Wednesday 14th November 2012


SPOTTED: MERCEDES 500E (W124)

A Porsche in Merc's clothing, the 90s' most stealthy autobahn basher could be yours for just £7K


Modern Mercs hold their own against their Audi and BMW rivals on equal terms but it wasn't that long ago that you needed a certain appreciation of the quirks and eccentricities unique to the three-pointed star. The 90s W124 E-Class is just such a car, the insertion of a 5.0-litre V8 under the bonnet and cachet of it being assembled on the Porsche production line aiding that appreciation process somewhat.

It's a 220E. No, wait, a 300D. Hang on...
It's a 220E. No, wait, a 300D. Hang on...
There are few cars more deserving of the 'Q' prefix than the 500E, or E500 as it was known post-1993. Bar those oh-so-subtle flares to the front arches and discreetly lowered stance there is absolutely nothing to mark it out from any other 124 and that alone is enough to make it cool. Mercedes even went as far as using the same style of alloy as regular E-Classes to complete the illusion and, even if you know what you're looking for, it takes a very, very sharp eye to pick a 500 out in the crowd.

On paper there's plenty to put you off, LHD-only included. That they're all four-speed autos would seem to count against them being anything other than one-trick bahnstormers and irrelevant in a world of speed limits and twisty B-roads too. But this just filters out those unwilling to go deeper and appreciate the subtly and sophistication that make the 500 something special.

The 500 hails from an era when Mercs were, officially, stolid and conservative. AMG was yet to make an official appearance in Mercedes dealers - that process started with the C36 in 1993 - and homologation 190s aside Mercedes certainly wasn't to be drawn publicly into tit-for-tat arms race with its domestic rivals. BMW owned the sports saloon market and Mercedes left 'em to it.

Just the ticket for a high-speed autobahn jaunt
Just the ticket for a high-speed autobahn jaunt
But there was previous. The 6.3 V8 version of the 60s S-Class and 6.9 of its 70s successor indicated a need for speed within the Mercedes ranks, albeit well disguised perhaps as much for reasons of internal politics as anything. And the 500E follows that path, quietly levering the W129 SL's V8 (and brakes and other bits) under the bonnet and sub-contracting production to its Stuttgart neighbours. In keeping with the spirit of the thing you like to think that was to sneak it past the board without anyone realising.

Driving a 500 is a lesson in less is more dynamics too. For all that spec-sheet muscle initial impressions may well be a little underwhelming. The throttle disappears a long way into the footwell before anything worthy of note happens. The four-speed auto is sluggish and confirms all your worst fears about the sporting abilities of such a transmission. And there's a distinct lack of V8 charisma. 'So what' will probably be your first reaction.

Swiftly followed by 'why's everyone else going so slowly?' And here's the clue. They're not. The 500E plays its performance cards so close to its chest even the driver doesn't realise half the time. Oh to have been a German company director in the early 90s with miles of derestricted autobahn to play on... There's obviously an amount of emotional baggage when comparing German cars to military vehicles but the 500E's stern rejection of frivolity and steely, engineering-led focus on crushing all before it do bear certain comparisons. As does the build quality.

Well built but wiring looms and ECUs pricey
Well built but wiring looms and ECUs pricey
Prices for good ones are firming up too, a couple on the PH classifieds well into five figures and an official UK one for just shy of 14K even with 90,000 on the clock. This German import has over double the miles but is half the price, which might sound like a recipe for disaster but these things really are built like the proverbial. As proven by the one I drove a few years back with an indicated 275,000km on the clock that felt barely run in. They're not entirely trouble-free though, this General Gassing chat on them full of useful background for anyone thinking of taking the plunge, wiring looms faults and subsequent ECU failures one expensive issue to be aware of.

The colour, pre-facelift looks and less than pristine interior on this one go some way to explaining the tempting price too. But it would appear to have a ton of history - all in the ad - and deserves to be taken back to Germany to relive its glory days before the pressure to put speed limits on the whole network gets too much. Go on, you know it makes sense...


MERCEDES 500E
Engine:
4,973cc V8
Transmission: 4-speed manual, RWD
Power (hp): 320@5,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 347@3,900rpm
MPG: 23.7(at EEC 120km/h)
CO2: N/A
First registered: 1993 (originally registered in Germany)
Recorded mileage: 212,298
Price new: 145,590 Deutschmarks
Yours for: 6,995

See the original advert here.

Author: Dan Trent
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