Ooo, now here’s a treat for you. Admittedly, not a cheap one. This isn’t an “Oh look, I’ve a spare ten pence,” so you bag yourself some pick ‘n’ mix while in the sweet shop – is anyone else now craving a fizzy cola bottle and one of those fried-eggy things now? Thinking about it, aren’t they the most bizarre sweet idea ever? Have I drifted off topic? I have. Sorry.
Anyway, this treat is expensive. You could bag all the penny sweets in the northern hemisphere for this kind of lolly, but even if you did, this thing’s got far more fizz than that. Yep, a Mercedes 190E (already a good start) 2.5-16 (even better) Evolution (now you’re talking)…II (whoops, grab the mop, I’ve just widdled).
As we know, the 2.3 Cosworth was already a cracking thing. Born out of the desire of the bigwigs at Stuttgart HQ to have something lighter and lither to take over rallying duties from the unlikely – but surprisingly successful – SLC (the C107), they knocked on Cosworth’s Northamptonshire door. And when it opened, they said “Mach uns bitte einen Motor,” which means “Make us an engine please.” So Cosworth did, and the 2.3-litre 16-valve four-pot was the result. But the thing about rallying in the 80s, is that all roads lead to the Audi Quattro. And a 190E wasn't going to cut it.
I mean, how many times do you read about a manufacturer at that time developing some new-fangled marvel to compete in Group B, followed by that phrase ‘Then the FIA banned Group B before the [insert name here] could compete’? Think about the number of cars in that camp. Everything from the Mitsubishi Starion to the Ferrari 288 GTO and Porsche 959.
The 190E 2.3-16 Cosworth wasn’t one of them, though. It wasn’t the demise of Group B that scuppered it. Cosworth had the Mercedes M102 fettled into a 260hp high-revving motor by 1983 – with 16 valves, lightweight Mahle pistons and a four-branch exhaust manifold it peaked at 7,100rpm even in road-going form. And that was way before Group B went south. But by then Audi had unleashed its four-wheel drive monster. Mercedes saw it and thought ‘Oh, heck, what’s the point?’ It knew immediately the rear-wheel-drive 190E stood no chance, so they didn’t bother to enter it.
Instead, the 2.3-16 became a bit of a skunkworks project, after the angry Mercedes bosses vetoed any more motorsport programmes. The engineers continued to develop it under the veneer of a road-going performance version of the W201 and, in 1983, sent it to Nardo, where it demolished records by completing 50,000km at an average speed of 154.06mph. To publicise the car’s debut, Mercedes organised a one-off promotional race – the 1984 Nürburgring Race of Champions – at the opening of the new Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit. As you may remember, it gathered a bunch of past and present F1 drivers, and everybody knows who won. It’s said to have put his name on the map, and, if you don’t who it is, his surname rhymes with Caitlyn Jenner’s and he also had a well-published car crash.
By the time the car was launched in 1984, Mercedes had bagged a year’s worth of orders. Roll on 1985 and they’d sold 5,000 of them – enough to satisfy the FIA’s Group A homologation requirements. Still, there was to be no official motorsport programme, though. So a 190E Cosworth ‘accidentally’ found its way into the hands of a privateer race team in the DTM championship. It was more of a test year, really, with no finishes in the handful of races it competed in. But more teams ran it for 1986, including Team Marko – as in Helmut Marko – in cahoots with AMG. The car’s relatively sophisticated multi-link suspension took a while to perfect, but by the end of the year the 190E was the car to beat. Marko’s driver Volker Weidler finished second in the championship. After this, Mercedes’ refusal to race waned, and more and more Mercedes personnel were seen in the paddock to assist.
However, in 1987 another car spoilt Mercedes’ party. Not an Audi, this time, but a BMW: the new E30 BMW M3. It was fast out of the box and took the championship. On top of that the turbo cars, like the Ford Sierra Cosworth, were making 500hp. Even when the turbo cars were encumbered by a weight penalty, the 260hp 190E couldn’t compete with that. Mercedes used this year as a preparation year for a full, factory-backed assault in 1988, with AMG now its official partner. This led to an increase in power for the 2.3-litre to 300hp, before eventually more oomph came when the engine was stroked to 2.5-litres. And even more was planned.
In 1989, the team launched the 2.5 Evolution I. 502 road cars had to be produced to homologate it and, in race trim, power was up to around 315hp at 8,500rpm – thanks to a shorter stroke that allowed a higher rev limit. Other additions included adjustable suspension, wider tracks and an aero upgrade in the form of a rear wing. It won the first race it entered, in the hands of Roland Asch. Mercedes now appeared to be odds-on favourites for the title, but inconsistencies with the car and its drivers meant Kurt Thiim was the highest-placed driver at the end of the year – he finished fourth. By now, though, the 2.5 Evolution II was being prepared. This would have in the region of 370hp and even more aero performance, honed in the wind tunnel. That included its sculpted arches and huge rear wing, plus a second aerofoil at the top of the rear screen. It was said to deliver 70kg of downforce – 50kg on the back wheels and 20kg on the fronts.
It was launched on track late in 1990, and BMW’s head of research and development at the time, Wolfgang Reitzle, said famously: ‘The laws of aerodynamics must be different between Munich and Stuttgart; if that rear wing works, we’ll have to redesign our wind tunnel.’ Apparently, in the end, that's what BMW did. Although there was no Mercedes title in 1990, and nor was there in 1991, the car was obviously quick and, by 1992, the 2.5-16 Evolution II was a force to be reckoned with. The races were closely fought between BMW and Mercedes, but with 16 wins out of 24 rounds, the 190E finally had the title it long deserved.
That is why this 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II is such a historic car, and why it’s arguably worth the enormous figure it commands today. A rare car – again, they made just 502 for homologation purposes – and, without doubt, a rare treat to see in this condition.
Specification | Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II
Engine: 2,463cc, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated
Transmission: five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 235@7,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 181@5,000rpm
First registered: 1990
Recorded mileage: 71,000
Price new: 115,259 deutschmarks
Yours for: £189,995
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