Mercedes W201 190E 2.3-16
Every history lesson begins with preface, so here is the history behind the history.
Mercedes-Benz dominated motorsports in the mid-1950s with the 300 SLR; winning the 1955 World Sportscar Championship constructor’s title quite handily, along with the 1955 Mille Miglia with Stirling Moss behind the wheel. However, celebrations were short-lived. Mercedes had entered three of its 300 SLRs in the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of which was driven by Pierre Levegh and John Fitch. With Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio’s car in the lead followed by Karl Kling and Andre Simon’s entry in a close second place, the most horrific motorsports accident in history struck.
Lance Macklin’s Austin-Healey was brought into the path of Levegh’s 300 SLR after making a defensive move to avoid colliding with Mike Hawthorn’s Jaguar D-Type. Even with the 300 SLR’s innovative air brake, Levegh had no option but to drive straight up the back of Macklin’s Austin Healey. The ensuing accident killed 82 spectators along with Levegh himself.
And so the curtains closed on the 300SLR, and with it Mercedes’ competitive motorsport participation.
Fast-forward 20 years to the late 1970s, Mercedes has made small forays into rallying with the “lightweight” (4,420 lbs) 450 SLC 5.0. Seeing an impressive opportunity with the introduction of the W201 190 E in 1982, Mercedes interest in re-entering Group B rallying was set. Mercedes contacted Cosworth in an effort to develop an engine that could produce 320 BHP. Based on the 136 BHP M102 2.3L SOHC four cylinder engine and dubbed the Cosworth WAA engine, the new engine featured twin cams, 16-valves, and flat top pistons delivering a 10.5:1 compression ratio. However with the introduction of the Audi Sport Quattro A1 in 1983, the 190E would have been easily outpaced.
Still wishing to enter into competitive motorsports, Mercedes turned to DTM. DTM requires that entries be based on road going models, so Mercedes set out to produce a detuned version of the Cosworth WAA. “Detuned” should be used lightly however as the road-going 190E 2.3-16 put out 185 HP at 6,200 RPM and 174 lb-ft at 4,500 RPM on the way to its 7,000 RPM redline. Sixty MPH was dispatched in less than eight seconds with a top speed of 143 MPH.
Dissatisfied with performance figures alone, Mercedes set out to prove the reliability of the new 190E 2.3-16. In August 1983 Mercedes set out on a 31,000 mile endurance test on the Nardo Ring in Italy; three 190E 2.3-16s set three separate world records, recorded a combined average speed of 154.06 MPH, and set in place twelve international endurance records. Taking a total of eight days, the three cars only stopped for tires, fuel, and small maintenance.
Perhaps the greatest test for the baby Mercedes came in 1984 in the form of a head-to-head race between Formula One greats at the infamous Nurburgring. Featuring Formula One champions Sir Jack Brabham, Phil Hill, John Surtees, Denny Hulme, Niki Lauda, Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg and the great Stirling Moss, the event was set to be anything but the calm PR event Mercedes had intended to host. And indeed, the event turned out to be so much more than that. Coming in hot after his first ever Formula One race, Ayrton Senna qualified a close second behind his future rival Alain Prost. In a bid to prove to himself that he did indeed belong in such hallowed company, Senna set out to race as hard as he could. Using every inch of the track, Senna set down blistering laps, using every last bit of the track to work the 190E 2.3-16’s limited slip differential and innovative new multi-link rear suspension. His efforts proved worthy and Senna was brought into the spotlight among the Formula One greats.
The Nurburgring race cemented the fact that Mercedes had recovered from its motorsport past and was ready to move on to bigger and better things. However, it would not be in the 190E 2.3-16. With the introduction of the BMW E30 M3 in 1986, Mercedes found the 2.3L engine struggling to cope with the 300 extra pounds the 190E carried over the M3.
And so the Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 was born…