During its illustrious history, Mercedes-Benz gave us some amazing creations, like the 300SL, the SLS or the McLaren SLR. That said, one of the most notorious cars in its lineup is the 190E and yes, today we are talking about the boxy four-door grandpa mobile.
But the car we have here is no base-model 190E. No, this is much, much cooler. It is the 190E 2.5-16 Evolution. Before getting into the nooks and crannies of this example, we should glance over its history, as it has a pretty cool one.
The 190E was born in 1982, and it was your regular front-engine, rear-wheel drive sedan of the ‘80s. But then they decided to take it racing, more specifically rallying, and this is where the story gets exciting.
Mercedes was already competing in rallies with its R107 V8-powered cars, but it wanted to get the 190E in there. To achieve that, the 2.3-liter (140 ci) M102 engine was torn out and sent over to Cosworth. Yes, the legendary race engine builder whose most famous Formula 1 V8s amassed 176 wins.
Once the engine got to Cosworth, they gave it dual overhead camshafts and 4 valves per cylinder, raising the power up to 183 hp (185 ps) for the road cars and 320 hp (324 ps) in race form.
Unfortunately, when the engine was ready, Audi took the rally world by storm with their all-wheel drive, turbocharged Quattro. That made the 190E pretty obsolete on the rally stages. So what were they to do with this new race car? Well, find another race series.
So, the car landed at the German Touring Car Championship (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft – DTM). But to compete in this series, the automaker needed to have a vehicle based on a roadgoing model. So, once again, we can thank homologation rules for the birth of amazing cars.
The first track appearance for the enhanced 190E took place in 1984, on the newly renovated Nürburgring, with Ayrton Senna piloting one to the win. It went on to be pretty competitive the following years, but it reached new grounds in 1988, when Mercedes decided to put their full weight behind it. Competition was really close, but it fell short of the BMW E30 M3. The two giants traded blows for the next years, but in 1992 Mercedes finally achieved their goal, and the podium was stacked with 190E drivers.
In 1988, the 2.3-liter engine was replaced by a 2.5-liter (152 ci) variant with a little more oomph. Based on this, in March 1989, one of the most sought-after variants of the 190E was launched at the Geneva Motor Show. It was called the Evolution 1 and it was built as a direct response to the M3 Evolution, its primary competitor.
As the name implies, there is an Evolution I and II, but the car in question today is the Evo 1. Anyway, good luck finding any of them, as for example only 502 units of the Evo I were made.
This particular Evolution I is from 1989 and it is a time machine to the golden days of racing, so let’s not waste anymore time and get into it.
On the outside, it is painted in Blue Black Metallic and sits on 16-inch Evo I alloy wheels wrapped in ContiPremiumContact 2 rubber. To make sure that you know you’re driving something special, it has a unique body kit with wider wheel arches, different bumpers, and a rear spoiler – ‘80s race car Nirvana.
Stepping inside you are greeted by a classic, elegant Mercedes-Benz interior. Black leather everywhere, a simple dashboard, heated front seats, power seats and a Becker radio that only takes cassettes, because, you know, old-school.
Now, getting to the engine is where things get pretty technical. On paper, it doesn’t have that much more power than the standard 2.5-16 model, with 7 hp more, bringing the total up to 202 hp (205 ps). What was different, though, was how the engine performed and felt when driven. It had better response and revved higher, to 7,200 rpm to be precise, thanks to a shorter stroke and bigger bore.
A Getrag dog-leg five-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential sent the power to the rear wheels. Responsible for keeping the car planted on the road is a self-leveling, hydropneumatic suspension system, which is impressive to see on modern cars, let alone almost 4 decades ago.
This particular 190E is up at auction in Atlanta, Georgia. It has around 60,000 miles (97,000 km) on the odometer, so it’s safe to say that this is no garage queen. It was originally sold in Belgium, and it was imported from there in January 2023. The car is offered on dealer consignment with full-service records and a clean Georgia title. The price currently sits at 57,000 dollars, but looking at past sales of these models, a six-figure price point might be hit.
This boxy Mercedes is unbelievably cool. It represents the golden era of racing, a time when cars touched our souls in a particular, unmatched way.