January 03, 2006 By C! Magazine Staff

Body by Mercedes Soul by Porsche

While I was in the US, wasting my parent’s money and not quite attending college, I was slapping every single modification I could find for my Honda Civic. I was a frequent visitor to the rapidly emerging import drag races. But that’s not important right now. It was what I saw at one of those drag races that was vividly imprinted into my psyche to this day. It was on a long empty stretch of road somewhere in Carson City, where a ratty beat-up old Karmann Ghia and a fast-looking car that I would have bet good money on to smoke the Karmann took to the starting line. When the two cars were let loose, the Karmann Ghia totally left the other car in its dust, leaving me in total awe. I had my first introduction to the concept of a sleeper.

   Around the same time, another German Manufacturer was introducing a sleeper of its own. It was in 1990 during the Paris Motor show when Mercedes Benz unveiled the 500 E. A car that truly signified the saying ‘A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’. The styling of the 124-body 500 E only revealed subtle clues of the sinister being lurking within, with just wider fenders (exclusive to the series), a modified front air dam with built-in fog lights, lower stance and 16”wheels visually differentiating it from the 300 E. That which is hidden distinguishes the 500 E from the 300 E, making it a truly special car. First is under the hood, a 5.0 liter 326 hp behemoth borrowed from the 500SL, which alone would have already made the 500E a remarkable car, but Mercedes Benz went a few steps further.

  When Mercedes Benz decided to enter the realm of high-performance saloons, they were not going to take any chances, as they contacted one of the premiere performance car manufacturers in the world to assist them. That company was Porsche. It was during the same period that Porsche was embarking on a prototype for a four-door sports car of its own, unfortunately, the project was scrapped, but the motoring Gods had something else up their sleeve. It was then that Mercedes Benz contacted Porsche to aid them in transforming the 300E into an autobahn mauling high-performance saloon, giving Porsche a shot at that elusive 4door performance car after all.

  The transformation of the 300 E into Mr.Hyde was going to be no easy task. The extensive modifications required to transform the 300E into a high-performance saloon were too intensive to do at the Mercedes Benz plant, so the task of assembling the Mercedes Benz 500E was commissioned to Porsche. The timing could not have been any better for Porsche. The timing could not have been any better for Porsche, as the early nineties were not kind to the company, plus the limited production numbers were perfect for Porsche’s production process. It all started at the Rossle – Bau, where the iconic 959 Porsche was assembled, and Porsche began the task of getting all the components Mercedes Benz specified for the 500 E to fit in the W124 body shell. First and foremost, it was widening and strengthening the engine bay to accept the new 5.0 – liter monstrosity, plus additional modification to ensure the engine could be positioned as far back as possible for improved handling. The increased weight of the engine required reinforcements to several other components such as front and rear axles, suspension and steering linkages. Porsche also increased the structural rigidity, widened the transmission tunnel, reworked the exhaust system, relocated the heavy-duty battery to the boot for improved weight balance, and added the signature flared fenders. Once all the modifications to the body shell were completed, it was sent to Mercedes for rust proofing and paint, subsequently returned to Porsche for final assembly, while engine, transmission and other mechanical components were assembled by Mercedes Benz and sent to Porsche for installation. Once Porsche had completed assembly of the 500E it would leave Rosle – Bau for the last time and head to Mercedes Benz for final inspection, ending the 500 E’s 18 day odyssey to completion.

  The 500E is a true testament to the simplicity of design, over 14 years old and it’s still an attractive car, a far cry from the more complex and sometimes overly complicated design of today. Of course, it is this simple, almost unobtrusive appearance that is one of the hallmarks of the car, shrouding its true and creating one hell of a sleeper. The car is actually quite elegant, with the flared fenders giving it a slightly muscular appearance, but when filled with those 17 inches 6 spoke alloy wheels taken from the limited edition E500 the car takes on a sporty, almost aggressive form. A sleeper no more? This 92 has also been made to look like 94 when the 500 E underwent some cosmetic changes, as well as a name change. In 94 the 500 E was re-bagged E500, and cosmetically given a new grill, trunk lid, white turn signals front and rear, giving the car a cleaner appearance. Amazingly the exterior of the car looks like it just left Rossle -Bau in 1992, well actually 1994. It’s in great condition.

  The interior shows a bit more wear and tear than the exterior, but that’s to be expected, with over a decade’s worth of asses rubbing against those leather seats. It’s the seats though, that makes this car stand out from the 300 E, as the 500 E is purely a four-seater, plus their compliments of Recaro. The rest of the interior is typical Mercedes Benz of the time, three-pointed stars branded steering, angular instrument cluster with large clear dials, gated shifter, plush leather, elegant wood trim, quality black plastic and of course the confusing climate control and stereo. Without the four-seat setup, there’s really nothing else telling you that this is a high-performance automobile, with the interior looking very professional actually. Everything in the car looks and feels of the highest quality materials. When you plant yourself in the driver seat, even after a decade of use, you notice that the seats are still very comfortable with excellent bolstering, offering fantastic lateral support. The driving position is superb, the steering wheel is a perfect size and has a great feel, and ergonomics are good, with all the controls in easy reach. Control has a nice expensive ‘CLICK’ to them and offers just the right amount of resistance when manipulated.

  Start the car and there’s barely a hint of what’s in store for you, the car idle is almost tranquil, lulling you into a false sense of security something like the recent typhoon, completely unassuming as it neared and without warning kicked our unprepared asses. Well slam on the gas and the 500 E hauls you with the same fury Milenyo infected on the Nothern Philippines, gusting you to 100kph in 6.1 seconds, leaving you in the same state as after the typhoon, complete awe of what had just transpired, but with a huge, almost sinister smile on your face. This car’s storming acceleration is thanks to the 5.0 liter 32 valve DOHC V8 engine with 326 bhp @ 5700 rpm and 354 lb. ft. at 3900 rpm, featuring Bosch LH Jetronic fuel injection, variable valve timing, and longer intake runners. The 4-speed automatic transmission does an admiral job of harnessing all that power. The transmission is typical Mercedes with smooth quick shifts. The transmission default starting gear is second for smoother starts, but when coaxed is more than happy to kick down to first and take you for one hell of a ride. The gated shifter also allows for manual manipulation of the gears, but with such an intuitive automatic transmission, why bother. The 500 E is also equipped with ASR traction control to help tame the beast within, but unfortunately for those who want its full ferocity and achieve those rumored mid-five seconds 0-100 km/h times, well there’s no defeat switch, what a pity.

  Of course with Porsche blood coursing through its veins, the 500 E is more than just about straight-line acceleration. The 500 E is quite adequate in the handling department, thanks to its reinforced structure, sports-tuned hydraulic self-leveling suspension with anti-roll bars, lowered stance, grippy tires and near 50:50 weight distribution. Giving the 500 E cat-like agility, well maybe a slightly overweight cat, but still remarkable for a car of its size. The car easily holds or adjusts its line with excellent balance, little to no body roll and tons of grip. Of course, the 500 E is a luxury sedan first and foremost and during normal driving conditions, the ride maintains that of a luxury sedan, maybe a little firmer, but still remaining extremely comfortable. The steering may be quite dated compared to today’s rack and pinion system but is still quite responsive, communicative and with adequate weighting. With so much power on tap, excellent brakes are a very important component of the 500 E. The 11.8-inch front and 10.9 inch rear ventilated disc brakes with ABS, offer acceptable fade-free stopping power for the 500 E, giving me the confidence to truly test the limits of the car.

  Where the 500 E truly shines is in open roads and highways, especially those of Europe. With its gobs of power, granite-like chassis, and excellent suspension, the 500 E is extremely stable at high speeds; it makes 200 kph feel more like 100 kph, easily reaching its 250 kph limited top speed without any drama, well except for the roar of the glorious engine. The 500 E also has tons of midrange grunt, that even when stepping on the accelerator at highway speed, the car downshifts and launches you down the road with impunity, passing all those other would-be sports cars.

  The 500 E has few faults, but they’re all pretty minor. I have always complained about the climate control and stereo of Mercedes Benzes of the past, and this one is no different, too complicated. Of course, there’s that ASR traction control that can’t be turned off, trapping off, the true potential of the car, but now one only needs to turn to the aftermarket to resolve the problem. The single wiper design can’t compensate for the highspeed fury for which the car was destined. The last is not really a fault of the car, but Mercedes Benz, due to the low production volumes, they’re not easy to find.

  A four-door Porsche? Well not necessarily, the 500e is a Mercedes Benz hand built by Porsche and given a little bit of a Porsche treatment. If you’re thinking the 500E is a Porsche in disguise, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The 500E was not designed to be a track star; it was designed to go long distances, seriously fast, and in utmost comfort. Of course that does not make this car any less special, the mere fact that this is a hand-built Mercedes Benz is already something very special. The fact that it was hand-built by Porsche and given some of their magic extraordinary, making it a modern classic. The 500E was so successful that Merceds benz has since offered a high-performance variant for each of its models, unfortunately, though the 500 E or E 500 was the last to be done in partnership with Porsche, with Mercedes Benz focusing more on tuner AMG, who they eventually acquired. SO the 500E would be the first and last collaboration between the two companies, and maybe rightfully so, stamping the 500E as truly one of a kind. A car that is like a drug, once you feel the awesome power and drivability, you’re addicted. Unfortunately your addiction can only take you so far, as you’ll quickly run out of road here in the Philippines for the 500 E to gobble up, but if you ever get a chance to buy one gobble it up quickly. 

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