Curbside Conundrum: My Mystery Mercedes 230E 2.8 or: What’s In A Name?

During my bicycle commute to work, on many a morning I pass a very peculiar Mercedes W124 with a model designation that I had never heard of before: 230E 2.8.

I have seen this car so many times now that it feels like an old acquaintance. But with two kids to deliver at their daycare at 8 and a job at the other end of the city to start at 9, I am usually too pressed for time to shoot.

Today, however, I was late already, so what difference did it make; I hit my Shimano brakes hard, coming to a full stop from my 15 mph cruising speed. Then I took out my phone and went for it.

So I proudly present to you: “My” mystery Mercedes. Can the CCommentariat in its joint wisdom solve this one?

A few words on nomenclature on the W124. In Europe, things were fairly logical: There was a nice three digit number, standing for approximately 10 percent of displacement measured in ccm. After the number you had an uppercase “D” if a diesel engine was under the hood, an “E” was shown if the car featured a fuel injected gas engine and there was just a number if it came with a carburated gas engine, the sole version thusly equipped being the “200”. It was all pretty neat and simple. You had your 200, 200E, 230E, 260E, 300E and your 200D, 250D, 300D. Everyone is still on board I would assume.

Things got a little more complicated when Mercedes slapped those Turbos on the 250D and 300D. And yet, 250D Turbo. or 300D Turbo where by any means still very logical model designations.

The same held true when Mercedes offered its newly developed AWD system on all six cylinder engines, creating the 260E 4matic, 300E 4matic, 300D 4matic and 300D Turbo 4matic.

The trunklid became cluttered further when the big gas six received an additional cam and doubled its valve count for the introduction of the 300E-24. This all followed a very precise logic and accordingly what we now speak of often as an E-Class was back in the days in Germany known through most of the 80s as the Mercedes 200-300E.

Now as most of you are aware things were a little different in the United States. While it all seemed to start out like in Germany with your 300E that had a clear relationship between the number on the trunk and the ccms up front, and the 300D Turbo that followed the same logic, things became a little more confused with the introduction of the 300E 2.6 and the 300D 2.5 Turbo. In its own way, it was all fair and square, though. It was the Mercedes 300 which still stood for 10 percent of the displacement in ccm, unless another number followed and then that stood for 0.1 percent of the displacement. If you did your math homework every other time you shoul still be fine, right?

But then two different kinds of logic were in place all at the same time. With the introduction of the revised DOHC six with 2.8 or 3.2 liters, there were then the 300E (with 3.2 liters!) and the 300E 2.8. And I am not even taking into account that briefly the American 300E was technically a European 300E-24 (with the older 3 liter engine). And then Mercedes introduced the 400E (with 4.2 liters) and 500E (correctly labeled at 5 liters) and it all became a huge mess.

Possible sensing the confusion Mercedes turned it all around, creating the E320, E420, E500. They did this in Europe, too, and now not only did you have the same naming conventions in the US and in Europe, but also the number on the trunklid stood for 10 percent of discplacement again, like it had a decade prior! Talk about coming full circle!

And the “E” was no longer an indicator of the presence of fuel injection but now stood for the name of the car itself, which has since been known as the E-Class. An name that was retroactively applied to the entire W124 range and even the W123 which was in production when no one had ever heard of such as thing as an E-Class.

If you haven’t fallen asleep while reading, you might have noticed: Nowhere in all this logic did a “230E 2.8” appear. So what do we have here?

A hint to one possible provenance of this vehicle: This is most likely a flag-holder (hole for the willfull creation of corrosion) and that had me thinking, could the “230E 2.8” have been some sort of diplomatic special edition? A google search yielded no results. Curiously, a south American website offers break pads for a “230E 2.6” but that website is the only hint to the existence of such a vehicle. A 230E 2.8? Unheard of.

Looking deeper inside the mystery, I found a speedo that ended at 220 kmh which pointed towards a four cylinder gas-powered model.

What I also found was an amount of optional equipment that I had never seen on a four-cylinder w124. In Europe, these cars were sold as ultra-strippers, even the 230E came with a four speed manual well in to the nineties!

This all pointed further towards a diplomatic vehicle, though out of commission since it was not on diplomatic but on regular plates.

So this is all I have got as evidence. My best guess? Somebody created their very own W124, by name only or maybe also by substance. The “2.8” badge could likely be from the short lived W140 S-Class 300SE 2.8. Maybe they even went all the way and did an engine swap?

When I was done and about to rush off to work,  a middle-aged woman, lloking both angry and curious, walked up to me and asked whyI took pictures of her Mercedes! Guess my excitement at the prospect of the mystery finally being solved!

But it turned out she was talking about her SLK 230 Kompressor that was parked right in front….

So I am as clueless as ever and therefore I ask: Please, share your thoughts and ideas in the comments, maybe we can solve this one together!