Dream Garage: Mercedes 500E
Gather round the campfire, children, and I will tell you the story of the point where Mercedes’ engineers got tired of the company’s preference for cars that glided on the streets as if floating on a cloud, and went a little mad.
Some years ago, before Mercedes bought out the AMG guys and moved the high-performance engineers to create engines and cars in-house, Mercedes was in serious need of something cool. Perhaps seeing the sales success of the BMW M5, Mercedes decided the 5.0L V-8 found in the S-Class wasn’t powerful enough to stuff in its more reasonably-sized saloon. So how did one of the biggest German auto manufacturers create an engine worthy of competing against the mighty M5?
They didn’t. Instead, they sent a few E-Class sedan shells to Porsche’s assembly plant in Zuffenhausen, along with a few blank checks, and presto: a hand-built Mercedes 500E with a thundering 322hp, 5.0L V-8 with 354 lb-ft of torque (a modified, less powerful version of this engine worked its way into the SL).
The standard E-Class wasn’t strong enough to handle such a powerful engine, so the entire production of the car had to be different than the process used to construct the standard 300E. In fact, the body was hand assembled by Porsche in its plant, sent back to Mercedes for rust and color treatment, and sent back to Porsche for assembly. The cars were then shipped back to Mercedes for distribution. The entire process was very labor-intensive, and as a result, each car took over two weeks to complete.
For $80,000, new 500E owners got the 5.0L fuel-injected V-8, a four speed automatic transmission (no manual was offered), giant brakes all around, wider tires, a reworked body, a 0-60 mph time of about 6 seconds, and a limited top speed of 155mph. This sports sedan was more muscle car, made for long stretches of Autobahn touring, than its better handling, more track-oriented Bavarian rival. In 1993, the engine was detuned slightly (net result ending in 7 less horsepower than before) due to tightening US emissions regulations. In 1994, the car changed its name to the E500, the way Mercedes cars are designated today, and also received a mild exterior refresh.
Although the E500 retired officially in 1994, a handful of 1995 models were manufactured for the Mercedes faithful, and by 1996, the W124, the chassis and body upon which the 500E/E500 was based, was phased out of in favor of the new, incredibly ugly W210. With it went the agreement between Mercedes and Porsche, and high performance duties were shifted to AMG, who by then was majority-controlled by Mercedes.
The gorgeous interior, from http://www.spannerhead.com
The W124 also holds a special place in my heart; my grandfather owned an early ’90s 300E. It was black with a high-tech car phone and sunroof that my sister and I would stand out of (only on residential streets, but in any case, don’t try this at home!). It made quite an impression on my young self, and I would love to own one at some point in my life. And if I’m going to buy one of these beauties, why not make it the one with the Porsche engine (the only legitimate 4-door Porsche, in my eyes)? They only cost about $20,000 for a well-maintained example, although I suppose making friends with a Mercedes technician would be worth its weight in gold.