The Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16V Evolution II is one of those cars that you know exists, but thanks to its rarity of just 502 examples made, don’t pop up all that often in any kind of setting. The majority of these cars are now securely tucked away in private collections thanks to their crazy price tags (more on that later) and very rarely come up for public sale. Today, car number 208 painted in Blauschwarz, is up for sale for anyone who has enough money to sink into a car that you probably can’t justify it costs as much as it does. The best part about this car? It’s for sale in sunny San Diego, California.
From time to time, we look at European-market cars. Considering the number that were brought here through ‘Grey Market’ channels, we actually get to sample the more original versions of these cars on a semi-regular basis. But that pool of Euro candidates dries up once you crest the 1986 model year. And for that, you can thank the ‘Fed’ and their kill-joy laws, right? Well, sort of. But left to their own devices, they likely would have never done anything. So why did the government get all antsy in the mid-80s to put an end to importation of what amounted to a pittance of cars? For that, you can thank Mercedes-Benz.
It turns out that Mercedes-Benz was more than anyone annoyed by the second-hand importation of its more powerful and prettier European-specification cars. To a lesser extent, BMW was also losing market share, and the two importers – who, it should be noted, paid a fair amount of money to the government in importation duties and taxes on the sale of their cars – claimed they had lost in the vicinity of 50% of their sales to the alternate European crowd. Now, in a true ‘Free Enterprise’ market, one would have looked upon these complaints and said “Well, Mercedes and BMW, produce better cars at a lower cost for your consumers and you’ll solve the problem!” But, of course, the United States is not a free enterprise market, and there are lots of regulations and rules which have been in put in place in part by high-paid lobbyists for certain industries. Mercedes-Benz and BMW had these lobbyists on their side, and the importers did not. As a result, in 1988, the Motor Vehicle Safety Compliance Act was passed. Also called the Imported Vehicle Safety Act of 1988, it’s what you know better as the ’25 Year Rule’, which basically excludes you from individually importing any car on your own unless it’s really old. Many of the perfunctory reasons behind the “safety” aspect of H.R.2628 – they didn’t have DOT-mandated safety headlights, the bumpers didn’t meet U.S. regulations, they weren’t emissions compliant – have since been eliminated, but the law remains. Even if the car is effectively identical to what’s sold here – and many of today’s Euro cars are – while it’s possible to petition for an exemption for certain models, it’s neither easy, nor is it cheap. And that means that since 1988, fans of the hottest models have an agonizing 25-year long countdown until it’s “easy” to import a car they want. And even then, it’s not really very easy, so most U.S. based fans even if they claim they’re interested are just too lazy to actually go through with it.
So that leaves it to a few official importers to go through the not unsubstantial task of locating a car, shipping it overseas, paying heavy duties, and filing all of the paperwork associated with importation. And you can, despite what many claim, legally import car newer than 25 years old to the U.S.. It’ll just cost you:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 Audi RS4 Avant on eBay
The Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16V is quickly becoming one of those ”snatch one up while you can” cars. Much like it’s rival E30 BMW M3, these are becoming hot buys in terms of driving enjoyment and collectibility. They aren’t quite at the level of the E30 M3 where people are pulling them out of the bottoms of lakes and selling them as-is for $12,000 yet, but probably in the next few years we’ll get to that point. That’s probably why this 1986 is still for sale in San Diego. Well that, and a few other areas of this car certainly need some attention.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 on San Diego Craigslist
The more I stare at the 2.3-16, the more I realize just how right Mercedes-Benz got it with the design of this car. The starting point was already a good one. The stock 190E, with its restrained, angular good looks and taut lines, brought Mercedes’s design language out of the 70s and firmly into the 80s. But the flared wheel arches, revised valences and rear deck spoiler found on the 2.3-16 turn the staid W201 into a car that looks ready to go racing. Which it did, first as a rally car and, when that didn’t work out, at the DTM. Power came from a version of the M102 2.3 liter four pot engine – later enlarged to 2.5 liters in the European market – breathed on by British tuning company Cosworth. But despite the looks and pedigree, the 2.3-16 has never attracted the same kind of attention or following as its obvious competitor, the E30 M3. The market for these is pretty spotty. They don’t appear very frequently and when they do, many of them have been battered and broken by neglectful owners. Still, every now and again a really nice one pops up.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 on eBay
Last week I wrote up aÂ tidy looking 190E 2.3-16, the boxy, 80s DTM-racing inspired version of the W201Â from Mercedes that has never really gained the same kind of attention as its obvious competitor, the E30 M3. Perhaps that is changing, as more of these come to market in respectable shape. The general consensus among enthusiasts, however, seems to be that these carsÂ are neither desirable nor fast enough to merit the higher price tags we’re beginning to see. (Once upon a time they were firmly in the sub-$10k category, whereas now sellers seem to want the mid teens and up for non-basket case examples.) But maybe the skeptics will be won over by a an imported 2.5-16 like this one?