For some reason I always liked the old 190E specially the upgraded version it was just a different feel of motoring compared to today and the car looked so good in black or silver.
Dense morning air caresses their exquisitely crafted bodies with passing clouds of condensation, a temporary fog on paintwork as reflective as an undisturbed pond. Rear spoilers stand proudly above angular trunklids, poised and ready to deflect the fiercest of autobahn winds. Glistening in the sunlight are the three-pointed star and the roundel, badges belonging to two of the most respected names in the automotive business. Finally, someone starts their engines and they sound like a pair of clapped-out Yugos on a used-car lot. The cacophony is the sound of forged pistons and solid valve lifters. These are not normal cars. This is important stuff.
THE W201 190E 2.3-16
The Mercedes-Benz W201-chassis four-door sedan, commonly known as the 190E, was a very big deal because of its very tiny size. Yes, “tiny.” Were the 190E on sale today, it would be the smallest four-door sedan you could buy in America.
In the late 1970s, the idea of a subcompact German luxury car was unheard of, but American CAFE standards were looming. As a stopgap, Mercedes stuffed diesel engines into its fleet of large cars, but the company knew it needed smaller, more fuel-efficient cars to meet our requirements. Thus, the “
Benz” was conceived. The 190E had to be indistinguishable from any other Mercedes from its driver’s seat — that’s right, the car the size of a pea would have to feel like the princess’ full-size coach. To achieve that stunt, the precious W201 would be overengineered to the point of ridiculousness. (Its development is rumored to have cost nearly $4 billion in today’s dollars.) And while we’re on the subject of ridiculous, to make sure the world took the little Merc seriously, the W201 would be designed not just to enter the World Rally Championship, but to win.
Cosworth was retained to design the 16-valve cylinder head, and Walter Röhrl was signed to do the driving. Mercedes developed and patented an exotic five-link rear suspension that was to provide the best wheel control of any road-car suspension ever produced. And just when it all started looking promising, Audi ruined the day by inventing an all-wheel-drive system called Quattro. It was suddenly game over for two-wheel-drive cars in rallying, and Mercedes’ management board was so aggravated that it instituted a company-wide ban on all motorsport participation.
Mercedes engineers didn’t listen. They quietly continued development of a racing 190E — this time for the new German touring car racing series, DTM. They would distract the board by disguising the race car as a factory-tuned W201 for the street, and to prove its mettle, Mercedes took it to the Nardo test facility in August 1983. It shattered three world and nine international speed records, averaging 154.06 mph over 50,000 km (31,069 miles). The production version, called 190E 2.3-16, made its debut the following month at the Frankfurt auto show. By the time it hit public roads in 1984, its first year of production was sold out — a fitting debut for a subcompact sedan that could outperform the legendary 300SL Gullwing.
It cost thousands more than a base S-Class, but the 16-valve 190E could handily outrun the topline, V-8-powered 500SEL on the autobahn, despite having less than half the displacement. The Cosworth-headed screamer extracted a manic 182 hp from the short-stroke, 7100-rpm four, and an aggressive body kit cut the regular 190E’s aerodynamic lift by almost half. The 16V had a manual gearbox with a racing-style dogleg first gear and Recaro bucket seats front and rear. Numerous handling and braking modifications included self-leveling air shocks in back, and the results were the highest cornering grip ever seen in a Mercedes and braking distances among the shortest ever measured by contemporary car magazines.
By the end of 1985, 5000 Cozzie-Benzes had been built, enough to satisfy FIA Group A homologation rules. With the motorsport ban still in place, however, Mercedes couldn’t officially take the baby Benz racing. Instead, its engineers provided under-the-table assistance to independent DTM teams (including AMG), hoping the management board wasn’t paying too close attention.
Oh, but every engineer in Munich was watching. Of all the big horsepower, world-dominating grenades Mercedes had thrown over its fence (the 300SEL 6.3 and the 450SEL 6.9, to name two), the 190E 2.3-16 was the one that landed in BMW‘s backyard. And BMW’s response was absolutely breathtaking.