I've always had a plentiful respect for those who use older and more interesting cars all year round, whatever the weather. There's a bloke in my village with an immaculate Morris Minor of the sort that normally gets to trundle between country pubs and classic meets, but seems to be his only vehicle and gets used throughout the winter. We all know that regular use is better than hibernation for keeping oily bits in fettle, and slippery conditions (and quieter roads) often make for better driving adventures.
In previous years I've run older cars through winters, including this very 2.5-16. It's even seen a couple of snowy carparks in its time. Yet this year I've chickened out. Having recently paid a substantial bill to repair rust damage I've resolved to keep the 190E away from salted roads and the sort of perma-damp conditions that encourage tinworm. So when the tax ran out at the end of October I didn't think twice about SORNing it until spring.
This was also an admission of defeat. Having got the 190E back from its long-term mini-restoration with specialists Autoclass in June the plan was to try and put some proper miles on it, or at least make use of a majority of the 3,000 a year it's insured for with Arian Flux. In that I failed almost completely: the total from getting it back to laying it up was just 390.
Much of this was down to the weirdness of 2020, and the fact that my bit of the motor industry ended up trying to fit half a year's worth of product launches and events into about three months. Most of my summer was flat-out, and my Cayman's combination of air con and the proven ability to finish a journey without a problem more than half the time meant it was just easier to use it. The Merc's temperamental nature brought up the perennial chicken-egg situation that will be familiar to owners of other elderly cars: any period off-road will bring up a stream of issues that need to be resolved.
The 190E made this point a couple of weeks after it came back, when the electric windows and power-operated front seats stopped working. Scrabbling with a multimeter and confirmed there was power at the window switches, power at the ignition key's 'run' position and power on the high current side of the relays. Just something obviously missing between them. Having spend half a day staring at 190E wiring diagrams - and marveling at how often Mercedes seemed to change them - I admitted defeat and sent it back to Autoclass. It turned out that a diode to allow electrical operation when the driver's door is open had failed, something I didn't even know existed.
As soon as that was fixed the next problem cropped up: sometimes the engine would develop a very lumpy idle or stall. It was another of those irritating intermittent issues that never seemed to be there when I was in a position to try and work out what was going on, but it often made low-speed driving a pain. After a while I realised that once the car had been driven reasonably enthusiastically for a few miles it would go away until the car had fully cooled again. But a proper solution is still on the to do list.
But I've always been somebody who tends to treat cars like pets. I'm a keeper, not a changer - and although I've toyed with the idea of cashing in the 2.5's increased value and moving on, I still struggle to imagine actually getting rid of it. My drive in Mercedes Classic's immaculate Evo II in September made me realise just how special even the standard 16-Valve is. Not in terms of outright performance, but rather the unlikely combination of the staid middle classness of an '80s Merc with a rev-happy engine that feels properly motorsport-y every time it's unleashed.
The Merc seemed to sense my angst, with the last drive of the year - a fine autumn day on the roads around the Berkshire Downs - reminding me why I like it so much. It's laid up until the spring now, and I really do need to make sure it gets more use next year. And more love, too.
Car: 1990 Mercedes 190E 2.5-16
Run by: Mike Duff
Bought: May 2012
Mileage at purchase: 157,000
Mileage now: 161,360
Last month at a glance: Niggling problems test my resolve, but the love is still there. I think.
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