Mercedes was still refining the AMG E-Class blueprint when the W210 E36 AMG was launched in 1996. With a 3.6-litre in-line six under the bonnet performance was brisk rather than breathtaking, with 277hp good for 155mph and a 6.7-second 0-60mph time. Available in left- and right-hand drive and produced from 1996 to 1997 it was the rarest of the AMG E-Class models - and came with a four-speed automatic transmission. Very well specced for the day, this M104-engined AMG entre was more executive, than express. Just 150 examples were sold in the UK.
An M118-engined E50 AMG followed in 1997, with a 5.0-litre V8 punching out a more substantial 342hp, and 355lb ft of torque from just 3,200rpm. Needless to say performance was significantly enhanced, with the 60mph dash down to around 5.8 seconds, but with only left-hand drive versions produced just one UK example was sold.
This oversight was soon addressed however with the 1998 launch of the definitive W210 AMG E-Class - the E55 AMG.Built to rival BMW's M5 the E55 AMG's 5,439cc normally-aspirated V8 motor produced 354hp and a monstrous 390lb ft of torque. Available as a saloon and estate - and in right-hand drive - the low-profile E55 looked similar to a cooking E-Class save for understated AMG bodykit, fat AMG alloys and paired exhaust.
Power was transmitted to the rear via a five-speed automatic transmission and the estate also had self-levelling suspension. The exterior received a facelift in August 1999 with a new grille, bonnet and front wings, plus indicator repeaters in the wing mirrors. And a Tiptronic automatic gearbox was also added. Production ran until October 2002 when the W210 made way for the all-new W211 E-Class.
With 62mph dispatched in just 5.5 seconds the lavish E55 AMG spec included headlamp washers, climate control, heated memory front seats; seat-belt pre-tensioners, leather upholstery with maple-wood dash trim, an adjustable steering column and cruise control.
Performance is bordering on brutal but, with a communicative chassis and steering, full throttle is rarely required. And if you do overstep the mark the E55's immense torque can be tamed by the traction control. UK demand was high with 485 very satisfied owners.
If you fancy buying a W210 then rust is the main issue to look out for, and a cherished example with a pristine service history is definitely worth the extra outlay. Don't buy the cheapest one you can find, as minters are a good investment according to Robert Redman, UK Car Editor at Glass's. "Like many classic cars a W210 E55 AMG in good condition - with provenance - will increase in value. Most buyers will be looking for a car for high days and holidays, and will be planning to keep them for some time - so are prepared to pay for a quality example."
Oliver Stoner, at specialists Prestige Car Service backs this up. "Whilst you can pick up a W210 cheaply, they are often rusty - so take great care when buying." Mint examples of the earlier and much rarer E36 AMG are increasing in value too, but once again it's the tin worm you've got to look out for.
Buy if: you want to own an appreciating classic (mint, rust-free examples only)
Don't buy if: you're looking for a daily driver, or a fettle-free ride
We found: 1999 E55 AMG Saloon, silver, full service history, 105k miles, £4995
Poor: Under £3,700
Good: £3,700 to £9,500
Special Editions: Rust-free E36 AMGs are now extremely rare and increasing in value
Mercedes Benz W210 E55 AMG (1996-2002)
Mercedes Benz W211 E55 AMG (2003-2009)
Mercedes Benz W212 E63 AMG(2009-)
Photos: Tom Begley