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Woman Maths: Mercedes-Benz 190E

1 week ago

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In our house Man Maths – Woman Maths, in my case – is a very real problem. Normally only one half of a couple suffers with this affliction, but here it’s both of us. My partner and I are as bad as each other, which is to say very bad indeed.

Symptoms tend to present soon after we’ve listened to or watched something about a certain car that piques our interest. The interest grows into an obsession and, before we know it, we’re both scrolling through classified ads at midnight, largely ignoring each other, watching every relevant YouTube video we can find. You know how it goes.

From that point on, it’s only a matter of time before we are justifying the purchase of said car. And in the last couple of years, it’s been getting worse. It used to be that we’d have one silly car and one daily driver apiece. For example, I owned a BMW i3 and a 1990 Nautic Blue Mercedes-Benz 500SL, while my partner Thomas had a VW Golf GTD estate and a 2011 Kingfisher Blue Audi R8 V8 manual. We were happy, things were manageable and, most importantly, everything was tucked away in its rightful place at night. It feels like a long time ago.

Woman Maths: Mercedes-Benz 190E
Helen is better qualified than most to discuss Man Maths

Truth is we’ve lost all semblance of control. Cars come and go, resulting in two rented garages and a couple of storage units, and five cars squeezed onto the drive. Luckily, one or two are likely to be broken or away being fettled. Also, inexplicably, one of our cars lives in Selby, 200 miles away.

You see, our lives are cars. Both work and play revolve around things with four wheels, so it was bound to be a problem. Rather than fight it, we’ve embraced it. This is us – we are the automotive equivalent of the crazy cat lady.

It’s become such a problem that we’ve just added another German V8 to the fleet despite needing one about as much as I need another hole in my head. It was the very Audi R8 that Dan wrote about in his recent blog, no less. You’ll never get a clearer demonstration of Man Maths in action.

One of the cars that came and went was a sweet little 1.8-litre Mercedes 190E in my very favourite paint colour, Bornite. If you follow me on Twitter, you will be all too aware of this. It is an immensely clever paint that starts off as grey but transforms in the light to a shimmering dusky purple. Paint corrected, it’s so deep and beautiful it will make you want to reach out and put your whole hand into it. Sigh. I have been told by a very kind PR man with exceptional taste (he has an Almandine 500SL) at the Mercedes Classic Centre in Stuttgart that it was unpopular at the time of production and that he is not a fan. He’s wrong, of course, but I understand not everyone appreciates it.

Woman Maths: Mercedes-Benz 190E
Helen’s much-missed Bornite 190E

Back to the 190E. We sold it. It makes me cross just thinking about it. I don’t think we still have the car we replaced it with, though it’s hard to be sure. It had body-painted, period-correct BBS wheels with polished rims and a cheeky little Cosworth spoiler. I am a stickler for keeping things factory, but they made so many of these, and it was the least desirable model in the range, that I allowed it. As Jonny Smith would say, it was a sweet, sweet car.

Practically in the same moment I watched it drive away, I knew we had made an almighty mistake. Three years on, I’m yet to find a 190E I like nearly as much. We even bought a gold, manual example to fill the hole it left, but it doesn’t tick the same boxes.

I am certain the W201-series 190E is one of the most important Mercedes ever made. And it’s not just me. I’ve done my research, talking to the incredible guys at The Patina Collective in Miami, both of The Carmudgeons, Olaf at the Mercedes Classic Centre (he works on 300SLs and Sauber C9s every day), and to the experts at Mechatronik. They all agree that the 190E is important, and yes, if I think you know anything at all about Mercedes, I will try and talk to you about the 190E as well.

Woman Maths: Mercedes-Benz 190E

Four billion Deutschmarks went into the R&D of the baby Benz, and you can tell; but you also can’t because so much of its cleverness is under the skin. It has big car energy but in a diminutive footprint and it boasts a long list of extremely geeky innovations that then went into other ranges such as the excellent W124. I am sure Dan and Andrew (and definitely Joana) could tell you exactly what all these innovations mean, but I am not at their level of expertise.

My first blog for The Intercooler is going to include a mention of another podcast – please forgive me – but this one episode sent my need for another 190E into the stratosphere. The Carmudgeon Show dedicated an episode entirely to why the W201 is the most important Mercedes ever made.

They briefly compared it to another beautiful car, the E30 BMW 3 Series, and said that if you worked on both cars side by side, you would see where all that R&D money went. Jason Cammisa pointed out if you undo the snaps and lift the carpet on the 190E, underneath you’ll find a false floor, which is Swiss-cheesed plastic. Under that false floor is all the cabling, and under that is tar-lined steel. If you then do the same with the E30, you will just find the floor pan. I’m told the development budget for the rear suspension alone was more than the entire E30 budget.

Woman Maths: Mercedes-Benz 190E

It might surprise you to learn that I don’t want the Cosworth version. No, I’d like a 2.6-litre car in Bornite. It was Olaf, who recently worked on our 24-year-old W220-S600 in Stuttgart, who convinced me it had to be the 2.6. His face changed, and he looked almost wistful when I asked which model I should get. I think he wished I’d brought him the best baby S-Class Mercedes ever made, not the worst. Sorry, Olaf.

Values of many 1980s and ’90s Mercedes seem to be on the rise. These cars are finally being appreciated for what they are and how well engineered they were, and demand is rocketing. Even big collectors are taking note – AMG models are posting bombastic results at auction.

So let’s talk numbers. I couldn’t find a Bornite 190E in the classifieds, but I did see a grey 2.6-litre car that ticked a lot of boxes. The key thing with these is to buy on condition, not mileage. Besides, 190Es are far happier being driven than stored, and they can go to the moon and back if looked after properly. The car I found was listed for £6995 – above average, but still reasonable. I have seen perfectly serviceable cars sell for less than £3000.

So yes, Man Maths continues to be a problem in my house. I hope you will join me in persuading the powers that be at Ti to produce a fuller, longer article about the 190E – my favourite Mercedes and a seriously clever baby Benz.