Creating the W201 series was a monumental undertaking for Daimler-Benz. Design and prototyping ran through the early days of the 1980s as the company spent 2,000,000,000 DM in development costs for the small chassis to compete against the 3-series. This amount included construction of a new factory in Bremen to help produce the W201. Bruno Sacco, head of Mercedes-Benz styling in the late 1970s and early 1980s, created a compact rendering of the S-class formula which worked well. The chassis brought new refinement to the small executive market, with multi-link independent rear suspension and anti-dive front suspension, along with increased levels of sound deadening and lower wind noise from the aerodynamic design.
Mercedes-Benz wasted little time demonstrating that the new “Baby Benz” was, indeed, worthy of the three-pointed star. The culture within the engineering department was still very much funded with an open checkbook, so no stone was left unturned to created a sedan of unparalleled quality and without compromise. To prove this point, shortly after its introduction Daimler-Benz took three of the newly launched, high-performance 190E 2.3-16 variant to the Nardo test track in Italy. At a time when not many family sedans were able to exceed much more than 110 mph, the diminutive Benz topped 150. But it wasn’t just for a moment; over ten days, the W201s lapped Nardo at a fevered pace, conquering world records in distance over time. First fell the 25,000 km World Record time, then the 25,000 mile one. Ultimately, along with a slew of class records, the 190E 2.3-16s averaged 154 mph for 31,000 miles – yet still returned over 10 mpg.
That achievement signaled the launch of a new level of small sedan performance which soon would be met with improved models from BMW and other marques. And while those subsequent models would go on to be more famous on the race track, the 190E made its mark nonetheless. Following the Nardo record runs, in 1984 Mercedes-Benz handed the keys for 20 identical 2.3-16s to all the Formula 1 stars of the day. The ensuing chaos was enough to make purists cry, but at least one driver who would soon become quite famous took the race seriously. Just like the W201, Senna’s victory at the Nürburgring signaled to the world that there was a new force to be reckoned with; one which quickly would establish itself as a new, higher benchmark.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 on Washington, D.C. Craigslist
Model: 190E 2.3-16
Engine: 2.3 liter inline-4
Transmission: 4-speed automatic (5-speed manual parts accompany)
Mileage: 68,000 mi
(Link to photo gallery with more images and copy of CarFax provided upon request.)
I became the second owner of this Cosworth in August of 1999 when I purchased it from Hatch & Sons in Waltham, MA, with 39K miles (Peter McCarthy was the salesperson). I flew up and back between DC and Boston to test drive and purchase the car.
These cars had only four options available to buyers from the factory:
Paint Color: 702 (Smoke Silver) / 199 (Black Pearl)
Transmission: Automatic (Fewer Units) / Manual (More Units)
Heated Front Seats
This car is outfitted with both heated front seats and rear headrests (in other words fully kitted and therefore rare).
When I was at the Hatch & Sons and before I completed the purchase, I was able to talk with the original owner about the car. The previous owner was an Occidental Petroleum executive who had bought the car for his wife. She primarily used the car to go back and forth to play tennis at the club. They traded it in on a new(er) Mercedes.
The only issues the car had at purchase were:
1, Passenger side fairing between the front and rear wheels was split horizontally (parallel to the road) which was incurred when the previous owner turned into and hit a frozen mound of snow at the end of their driveway
2. Rear trunk had two cellular antennas installed on the lid
Prior to taking delivery, the car had the NAM headlights replaced (with OEM Bosch European lights with glass lens), the right fairing panel, and the trunk was repaired/resprayed to return the factory look (at the time, Hatch & Sons was the Ferrari authorized paint shop in the Northeast).
The car was picked up by InnerCity Lines and transported via enclosed carrier to my home in Denver and then first titled in Colorado and later retitled in both Maryland and Virginia (where I currently reside).
Note that in Virginia, even though the car was titled as an Antique, there was a crack in the windshield due to a rock chip which had to be repaired for it to pass the mandatory safety check. At the time, OEM windshields were not available so a non-OEM one was installed. I then procured a used OEM windshield from a donor car which is included in the sale.
The car exhibits none of the common issues with the stitching in the rear seats coming apart. This is attributed to the car being indoors and out of the sun. However, the dash did experience a split and it was replaced with an OEM unit.
The car was involved in a minor accident where the driver’s side fender was damaged and needed to be replaced. A new OEM fender was procured, fitted and painted by Quattro Auto Body in Bethesda, Maryland. The insurance company which handled the claim was USAA. Coincidentally, although the other driver was at fault, both of us had USAA insurance.
In my time of ownership, I have always had it serviced either by Mercedes or Mercedes-certified mechanics that have used MB OEM parts.
The car has had all of its OEM 15″ wheels refinished. It was also outfitted with new Dunlop tires (from Tire Rack) in the past 100 miles.
The sale of the car includes:
Original NAM headlights fitted to the car and placed in the Bosch boxes the Euro lights came in
Original (broken) left cluster gauge showing clockwise Fuel Level, Oil Pressure, Fuel Economy, and Water Temperature
Original (broken) outside temperature LCD display
Original (broken) fan control module
I also have a complete Getrag dogleg 5-speed kit available for this (transmission, drive shaft, LSD, pedals, shifter, knob/boot, and shifter surround wood). So, yes, you can have it in the configuration you want.
While it’s pretty easy for the general enthusiast market to dismiss these 190Es as too soft, too slow and just a Mercedes-Benz with a body kit, they are in reality far from that. The Cosworth-derived and engineered sixteen valve head shouted out over 185 horsepower from the 2.3 unit; more than oft-lauded Audi Quattro in US guise, but sans turbocharger. Cosworth Technologies developed a bespoke aluminum alloy 4-valve head with mechanical lifters; the combination with the 2.3 bottom end was good for an astounding 72 horsepower more than the 2-valve head. While the U.S. version available for the ’86/’87 model year was slightly de-tuned, it was still a potent powerplant in the mid-80s. But unlike increasing attention levied on the twin box-flared wonders, the W201 has generally flown under the radar and been more affordable.
The result of this has been that it has become quite easy to find neglected examples of the W201 2.3-16, but finding nice examples that were properly cared for has become hard and traditionally it hasn’t been economically viable (nor, perhaps, completely sane) to fully restore one to its original state. Thankfully, the example you see here isn’t in need or a restoration – not by a long shot. One of the roughly 1,200 1986 models imported, it looks to be in excellent condition.
The seller documents well the overall condition in this gallery which shows lots of close-ups of the paint and trim condition which look superlative. The car has desirable upgrades too, such as the European lights and the factory heated seats (L 870, R 871), full leather (251) and rear headrest (430) options. While some will deride the original choice of the 4-speed automatic transmission over the more traditional Getrag dogleg 5-speed, the seller also has sourced the parts for a 5-speed conversion. While it won’t be original, that answers the vexing question many would pose. Additionally, the car has been maintained to a high standard and includes the original parts that were replaced along the way. Smoke Silver is the signature color which established the Senna legacy and the Nardo test runs, and for me it’s the color to have with one of these.
Press on the importance and collectability of the W201 has increasingly been stressing that these cars are excellent alternatives to the normal sport options from the 80s. This looks to be one of the better examples available for sale, and offers you the time-warp to the 80s experience in a turn-key package with few excuses.