Saturday, October 16, 2010

Where do we put zee coffee??

For some reason, older German cars didn't come with cupholders.
Now Mercedes Engineers may be cringing at the idea of this, and I have heard various claims over the years from the fact that Germans tend to drive, and not drink coffee, play with their phones etc. They must be dedicated smokers though because Mercedes cars, especially sedans, have more ashtrays than I have ever seen in another car.

In the later years of R129 production, Mercedes finally gave in to the North American Market's demands and replaced the center console insert with a dual cupholder. It does snap right into an earlier SL center console, replacing the Lighter / Ashtray / Cassette Holder - Yes that's right, early R129's came with cassette holders. Apparently while drinking coffee or another beverage of choice was taboo, the Germans wanted to make sure that you had your David Hasselhoff's Greatest Hits tape within easy reach. The R129 cupholder insert is approx $300 new from Mercedes, and used ones go for over $150, so I figured there had to be a better DIY solution.

My solution involves absolutely NO modification to the car, or the cassette holder, and can be completely 100% reversed and the cassette holder reinstalled with no evidence it was ever there. 

I started to examine the center console and the cassette holder section, and decided that I could fabricate something to take the place of the tape holders. My car has long since been converted to a Nakamichi in dash 6 CD changer, so I couldn't play a tape even if I wanted too. This blog unfortunately is a little bit light on pictures, because my camera's battery was dying, but it's all pretty self explanatory once you get started and see everything for yourself.

Here is a pic of the cassette holder / Ashtray / Lighter assembly out of the car. (This isn't from my car but from an auction on German Ebay).

You can clearly see the 6 Cassette holder in there. Now the first step is to pull out the cassette holder inserts. They are just a press fit in there. Open all the tape holders grab firmly pull and wiggle... it will come out. Pull the little tiny light bulb out of it's socket at the bottom, and remove the piece from the car.
Once you have it out, you will realize that it's actually two pieces. One contains the actual cassette boxes, and then there is an outer frame that attaches to the actual rest of the console. Release the tabs, and pull the inner cassette boxes from the outer frame. This is what you will have once you have done that.

Now, I went to the parts store - Advance Auto parts in this case, and perused the generic add on cupholders to find one that I could graft into this insert. After trying a couple I decided the best donor cupholder was one called the spillmaster console twin made by a company called Hopkins. It was 10.49 at my local parts store. This is what it looks like:

It's actually a dual cupholder with adjustable cupholders on both sides, but for our purposes it will work perfectly, once some modification takes place of course.

If you can't find this cupholder locally it is available on here:

So once you get this this cupholder, here's how to build your SL's new cupholder. 
This is what you will need: 
1) Aformentioned Aftermarket Cupholder
2) Scrap piece of wood at least 1/4" thick Large enough to fill the cassette holder
3) 4 Drywall or other screws - I used 1 1/4" Coarse Drywall screws because I had them. 
4) Some flat black spray paint - You can also use Satin Black if you prefer.

First, take the outer frame of the cassette box, and find a suitable piece of scrap wood to make a bottom for it. In my case I used some 3/8" Birch plywood I had laying around. What I did was place the cassette holder frame on the wood and trace out the outline on the wood, then cut it out with a jigsaw - WITH one change. You want to cut to to the exact width side to side but you want to cut it 1/4" SHORT front to back. This will make sense later.

Here's what the bottom looks like in the cassette holder frame. Note: It's just set in there, and not attached in any way yet.
Note the 1/8" gaps on the top and bottom. Once you have the piece cut, take it out, and spray one side with the flat black paint. Set it aside and allow it to dry for a few minutes. While you are waiting for the paint to dry, let's get started modifying our cupholder. 
First thing you have to do, take the cupholder and set it on the ground. You will have to cut one side off, to use inside the cassette holder. Take and lay the cassette holder on top of it, to get a rough Idea of where you have to make the cut. Here's what it will look like. 
You may want to cut this a little bit big, but you can always use the other side if you really mess it up. I used a miter box saw to start the cut and finished with a hacksaw blade without a handle. (please excuse my foot at and shoe in the pic). 
This is roughly what it will look like: (Note there should be less of that central compartment there, these are pics of the other half because my camera's battery was dying the other night when I was putting this together). 
So now that you have half the cupholder that fits inside the cassette holder, it's time for the first step in putting it together. 

Make sure your wood bottom is dry, set it in the cassette holder, then set the cupholder into the cassette holder, with the cut side facing what will be the back of the cupholder. Make sure that the cut side is flush against the back of the cassette holder. Once it is flush, take two drywall screws and screw the cupholder to the wood base through the openings in the cupholder that allow it to slide. Specifically at these spots noted on the pic in yellow:

This is a pic of what it will look like from underneath. 
You can see the two screws protruding. Not to worry there is plenty of room in the r129 console for them. 
Here's a pic of the final product with the screws circled just in case it's not clear. 

Now the next step is to adjust the cup holder to your prefered size. In theory you can reach down and mess with the adjustment while its in the car, although I suspect it would be a bit of a pain to do. You pull out that little flap of plastic, set the cupholder to where you want it, and push it back in to lock it in place. Personally I adjusted mine using a Large Dunkin Donuts coffee cup, as that is my preferred poison. Medium cups have the same base width, but are just shorter. This also left me with a convenient space to slip my iphone between the front of the holder and the front of the cassette frame. 

So, now once you have your cupholder where you want it, it's time for the final steps. Remember how I told you to cut the top to bottom dimension 1/4" short - here's why. The way this cassette box sits in the console it sits on approximately a 20 degree angle. You want to try to compensate for that angle as much as possble (so that the cupholder ends up level when it is in the car). After some measuring and messing around here's what I did. Which I think works best, and requires NO modification to the car, or the cassette holder frame.
What you need to do is angle the bottom up in the cassette holder until the wood lines up with two cutouts on the side of the bottom of the holder. Then use one screw on each side to secure the bottom on that angle. It will make more sense in the pics:
You can see the scew and the bottom now on an angle. On the other side the screws are a bit offset, but use this side as a guide, then insert screws as needed all around - Note the screw will strictly go into the wood bottom, not into the cassette holder frame, however the heads of the screws will hold the entire assembly tightly in place. 

Once you have all your screws in - I used 2 in front and two in the back, what I did was to spray the entire thing with a coat of flat black paint, because it seems like the different plastics, the wood and the screws have different textures, this way it would all have a uniform appearance. Here is is with freshly sprayed paint, waiting for it to dry:

Now, the one thing you need to do in the car, is remember that light bulb in the socket that used to plug into the bottom of the cassette holders, what I did was simply remove the bulb from the socket - It just pulls out, and then wrapped the socket in electrical tape, then stuffed just laid it in the console.
Once everything is completely dry - I waited several hours, take the piece back and snap it into the center console of the car. 
And here's what the final product looks like in the car:

Now The sliding cover doesn't come down past the front of the cupholder but to me that's no big deal. My front sliding cover that covers the ashtray / lighter is broken I have the piece but the handle is broken off. I'm going to save that repair from when I remove / replace the wood center console piece and the entire console has to come apart. 

Here are a couple more pics:

And sorry this shot is so dark, but the all important "in use" shot:


  1. I have to say I have been following your blog for quite some time. Love the DIY mods you have been doing. We have a 1996 Sl 500 with 162K miles and I am doing little things to it. New floor mats, a new shift nob. I have lots to do with it. The seats are going to be my next endeavor. Keep up the good work

  2. great job. And you are contributing to a good cause as well: The promotion of salvaging and maintaining modern classic Mercedes automobiles and keeping them fun to drive.

    Mine just developed a valve tap. I don't think its serious though - From reading it is sounds like the "oil distributor tubes" which may have deteriorated from being 19 years old. I'm now researching to see if I want to tackle that myself or outsource to MB private mechanic.- Frank

  3. I'm excited to try this DIY project out myself! Wedging my cup of coffee between my legs has left me feeling pretty sorry at times. I like this blog & look forward to more updates!