Grace without Pace: 1984 Mercedes-Benz 190E

Mercedes 190E

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Full disclosure: the car you see above is one of my all-time favorite cars. I owned a 1991 Mercedes 190E with the 2.3 gas four-cylinder and an automatic. I used it to drive back and forth to school primarily, which consisted of a 3 hour drive up the Mass Pike. It delivered the driving quality of an S-Class with the fuel efficiency you’d expect from a compact sedan and miserly inline-four motor. To this day, I haven’t driven a better highway car for the money, and wish I kept mine. Barn Finds reader Jim S found this rare 5-speed example here on eBay in dry New Mexico, with a few bids already on the board but the reserve unmet.

Mercedes 190E Interior

Although it took a while for my 190E to get to the point of being a reliable driver, it didn’t take too much refurbishment beyond addressing some deferred maintenance. With a set of Bilsteins and sticky tires, it wasn’t a bad handler, either. These cars respond well to visual modifications, such as the European headlights (which is a functional and stylish upgrade) and a lowered ride height on some larger wheels, such as the classic AMG monoblocks. It’s one of those vehicles that needs so little to look absolutely stunning, which is why I’d like to own another one and personalize it in the style mentioned above. I got rid of mine right when it was getting to the point of having every issue resolved, not a decision I’m particularly proud of!

1984 Mercedes Interior

What makes this eBay find a bit more special is the presence of a manual transmission. Now, Mercedes manuals have never been anything to write home about. But I’ve always felt like I could put shift quality aside just because of the notion that I was selecting my own gears in a luxury brand like Mercedes-Benz, where manual transmissions are hard to find in any model. The 190E was more likely to have 3 pedals than the rest of the lineup given its entry-level place in the brand family and the type of buyer it was likely to attract, in other words, someone who may have driven a manual previously and didn’t find it strange to see a manual shift in his or her Mercedes sedan.

Mercedes 190E

With only 51,000 miles, this Baby Benz is in incredible condition. It may not be the fastest thing on the road (I don’t think it was ever meant to be, unless we’re talking about the 2.3-16 Cosworth), but it’s from an era when Mercedes-Benz quality was flat-out unstoppable. The way the doors closed, the brakes felt, the long-distance driving comfort, all of it spoke to how over-engineered these cars were. Plus, this example carries with it the added historical appeal of being a European Delivery car when new. Given its overall preserved condition, I think it’s fair to say it’s been loved throughout its life. I know my old 190E is still chugging around upstate New York, and I can say with some confidence that this survivor in New Mexico will run until the doors fall off. Would this runabout find a place in your drive as your next highway car? Let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Todd Z.

    No hyperlink in the ad?

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    • Jesse Mortensen JesseStaff

      All fixed! Thanks for catching that Todd.

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  2. tom999p

    I used to see the Cosworth and AMG 190’s running around Long Island in the late ’80’s, with their Miami Vice-look body kits and de-chromed trim. I always wanted one but they were way out of my price range at the time…

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  3. Andrew Minney

    Stuttgart taxi!!

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    • XYZOL

      Incorrect, sir! Stuttgart Taxis were W124s, plus, most of them were diesels.

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  4. JC

    Not to be condescending but I’ve always viewed these as glorified Jettas but with a larger maintenance price tag.

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  5. Dave Wright

    These have nothing to do with a VW……..Mercedes spent more capital developing this platform than any of there cars to that date. I have the Diesel Version that is simply magnificent, over 40 MPG, have owned it for nearley 20 years now, the only real problem has been the clear coat paint pealing. The car can sit for 6 months, as long as the battery is up… starts, even in below zero weather. I am a big Mercedes guy but this little car is simply incredible. I started looking for a 16V Cosworth too late to find a deal on one but at nearley 200HP they dominated the European rally series until the introduction of the 4X4 cars. My car started running rough last year, it seems that the steel injector lines are only good for 350,000 miles or so, 3 of them were cracked. I called The dealer and the parts guy said…….sure, they will be in on Friday. Not bad support for a 30 year old car. Try that with your rice burner………

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    • Jeff LaveryAuthor

      Great insights, Dave – I almost pulled the trigger on the 190E 2.3-16V several times. Great, awesome cars but I tend to stick with what I (now) know – 80s BMWs. But still a tempting car that is clearly at the bottom of the depreciation curve.

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  6. DolphinMember

    Some of the more interesting ’80s cars look better and better to me all the time and this is one of them. Back then they were ho-hum, but now much better. I guess that’s a step along the way for a car to become ‘vintage’ and more desirable to gearheads, compared to when they were new and appealed to Long Island poseurs who thought it was a good idea to delete the chrome on the car.

    So…..rant coming related to Tom999p’s comment about the chrome-delete:

    I have a very nice very early production 1970s car that I am un-chrome-deleting, and I have come to seriously regret that anyone would do this to a car. Of course anyone can do what they want—-it’s their car. They can compress it into a cube of solid metal if they want, and some guys have.

    But it’s not cool. It’s just stupid. So, parts that used to be shiny are now black. So what? If someone had any respect for the engineers and designers who came up with the car they would want to keep it as it was made.

    I can respect a guy who takes an old car and creates his vision of a rod that ends up being a piece of art as well as a vehicle. But just a chrome-delete? A stupid, no-skill move, likely by someone who has trouble turning a wrench. I say this partly because the “best” jobs of chrome-delete involve acid-dipping the piece first, then black epoxy painting it so it will last and not flake off the smooth chrome.

    Guess what that does for someone who wants to get the chrome back? The parts are now junk.

    The really good news for this ebay listing is that this ’80s vintage 190E has all its chrome and looks really good for that. I have never owned a M-B but I would gladly test drive this one if I had the chance, and maybe buy it since it’s so nice and has low miles and is from the dry Southwest and looks to be affordable. And who can resist that beautiful ’80s interior, looking like it was crafted from the best materials the factory could source.

    I can definitely understand why Josh feels the way he does about these cars, even if my preferred German ride is a different brand. I could be enticed to branch out by this one.

    The bid is up to $3,150. Here is the link to the auction:

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    • tom999p

      Oh, I wasn’t talking about personal chrome deleting, I was talking about the look of taking the chrome and making it body color, done at the conversion factory. I think those cars look awesome.

      Back in the day I had a black AMG 500SEC, and EVERY piece of chrome was blacked out AT amg. That, along with the AMG body kit, engine/ suspension/wheel mods made a pretty amazing car…

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      • Mark E

        What you say is very true, Tom. My father had an ’84 Buick Electra T-Type. The T-type wheels, blackwall tires and blacked out trim & headlight buckets made a normally mundane car look almost like the batmobile… ^_^

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  7. JC

    If a 190E can become “vintage” and desirable to gearheads, then you can put just about anything in that category, thus negating the true definition of what that really means.

    People who bought 190’s back in the day were mostly people that wanted to brag that they owned a MBZ but couldn’t afford the grown up version, at least that’s what it was like here in Newport Beach, CA, capital of all things phony baloney.

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    • DolphinMember

      JC, Eventually everything becomes “vintage” if it survives long enough. What you might think of as a vintage-and-therefore-desirable car the next guy might disagree on, and vice versa. But I noticed that you didn’t say what “vintage” really means, so feel free to define it.

      On bragging, I’d guess that back in the day some of the original owners of Ferraris, Maseratis, Pierce Arrows, Duesenbergs, 300SLs, M-B Cabriolets and lots of other vintage collector cars might have wanted to brag that they owned them too. Personally I’m glad they did. Otherwise we wouldn’t have them around now to call vintage collector cars, because they might not have found original buyers willing to pay up for them.

      This little 190E isn’t in the same class as those cars, and I never said it would become collectible, but it does have vintage appeal to some people, and it’s sure a giant step up from, say, a microcar like an Isetta. But some people see even Isettas as vintage collectible cars, and I am one of them.

      And my condolences about having to be in Newport Beach. All that sun…. But I remember that Road & Track was there for decades, and then I guess they saw the light and moved close to Detroit.

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  8. Dave Wright

    The 190 was a serious attempt by Mercedes at building a world car. I was not a fan when they were new either but after buying my diesel to use as an economy car, I was convinced. I still prefer the large cars but that does not take away from these cars.

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  9. Larry

    It’s a nice, sturdy, smart-looking little sedan that will last far, far longer than most people will be interested in driving it. Fortunately, the manual transmission will certainly keep it interesting for a lot longer than if it had been saddled with a more typical automatic.

    The seller seems to suggest that the title lists the mileage as TMU, which may hold back some bidders. The seller says the carfax backs up the claimed mileage, so he has a carfax, but no mention of accident history. A/C is listed, but there’s no affirmation that it works (unusual for a NM car). Some better photos would be nice too – it’s hard to gauge how bad the listed imperfections really are.

    Otherwise, it looks like a pretty decent and desirable car, but the seller really isn’t doing a lot to help it along.

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    • Tirefriar

      Just sent seller a question regarding a/c. BTW, seller mentions this car was donated to charity. I believe in California vehicles donated to charity get a branded title but I could be wrong. Wonder if this would have any sort of impact on Titling it in California….

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      • davew833

        As I mentioned below, A/C is really problematic on these, and expensive to fix. The mid-’80s Nippondenso compressors were not very reliable, though there might be a better aftermarket one out there now.

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      • Mark E

        I’ll second Dave on this one. My sister had a 300 diesel wagon of this vintage in which the a/c was not working. Over the years my bro-in-law tried everything (and maybe replaced everything) on the a/c to keep it working. One time I saw a nice ’80s SL in my mechanics shop. In looking at it I saw the entire dashboard was gone from the firewall in! On asking it was, yeah, an a/c repair which was going to cost about $7500, or HALF of what the MB dealer was going to charge. (And this was in the late ’90s)

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  10. Dave Wright

    You are mixing up Vintage with Classic……….Vintage relates to age or year of manufacture, Classic has more to do with style or quality

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    • JC

      How so ? Some cars are vintage and classic. None the less, in my opinion, the 190E does not meet the criteria for either.

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  11. Davew833

    I grew up in the ’80s adoring the “Baby Benz.” Eventually I owned four of them, all 2.3 automatic versions. Unfortunately, they were all dogs. I had an ’83 gray-market (’83s were not sold in the US), an ’85, an ’87, and a last-year-of-production ’93. Perhaps I selected poorly, but they all had many more problems than a Japanese sedan of comparable vintage. NONE of them had working air conditioning. I planned on keeping the ’93 for a long time since it was the last year made. I figured M-B had gotten all of the bugs out by then. It had begun leaking oil from the head gasket which is common on that engine, but I was meticulous about checking the oil level. One day while my mother was driving it the engine seized completely. I couldn’t even turn it with a socket and a breaker bar. I’ve owned over 100 cars and I think that’s the only time I’ve had a complete, total engine seizure. I was stunned. I decided that was the last 190e I’d ever trouble myself with unless I come across a good deal on a 2.3-16 or a 2.6 Sportline with a 5-speed transmission (not likely!)

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  12. JC


    I’ve had the similar, but not entirely that bad, type of experience with the BMW 7-Series. I absolutely love the styling, comfort and performance of these cars and have owned them dating back to my first ’89 735i, a ’96 & ’01 760iL’s and now a ’06 750Li for my wife.

    The tech on the cars and how they drive like a sports car is unmatched but the constant barrage of repairs followed by excuses by the manufacturer/dealers is enough for me to chuck one of them through their plate glass into the showroom. Never had one seize but there’s still time.

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  13. Horse Radish

    YES, decent cars, for what you can get them for.
    Unfortunately most have 150k miles on them or don’t run.

    The question on this one is:
    do the rear windows work ?
    If they do they must have never been touched !

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  14. Davew833

    The ’83 gray market 190E I had was actually the most fun of the 4. It seemed to have more pep than the others, but it was pretty worn out when I got it. The front ball joints creaked badly and were a pain to replace, and the steering box was so loose that going straight down the freeway was an exercise in executing a mild zigzag pattern. It was hard to find a replacement since it was a gray market car. The interior was decidedly downscale, with velour seats instead of MB-tex, manual seat and climate controls, and I think it even had crank windows, but everything was well-designed and I preferred the manual control knobs of the climate control to the later automatic ones. It had a Hawaii registration sticker on the back bumper when I got it at an auction in Utah, so I figured it had traveled most of the way around the world. The A/C compressor (which was seized when I got it) was straight out of the GM parts bin. The later 190Es I owned had Nippondenso compressors which were substandard. Two of the remaining three had bad cold-start problems that were never entirely resolved, and then there was the one that the engine seized up in. Three of the four were metallic paint and had bad problems with the clearcoat peeling. I really expected better from Mercedes.

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    • Jeff LaveryAuthor

      Dave, I think gray market is the way to go – likely less-restrictive emissions equipment and no motors to break on the interior! I love the fact that it was from HI – one of my favorite places to visit and another interesting chapter in your car’s history.

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  15. Mark E

    I can hear the people at BaT all whining about Feh, it’s not a cosworth!! ^o^

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    • Tirefriar

      I’m one of the “the people on BaT” as some of the others here, and I have no problems with this W201 not being a Cosworth. In fact, the few Cosworth cars that appeared on BaT got quite a bit of scorching. BF is currently a more homologeneous society now, but I’m sure that will change as it growth and attracts more and more readers. May be in the near future, I’ll read “the people on Barnfind…”

      BTW, no response from the seller yet on the A/C question. The A/C controls in the W201 look appear to be similar to the W124 I had. Mark, true to what you said – to repair A/C,my dash was pulled. I think the blower was replaced as art of repairs as it was out too. I can’t remember exactly what had to be done, I think I paid somewhere around $1k with used parts but about a year after the climate control switch cluster took a dump. Sold it as an A/C non- op car…for about $2k )))

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      • Jeff LaveryAuthor

        A/C is such a little…..pain. Rarely a cheap fix and some manufacturers like BMW used so many different compressors – which, mind you, are specific to certain years and cars – that it becomes a total wild goose chase. After waiting for Pelican Parts to send me a $400 compressor, it turns out the $250 one that Advanced Autoparts *always* has in stock was the right one.

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      • Horse Radish

        I was there (the B-site) once upon a time…..but….
        what turned me off was, that you were only allowed to say what the ‘owner’ wanted you to say.
        Disagreement with his holiness was a nono.
        Deleted posts were the consequence.
        How is that for a forum turnoff ?
        What’s the point of writing , if only one sided opinions are wanted ?

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      • Tirefriar

        HR, I’ve been on BaT for a while now. They give their guests an option to vote comments as non-constructive. Works great if some is being overly rude or obnoxious. However, as with any form of censorship it would be abused by the crowd on occasion. sorry to hear you had a bad experience, I’d be upset too if my comments were deleted on regular basis…

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  16. Tirefriar

    Great news about this car – just received a response from the seller that the A/C is working perfectly. This is back in the BUY column. Someone may end up with a very cool daily driver.

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    • Jeff LaveryAuthor

      Yep, sounds like a very solid little car. Thanks for updating us.

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  17. Rob

    Wow who knew these were so popular, although if you got to drive one they were very comfortable. BUT…, true story….my older brother who often came home with something very interesting to drive, 356B, TR4-IRS, 944, 912, TR3, Boxster, etc. drove in one day with a 190E with manual transmission. He asked if I wanted to take it out for a drive. We drove down our street and headed down the hill. While I was going through the gears the gearbox kind of had a weird feeling. At the next shift I was holding the stick in my hand and it was not connected to anything. My brother looked at me as I held up the stick to show him and both of us just stared at it as we drove along. After pulling over and inspecting the base of the shifter it appeared to have been welded back together. We (using the tire tools) and removing the boot selected second gear let out the clutch and got home. The car was returned a couple of hours later to the seller. But it did drive really well for a few hours! It turns out that the drive line had been removed at some point and the transmission/clutch was lifted with a chain that slipped rolling the transmission over and hitting the concrete floor upside down….used cars, check them out carefully. Money refunded.

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  18. Jason

    I think this car may have turned up for sale again, this time in Columbus, Ohio:

    (advertised with 53K miles at the end of May)

    Like 0

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