Story Mike Spicer
Photos Mike Spicer and Allen Stephens
Boring was the word I used to describe these cars when seeing them with their hoods up at car shows. What was all the fuss about with this semi-modern looking four door sedan? I wouldn’t even walk over to check them out. Then a friend purchased a 1992 Mercedes-Benz 500E in California, and as fate would have it, I just happened to be traveling between California and Portland, Oregon so I offered to drive it up.
Having very little knowledge of these cars’ history, I went to pick it up and immediately noticed the steering wheel. It was a little thicker than stock and I thought that was a nice touch. Twenty minutes into the journey I looked over at my co-pilot and said “you have to drive this.” It was obvious something was going on… this car handled unbelievably.
Upon arriving in Portland it was firmly cemented in my car DNA that this was a special car. Within six months I owned a 1992 Smoke Silver Mercedes-Benz 500E, and a few months later three more friends bought them as well. It seemed like there were 500Es in everyone’s garage!
“You have to drive one of these cars to understand how special they are.”
Bitten by the 500E bug I had to research how this car came into existence. In 1988, Daimler-Benz AG commissioned Porsche to build a w124 production saloon using the M119 V8 engine. This was in response to BMW’s M5 on the market and also helped Porsche since they were in crisis at the time. They shipped these cars back and forth between Mercedes-Benz and Porsche assembly lines utilizing Porsche’s vast racing knowledge to fine tune the engineering. This resulted in (surprise) a car with amazing performance.
On first glance these cars don’t stand out, but on closer inspection you can see the wider fender flairs that accommodate the larger 16” rims. It has fog lights as well as a different front and rear bumper. The cars were made from 1991-1994 with the 1994 year switching the trunk badge from 500E to E500. These differences are pretty subtle, but once you know what they are you can spot them a mile away.
Loving these cars, we had a small 500E Fest at Portland International Raceway with eight cars. It was great to see them all lined up, reminiscent of what it looked like when they were built, except everyone had their own version of what wheels look correct (I kept mine stock). Then we utilized their Porsche racing heritage and took laps on the track.
On a trip to Germany, I saw one in the Zuffenhausen Porsche museum and a friend asked me if I wanted to see his special E500 Limited, and of course, I said yes. His car was equipped with a factory custom reptile pattern interior I didn’t know was offered. It also came with a factory ice chest in the trunk I had never seen. It was already a special car but now they were taking up a notch.
We may never see a joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Porsche like this again, and for sure we won’t see the handmade attention to detail these cars underwent during production. This was a pretty amazing marriage between the two companies. If you ever get a chance to see one at a car show or on the street, take the time to go over and look at it!