The Ultimate 124: the 500E/E500s


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Mercedes-Benz 500 E Limited ; Mercedes-Benz 500 E Limited;

This mono-chromatic 500E reveals the poise that the addition of upgraded suspension components, 500SL brakes and wider tires/wheels afforded. The rare ‘Evo’ alloys are coveted today but 500E/E500 owners. The revised front valance and front/rear fender flares are apparent here.

124 Perfection
Masterpiece of collaboration

I think its about time to recognize what must be considered one of the most interesting ‘young classics’ from Stuttgart today. Make that Stuttgart AND Zuffenhausen, the home of Porsche Cars. Yeah, 123s are hip and and plentiful and a great 107 from the ’70s or ’80s is definitely worth owning but there is a four door from the early ’90s that has quietly become the choice of many discriminate young classic MB buyers.

It dawned on me recently that I’ve never written a word about this extraordinary blend of MB and Porsche engineering. I drove one for over a year in 2001 and I felt at that time it was an outstanding combination of understated muscular beauty, effortless and silent power, ergonomics and rarity. It was a 1993 500E in pearl black/creme. Epic car and one that made me feel like a titan of industry while behind the wheel. Of course I was – and still am – a titan of nothing. But certain cars seem to puff us up.

“The metrics are pedestrian today; 0-100 km/hr required 6.1 seconds which was very impressive for a heavy saloon in 1993. But I remember the 60 mph – 100 mph rush with the throttle ‘matted’ to be most satisfying.”

Mercedes-Benz 500 E ; Mercedes-Benz 500 E;

1,548 US models were constructed during 1992-1994. The early cars are coveted due to Porsche’s more extensive technical involvement.

124 meets 129

The parallels between the birth of the 300SEL 6.3 and the 500E have been discussed for years. In the middle ’60s MB engineer Erich Waxenberger was eyeballing the flagship M100 600’s 6.3 liter engine as an interesting bolt-in for the newish 300SEL air suspension sedan. In 1989 we assume more than a few MB engineers were envisioning bolting the new 322 HP M119 4-cam V-8 into the most sensible sedan offered at that time, the fairly bland but superbly executed 300E.

While Waxenberger reportedly worked after hours on the mule that would become the stunning 6.3, the V8 124 project was carefully considered and would not have happened without a partner located barely 5 miles north of Mercedes-Benz by the name of Porsche. Demand was deemed to be very low for what could be considered one of MBs first modern era ‘halo’ cars. Modifying the existing 124 assembly process to integrate the many special modifications was not practical.

Porsche was suffering a dramatic sales decline in the early ’90s – remember the unreliable C2/C4 models – and had the capacity and financial need to assist Mercedes. So it was a proper match. Bodies painted at the MB’s Sindelfingen plant were delivered to Porsche’s Rossle-Bau plant which in turn installed the 129 bits and pieces that Mercedes shipped from Sindelfingen and Untertürkheim.

500E collage

The perfect blend of dimensions, comfort, performance and refinement? There is much that is unique within this amalgam of Mercedes-Benz creativity and Porsche assembly prowess. 322 HP 4-cam V8 provided the muscle for the low production hot rod E-class.

Comfortable sleeper

The result was an uber 124 recognizable by tastefully flared fenders, a lower ride height, modified front valance and 225 series tires on wide 129 8-hole alloys. Other components sourced from the 500SL were brakes and the ASR which as Mercedes pointed out “was a necessity rather than mere technical gimmickry.” The engine in fact was based on a slightly different architecture than that of the 129’s 4-cam.

Daimler AG notes: “It was the first car to feature what was known as the “standard deck” engine – one and the same crankcase used for both the 4.2 and the 5.0-litre unit. This meant that the 5.0-litre engine was 16.5 millimetres lower here than when it made its debut in the 500 SL (R 129) a year and a half earlier. Shorter connecting rods ensured that the bore-stroke ratio remained the same. In addition, in the E 500 the Bosch LH-Jetronic injection system, with electronic control and air-mass sensor, replaced the previously used mechanical/electronic KE system.” Very interesting.

The driving experience is one of effortless power, superb balance and refinement. The interior was also unique and offered bucket seating front and rear with the seats reportedly provided by Recaro. They were perfection for my 5’11” frame. The metrics are pedestrian today;  0-100 km/hr required 6.1 seconds which was very impressive for a heavy saloon in 1993. But I remember the 60 mph – 100 mph rush with the throttle ‘matted’ to be most satisfying.

E60 mb classic

AMG massaged abut 45 500Es by enlarging the engine to 6.0 liters and adding their proprietary suspension and exhaust modifications. The result was the E60. Peak power at the end of production was 399 HP and more than a few 500Es went to AMG in subsequent years for E60 upgrades. The original cars can be confirmed by the code 957 on their data plate indicating the ‘AMG Technology Package.’

Prices today

Despite costing $82,000 new in the US, many 500E/E500s have lived neglected lives and are simply distressed used cars today, albeit fairly quick ones. I’ve bought them for as little as $6k. I sold a well above average 99k mile 1994 E500 early in 2016 for about $28k and it was just last week that I confirmed the sale last summer of a spotless 500E with just 15k miles on the clock for $70k…

$20-$25k should buy a healthy and attractive car today with mid-mileage of 100k or so. When miles drop below 50k and condition is highly preserved with faultless mechanicals,  prices rise steeply.

Road & Track summed things up quite nicely in their May 1992 issue: “The 500 E is a magnificent high-performance sedan that’s heavy on the visceral. It looks right (low slung, intimidating, but not showy, like the AMG Hammer or Mercedes’ own 600 SEL). It sounds great (nothing beats the thunder of a big V8). It goes sinfully fast for a family 4-door (155 mph, electronically limited). It has everything you’d expect in a Mercedes. And a few things you wouldn’t. Mostly, gobs of horsepower and an attitude that says … well, you know the word.

roy spencer/editor mercedesheritage
photography/daimler ag – mercedesheritage.com

 

2 Responses to “The Ultimate 124: the 500E/E500s”

  1. There is a good web resource on the purchase, maintenance and repair of these models (as well as the 400E/E420 little brother) at the following URL: http://www.500Eboard.com/forums

    It is one of the tightest, best and most knowledgeable model-specific communities out there for any Mercedes-Benz model.

  2. by Gerry Van Zandt on February 16th, 2017 9:18 am

    A few inaccuracies in the article:

    1) ALL seats (front and rear) of all 500E and E500 models were produced by Recaro. There are labels on the underside of each seat that confirms this. They are not “reportedly” produced by Recaro — they are DEFINITIVELY produced by Recaro.

    2) There were three different generations of the M119 engine — the M119.96X, which used Bosch CIS-E injection, and was used in the earliest models of the 500SL, but not in the 500E; the M119.97X, which used Bosch LH injection and was used in all 500E/E500 and mid-production 500SL/SL500 models — and which was nearly identical between the models and a direct bolt-in between the two models; and the M119.98X variant, which used Bosch ME injection (eliminating the dual distributors) and was never used in the 500E/E500. The M119.96X engines were the “tall-deck” blocks, but the M119.97X engines as used in the 500SL/SL500 are completely compatible with the 500E/E500.

    3) According to Mercedes-Benz data card records, of which I have 100% for all 10,479 500E/E500 models produced from 1990 through 1995, there were exactly 148 cars produced by the factory with the “957” (AMG Technology Package) production code. Not to mention the unknown number of cars that were returned back to AMG after being sold through dealerships, for conversion to E60 AMG status.

    4) You don’t mention the 951 “E500 Limited” models that were produced during 1994 and 1995 (data card code: 958). These models were never officially imported to the USA, although two or three cars have been brought into the US by private owners.

    5) The holy grail of the 124.036 (500E/E500) model series, is the E60 AMG Limited model, combining data codes 957 and 958. There were at least 45 of these “E60 Limited” models produced, according to MB data cards. There are 1-2 of these cars, also residing in the USA. All E60 AMG cars produced by the factory were “facelift” (1994-1995) models.

    6) One particular question that needs clarification, per your photo caption about Porsche’s “more extensive technical involvement” in the earlier 500E models: How could Porsche have “more extensive technical involvement” in the early examples of a car that was produced in the same location, by the same individuals, as a serially produced model with only tiny running changes over a four-plus-year production run?”

    Wouldn’t the “technical involvement” by Porsche been done throughout the model run, as well as during the initial prototyping and refinement of the model? Would that “extensive technical involvement” not have applied to each and every .036 produced?

    It is photographically and technically documented that every single 500E and E500 emerged from the doors of the Porsche Rossle-Bau assembly building in Zuffenhausen. Furthermore, Porsche has placed an example of a 1994 E500 Limited model into its museum. If it had not had “extensive technical involvement” in the later cars, or produced them, then why would it have a later car in its museum rather than an earlier example?

    7) FYI – per the Porsche Museum display, the official Porsche internal model designation for the 500E and E500 is “Type 2758.”

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