This Mercedes-Benz 190E is one 'golden oldie' that ripples strings of modern nostalgia

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Image: Robin Classen
Image: Robin Classen
Robin Classen

There are many ways to describe how horrid 2020 was, and to be honest, this year has a lot to make up for. Disastrous and 'write-off' are just a couple of words to accurately describe the impact of the national lockdown.

But, not everything was doom and gloom, and a lot of good has come from being forced to stay home - especially for petrolheads with projects.

Many businesses had to close their doors, while many people lost their jobs as the reverberating effect that the coronavirus pandemic had on the economy was felt in more ways than one, not only in South Africa but the rest of the world too.

Lockdown motivation

As lockdown Level 5 forced all the majority of places of work to shut down, most people didn't know if having a job the next day was a certainty.


Do you own an old Mercedes-Benz? Email us, we'd like to know about it.


While the stressing and countless second-placed finishes to an online gamer from Italy in Gran Turismo Sport was enough to keep me busy, there was one thing that always stayed the same - yet continuously decreases.

Because all the usual income suckers like shopping malls and car dealerships were not operating during the first stages of lockdown, people saved massively on things they would have spent money on otherwise. For those still fortunate to have been receiving an income, the national lockdown was, in a weird way, a blessing in disguise - albeit only financially.



It was during the fifth and fourth levels of the national lockdown that I did a few calculations with the money I had saved up to that point, and I was in the position to buy myself a sub-R30 000 car. The budget wasn't as big as I'd have liked, but with patience and a bit of luck, there might be a bargain find, which is what happened to me.

For the longest time, I've always had the epiphany to own an old 'Benz someday, but never got quite got around to making a conservative effort in bringing it to fruition.

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While I'm not much of a Facebook user, my friend Jaylan Scholtz was, and he was browsing the platform's marketplace when he came across a 1993 Mercedes-Benz 190E or W201. I always had a soft spot for the W201 series since laying eyes on an immaculate 2.3-16 Cosworth many years ago.

For a listing price of R28 000 negotiable, a few things were going through my mind: What was the condition of the tyres? Was the interior half decent? Was it in any accidents? Those questions, and many, more were flooding my mind on the drive to Elfindale in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town.

Getting some fresh air

Upon seeing the car in person, a nostalgic blue two-tone body scheme, it was clear that money had to be put aside for a respray as scratches on the doors, boot and, a big rust spot on the bonnet were immediately noticeable. The tyres were also on their last legs. Besides those issues, it had every single original part in place from 1993 - even the sealed first aid kit! The car is originally from Lambert's Bay, and I would be the second owner as the guy I would be buying it from hadn't put it in his name yet.

My 190 is very much a base model, those of which came with a 1.8-litre engine, coupled to a four-speed gearbox while power-wise it makes 80kW and 150Nm. It doesn't sound like much on paper, but in a body weighing 1 150kg, its no slouch.

Mercedes Benz 190E
Mercedes Benz 190E

Once I got inside, it was like getting into a new 190E. The interior was neat and clean, and the dashboard was flawless (I was afraid of sun exposure). I made my mind up there and then to take it. After negotiating with the owner, the price was agreed, and the money was transferred. Having owned later model cars in the past, this was my first 'old school' ride.

The first thing was to remove the generic hubcaps and replace all four tyres. I managed to source a clean set of hubs off of a C-Class for a cut-price and fit new rubber at the same time. The car was sprayed by my friend Jaylan, where it was coated in the factory paint for a new lease on life. With I'm pedantic about keeping everything OEM, each body and mechanical component on the car is an original Mercedes-Benz product - bar only the water pump.

Once everything on the car was done, the inner petrolhead in me yearned for something more. The thoughts of a drop in suspension, and fitting a set of larger wheels crossed my mind, but at the time, was a distant dream. As the months passed and the lockdown restrictions slowly eased, I had saved up a fair bit of cash when August came around.

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My dreams of fitting air ride suspension became more and more severe with each passing day, and after getting quotations from several installers around Cape Town, each was way more than I even paid for the car itself! I did plenty of 'soul searching' because I could buy another car instead of putting my eggs in one basket.

Once my mind was made up, I spoke to local wheel guru Shabeer Motala of Shaba Mags and wanted to know who fitted the air ride in his mint and uber-rare two-door Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk4 because I know that man doesn't let anyone work on his ride. I was told to give Starlin Karstern of SK Airworx a call mainly because of his overall craft and after-service communication.

Working from his home in Paarl, Karsten explained the difference between the two setups available for my car and also budget in sufficient detail. I went with the more basic system which is to make the car go up and down. The more expensive method involves each bellow being operated individually via remote control, and a standalone ECU. I was given a date on which to bring the car, and the process would take approximately two weeks.

I opted for a basic install which consists of four slimline, double bellow bags operated on a 145psi compressor tank. Because the 190E's suspension comes stock with the coil spring and shock absorber placed separate from one another, I paid a bit extra for the front bags. The compressor tank was bolted against the top of the boot, to allow for boot space and all the wiring and air lines run alongside the brake line.

It was a week and three days later, when I received a call that my car was ready for collection.

A real 'golden oldie'

Before I arrived, the car was given some tender love and care by DRIP Auto detailing. These guys know how to treat a car, and I would recommend them to anyone looking for a quality car wash.

Everything from air pressure and when to release water from the compressor was explained to me thoroughly. Starlin is one of the coolest petrolheads you'll come across. He once owned a bagged Toyota Corolla Professional and is currently building a 2JZ-fitted Hilux bakkie.

As I browsed the local 190E and wider W-series scene, I saw that many of them kept the factory paint job, only fitted with bigger aftermarket wheels, and lowered in some way. The factory look is cool in terms of getting more money out of it if you decide to sell it one day, because an old Merc will almost always sell.

Mercedes-Benz 190E

                                                                     Image: Robin Classen

The car underwent a full month of preparation, completely stripped of its former glory, now ready to receive a new lease on life. While the car was in the operating room I sourced a couple of extras like LED reverse and headlights and had the rear lights 'cherried' by Slowy's Customs in Ottery.

A quick search on Youtube revealed that not many in South Africa had any older Mercedes-Benz coated in two-tone Metallic Blue. Once the jigsaw pieces were assembled, the end product was exactly how I had pictured it in my head. I opted against going with an aftermarket wheel and instead retained the hubcaps for a fuller OEM look.

Future plans for the car include sourcing a Zender rear spoiler, rear window louvre, and possibly fitting a set of 18-inch wheels.

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