Youngtimers seem to be on a relentless climb in popularity. More and more of them show up at classic car shows and the increased interest is of course often reflected in market value too. The good news for us stubborn old classic car enthusiasts is of course that it’s only a matter of time (and not really very much of it either) before said youngtimers will be widely acknowledged as fully-fledged classics for all of us to love and enjoy.
And when it comes to enjoying them out on the road where they belong, most of those youngtimers will present less hassle and fewer compromises when it comes to driving them and using them, simply because – they by default – are younger. Less maintenance, more reliability, probably more comfort and even more performance too. Surely that’s a good thing?
But which youngtimer to buy then? Well, as with any classic car – whether proper classic or a youngtimer – nothing guarantees iconic status like a bit of motorsport history. But usually homologation specials don’t come cheap either. Just look at the fabulous Opel Manta 400 which we featured as Prime Find a couple of weeks ago: Despite strong bidding beyond £50,000, it still didn’t reach its reserve. Or how about the widely acclaimed, touring car legend, first-generation BMW M3? Even though prices have seen a much needed adjustment during the latest half year or so, they still command a fair amount of cash for decent examples. But there are exceptions. Icons of the eighties which had a huge impact in period motorsport, but which still to this day seem to be quite a steal compared to its competitors on and off the track.
No car currently fits that bill better than the so-called Baby-Benz: the W201 – naturally in this context, as the brilliant Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 road version of Stuttgart’s hugely successful touring car contender up through the eighties and early nineties.
After an extensive and prolonged development process, Mercedes-Benz launched the W201 in December 1982. Mainly due to its small size, the old guard of Mercedes-Benz customers and enthusiasts were apprehensive at first, but the 190 immediately proved very popular with the motoring press as it truly was a proper quality motor car living entirely up to the Mercedes-Benz norm of that era. Soon enough, even the most sceptical had been won over by the many virtues of the Baby-Benz.
Offering both four- and six-cylinder engines, carburettor or fuel injection, petrol or diesel, things of course got even more interesting as the sporting 2.3-16 was launched in late 1983 as a new addition for the ’84 model year. Cosworth had developed the twincam head in alloy with four valves per cylinder which was mated to the existing eight valve 2.3-litre 4-cylinder engine which was available for the 190E. With the new head came high compression pistons and in road trim a Bosch K-jetronic fuel injection. All of this added up to 185hp at 6.200rpm and a very flat torque curve topping at 236NM at 4.500rpm. It was an impressively agile engine as it was equally happy utilising its low down torque as it was revving all the way to its 7.000rpm redline. With this new engine came a 5-speed dogleg transmission from Getrag, a limited slip differential, a quicker ratio steering box, several suspension modifications stiffening up the chassis, better brakes, a bigger fuel tank and not least that sleek and oh-so-80’s bodykit which both improved aerodynamics while also reducing lift. It was an immediate hit with enthusiasts all around the globe.
But of course, all those enthusiasts only got the road going 2.3-16 because homologation regulations required it before Mercedes-Benz could enter their new race car in touring car racing. The sporting little Mercedes-Benz will forever be entangled with the story of the legendary Aryton Senna. At the opening of the new GP track at the Nürburgring in 1984, a grid of identical 2.3-16 road cars were lined up with current and previous F1 drivers behind the wheel. While having of course gotten his career as far as Formula 1, Senna was at this point still a largely unknown driver. That all changed as he charged away – a man on a mission – leaving the rest of the field in his wake as he took the chequered flag in front of drivers like Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Keke Rosberg and Jody Scheckter to name but a few.
But just like Senna, the 2.3-16 went on to achieve even bigger things. Competing against BMW M3s, Ford Sierra Cosworths and later, the mighty Audi V8, the 190E was a major factor in touring car championships all around the globe up through the eighties and early nineties. In full race trim, the final EVO incarnations with a 2.5-litre engine were pumping out as much as 350hp – still normally aspirated. It was especially in the German DTM series that the Mercedes-Benz excelled, as it took home the Manufacturers Championship in both 1991 and 1992 with drivers like the German Klaus Ludwig and Danish Kurt Thiim. Watching the hard-charging 190s and M3s bounce of the curves – and often even other competing cars (!) – was entertaining to say the least. I would argue that the world of motorsport hasn’t seen racing like it ever since.
But returning to the public roads, the 2.3-16 is not the uncompromised, fully-dialled-in race car for the road which its contemporary Bavarian rival, the BMW M3, is. As such it has perhaps always stood in the shadows of the M3, and this is no doubt largely the reason why the Mercedes-Benz hasn’t experienced the same increase in value as the M3 has. But maybe that’s a good thing? For starters, it means it’s a lot more accessible for enthusiasts to purchase one now. But it’s also a more rounded package which is arguably easier to use for ordinary driving on ordinary roads. Find a good one – but just not so good that you want to keep it concours – and a 2.3-16 might very well be the ideal daily youngtimer, presenting its fortunate owner with both great quality, reliability and practicality while still being a blast to fling down some deserted backroad on an early Sunday morning drive.
And that brings us to this week’s Prime Find: a right-hand drive 1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 which is currently for sale on the Western Isles off the coast of Scotland. This Baby-Benz presents in the handsome Blue/Black metallic – one of only two original colours for the 2.3-16, with two more colours being added when the 2.5-16 was introduced in 1988 – with a contrasting interior of part leather and part chequered cloth for the grippy Recaro bucket seats. The private vendor tells us that his 190E 2.3-16 has covered approximately 140.000 miles and comes with a history file including old MOT’s and various handbooks.
The car was apparently treated to some bodywork repairs and a fresh coat of paint back in 2016. The extent of those repairs is not detailed in the advert, but the seller claims to have pictures of the work undertaken. It’s also received a full refurbishment of the suspension and brakes including quality parts such as Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs. The original alloy wheels have equally been refurbished. Yet, the seller admits that the car would benefit from a few cosmetic improvements as for example the front bumper has a two inch cut into it (howver, at least a replacement part comes with the car). Here are a few pictures we’ve borrowed from the advert:
As always, any older car should of course have a thorough pre-purchase inspection before a deal is struck, but this one does appear to be in just about the right condition if you’re looking for a good and clean driver’s car which you don’t have to be afraid of using. The Baby-Benz comes with a current MOT until September of this year. I can’t help but wonder: Is the asking price of this iconic little homologation sports saloon being kept down because of the seller’s remote location? Regardless, compared to the period BMW M3, this certainly seems to be a whole lot of car for £ 12,995 which currently equates to approximately Euro 14,600.
Here’s a link to the full advert: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16
With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to email@example.com