The Perfect Car 1992 W124 500E
The Perfect Car
This 1992 W124 500E earned a perfect score from concours judges andBest of Marque Mercedes-Benz at 2016 Legends of the Autobahn
Article Gary Anderson with Eric Bergstedt
Images David Gooley & Susan Morehouse
Per • fect adjective:
Having all the required or desirable elements,
qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be
When Eric Bergstedt decided a few years ago to undertake a project in which he would take an already attractive Mercedes-Benz automobile and rebuild it so that it was as absolutely perfect as he could make it, his first challenge was to decide which year and model he would choose to restore.
Which model to choose?
Given the rapid acceleration of technology between the 1970s and 1990s in response to safety, fuel efficiency and environmental concerns, Bergstedt leaned toward a model that was built fairly recently.
However, if he would be investing the time and effort required to meet his quality goal, he wanted to be assured that the car would maintain its value and desirability over a long period of time. The car would already have to be recognized for its performance and have attracted interest from collector hobbyists. It would also have to have proven that its design would be accepted as timeless in its attractiveness. Anything newer than models from 1995 – those at least 20 years old – could not yet have met these standards.
The small window in time narrowed the search, and it didn’t take long to find one car that was already desirable among Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts and would still meet most of the engineering standards of modern cars. The model he chose was the Mercedes-Benz 500E, built on the W124 chassis in small numbers for a discerning automotive clientele from 1990-1994.
Because the final result of Bergstedt’s restoration project absolutely met the goal of perfection he had set for his car – Mercedes-Benz Club of America judges could find no flaws in either the specifications or execution of the restoration – The Star editors decided to showcase Bergstedt’s 500E so that it could serve as a benchmark against which other examples of the model could be restored and evaluated in the future.
A successful collaboration
When the 1989 models were being planned, the W124 chassis had been in production for five years; as the base for the new mid-size models that keystoned the Mercedes-Benz lineup, it was quite successful. The series would be updated that year with new interiors and cosmetic refreshing of the exteriors, but there was no plan to replace the chassis series anytime soon. Nonetheless, Mercedes-Benz product planners were exploring means by which the existing lineup could be expanded with the addition of new models that would continue to draw attention at car shows and in the showrooms.
One idea that looked promising was a high-performance model that might be a luxury version of the well-received 190E 2.3 16-V that was built on the W201 chassis – the source for most design cues on the W124 models. With Stuttgart neighbor Porsche looking for additional business to use its recently expanded production capabilities, a plan was developed that, in retrospect, carved the mold in which the AMG program would later be developed.
Mercedes-Benz would design a version of the W124 that would be both stylistically similar and visually distinctive from its other W124 sedans. Performance modifications would be designed in cooperation with Porsche engineers using components from the Mercedes-Benz parts bins.
The W124 chassis with specialized suspension components would be built by Mercedes-Benz, but then shipped to Porsche’s Rössle-Bau plant in Zuffenhausen to hand-assemble the specialized body panels – including flared fenders and aerodynamic lower body panels – on the chassis. The body would then be shipped back to Sindelfingen for the marriage of the chassis with the V-8 engine and installation of interior fittings, and then shipped back to Rössle-Bau for completion and road tests. Finally, the nearly complete car would be shipped back to Mercedes-Benz for final testing and preparation before being shipped to dealers.
Complicated? Certainly. However, the companies had the advantage of being able to produce a very specialized, essentially hand-assembled automobile without any additions to existing manpower or production facilities. This allowed Mercedes-Benz to produce the car in exceptionally small numbers while nevertheless being able to price it at a reasonable level – and make a profit on the program.
What made the 500E special?
Mercedes-Benz had pulled out all the stops when it designed the 500SL roadster on the R129 chassis. Product planners in the firm’s marketing department recognized that there had always been – and would continue to be – demand for small sporty cars from Mercedes-Benz. However, engineers were challenged by the need to design and manufacture high-performance components on a cost-effective basis that wouldn’t be appropriate for use in the staid and proper transportation represented by the company’s executive sedans and limousines.
By increasing demand for tuner components, the 500E helped resolve this cost issue as well. To start with, the 5-liter M119 V-8 engine designed for the 500SL was just as well suited for a mid-size sports sedan as it was for the smaller, and heavier roadster. Similarly, the suspension developed for the 500SL could be readily adapted to the 500E, including the roadster’s 300mm disk brakes with 4-piston calipers. There wasn’t even a problem upgrading the brakes to the 320mm set used for the 600SL when it was introduced in late 1993 (the brakes that Bergstedt fitted to his example).
Porsche’s high-performance engineering expertise certainly played a role in designing the suspension for exceptional handling, with a 1.5-inch wider track and 0.9-inch lower stance. Coupled with the fender flares and sleek wrap-under lower body panels, the look of the 500E conveyed an appearance that was all about taking care of business and just barely on the polite side of mean.
And perform it did. The motoring press immediately dubbed the 500E the “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” a tagline that didn’t hurt the car’s marketing program. Though building the car for Mercedes-Benz, Porsche benefited as well; neither company made any secret of the partnership and, throughout the automotive industry, the 500E was often referred to as the “four-door Porsche.” From a dead stop, the car could pass 60 mph in under six seconds and go on to clear the quarter-mile marker in 14.1 seconds, credible performance even for custom-modified tuner cars and astounding for a production-series executive automobile. The performance specs even bested the smaller, less luxurious but much-bruited BMW E30 M3 that had been introduced just a few years before.
Given the economic stature of potential owners, the performance available at a driver’s command – and the likelihood that the performance would often be demonstrated with three impressionable passengers in the separate seats – interior designers had an interesting challenge. The car had to look and function on a daily basis as both an executive conveyance and performance-capable sports sedan.
In the end, the design balance was carried off with great confidence. Pleated door pockets and leather on all interior surfaces, complemented by rich wood veneer surrounding gauges and accessory controls, did credit to the company that had produced the luxurious Adenauer and 600. On the other hand, the seats – two bolstered bucket-style rear seats as well as the two in the front – were subcontracted to Porsche’s Recaro division. By then known for its racing seats, Recaro had once been the independent Reutter Company, responsible for constructing the aluminum Porsche prototypes that preceded the steel versions built in Zuffenhausen.
When is perfect not enough?
With its high-performance capabilities, the 500E was extremely desirable in its day; every car produced was immediately snapped up, though there weren’t very many. A total of 10,359 units were produced from 1990-1994 – the years the car was nominally in production – and then 120 units were assembled in 1995 after the Porsche factory switched over to Audi production.
An interesting footnote to the story is that the complicated production system worked well. When AMG then began building and modifying limited-production cars for Mercedes-Benz, the system pioneered in Stuttgart continued, with chassis shipped to the AMG factory at Affalterbach for performance upgrades and then shipped back to the production plant at Sindelfingen for final assembly and shipping. In fact, the production of the 500Es and the first AMG-modified E60s overlapped, with a small number of cars having the 500E/E500 chassis getting a 6-liter version of the M119 engine and then sold as E60s.
The 500Es and successor E500s that were produced after the switch in nomenclature in 1994 are equally sought after by enthusiasts in the know today. Bergstedt adopted a few of the performance modifications popular among that group, though he avoided anything that would create visible changes. His upgrades included installation of a 1995 E420 transmission with improved first-gear performance, and a Wavetrac limited-slip differential. The only visible differences are the subtle changes to lower windshield trim and cowl pieces that were changed on the 1995 body panels to accommodate the cabin-air blower motor box from a 1995 W124, including a replaceable air filter.
Otherwise, this 1992 W124 500E is so accurate – so precise – that it can serve as a visual reference of the unusual Mercedes-Benz/Porsche collaboration the day it was displayed at its debut auto show.
1992 Mercedes-Benz 500E (W124)
TYPE: four-door, four-seat mid-size luxury sedan
ENGINE: M119 4,973cc fuel-injected 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic
HORSEPOWER: 322 at 5,700 rpm TORQUE: 354 lb-ft at 3,900 rpm
LENGTH: 187 in CURB WEIGHT: 3,855 lb
FUEL EFFICIENCY: 14 mpg city, 17 mpg highway
ACCCELERATION: Zero-60 mph 6.1 sec TOP SPEED: 155 mph (rev limited)
Eric Bergstedt's flawless Brilliant Silver Metallic W124 1992 500E at 2016 Legends of the Autobahn.
With NOS Ash Grey interior trim, refinished wood veneers, NOS instrument binnacle, beautiful leather surfaces and immaculate detailing throughout, the interior of this show-stopping 500E stands as a testament to the elusive goal of perfection.
The profile view reveals timeless lines of 500E.
The 5-liter M119 V-8 engine designed for the 500SL propelled the 500E to 60mph in under six seconds.
Larger 320mm brakes from the 600SL. Bergstedt with his family and the 500E at Legends of the Autobahn.
The as-new trunk with period-correct sound components.
Stainless steel exhaust pipes and muffler are not strictly original, but aren't visible in inspections.
David Bergstedt with his wife and family at Legends of the Autobahn.
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