1992 Mercedes 190E 2.6: The Oppo Classic ObituaryS

I know, I know - it's not even 25 years old yet. But the underlying platform is about 30 years old! I was watching the old John Davis MotorWeek review, and I thought about all the things I loved about this car, especially since it was tragically taken from me earlier this year. So here goes.

The story, briefly, is that I bought this car with about 175k miles and a leaky water pump that failed shortly after purchase. So go Mercedes of the era / mileage, though, and while I spent a lot keeping it up, it was only because it was in such great cosmetic shape. It was also optioned with the rare Soft Leather Interior package, which replaced the iconic - and ugly - MBTex "taxi leather" (read: fancy vinyl) seats that were standard on the car. It was a piano color scheme - white on the outside, black on the inside. My vehicle, aside from a common interior modification (adhesive-attached cup-holder below the armrest), was absolutely stock.

The 190E 2.6 was far from a perfect vehicle. Its 2.6 liter straight six was fairly lacking in the torque department, especially at low revs, and its slow-shifting 4-speed slushbox prone to snapping, hard gear changes when it got on in miles. I seriously thought sometimes that a downshift into 3rd above 60MPH would just cause the transmission to simply explode one day.

As a cruiser around 30-50MPH, though, it rode smoothly, and with more road connection than many larger Benzes of the era. I would know - I have a '92 300CE now. Its relatively low curb weight, for a Benz, of around 3000 lbs made it a fun car to throw around corners, especially since it was equipped as standard with Comfort-rated Bilstein shocks all around, which produced hilarious amounts of body roll for such a small, relatively low-slung car.

The brakes weren't very good, and overheated pretty easily. The HVAC system was unpredictable at best. It consumed a quart of oil every thousand miles. It sometimes had a stumbly idle, and smoked like a chimney if you pushed it up near its 6500 RPM redline. It wasn't a big fan of particularly hot summer days. It definitely wasn't very fast.

The thing about me, though, is that when I buy a used car, I'm much more about how it looks to have been treated. I want original paint with no clear-coat damage, and a good mirror finish after a proper waxing. No missing trim. No readily visible dents. My 190E 2.6 was absolutely brilliant when it was all cleaned up. The black interior showed almost no wear (aside from the unavoidable cracking of the wood trim around the gear shift), and with the tires shined, black ABS plastic bumpers given a little conditioning, and the chrome work a bit of polishing, I was proud to drive it.

That's what I really like about owning an older car - getting it all cleaned up and taking it for a drive. It's not about having a fancy car, or a fast one, it's about saying "this is mine, I care about keeping it nice, I cherish it enough to keep it running well, and I want it to be out on the road where I can enjoy it."

In January, I was struck from behind by a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited doing about 40 MPH while I was at a stop. The Wrangler hit my 190E 2.6 about six inches above the top of the bumper line, completely crushing the trunk, and rendering the car totaled (my mechanic's estimate was "at least $8500").

I couldn't believe it. I wasn't even angry, I was just seriously bummed out.

But not only did my 190 drive away from the accident under its own power, it showed absolutely no sign of major mechanical or electrical malfunction thereafter. The trunk was completely caved in, and the right-rear light assembly annihilated, but the left rear lights all worked. The doors all opened and shut without sticking. The rear windshield was completely unaffected. The car started and drove just like it always had, without complaint, and didn't even seem to make any kind of unusual squeaks or groans. I was pretty shocked, even though I already knew there was no way it would ever see the road again after it had been collected by the insurance company.

It was a great car, and it had in spades what every real Jalop values in a vehicle: character. I'll miss it.