Sunday, January 4, 2015

Mercedes Benz w201 190e 2.3 / 2.6 / Cosworth / Sportline Limited Edition Review

The W201 Mercedes Benz 190e

Production of the " Baby Benz " ran from 1984 through 1993;

 Prices are rising for this Young Classic as collectors take notice.


Is the 190e The Best Car Ever Made?

Mercedes Benz considered offering smaller cars beginning in the 1930's but it was legislation in the United States that eventually pushed the program forward. Embedded in the 1977 Clean Air Act was the introduction of CAFE Standards ( Corporate Average Fuel Economy) that originally specified that by 1985, auto manufacturers were expected to have an average 27.5 mpg for their domestic offerings. 

The US was a valuable and growing market for Mercedes for luxury mid and large sedans, most of which were fully equipped with the largest 6 and 8 cylinder powerplants as standard. It was clear that the company had to make some drastic changes in order to keep selling in the USA.

Mercedes decided to go where it hand never gone before - into the Compact car market, with the proviso that a smaller Mercedes Benz must exhibit all the safety, quality and comfort their traditional customers expected of the company. Regardless of dimensions, the goal was it must drive like a Mercedes Benz.

Isn't this great looking?...To bad they didn't build THIS in the 70's!

One of the initial steps taken was to cannibalize one of their current mid-sized sedans by cutting length and width - and welding it back together to determine needed cabin space and possible exterior dimensions (above).


Early Concept.

Designers meanwhile rendered an exhaustive range of proposals, all of which were panned by chief designer Bruno Sacco - who basically put the teams on other projects to clear their minds before starting from scratch again.

Mr. Sacco would also be credited with the creation of the now iconic w126 S Class and w124 E Class Series, both of which remaining to this day the most successful selling examples of their class. Under his innate Italian sense of styling and guidance, the final design of the W201 190 Series was approved in 1982. Mercedes was now ready to take on the world for the1980's and 90's.

99% There - C-Pillar Extractors and tail lights not quite done.

The W201 would run for ten years with several variants and only minor stylistic changes.

Introduced as a 1984 model in the United States, the car was universally praised for its quality, handling, economy and styling, unlike the mixed reactions to today's CLA250. BMW was certainly paying attention as sales of the 3 Series would certainly be affected.

The Final Version of the W201 Baby Benz 190 at Introduction.

From 1984 through 1986, Mercedes offered the w201 in 4 cylinder gasoline and diesel models, both averaging over 30 mpg highway. Standard equipment levels were high for U.S. models with MB-Tex upholstery, air conditioning, automatic climate control, electric passenger mirror, driver's airbag, 4 wheel disc brakes, full alloys, central locking, tinted glass, real zebrano wood accents on the center console and electric sunroof. 

Unique to the w201 was a 5 multi-link rear axle at each rear wheel, endowing the smallest Mercedes with the best handling and cornering of all models offered. This breakthrough would be incorporated into all Mercedes as the 90's progressed.

European Version Headlights
Fluted cornering and tail lights were designed to self-clean with rain and wind.

The Cosworth 2.3-16v

For 1986 and 1987, Mercedes imported a slightly detuned version of its rallye racing variant, the 2.3-16 valve Cosworth, complete with track rear spoiler, ground effects air dams front sides and rear and a four place leather interior by Recaro. The 2.5 version was Europe Only.

Lower and stiffer springs, tighter steering gears and a smaller diameter steering wheel created superior handling to match the British tuned racing engine's output of approx 170hp. Available in Smoke Silver or Charcoal Black Metallic exclusively, approx 2200 of these great handling cars were imported over two years, in both manual and automatic. Originally designed as a rallye car, The Cosworth went head to head with BMW's M3, however Audi's introduction of quattro technology proved superior at off-road racing.

Further race track versions called The Evolution were also introduced, featuring larger swept wheel arch flares, lower front and rear air dams and a very substantial rear wing. These cars are heavily sought after by collectors and sell in 2015 for in excess of $100k.

US Version featuring more flush headlights for 1987.

For 1987, the big news was the introduction of the 190e 2.6, a nod toward the muscle car approach so successfully employed by Detroit in the 1960's: Small Car Big Engine.... creating superior performance and smoother driving characteristics.

Semi flush headlights and a 2.6 badge on the trunk were the only external clues that this was a new model, but the interior now included standard electric front seats AND headrests. Leather was made available as an option and ABS brakes became standard. The dash speakers were also enlarged and redesigned.

Minor interior enhancements were fitted to the line, including upgraded upholstery and moving a few switches to different locations; The sunroof switch moved from the dash to the roof, and the Up/Down electric antenna switch was deleted entirely. Lower body plastic cladding panels were now added in a variety of color to complement the paintwork.
Sportline option package featured sport shocks, buckets.

The 1990's saw the addition of a Sportline options package in the United States, which included leather interior with front bucket seats, a smaller diameter steering wheel and Bilstein-sourced sport shocks. Otherwise, the cars were identical to the standard 190e 2.6 with the exception of two " sportline" badges on the lower cladding behind the front wheels.

The 1993 190e 2.3 and 2.6 Limited Editions Brochure

As the final year of production approached for 1993, Mercedes created two unique Limited Editions of 700 cars for each of the engine displacements. Both cars were "trunk badge deletes"; only the center 3 pointed star appeared.

700 of each were made available in the US for 1993.

The 1993 190e 2.3 Limited Edition: Emerald over Creme Leather.

Special Burlwood Dash Accents: The First and ONLY time the interior wood was not Zebrano.

The 1993 190e 2.3 Limited Edition was produced exclusively in Emerald Green Metallic with matching lower cladding, a 5 place creme leather interior and a burlwood console and dash facing. This limited edition was NOT a Sportline optioned car.

Rarest Of The 190e 2.6's: 700 Made.

The real news, however, was the 1993 190e 2.6 Limited Edition Sportline. Offered only in gloss black with dark grey lower cladding, the unique 4 place bucket seat interior by Recaro featured black leather with red inserts and piping, rear headrests, carbon fiber-look dash and console accents and a smaller diameter steering wheel.

Add Cosworth Handling and Interior Layout.

Steering gear and sport springs were borrowed from the Cosworth, along with thicker sway bars, lower control arms and upgraded bushings. Sitting noticeably lower than the standard 190e, the Limited Edition gave buyers the handling experience of the famed Cosworth with the reliability of the bullet-proof 2.6 inline, which nearly matched the Cosworth's horsepower. Oddly, the Limited Edition was offered as a no-cost option package that included rear headrests and headlight wipers at a discounted price, in lieu of manufacturer incentives. The 2.3 LE stickered for approx $31k while the 2.6 had an MSRP of $34,000, roughly a $3000 discount from 1992's Sportline-equipped versions.

Pictured below is a 48k original miles 1993 Limited Edition that has been restored. The carbon fiber dash panels were cheaply made by MBZ using painted stencil on boards under lacquer and could not be restored so they were replaced by genuine zebrano wood pieces. This car is available for sale at $10,450.

Design Exercises & Some Custom Coach-Built Versions:

Unfortunately for those of us who love these cars, there was only one body style through the entire 10 year production run: the 4 door sedan. Ever wonder what a convertible, a coupe or even a hatchback would have looked like?.....Wonder no more - some were built!

Mercedes Benz toyed with idea of a convertible and actually built one in 1989 - but it never gave the green light for production - too bad; A German Tuning & Coachwork Company - Shultz - did produce several custom versions of the convertible, coupe and an unusual hatchback with the car now ending at the rear windshield; rear doors were retained but sealed.

Withstanding The Test Of Time.

My first 190e 2.6: Nautical Blue Over Grey MB-Tex; 2 Owners; 70k Miles.

Fully 30 years after introduction, the newest 190e available is now 23 years old. Yet a search of ebay, craigslist etc reveals hundreds of 190's in decent daily driver condition available anywhere averaging around $3000 to $5000 with 150,000+ miles. In contrast, try searching for a BMW 3 Series or Audi from the same period and you'll be lucky to find a half-dozen, as most have long passed on.

I personally fell in love with the 190e in 2008 with the purchase of a 1987 with 70k miles (above). Intended as a daily driver to keep the mileage off my collector cars, I was completely smitten by this little car. It simply did everything better than I expected. It was more comfortable, more sporty and more economical. The trunk was cavernous. With Blizzak snow tires, it joyfully passed 4 x 4's having difficulties, and a huge supply of new and used parts pretty much guaranteed you could fix or replace anything. In the last 7 years, I've restored five of these "Baby Benz."

the 1987 190e 2.6 Interior w/Zebrano Dash/Door Upgrade Trim That We Sell

2.3-8V 4Cylinder Vs 2.6 2.6-12V

A 1 Owner 1985 190e 2.3
1985 190e 2.3 w/ rare Blue Interior & Zebrano Wood Upgrade.

Rated at approx 170hp, the 2.6 inline six's terrific powerplant requires little attention, with 0-60 coming in at 7.8 seconds; the 2.3, rated at 30 Hp less - will take almost 9.8; The added weight of the six cylinder makes the 2.6  feel bigger and more substantial - although build quality as far as trim, door fit are identical. Visually in and out, they are nearly impossible to tell apart. Note the early thru 1986 consoles seemed to float, providing extra storage space.

First Year: The 1984 190e 2.3-8V

The 1984 190e 2.3 Interior: MB-Tex looks great 30 years later.

The 2.3 engine - because it works harder, is subject to more maintenance. It is also prone to  to overheating which occurs either because the fuse to the radiator fan blows and/or the head gasket fails. If you own a 2.3 be VERY aware of your temperature gauge and check your gaskets regularly....or else.

Regardless of which version you select, once you get over 30 mph these cars drive very much the same.

A Lightly Customized 1989 190e 2.6 Restored For A Client.
Buying A Used 190e.

Having restored over 40 collector, classic and special interest cars including five 190e's, be prepared to eventually spend at least $10,000 NOT including paint. The choice you're faced with is whether to spend it upfront on a fully restored excellent condition lower  mileage example, or over time by buying an average daily driver. Do not think you can buy a $3000 Mercedes and drive happily ever after without further investment. There is nothing more expensive than a cheap Mercedes.

Personally, I prefer paying up at the beginning for low mileage original paint rust free cars because they are just cheaper in the long run - AND - come time to sell, will fetch more money as the prices for these cars has been rising for the last few years. Restored correctly, you will not make huge profits unless prices accelerate rapidly; You may however find that you've been able to drive the car for free.

Here a few things to look for and be aware of....

Door Panels are Thermal Formed. This what a perfect one looks like.

Parts are generally available either new or used, but a few can create a problem. Top of the list are the MB-Tex thermal-formed door panels, which are no longer available new. If these are ripped, nicked or are separating / pulling away at the door handles, PASS. They can not be repaired without professional help, no matter how hard you try - and believe me, I have. You can find good used ones if you are patient, but be prepared to pay $150+ PER door.

The 190e Headliner: You do NOT want to have to replace this.

Second, closely examine the headliner for rips and tears. If you see any, PASS. The material is inexpensive and available at around $200, but IF THE RIPS ARE IN THE AREAS OUTSIDE THE SUNROOF AREA installation requires the removal of the windshield and rear glass with new seals - not something you want to pay for.

Headlight Door Surrounds that cover fog lights are no longer available new as 2/2014

Third: Be aware that US spec cars featured unique headlight door/surround trim made by Bosch and some aftermarket suppliers like URO/APA and WD Express. As of 2014, these surrounds are no longer made and there is no "old stock". If these surrounds are clouded or cracked, your only real choice is to pony up for a set of new headlight assemblies or convert to Euro units. Either will cost you $400 to $700 plus installation.

Front Jack Port is seen in rocker panel at lower right. Always check these for rust.

Finally, let's talk about rust. The 190e hardly ever exhibits rust corrosion EXCEPT at the four jack ports located just behind and ahead of the wheels in the rocker panel. These are plainly visible with 1984 to 1988 cars without the plastic lower cladding, but are hidden in later models. The rust is caused because the drain tubes from the roof empty at these points and when clogged with leaves and debris, over time rust occurs. If the rust is minor, fine but commit to fixing it immediately. If you find rust anywhere else on these cars, something is amiss - pass.

The Current Marketplace in 2016.

As I previously mentioned, my personal preference is to pay up for low mileage examples of the 190e. By low mileage, I mean 'about 100k or Under' - anything much less will command a huge premium and if your wallet can handle it, may be well worth it. Certainly a car with 60k miles may be worth twice that of one with 120k - and will certainly be easier to sell in future.

The average miles on these cars as of 2015 is now approaching 150k/175k...Although you buy them for under $2000, there is no such thing as a $2000 Mercedes: Be prepared to triple that investment within the first year to sort things out.

190e's under 100k miles are near impossible to find .If you search the entire country, you may find three or four. Personally I value mileage at about .10 for these cars, meaning that if you had two cars being equal in all other respects, the one with 50,000 miles should be worth $5000 more than the one with 100,000 miles. ( 50,000 miles X .10 =$5000 )

You can buy a very nice 2.3 for around $5000 - $6000, and a nice 2.6 for under $7500....but again MILEAGE is starting to play a larger role in the final price.

If you are looking for an 86/87 Cosworth be prepared to pay $10k-$20k for a nice one; One of the 1993 Limited Editions in excellent condition can also bring $12k-$15k due to being the last year of production and a 1/700 rarity.

History has shown that Mercedes collector car prices have a tendency to rise very slowly until they are about 30 years old, then spike rapidly.

The best advice when buying is to look at as many as possible. First, you'll learn what goes wrong on all of them, and second - you'll learn to determine relative value - so when you see a good one for a good price, you'll recognize it - and act.

Let's face it: Mercedes parts are expensive, and auto mechanics put their kids through college on what they charge you,  no matter what car you drive. If possible, make your purchase contingent upon a Pre-Purchase inspection by a Mercedes Benz dealer. The cost is approx $250 and many will credit the fee back if recommended repairs are made. This is a pittance for knowing what the REAL mechanical condition of your next car actually is. If the seller is unwilling to allow an inspection, pass on the car. 

Classic style, Mercedes Benz build quality and safety, economical to own and appreciating in value....When you find the right 190e -  you too may consider them the best car ever made.

 Any questions, email me: