicely finished and painted with lots of handsome details like a large protective belly pan under the motor reminiscent of a rally car, neatly tailored splash shields in the wheel wells, and acres of painted undercoating everywhere you look. It really is a marvel of engineering to see it all preserved decades later, exactly as it was intended to look back in the day.

On my Cabriolet, the wheel wells are a deep 040 black with contrasting light grey splash shields. The wheel wells are as shiny and unmistakably Mercedes as the Pagoda SLs I have owned. Even 25 years after the Pagoda, Mercedes finished its cars in ways that are instantly familiar, inside and out.

A weekend of cleaning revealed the original paint, factory inspection paint slashes on the springs from the assembly line at Sindelfingen, and the fit and finish you'd expect from a Mercedes throughout. At some point, the front sway bar will need to come out for paint, but it's otherwise well preserved down there.

BEFORE: Reasonably clean, but enough dirt and grime to hide the paint.
AFTER: Note original springs still showing inspection paint "slashes."

AFTER: Not perfect, but very clean and presentable.

Credit goes to previous caretakers, but also to a large container of Purple Power degreaser, a good long-handled wheel well brush, and a bottle of Griot's Undercarriage Spray (basically a light dressing). For the most difficult (i.e., grimiest) parts, I used a mixture of a citrus degreaser by Wurth combined with water and a small amount of gasoline, applied with a Scotch Brite pad that I had cut up into small squares. All good products that I recommend for this satisfying task.


  1. Thank you for your Blog. i have a triple black and love reading your blog to help me with my car.
    what is your experience with car wax? is there one you particularly favor? since we both of black, i would like to try what you recommend. thank you in advance.

  2. Thank you for your kind words. I highly recommend Zymol Carbon. Mind you, the wax is just a fraction of the equation. Great wax can't do its job without really fastidious prep work. Zymol HD Cleanse is terrific for prepping the paint. I also think clay (I get mine from Griot's Garage) is essential. I will explore this topic further in a future blog installment. Stay tuned.


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