Excitement among the automotive experts on November 29, 1982: the third Mercedes-Benz model series – in the form of the long-awaited compact Mercedes-Benz 190/190 E – appeared on the automotive world stage. A sensation, as it would turn out, because in terms of design, suspension, engine and lightweight materials, this Mercedes differed distinctively from its brand brethren, the Mercedes mid-series, as it was called at the time, and the S-Class. Today, the model designations are a lot more simple: C-Class, E-Class and S-Class.

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The virtually avant-garde design with distinctive wedge shape and angular lines, high rear-end and almost vertical air-flow breakaway edge was outstanding – and somewhat confusing for purists. Engineers were intrigued by the extremely low Cd value, the shock-absorber strut front suspension and above all by the new multi-link independent rear suspension which opened up new dimensions in dynamics, handling safety and ride comfort. And on top of all this, the new models were really fast. The Mercedes-Benz 190 and 190 E had top speeds of just under and above 200 km/h, respectively – at a fairly low fuel consumption.

For the initiated, the expansion of the new model series was just a question of time. They felt that a diesel-engined version should be added and also perhaps a sporty version. Their expectations were not disappointed: the 190 D and the sporty 190 E 2.3-16 made their debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1983.

The 190 D’s engine was not only highly dynamic but also the world’s first with fully encapsulation for a completely new level of noise comfort. The eagerly awaited 190 E 2.3-16 certainly shook people up. It had already made its very first appearance in Italy, on the high-speed test track in Nardo, near Lecce, in southern Italy, to be precise.

The debut of the 190 E 2.3-16
When new Mercedes-Benz models make their first public appearance, their prototypes already have a hard time behind them, a tour de force to make them fit for a long automotive life with as little disturbance as possible. Yet it was rather unusual to stage the last acid test of outstanding performance in public – on a high-speed test track.

The new 2.3 liter four-cylinder engine with twin overhead camshafts in the 190 E 2.3-16 was the first four-valve powerpack in a production Mercedes. Its light-alloy cylinder head, developed together with the British Cosworth company, had two camshafts, four V-shaped overhead valves per cylinder and pent-roof shape combustion chambers with a favorable geometry and spark plugs optimally located in the center. Precise mixture formation was ensured by mechanical Bosch KE-Jetronic fuel injection.

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The engine developed 136 kW/185 hp at 6200/min and a torque of 240 Newton meters at 4500/min, giving the car acceleration from standstill to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 235 km/h. The engine was combined with a manual five-speed transmission tuned for sporty performance. Self-leveling suspension on the rear axle was a standard feature.

The bodywork was aerodynamically modified to match the car’s high performance. Front and rear aprons extended further down and a small spoiler on the trunk lid generated additional downforce. The tires – wider than those of the 190 E – were covered by wheelarch flares. Thus prepared, the car entered large-scale production.

Southern Italy, August 13 – 21, 1983
Three of these production cars were slightly modified for record runs aimed at proving their reliability: the bodywork was lowered by 15 millimeters, the front apron was extended downwards by 20 millimeters, the fan was removed and the power steering replaced by mechanical steering. In the early morning of August 13, 1983, they started out on a 50,000 km high-speed test run, demanding any amount of stamina on the part of cars, drivers and test department staff. The Nardo cars also featured self-leveling suspension on the front axle to keep the ground clearance at a constant level.

The record track in Nardo is precisely 12.64026 kilometers long, has a diameter of some four kilometers and slightly banked lanes, thereby permitting driving almost without lateral forces even in the speed range over 240 km/h.

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According to the engineers‘ calculations, the cars were to reach the 50,000 km target in the morning of the eighth day – provided there were no problems, the pit stops were performed as scheduled and the six drivers were up to the strain. Lap times were to be three minutes and five seconds to reach the targeted average speed of 240 km/h including pit stops. Due to the cars‘ low Cd value of 0.30, they were expected to reach somewhat higher top speeds than the production versions.

Every two-and-a-half hours, the cars came in for refueling and a change of driver during a 20-second pit stop. The heavily strained rear tires had to be replaced every 8,500 kilometers and the front tires every 17,000 kilometers. During these five-minute tire change breaks, the oil and oil filters were also replaced and the valve clearance was checked. To protect the headlamp lenses against soiling and damage during the daytime, they were covered by plastic caps; the radiator mask was fitted with a quick-change insect screen to prevent clogging of the radiator.

Three world records, nine international class records
After 201 hours, 39 minutes and 43 seconds, two of the cars had clocked up 50,000 kilometers. The replacement parts carried on board in compliance with the regulations had not been required – the cars had been running perfectly smoothly despite the extreme strain. The third car was laid up for three hours by a broken distributor rotor arm – an item costing just a few cents, which the pit crew were not allowed to replace but had to repair.

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The new Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 had already more than fulfilled the hopes pinned on it when it became a crowd-puller at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September and a winner when it came to sales success. In the following years, the 16-valve model formed the sound basis for the extremely successful Mercedes-Benz racing cars entered in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM).

World records
25 000 km 247,094 km/h
25 000 Meilen 247,749 km/h
50 000 km 247,939 km/h

International class records
1000 km 247,094 km/h
1000 Meilen 246,916 km/h
5000 km 246,914 km/h
5000 Meilen 246,729 km/h
10 000 km 246,826 km/h
10 000 Meilen 246,839 km/h
6 Stunden 246,798 km/h
12 Stunden 246,628 km/h
24 Stunden 246,713 km/h

Source: Daimler AG