Curbside Classic: 1994 Mercedes-Benz E320 (A124) – Warmer Days Are Here Again

With a lot of rainy, overcast days in May and early June, summer was a bit late arriving in Southeastern Massachusetts this year, but I’m happy to report that it’s officially here, with sunny skies, temperatures averaging in the 70s and 80s, and lots of people opting to go topless, by means of a convertible that is.

Although I make do with my moonroof and large coupe windows open (though I do wish mine was a true hardtop), the day I spotted our featured car, I did sight my car’s 228 convertible and M240 convertible siblings, as well as a Clubman I sold last summer (recognized by the vanity plate) soaking up the sun by Scituate Harbor. But a stop for a quick errand on the way home from a lunch of Island Creek Oysters and a dry Grey Goose Martini landed this nice surprise, by way of Stuttgart.

Introduced in 1984, the venerable W124 generation of midsize/executive “E-Class”, is among German automaker’s most iconic and respected cars of all time, and one that many consider the best Mercedes ever made. Although the S124 wagon arrived in 1985 and the C124 coupe arrived in 1987, it wouldn’t be until September of 1991, seven years into W124 production, in which a cabriolet variant was unveiled. Although heavily-related to the fixed-roof coupe, A124 cabriolets underwent rigorous re-engineering necessary to go topless.

To make up for the lost structural rigidity and stability from chopping 28 kg (61 lbs) of roof off, over 130 kg (286 lbs) of supplementary sheetmetal was added to stiffen the body. Additional body vibration absorbers were also added to the either side of the trunk, roof frame, and shock absorber struts, and the A-pillars received added structural integrity, welded together by supplementary metal strengtheners.

The A124 cabriolet’s soft top was a engineering marvel in itself. Fully automatic apart from the two manual locking latches at the A-pillars, it was comprised of 27 linkage parts and 34 joints, weighed less than 100 pounds, and when retracted, still yielded a respectable 8.1 cubic feet of trunk space. Initially an extra-cost option, but made standard on all 1994 models was an even smoother-operating electro-hydraulic soft top.

For added rollover protection, all A124 cabriolets featured horizontal bar behind the rear seats with integrated headrests that could automatically deploy in as little as 0.3 seconds in the event of a rollover.

A result of the A124 cabriolet’s sedan, estate, and coupe counterparts’ earlier introductions, the droptop was treated to several updates early on, some before it was even on the market for a full year. Midway through 1992, for the 1993 model year, Mercedes made a driver’s side airbag, central door locking, power exterior mirrors, and 5-speed manual as standard equipment.

More significant enhancements came in June 1993 for the 1994 model year, coinciding with the final facelift on other W124 models. Stylistically speaking, the A124 featured a slimmer, more integrated radiator grille with body color surround inspired by the new flagship W140 S-Class. Hoods, bumpers, and decklids were also revised, with headlight and taillight assemblies featuring clear glass over the previously amber colored sections. Additionally, the previously optional electro-hydraulic soft top became standard on all convertibles.

Mercedes-Benz introduced a new corporate nomenclature across the board, better distinguishing its models from one another. The W124 vehicles collectively became the E-Class, with all models following the “E###” format, with the three following digits denoting engine displacement. For example, the “220 E” became the “E 220”. Additional letters denoting body style, such as “C” for coupe, were also eliminated, simplifying the nomenclature.

1994 also saw the E-Class cabriolet’s 3.0 liter inline-6 increase in displacement to 3.2 liters, making 217 horsepower and 229 lb-ft torque. Versus the 3.0L, the 3.2L boasted peak torque at lower rpms and better fuel economy. Lowering the car’s entry point, European markets gained a 2.2 liter four cylinder cabriolet, while a 2.0 liter four cylinder inline-4 cabriolet was introduced initially just for the Portuguese, Italian, and Greek markets, but later in other markets, lacking features such as standard leather and heated seats. A more powerful E 63 AMG cabriolet was also produced in very limited quantities.

Four-cylinder A124 E-Class cabriolets were never sold in the U.S., with initially the 300 E and then the E 320 being the only variants offered. Retailing for a lofty base price of $77,300 back in 1994, these E-Class cabriolets were very much cars only within reach of the very wealthy. This particular one boasts the optional $2,500 cold weather package, for a MSRP of $79,800, ($126,777 adjusted)!

While not as glamorous as the SL roadster, these A124 cabriolets had a clear purpose in that they were not meant to be as showy or pretentious. With their bodies not created as convertibles from the start, the A124 certainly does not possess the most balanced proportions, certainly not as much so as its beautiful C124 hardtop coupe. Nonetheless, I still find it a very attractive car, and a car today that has even more character than it did while new.

Mercedes didn’t produce that many of these either, with only 33,952 produced over seven years, and 18,572 of them being six-cylinder. As a result, A124 cabriolets have held their value pretty well, with well-cared for examples still commanding anywhere from $20,000-$40,000.

Photographed: Norwell, MA – June 2017

Related Reading:

1985-1996 Mercedes-Benz W124 (Comprehensive Overview)

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300 TE (S124)

1989 Mercedes-Benz 300 SE (W126) (COAL)

1995 Mercedes-Benz S320 (W140)