You can rely on Mercedes-Benz for coming up with automotive tidbits time and again. One of these was presented at the Paris Motor Show in 1990: the 500 E. Apart from its somewhat bulging fenders, slightly lowered suspension and modified front apron with integrated fog lights, the car was externally identical with the successful W 124 mid-series models. That bodywork served as sheep’s clothing for hiding the wolf underneath: the engine compartment of the 500 E housed a V8 unit with a displacement of five liters, developing 326 hp (240 kW) and awe-inspiring performance when requested. The car accelerated from standstill to 100 km/h in 6.1 seconds, and its top speed was electronically limited to 250 km/h. Here was the new top-of-the-line model of the W 124 series.
Its inconspicuous appearance was the 500 E’s trump card. Some owners enjoyed the power reserves of the modestly clad car without traveling at high speed at all times. Others welcomed the car’s superior handling at high speeds – and derived great gratification from outpacing many a sports car.
The powertrain consisting of engine and four-speed automatic transmission had been taken from the 500 SL. In the 500 E, however, several new features were incorporated, including for the first time the so-called standard-deck engine – one and the same crankcase used for both the 4.2-liter and five-liter engines. As a result, the five-liter engine was 16.5 millimeters lower. Shorter connecting rods ensured that the bore-stroke ratio was retained. In addition, in the 500 E the Bosch injection system with electronic control and air-mass sensor (LH-Jetronic) replaced the previously used mechanical/electronic CIS-E injection. In October 1992, engine output was lowered slightly to 320 hp (235 kW) to reduce pollutant emissions. Compared to the 500 SL, the 500 E had a shorter axle ratio (1:2.82) – benefiting acceleration but also raising fuel consumption slightly. This sort of refined engineering and performance had its price: the first 500 E carried a price tag of DM 134,520 – more than twice as high as that of a 300 E which was not exactly unspectacular in its turn.
Incidentally, the 500 E was created in close cooperation with Porsche. The sports car manufacturer had joined the team in the early stages of development to make its expertise available in elaborating the concept of a sedan with the performance of a sports car. Production was subsequently distributed. The bodies-in-white were painted at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen, and final assembly became the responsibility of Porsche in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. There were two reasons for this. First of all, the production order was a timely stroke of good fortune when the sports car manufacturer experienced a somewhat difficult time in the early 1990s. And secondly, the relatively small volume was an ideal match for the production processes at Porsche, meaning that production of the 500 E could not have been in better hands.
The powerful sedan also benefited from the last model refinement of the W 124 series. The first modification related to the name. The mid-series was renamed E-Class, and the letters now preceded the figures, converting the 500 E into the E 500. The form language for the exterior design was modernized – one of the features being the radiator grill which from then on was surrounded by, and integrated in, the engine hood. Trunk lid and both fenders were given edges with larger radii, and the area around the number plate was also modified.
The specifications of the 500 E/E 500 lived up to the claim of being the series’ top-of-the-line model in that they were extremely extensive. In view of the car’s extraordinary power, standard equipment such as acceleration skid control (ASR) was a necessity rather than technical gimmickry.
As a sideline, the 400 E/E 420 should also be mentioned here. This car also had a powerful eight-cylinder engine under its 124 body. However, it was not designed as a sporty sedan but as a car for traveling in superior style. And the 400 E/E 420 did even better than the 500 E in terms of inconspicuously packaged power.
Production of the E 500 was discontinued in April 1995. The successor to the 124 series – the 210 series – was introduced in June 1995. Including the E 60 AMG, a total of 10,479 power sedans had been built.
Quite a few customers regretted not having been able to secure an E 500 for themselves, despite a purchase price of finally DM 145,590. Demand for a sports sedan of this kind continued, and so a particularly powerful model has been part and parcel of the Mercedes-Benz mid-series ever since – often created in cooperation with affiliate AMG.
On account of the relatively small production volume and the car’s great fascination, the 500 E has already become a classic. Many units are already owned by collectors today – because the 500 E epitomizes the Mercedes-Benz brand.
Press review: Mercedes-Benz 500 E
Auto, Motor und Sport, edition 25/1990: “As good-natured as a luxury limousine, as dynamic as a high-speed sports car – could such a car be comfortable on top? It can, and this is the most surprising characteristic of the suspension. Despite their taut tuning, the springs and dampers absorb bumps and potholes in such a well-behaved manner that even pampered contemporaries will have little reason to complain.”