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PH Fleet: Mercedes 190E 2.5-16

Never meet your heroes. Or buy them and leave them stationary on the driveway for four years...

By Mike Duff / Friday, February 22, 2019

Investing is, at its essence, nothing more than gambling and I claim no visionary genius behind my decision, back in 2012, to buy this purplish version of Merc's seminal '80s sports saloon. The regular 190E was a staid, middle-class appliance, but the 16-valve version - with a Cosworth developed cylinder head to homologate it for racing - was one of the snazziest four-doors in the period. With apologies for a horrendous cliché, I did indeed have a poster of one on my bedroom wall - albeit one that was smaller and less prominently positioned than the one for the Sierra RS.

But I couldn't afford a Sierra Cosworth, nor indeed an E30 M3, with the 2.5-16 being less than half the then-price of a rough example of either. In terms of raw worth the 190E was undoubtedly my best automotive investment, indeed the practically the only one that hasn't barbequed a pile of fifties. I paid £5700 for it from a dealer, which was towards the top of the market back then considering what looked like a highish mileage. It's had a not-great respray at some point, although the Almandine Red colour is original, but it has a six-inch history file that goes all the way back to the original sales invoice. Given the punchy valuations being attached to similar cars it's got to be worth more than twice that now; of course, if I'd bought the rare-groove Evolution I'd pretty much have a Bitcoin haul.

Not that I was getting much use out of my hard-working asset. Life had got in the way and - as is often the case with older motors when you have access to newer ones - issues stacked up. A 1990s alarm proved to be a battery slayer, and immobilized the car at inevitably inopportune moments, a persistent misfire never got better, no matter how much I ignored it, and rust started to bubble through the front wings. My critical error was filling in the SORN declaration back in 2015, turning the Merc into a driveway ornament and adding extra hassle to a reawakening.

Which is what it would probably have stayed as a while longer if I hadn't moved late last year. Reckoning the new house buyers were unlikely to include fair value for a mildewing Merc I bit the bullet and dispatched it to Autoclass in Milton Keynes, the well-regarded specialist who had looked after it when it was last mobile. Then I waited anxiously for the phone call from proprietor James Tate. The good news was that the mechanical and electrical problems were all pretty trivial. The bad news? "There's quite a bit of rust underneath..."

It wasn't just the bits I could see, there was rot in the jacking points and various other bits of the underbody. Justifying the expenditure on the basis the car had been quietly earning as it decayed - and watching the Ford's spectacular "I'm going to make you great again" cheesefest to gee myself up - I authorized the bodyshop to do the necessary, resulting in a £1538 bill.

Other stuff was less financially painful. The Dunlop tyres that the car had been sitting on for years were more square than round so would need replacing. They had been fine, so my first instinct was just to get another set, only to find they don't exist any more. Indeed the 190E's once-enormous 205/55R15s are now barely supported and while the internet offered plenty of choice, most were from cheap-and-cheerless unknown brands clearly aimed at price conscious minicabbers. While 207hp isn't exactly huge by modern standards, I still want some chance of getting it onto the tarmac...

Fortunately Kumho still makes the well-reviewed Ecsta in this odd size, so a set were ordered and fitted - £292.00. Brakes had also been killed by the long sit; the 190E was on aftermarket drilled discs when I got it, and I never found a set of pads that seemed to get on well with them. At Autoclass's recommendation I've swapped back to standard Merc discs and pads - OE parts are still available, and £226.12 for all the parts for both axles seemed more than fair.

There are still a couple of problems to be sorted out - a non-working electric window and a stuck sunroof - then the 190E will be heading for its Moment Of Truth with the inspector. With the removal of the kamikaze alarm I also need to think of a security solution beyond the unusual layout of the dogleg gearbox. Are Diskloks really coming back into fashion?

All being well it will be back on the road in the next couple of weeks, and I can start polishing some life into the faded paintwork and having some of those long-postponed driving adventures I bought it to enjoy in the first place.

Car: 1990 Mercedes 190E 2.5-16
Bought: May 2012
Run by: Mike Duff
Mileage at purchase: 157,000
Mileage now: 161,000 (!)
Last month at a glance: £££

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