RE: Mercedes marks 40 years of the 190

RE: Mercedes marks 40 years of the 190

Wednesday 23rd November

Mercedes marks 40 years of the 190

The W201 'baby Benz' was first seen in 1982 - compact executive saloons would never be the same again


It’s a natural reaction to be almost dumbfounded when another car reaches a significant anniversary. Those many years can’t have passed since then, you’ll muse, and wonder where the time has gone. But never does the adage seem truer than with the Mercedes-Benz 190, or W201 to give it its internal designation. Because that was launched in December 1982, 40 years ago next week, and it seems almost inconceivable that a car so modern, so stylish and still seen so often can be a decade off half a century. It can’t be possible.

Of course, that was exactly the point of the baby Benz. Born out of mid-70s fuel crisis austerity, the W201 was to boast everything that was so wonderful about the bigger Mercs, only in a smaller package. There was to be no corners cut and no compromises entertained in the pursuit of a brilliant small saloon. Professor Hans Scherenberg (great professor name), Mercedes’ Board Member for Development at the time, said as long ago as 1974: “This must be a typical Mercedes-Benz. So we can’t compromise too much in terms of driving culture, safety and the corresponding Mercedes-Benz characteristics.” Which is part of the reason why there are cars out there with more than 200,000 miles for almost £20k. But we’ll get to classifieds at the end.

Development really got going in 1978. One of the factories used for the W201, built out of the old Borgward facility in Bremen, was dedicated entirely to the one model line. Back then the Nordwerk Im Holter Feld development represented the largest single investment Daimler Benz AG had made ever, at 1.4 billion Deutsche Marks. That’s how seriously the 190 project was taken. More than a million units were made there, and it continues to build C-Classes today.

Furthermore, while PHey types will understandably remember the 190E as a DTM racer and M3 rival, it should be noted how big a deal the W201 was as a regular saloon. It had a five-link rear axle, for instance, when an E30 3 Series was still using semi trailing arms. It was the most aerodynamic of all the Mercedes saloons at launch, with a drag co-efficient of 0.34. An obsession with creating a lighter, smaller, more efficient Benz meant a kerbweight from just 1,080kg, too, hundreds less than any other four-door Mercedes. The same benefits of low mass that are harped on about today were undoubtedly also relevant in the early 1980s. Plus, of course, the 190 was famously styled by Bruno Sacco, car design extraordinaire, meaning even the base models cut a dash. “Even a Baby-Benz has to look like a Mercedes-Benz, but not like a scaled-down S-Class.” That was the maxim of Peter Pfeiffer, said to have been a big influence on Sacco’s finished car, and we’re certainly not going to disagree. The W201 still looks superb.

It launched as the 90hp 190 with a carb and the fuel injected 190E with 122hp, both using the 2.0-litre M102 four-cylinder from the W123. After that came a 72hp (!) diesel, the 160hp straight six 2.6 to take on the 325i and, for 1990, a 1.8-litre fuel injected engine to take the place of the 2.0-litre carb’d 190.

But it’s the four-cylinder, 16-valve cars that really cemented the 190’s place as a Benz hero. To folk like us, at least. You’ll probably know the story of a doomed Group B rally effort and the input of Cosworth already; if not, it’s well worth swotting up on John’s 2.3-16 history here. Despite no rally glory, the 185hp 190E 2.3-16 made for a superb sports saloon, and even if it's commonly accepted that the Cosworth kudos was lost for the 195hp 2.5-16 in 1988, it remained every inch the M3 rival. Then it really kicked off in the early 90s, the wild Evolution I and Evolution II versions of the 2.5-litre 190E showing just how serious Mercedes was about touring car domination. In 1992, Klaus Ludwig, Kurt Thiim and Bernd Schneider took the top three DTM places. Johnny Cecotto was the best placed M3 driver, in fourth. Point proven.

All of which - the age, the toughness, the motorsport history - makes it a lot more expensive to get into a 190 than it used to be. Because the W201 was so well built, so stylish and so revolutionary for the brand, opening the three-pointed star up to a whole new audience, Mercedes sold heaps of them. Which meant they eventually got very cheap, and since they were tough these poor old Mercs weren’t always taken care of as they should have been. Throw in scrappage schemes and it takes away even more survivors. However, it says much of the W201’s longevity and popularity that there are still plenty for sale on PH. From just £3,500, in fact, if you’re happy with an automatic 190E. £10k is towards the top end for the 2.0-litre cars, with a couple of grand more buying what looks like a decent 2.6. As for the 2.3s and 2.5s, their reputation means big prices - if not quite M3 money. The brave might want to check out this 210,000-mile project, or there’s this for the less risk averse; a 1989 2.5-16, recently restored, magazine featured and yours for £30k. Who knows where we’ll be in another 40 years as far as fast cars are concerned, but a 190E like that is definitely still going to be an icon come 2062. And what a story its history will be by then…


 

 

 

 

Author
Discussion

Kawasicki

Original Poster:

11,788 posts

219 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Always loved them, never owned one. Drove a friend’s 2.3-16 a couple of times.

Just a nice package!

spreadsheet monkey

4,325 posts

211 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Oof. £12k for a 190E 2.6. Looks nice enough, but still 128k miles and “not much history”.

I remember them popping up in the £1-5k barge thread not that long ago!

Love the 190E in general, and it looks sharp and distinctively Mercedes, compared to today’s blobby generic cars.

blue al

683 posts

143 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
This instead… https://www.pistonheads.com/buy/listing/12186783

No wonder BL went bankrupt

Rostyle

36 posts

59 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
So its the early 80s , new company car, my Dad's choice comes down to Rover 2600s, Audi100CD , or Merc190E. The BMW 320i was quickly discounted as it looked similar to the 70s model ( if you look at next gen E36 there is definitely a hint of 190E , even BMW knew their shape was old hat in the mid 80s...) Audi 100 no good as I think it was just too long. So we knew that 190E was beautifully engineered but it was so expensive and so small inside ,sadly it was discounted early on . We ended up getting the Rover 2600s face-lift version which was actually very nice . Still hanker after a 2.0l 190E after all these years ,auto as I've heard the manual isn't that great.

Rob 131 Sport

1,483 posts

36 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
A really great quality and stylish piece. They were really something with a great classy appeal, especially with a few factory options.

I went the E30 route (86 320i SE) in the early 90’s when I could afford such a vehicle, but did look seriously at the 190E. In the end the BMW’s better performance an as a used car their lower price won the day.

Pflanzgarten

1,476 posts

9 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Back when mechanical integrity meant something. I imagine a lot of the proceeding C-Class' were sold to people like my father who's perception of Mercedes was formed by the 190E before it.

They might have sold many but they were a fearsomely expensive car when new in the UK.

s m

22,469 posts

187 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Kawasicki said:
Always loved them, never owned one. Drove a friend’s 2.3-16 a couple of times.

Just a nice package!
Friend had a 2.3 ages ago when they were really cheap cars at just around current shed money - £1500. It was nice but never felt like it had all the horses there maybe because of the weight. Succumbed to the tin worm so later he got the 2.5-16 which he still has. Seems much quicker and is well built. Very well tied down at the back so even with 200bhp it’s not lairy at all

Numeric

1,160 posts

135 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
The depth of core quality compared with what was generally around at the time was immense.

They were not exciting as such, but at the time people seemed to appreciate that quality more than felt the need for low profile tyres, toys and stiff suspension; the 190e was a brilliant creature for its time but that time was rapidly ending.

One of those vehicles you could drive to Italy in a day and still be able to go for dinner feeling quite fresh.

40 years?? Oh but I feel old!

Hippea

1,106 posts

53 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Peak car!

I would love a clean 190e, just a 2.0 auto as a retro daily, I think it would be perfect to waft around in.

The 2.5 diesel version is probably the ‘best’ car ever made and would last you a lifetime

Edited by Hippea on Wednesday 23 November 08:42

raspy

974 posts

78 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Numeric said:
The depth of core quality compared with what was generally around at the time was immense.

They were not exciting as such, but at the time people seemed to appreciate that quality more than felt the need for low profile tyres, toys and stiff suspension; the 190e was a brilliant creature for its time but that time was rapidly ending.

One of those vehicles you could drive to Italy in a day and still be able to go for dinner feeling quite fresh.

40 years?? Oh but I feel old!
Yes, the quality of the 190E at the time was leagues above the 3 series of the same era. How fascinating that fast forward to today and it's a 3 series that is of a higher quality and better put together than a C class (imho)

Kawasicki

Original Poster:

11,788 posts

219 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
raspy said:
Numeric said:
The depth of core quality compared with what was generally around at the time was immense.

They were not exciting as such, but at the time people seemed to appreciate that quality more than felt the need for low profile tyres, toys and stiff suspension; the 190e was a brilliant creature for its time but that time was rapidly ending.

One of those vehicles you could drive to Italy in a day and still be able to go for dinner feeling quite fresh.

40 years?? Oh but I feel old!
Yes, the quality of the 190E at the time was leagues above the 3 series of the same era. How fascinating that fast forward to today and it's a 3 series that is of a higher quality and better put together than a C class (imho)
It wasn’t leagues ahead of the E30. It was comparable, maybe a little better.

The E30 was also robust, with decent build quality.

MrGeoff

485 posts

156 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Had a couple of these, 1.8 manual and 2.0 auto. The manual was a better drive as the auto box was not great. Build quality was spot on. I'd have another but it would have to be the 2.5.

TheOctaneAddict

516 posts

31 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Always wanted one of these, nearly got one as a first car but went for a Mk2 Golf. The 190 remains an itch that needs to be scratched.

The spinner of plates

16,767 posts

184 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Kawasicki said:
raspy said:
Numeric said:
The depth of core quality compared with what was generally around at the time was immense.

They were not exciting as such, but at the time people seemed to appreciate that quality more than felt the need for low profile tyres, toys and stiff suspension; the 190e was a brilliant creature for its time but that time was rapidly ending.

One of those vehicles you could drive to Italy in a day and still be able to go for dinner feeling quite fresh.

40 years?? Oh but I feel old!
Yes, the quality of the 190E at the time was leagues above the 3 series of the same era. How fascinating that fast forward to today and it's a 3 series that is of a higher quality and better put together than a C class (imho)
It wasn’t leagues ahead of the E30. It was comparable, maybe a little better.

The E30 was also robust, with decent build quality.
The e30 was definitely more of a drivers car, the 190 more a mini S class.

In terms of comparison though, my dad was driving a mk2 Vauxhall Cavalier in the mid 80s. The Merc / BMW offerings were on a totally different level in terms of quality.
But they did cost nearly twice as much.

Fastchas

2,449 posts

105 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
That £3,500 example looks great, well worth the money.

Nicolas Lazar

66 posts

11 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Opportunity to ponder what core qualities of the real life / every day passenger car have been improved since then. Real qualities, not gimmicks.

VladD

7,615 posts

249 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
I had a 190E in the late 90s when I lived in the US. Decent for wafting around in.

Turbobanana

4,373 posts

185 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
Near launch date, the design team went out for a celebratory lunch.

Everyone chose the bratwurst, except Peter Pfeiffer who picked a peck of pickled pepper.

Edited by Turbobanana on Wednesday 23 November 09:20

cerb4.5lee

24,943 posts

164 months

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
I've always admired the 190E, and I'd really like a go in one to see what they're like.

JensonMcRae

20 posts

1 month

Wednesday 23rd November
quotequote all
I don't know if it's a sign of me getting older, or the fact that I pass one coming the other way everyday on my way to work, but these appeal more and more to me. Proper Merc engineering and build quality too.