November 1982 Mercedes 190 introduction

Excitement among the automotive experts on November 29, 1982: the third Mercedes-Benz model series – in the form of the long-awaited compact Mercedes-Benz 190/190 E – appeared on the automotive world stage. A sensation, as it would turn out, because in terms of design, suspension, engine and lightweight materials, this Mercedes differed distinctively from its brand brethren. In total Mercedes build 1.879.629 190’s of which 1,4% 16v models.

August 1983 Nardo speed record 190 E 2.3-16

The introduction of the 190-series was something completely new for Mercedes. It was the first ‘small’ car for the brand and was therefore called baby Benz. The introduction of the sporty 16v model brought the brand Mercedes into a market where it had to prove itself as a newcomer. Therefore Mercedes arranged a record run aimed at proving their reliability. To succeed this record run Mercedes did extensive testing during the beginning of 1983 (pictures below)

Southern Italy, August 13 – 21, 1983. In the early morning of August 13, 1983, under strict supervision of 102 FIA sport commisioners three Mercedes 190 E 2.3-16’s (labeled green, red and white) started out on a 50,000 km high-speed test run, demanding any amount of stamina on the part of cars, drivers and test department staff. According to the regulations the cars for the record runs were just slightly modified compared to the future production cars. The bodywork was lowered by 15 millimeters, the front apron was extended downwards by 20 millimeters, the fan was removed and the power steering was replaced by mechanical steering. The Nardo cars also featured self-leveling suspension on the front axle to keep the ground clearance at a constant level. The gearbox had a longer 5th gear ratio to reach 250 km/h at 6000 rpm. Reverse gear was unnecessary and therefore removed, this would have costed 0,4 km/h top speed. The record track in Nardo is precisely 12.64026 kilometers long, has a diameter of some four kilometers and slightly banked lanes, hereby permitting driving almost without lateral forces even in the speed range over 240 km/h. According to the engineers’ calculations, the cars were to reach the 50,000 km target in the morning of the eighth day, provided there were no problems. The pit stops were performed as scheduled and the 18 drivers (six per car) were up to the strain. Lap times were to be three minutes and five seconds to reach the targeted average speed of 240 km/h including pit stops. Due to the cars’ low Cw value of 0.30, they were expected to reach somewhat higher top speeds than the production versions. Every two-and-a-half hours, the cars came in for refueling and a change of driver during a 20-second pit stop. The fuel tanks had a capacity of 160 liters instead of the standard 70 liter tank. Fuel consumption during the record run was a slightly over 20l per 100 km’s. The heavily strained rear tires had to be replaced every 8,500 kilometers and the front tires every 17,000 kilometers. During these five-minute tire change breaks, the oil and oil filters were also replaced and the valve clearance was checked. In total 243 stops were made. The mechanics changed every 14 hours and had to do a pitstop every 50 minutes. To protect the headlamp lenses against soiling and damage during the daytime, they were covered by plastic caps. The radiator mask was fitted with a quick-change insect screen to prevent clogging of the radiator. After 201 hours, 39 minutes and 43 seconds, two of the cars had clocked up 50,000 kilometers with an average speed of 247 km/h and the 190 2.3-16 achieved three world records and nine international class records. The replacement parts carried on board in compliance with the regulations had not been required – the cars had been running perfectly smoothly despite the extreme strain. The third car was laid up for three hours by a broken distributor rotor arm – an item costing just a few cents, which the pit crew were not allowed to replace but had to repair. For enthusiasts, one of the cars that took part in the record run can still be seen in the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart (Germany).

September 1983 Official debut of the 190 E 2.3-16

Frankfurt, September 1983. The high performance version of Mercedes-Benz’s smallest car debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September 1983, after its reputation had already been established by the Nardo speed record. There was a time when cars were designed out of a passion for motor sports. When product planners were conceiving the 190 class and its top model, the 190 E 2.3-16, Mercedes-Benz thought rallying was the best arena to showcase their new model line, named W201, but this plan quickly changed to road racing. This was the first time Mercedes sold a relatively inexpensive car. As a result, Mercedes strongly desired to promote the new model’s attributes and showcase its’ abilities in motor sports. But Audi messed up the plans when they introduced the quattro 4wd into rallying, this made the rwd Mercedes without standing a chance. In the testing period journalists called the car the Mercedes 190 sport, but that name was not valuable enough according to Mercedes. Therefore they gave it the name 2.3-16. The numbers 2.3 to show the engine capacity and 16 for the 4 valves per cylinder.

May 12. 1984 Nürburgring race

Nürburgring, May 12, 1984 was a monumental time for the 16V. The brand new Nurburgring racetrack in Germany was hosting its first F1 race and a 190 E 2.3 16V won the supporting race which was great for public relations. Well actually, all the cars were identical 16V’s driven by many former world champions, so a 16V was destined to win, but who’s counting. Moss, Lauda, Prost and Hill were all beaten by a young upstart driver named Ayrton Senna as some of us F1 fans know went on to be a 3 time world champion.

When the new Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit opened in May 1984, the inaugural race was a celebrity affair arranged by Mercedes, who had launched their 190 E 2.3-16 just months before. It was meant as a light-hearted jape to generate publicity for the new car and track, but not everyone saw it that way. Mercedes provided 20 identical near road-spec 190s for a 12 lap race, and gathered together a strong field of Formula One drivers past, present and future to provide the thrills. Nine of them – Sir Jack Brabham (1959, 1960 and 1966), Phil Hill (1961), John Surtees (1964), Denny Hulme (1967), Niki Lauda (1975 and 1977), Alan Jones (1980) and Keke Rosberg (1982) – were former world champions, while another – Stirling Moss – could arguably claim to be the greatest of them all. Of the remainder – Carlos Reutemann, John Watson, Klaus Ludwig, Manfred Schute, Jacques Laffite, Udo Schutz, Hans Hermann, Elio de Angelis, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna – all had exemplary records in International racing. For hell-raisers like Hunt and Rosberg, the race was a chance to have fun, while Moss, Surtees and Hermann had barely raced for decades. But for the young Senna, a virtual unknown who had made his F1 debut just two months before, this was an opportunity to prove himself by beating F1’s established stars. And win he did, fending off the attentions of Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann and Keke Rosberg. In The Hard Edge of Genius by Christopher Hilton, John Watson remembers: ‘Ayrton took it very, very seriously. His attitude was that he had to win it. That day was cold and wet and he did a bloody good job.’

The race was also Senna’s first meeting – and first confrontation – with his arch rival Alain Prost, who recalled in an interview with Nigel Roebuck in 1998: ‘I was coming from Geneva to Frankfurt on a scheduled flight, and Ayrton was due to land half an hour before, so Gerd Kremer of Mercedes asked me if I would bring him to the track. On the way we chatted, and he was very pleasant. Then we got to the track, and practised the cars. I was on pole with Ayrton second – After that he didn’t talk to me any more! It seemed funny at the time. Then in the race, I took the lead – and he pushed me off the track after half a lap. So that was a good start…’ After the race, an elated Senna said of his victory: ‘Now I know I can do it’. Compared to the producion cars the transmission was adjusted to 4,08:1 instead of standard 3,08:1 so that they reached the top speed of 190 kmh. In comparison, the Nardo car transmission had 2,65:1 to reach top speed at 260km/h. Furthermore the cars were 15mm lower, had thicker strutbars, a rollcage, racing tires, bigger brake calipers, front and middle exhausts were removed too. But the cars kept their electrical seat adjustment.

September 1984 production start

Although the car was presented in September 1983, it lasted a year before the car went officially in production in September 1984. This because it took this time to get the car at the Mercedes quality standard. For homologation Mercedes needed to sell 5000 in one year, they sold more than 8000 in 1985. The only 2 colours that were available were Blue-black and Smoke silver.

An interesting fact for 190 E 16v enthusiasts to know is that the in 1984 produced Mercedes 2.3-16 models are slightly different then the 2.3-16v’s produced after 1984. You can see some of these differences back on the early press photos. Some of the differences are the windscreen wiperarm on the right instead on the left. The wiper arm includes 2 small wipers instead of one large one. The lower part of the rear bumper has grooves that later versions don’t have. The bonnet is a bit longer and had a higher border. Some mechanical/ engine parts were different. The Nardo record cars and the Nürburgring race cars were also these ‘early versions’.

The very first press photos show also things that were changed before production start. The rims were the same design but the holes in it are smaller then the production version. The first photos show the seats without leather. The gearknob has no numbers on it. The 3 center gauges are different. The instrument panel has different clocks. There is no zebrano wood on the center console.

The heart of the 2.3-16 was its engine. Mercedes therefore collaborated with engine building masters Cosworth Technology Ltd. They helped to develop the 16 valve cylinder head with mechanical valve lifters. They came up with 185 hp from only 2.3 liters displacement. It had a light alloy cylinder head with dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder (16 valves total), giving the performance version its name. The engine had a mechanically/ electronically controlled gasoline injection system. The 190 E 2.3-16 consequently produced 72 bhp and 55 Nm of torque more than the basic single overhead cam engine with only 2 valves per cylinder. The 2.3L engine (designated the M102) produced 185 bhp (137 kW) at 6.000 rpm and 235 Nm at 4.500 rpm. The rev limiter was set at 7.000 rpm. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h was 7,5 seconds, and the top speed was 230 km/h. This engine was called the ECE engine and it used 98 RON. In 1986 a catalytic converter became an option, in that case the engine had 170 bhp. Because unleaded fuel was not available at all places there was also a so-called RÜF engine with 177 bhp. This engine was prepared for an easy assembly of a catalytic converter as soon as unleaded fuel was enough avaliable. These both engines run on RON 95. The cars destined for the US had a slightly reduced compression ratio (9.7:1 instead of 10.5:1), and had 167 bhp at 5800 rpm and 220 Nm at 4750 rpm. The engine was also fitted with an oil cooler to ensure efficient oil cooling.

The engine was combined with a manual five-speed 5-speed Getrag gearbox tuned for sporty performance. Tis was a so-called ‘dog-leg’ gearbox with first gear left and down from neutral. This meant that the remaining 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th gear were in a simple H pattern allowing fast and easy selection. In contrast to most Mercedes cars 5th gear was not used as an overdrive but realy destined to reach the top speed. The gear ratio’s were 4,08/ 2,52/ 1,77/ 1,26/ 1,00:1 R 4,40. At first an automatic transmission wasn’t available for the 2.3-16 but in 1985 Mercedes offered a 4-speed automatic transmission as an option. An interesting detail was that the Getrag gearbox is the same one as used in the BMW M3 E30.

For better traction and more stability the Mercedes 2.3-16 was standard fitted with a 32% limited slip differential. Contributing to the fantastic driving dynamic was the multilink rear suspension. It was first released on the 190 series and was instrumental in providing sporty and competitive handling. Furthermore self-leveling suspension on the rear axle was a standard feature. This allows the rear ride height to remain constant even when the car is fully loaded. Self-leveling suspension on the front and automatic hight adjustment became an option in 1985. In that case the car could be set +30mm and -15 mm than standard. Another factor in the great handling was the weight distribution of 53/ 47% between front/ rear. 15-Inch specially designed alloy wheels were standard and were standard mounted with Pirelli P6 tires. Steering was made more direct with turning of 15,27 instead of 16,66.

The bodywork was aerodynamically modified to match the car’s high performance. Front and rear aprons extended further down and a small spoiler on the trunk lid generated additional downforce. Because of these additions the 16v was 10mm longer and 28mm wider then the standard 190. These bodyparts weigh 24 kg extra compared to standard 190 model. The 2.3-16 was 16mm lower at the front and 12mm lower at the back. The standard 190 has a Cw of 0,33, but wider wheels/ tires increase the CW. But with special designed aerodynamically body parts the Cw lowered with 3% untill 0,32. The alloy wheels also had a special design for better aerodynamics and better cooling for the brakes.

The fuel tank has a 70 liter capacity instead of the 55 liter of the standard Mercedes 190. The car was also equiped with a full spare wheel. The interior of the 16v got standard upgraded with a smaller, leather steeringwheel with 39 cm diameter, rev counter, headlight hight adjustment and in the center console 3 gauges for voltage, oil temperature, oil pressure and a stopwatch. At the rear there were 2 individual formed seats and at the front special in hight adjustable sport seats. Standard the 2.3-16 was equiped with fabric/ leather seats, full leather was optional.

The 2.3-16 was produced from 09.1983 until 06.1988. The produced cars per year:
1983: 5 – 1984: 2.445 – 1985: 8.656 – 1986: 5.473 – 1987: 2.374 – 1988: 534.
Total: 19.487


September 1988 Introduction 190 E 2.5-16 (1988-1993)

Paris, September 1988 the face-lifted 190 compact class was shown at the Paris Motor Show. Six months after the 1.000.000th car of the W201 series had been produced in Bremen. The facelift model didn’t show much differences to the body and interior, most improvements were under the skin. Some things that were improved to the interior were better knee and head room in the rear and better seats. Together with the face-lift the new 190 E 2.5-16 was presented, replacing the 2.3-16 version after four years. The 2.5-liter engine, developed from its predecessor by increasing the stroke 87,20 instead of 80,25. With the introduction of this engine there were no ECE engine’s anymore. The new engine had 195 hp in the catalyst version, an increase of 25 hp compared to the 2.3-16 catalyst version. The torque increased with 15 Nm to 235 Nm. There was also a non-catalyst RÜF version with 204 bhp – an increase of 27 bhp – but very few of these were sold. The developers would have liked to increase the bore also but the engine didn’t have any reserves to do so. The power increase was mainly gained by providing the power at higher revs. Therefore the power is available aprox. 1000 rpm later compared to the 2.3-16 engine. However the 2.5-16 is more powerful than the 2.3-16 they didn’t accelerate much faster. In contrast with the 2.3-16, the cylinder heads were now produced by Mercedes and not by Cosworth anymore. With the introduction of the limited Evolution 1 model in 1989 there was also a AMG Power Pack available for the 190E 2.5-16. The contents of this AMG Power Pack are thesame as described at the Evolution 1 section. Non Evolution 2.5-16 models with Power Pack are very very rare. With the introduction of the facelifted 190 Mercedes also introduced the Limited slip (LSD) with an electronically controlled, hydraulically locking differential which activates automatically when required (ASD). The electronic control allows varied amounts of differential lock from the standard 15% right up to 100%. It is not a traction control system however and can only maximize traction rather than prevent wheel spin. As an addition to the only two colors that were available for the 2.3-16 – Blue-black and Smoke silver – there were two extra colors available for the 2.5-16. These were Almadin red and Astral silver of which the Astralsilber color was replaced by Brilliant silver in 1990.

The 2.5-16 was produced from 07.1988 until 06.1993. The produced cars per year:
1988: 959 – 1989: 2.645 – 1990: 1.270 – 1991: 566 – 1992: 197 – 1993: 106.
Total: 5.743 

March 1989 Introduction 190E 2.5-16 Evolution I

Geneva, March 1989. The fastest version of the in 1988 introduced 190 series was the 190 E 2.5-16, but not for long. As a result of further racing developments of the group A car for the 1989 season, the 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution was presented at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1989. The newly developed, high-reving 2.5-liter engine had 195 bhp in its standard form (with catalyst), but was prepared for further tuning. The engine itself differed a lot from the engine from the standard 2.5-16 with different capacity, bore and stroke. The rev limiter was also set higher at at 7250 rpm compared to the 7000 rpm of the previous 16V’s. In order to have a better acceleration the rear axle ratio was now 3,46:1 instead of 3,27:1 of the standard 16v models. There was also a 225 bhp AMG Power Pack available for the Evolution model which costed 19.000 DM that time. In that case max. power increased to 225 bhp at 7200 rpm, max. revs at 7700 rpm, 240 Nm at 5500 rpm. Performance improved with 0-100 km/h in 7,1 sec. and a top speed of 236 kmh.

With a view to planned racing applications the brakes now had a diameter of 300mm at the front and 278mm at the rear (from the 500SL) had been modified, 16-inch wheels with Conti Sport contact tires 225/50/16 were now used and a sport exhaust was fitted. Body alterations included a large rear spoiler. The car was also 19mm lower than the standard 2.5-16 and had a 14mm wider track at the front and a 24 mm wider track at the rear. The Evolution I has 23% stiffer springs & shocks than the standard 2.5-16. The suspension is in hight adjustable with a switch inside the car. This leads to a Cw of 32. Within three months exactly 502 of these cars were built, all in Blue-black metallic.

March 1990 Introduction 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II

Geneva, March 1990. A year later then the Evolution I, also at the Geneva Motor Show, a further development of the Evolution I was shown, the 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II. The Evolution I model reached the max. on tuning, lower weight and stifness. The only possibilities in improving the car were tires, brakes and aerodynamincs. Mercedes knew that the looks of the Evolution model was very unusual for Mercedes, but is was pure functional and developed in the windtunnel. As an reaction on the presentation to the introduction to the Evolution 2, BMW research and development chief, Wolfgang Reitzle answered: “The laws of aerodynamics must be different between Munich and Stuttgart”. “If that rear wing works, we will have to rebuild the BMW tunnel”. And they did!! Again, 502 cars were built. This engine had 235 hp and correspondingly improved performance. The engine was a further development of the EVO I engine. The compression was changed, shorter stroke crankshaft, bigger cylinders, other intake and exhaust system and a raised peak rpm. It could now rev up to 7800 rpm against 7250 rpm of the EVO I. Suspension and brakes were slightly changed, 17-inch wheels were now used, the suspension was 45mm lower than the standard 16V. The suspension has 3 settings that could be chosen with a switch inside the car to lower from 15 to 45 mm. The Brembo brakes have 4 piston caliper discs with the same diameter as the brakes on the EVO I model. The only difference is that the EVOII brakes are made from a lighter alloy. The body was modified again to reduce wind resistance and increase down-force on the front and rear axle. The EVO II was only available in left hand drive and in a Blue-black metallic paint like its predecessor. Out of the 502 number produced, 2 of them were painted in silver. The rumors are that both these cars were sort of test cars used to develop the road version of the EVO II. Mercedes-Benz kept one, so as AMG. All of them were sold even before the EVO II was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show. In order to underline the exclusivity of each car, a small plate containing the word “EVOLUTION” was placed on both side of the front wing. Inside the car, on the shift knob was the number of the car. Numbers were written in the following way: 001/500 up to 500/500. Most EVO2 models were fitted with the optional comfort package which included a full leather interior, airconditioning, sunroof, etc.


The Mercedes 190E 16v models were officially sold in a lot of countries around the world. Due to different preferences and legislation between countries there were also differences between the 16v models around the globe. I try to put as much differences as I know in this overview. If you know more please share this information with me.


The 190 E 2.3-16 was also sold in the US. However officially only in 1986 and 1987. These cars had some differences compared to the 2.3-16 models sold in Europe. Biggest difference was the engine, US-Specification cars had a slightly reduced compression ratio (9.7:1 instead of 10.5:1) and had 167 hp (125 kW) at 5800 rpm and 220 Nm at 4750 rpm. US-versions also had a lower redline (6800 rpm vs 7200 rpm for EU cars). This was due to a different fuel pump cut off relay. Further difference was the lower ratio rear axle which gave higher top speed. The exhaust in the US looks the same as the EU version, but is less free flowing.

So far the engine. There were also interior and exterior differences. As most US vs EU cars the headlights were diferent. The headlights had a different shape with the glass of the high/ low beam mounted a bit deeper in the headlight unit. The indicator lights in the rear lights were red instead of orange from the side. US versions were standard mounted with a third brakelight. In the interior were extra bars mounted in the doors and under the dashboard for extra crash protection. The US models were further fitted with a wood trim on the dashboard and center console. The instruments were off course in miles. Furthermore there were options like automatic climate control and cruise control available that were not an option in Europe.

RHD / UK-Version

The 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 were also produced as a right hand drive car. (Evolution models were all left hand drive). This meant that the interior is different off course. Biggest difference however was the outlet manifold from the engine. Due to the fact that the steering was at the right side of the car the steering box was in the way where the outlet manifold from the engine was. Therefore the exhaust manifold was reconstructed. Because the reconstructed manifold did not have an optimal form people say these manifolds have slightly less power, 4 bhp aproximately. Furthermore the windscreen wipers are mounted on the right instead of the left side and the UK version had turn indicators on the front wing.


The cars in italy had an additional turn indicator on the front wings just like the UK version however a bit bigger in size.


In Switzerland the air intake from the 16v models were made a bit more silent by mounting a plastic cap in front of the air intake. Secondly there was a small tube mounted in the exhaust manifold for emission testing. Furthermore the rear spoiler from the Evolution 2 model was not road legal, therefore the Evolution 2 was officially sold with an Evolution rear spoiler. In the meanwhile however the Evolution 2 rear spoiler has become legitimate.


During the production of the 190 E 16v it was mandatory in France to drive with yellow fog lights and high beam to avoid blindation to upcoming traffic. This ‘option’ was mounted under code 610. Furthermore there was a standard ‘france-package’ mounted under code 629.