In summer of 2002, John decided to purchase a Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6. Having driven BMWs (among other cars) for much of his driving life, he thought that moving up to the brand that was considered ‘the best’ German luxury car was something he deserved. And of course, I encouraged him.
His 190E was quite breathtaking when I first saw it: A nice shiny black with contrasting grey rocker panels, it was one of the best examples of the marque’s very Teutonic 1980s design language and representative of the time when MB really did make the best cars anywhere and didn’t have to be competitive with any other brands on price. They simply were the best mass-market cars, and were priced accordingly for those who could afford to pay.
The way it drove and handled was also a revelation for such a small vehicle. The handling was sporty and well controlled, and the ride was firm but not uncomfortable. At least some of the credit for this has to go to the fine multilink rear suspension (quite revolutionary when Mercedes pioneered it in this vehicle, soon to be spread among all its other cars) but as well to the firm-but-comfortable seats, which in John’s 190 were covered in light grey M-B Tex (the Mercedes trademarked perforated vinyl which wears like an armour plate).
The 190E, as many have said, may have been amongst the last Mercedes that was designed and engineered to go 500,000 kms with only minimal wear and tear. It truly felt like a little tank; when one closed the small doors they shut with a satisfying thud and you could hear little of the world outside.
Many have said that the base 2.3 litre engine of this car was a bit wanting when it came to performance. The 2.6 litre inline six always proved to be more than capable of quickly accelerating to triple-digit speeds in perfect quietude.
In the time that he had it, his 190E was the ‘fun car’ that we took on day trips or weekends away. I remember tooling around the wineries of Prince Edward County (about two hours from our home) or going to Ottawa (about an hour away). We never had any problems with it, mechanical or otherwise.
However, after having it for about a year and a half, John began to get restless. The 190E had opened his eyes to the engineering excellence that Mercedes-Benz was capable of, but he confessed that he’d always dreamed about having one of their SL-class convertibles.
He soon found one that he wanted, and spent the next six months having it restored. He didn’t really have the garage space for three vehicles (even if he only used two of them occasionally), so the 190E was put up for sale.
I still remember the older Jewish couple who ended up buying it. They showed up in a rather weather-beaten cream coloured 1985 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3 and fell in love with John’s. “It’s in such good shape,” they exclaimed. “These really are the best Mercedes they ever made!”
Glad that it had found a good home, John turned his attention to his new acquisition.