In May 1993, Mercedes-Benz introduced the first generation of C-Class to the world - the compact 'W202' saloon. Besides marking the debut of the C-Class moniker, the replacement for the legendary 190E was also the first Mercedes to feature an official AMG variant in its line-up.
The C36 AMG, which arrived in the UK in 1994, was the initial offering. This car, which was based on a Mercedes-built C280 Sport and reworked by AMG, featured a host of upgrades and a naturally aspirated 3.6-litre straight-six engine that put out 280hp. The rear-drive saloon, which was designed as a rival to the six-cylinder M3, was capable of accelerating from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds.
A V8 version followed in late 1997, packing a naturally aspirated 4.3-litre engine that thundered out 306hp - and, more prominently, 302lb ft. This allowed the factory Q-car to sprint from 0-62mph in just 6.5 seconds and, like the C36 AMG, to top out at 155mph. Unlike the C36, however, these versions were built in-house as an AMG from the ground up. An estate was also offered, in an effort to pull in more buyers.
These AMGs were admittedly not as gratifying to drive as contemporaries such as the E36 generation of BMW M3 - but they weren't devoid of plus points; sweet engines aside, their stout, subtle and comfortable nature granted them considerable appeal.
Today, they're also far more affordable than the equivalent BMW. Driveable projects start from around £2,000 and sound high-mileage examples commanding upwards of £4,000. Even an immaculate low-mileage car will rarely command more than £10,000. Parts supply is also good, from both aftermarket sources and Mercedes-Benz, further making them a tempting choice.
Bodywork and interior
Like conventional versions of the W202 C-Class, these AMGs can suffer from substantial rust-related problems. Front wings are a common failure point, leading to some fairly ugly cosmetic issues, but panels are readily available and only cost around £60. Some cars, on the flip side, are comparatively free from corrosion - so it's worth seeking out a smart example.
Keep an eye out for signs of crash damage and subsequent poor repairs. In any case, get a decent history check on any prospective purchase in order to avoid ending up with a duff example.
Windscreens often delaminate, resulting in cloudy and milky sections in the glass. Replacement is the only solution; a new windscreen will cost around £300.
Moisture can work its way through the seal in the glass headlights. A DIY fix is possible but you may find that moisture is getting in through a crack in the glass. These can sometimes be repaired but, in the worst case, a replacement unit is around £60.
The interiors are durable and major issues are rare. Make sure everything functions as expected, though, including the mechanism for the single windscreen wiper - which should extend into the corners of the screens as it travels and should also operate in a smooth, quick fashion.
Engine and transmission
The C36's 3.6-litre straight-six engine can suffer from head gasket failure. As a result, you need to carefully look for any signs of overheating or cross-contamination of the oil and coolant. Make a point of looking for external oil leaks, too.
The C43's V8, on the other hand, is a durable unit that should soldier on indefinitely provided it is properly maintained. They do have two plugs per cylinder, though, so bear that in mind if a service is coming up. Regardless of engine choice, listen for any rattles from the catalytic converters as these are expensive to replace.
Early C36s came with a four-speed automatic which is tough if maintained properly, so check the quality of the transmission fluid and look for evidence of routine servicing. The later five-speed transmission, which was also the only option in the V8 C43, is less reliable. Rear ends, however, are generally trouble-free.
One of the Achilles heels of early W202s is their biodegradable engine harness, which ages prematurely and causes intermittent electrical issues. This tends to only be a problem in W202s built from '93-'95, however, and particularly cars that have lived their lives in city traffic - where the engine bay temperatures rise regularly, exacerbating degradation of the harness. Repairs are possible but, in most cases, replacing the entire thing is the most sensible option. Complete looms cost upwards of £400 but take a considerable amount of time to replace.
These wiring harness issues can damage the ECU in the worst case but, fortunately, can often be easily repaired.
Suspension and steering
Time and mileage will have likely taken their toll on an AMG from this era, resulting in a plethora of potential suspension-related issues such as worn ball joints and tired bushes in the lower wishbones. Fortunately, spares are readily available. A wishbone will set you back in the region of £70, including bushes, while a lower ball joint - for example - will cost only £15.
If the steering feels slack and imprecise then the steering damper may be failing. These cost around £30 and can vastly improve the handling of a C36 or C43.
A range of suspension upgrades are available, ranging from £150 strut braces through to £300 lowering springs. Aftermarket bushes and dampers are also available, for those looking to sharpen up their W202 further.
Wheels, tyres and brakes
Braking components for the C36 and C43 are easy to find. A set of brand-name front discs and pads will cost £100, for example. Even callipers aren't costly, coming in at around £70 a corner, and braided brake line kits cost £90. Ensure that the ABS functions as expected, though, as repairs could quickly get expensive.
Tyres for the C36 and C43 aren't difficult to come by. The correct specification is 225/45 ZR 17 up front and 245/40 ZR 17 out back; good name-brand tyres for the front axle will set you back upwards of £70 a corner, while the rears will cost around £100 apiece. Check the 'Monoblock' wheels for any sign of damage, though, in case you need to budget for refurbishing them.
SPECIFICATION - MERCEDES-BENZ C36 AMG/C43 AMG (W202)
Engine: 3,606cc I6/4,266cc V8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic (5-speed from 1996 on)/5-speed automatic
Power (hp): 280/306@5,750/5,850rpm
Torque (lb ft): 284/302@4,000/3,250rpm
Price new: £42,820/£47,420 (1998)
Price now: £4,000 upwards
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