In-Motion Classic: Mercedes 500E – Not Your Average W124

More than meets the eye. It was a fitting slogan for the old Transformers cartoon series and toy line back in the day, and equally fitting for this particular old Mercedes I spotted in downtown Alhambra on an errand for my supervisor.

If the subtly flared fenders and barely visible front air dam haven’t already tipped you off that there’s something slightly different about this old W124, zoom in on the decklid badge above the driver’s side taillight 🙂 .

The unassuming German cruiser pictured above is no other than the Mercedes 500E, possibly the ultimate German Q-ship after the legendary W109 6.3 and W116 6.9. What those cars were to the 60s and 70s, respectively, this car was to the 90s. Mercedes-Benz took its excellent 5.0 liter DOHC M119 engine and shoehorned it between the W124’s semi-compact fenders.

The result was possibly the ultimate banker’s bahn-stormer ( sorry, BMW ) . Churning out 322 factory-rated horsepower, the 5 liter, four-cam powerplant pushes the 3,750 lb. E-class from 0-60 in 6.1 seconds, with a top speed limited to 155 MPH. An aggressive traction control system prohibits smoky burnouts, however.

The inspiration for the 500E was the AMG Hammer- a 360 horsepower, 0-60 in 5 second, 13 second quarter mile monster. The car quickly became a legend in its own right, but it had three strikes against it. Its insane $160,000 price tag was the first. Its extremely limited ( and slow ) production was another. Its incompatibility with U.S. emissions standards proved to be the final nail in its coffin, and it was ultimately withdrawn from the North American market.

In the end, the 500E proved to be a much more realistic and practical continuation on the theme that the Hammer started.

When the light changed to green, the 500E effortlessly zipped ahead. My overloaded Chevy Astro work van was simply no match for the German thoroughbred. I wonder if the well-dressed older couple occupying its leather seats realized that what they have is something truly special.

Up until about a year ago, an elderly neighbor of mine owned a 400E- a model I didn’t even know existed until I saw his. He loved that car, but eventually the price of repair and maintenance on such a rare and unique beast began to wear on him, not to mention his wallet, and eventually he sold it in favor of a brand new Hyundai Sonata.

I guess membership has its privileges, but also its price. As for me, I’ve been kicking around the idea of finding a neglected 190E 2.6 and shoehorning a twin cam M104 engine into it. Hmmm…