Mercedes-Benz 500 E: Like a Drug

Many of us dream about the perfect Q-ship, a stealthy, unassuming sedan packing a potent punch. What if one of the best came right from the factory? And what if it involved not just one factory, but two of the most celebrated-like Mercedes-Benz and Porsche?

Does such a mythical beast really exist? Meet the Mercedes-Benz 500 E, a factory hotrod that follows a rather tried-and-true formula: big engine in a smaller car.

In this case, Mercedes-Benz started with its mid-sized, E-class chassis, the foundation for countless vehicles ranging from taxicabs to luxury sedans. The factory built that W124 chassis from 1984 through 1996, offering it as a sedan, a coupe, a wagon and even a convertible. Starting with the 1992 model year, the mothership released a high-performance variant: that 500 E.

The engine came from the brand’s V8-powered 500 SL–a roadster that, despite having only two seats, weighed nearly 300 pounds more than the 500 E. Inside the lighter car, that quad-cam, 32-valve V8 produced 322 horsepower along with 354 ft.-lbs. of torque-figures that bested the Corvette’s from that year. Other impressive feats for that era: Zero to 60 took about 6 seconds, while top speed was limited to 155 mph.

The 500 E was more than an engine swap, though. Mercedes-Benz lowered the ride height, stiffened the suspension, and added flared fenders front and rear. These weren’t M3-style box flares, but subtle accents appropriate for a car bearing the three-pointed star. Only one gearbox was offered, a four-speed automatic, and standard tires were 225/55ZRl6–big for the day.

The price was equally hefty: more than $80,000 out the door, and you can thank the rather involved gestation process for that figure. Porsche assembled the body shells in their Zuffenhausen plant before shipping them to a Mercedes-Benz factory in Sindelfingen for paint. After that, the chassis traveled back to Zuffenhausen for final assembly, then made one more trip to Sindenfingen for final inspection.

Whew.

Production of the 500 E lasted through 1994, although the final-year cars bore the name E500; Mercedes-Benz revised all model designations for ‘94, putting the letter first.

The factory only sent about 1500 copies of the 500 E (and E500) to the U.S. Today, according Hagerty, the best ones in the world are worth about $50,000. However, we’ve seen several on Bring a Trailer for less than $20,000-a fair deal for a rare rocket from such a storied brand.

Practical Guidance

Chris Beger and Sam Hall of the Auto Clinic of Ormond are experienced mechanics who are well versed in the Mercedes-Benz 500 E. They shared their wisdom with us.

If you’re shopping for one of these rare birds, there are three basic items you must check on: First, does the car have rust? Check the rocker panels and the floors. The floors were covered in a rubber coating and sometimes will have rust, even though you can’t directly see it.

Second, has it been wrecked? You should investigate this before buying pretty much any car, but it goes double for the 500 E since there are so few examples and replacement parts floating around.

Third, has it been maintained?

As with most Mercedes-Benz cars, the 500 E had a strict maintenance schedule it was supposed to follow. A 500 E will be reliable as long as it is maintained correctly. Also keep in mind that the 100,000-mile maintenance service will take about $2000 to complete.

Check the cam oil line fittings when the car is being serviced. They have a tendency to become brittle and break over time. And remember: Whatever you do on one head of these V8 engines, do on the other.

The engine mounts also do not tend to age well. They sag and leave you with the vibration of a hard-mounted drivetrain.

Keep tabs on your shift linkage bushings, because they–you guessed it–become brittle and break down over time. We’ve seen a car that was being put into park as the shift linkage bushings finally gave out, and as a result, the car had actually shifted into reverse.

Check the bottom radiator mount. It hangs low, so if the car ever hits a parking curb, the bottom of the radiator may be pushed back. This can lead to more problems in an engine bay stuffed as full as the 500 E’s.

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Parts and Service

Auto Clinic of Ormond
(386) 675-6978

Mercedes-Benz Classic Center
mbusa.com/classic
(866) MB-CLASSIC

Pelican Parts
pelicanparts.com
(888) 280-7799

Community

500Eboard
500eboard.com

Mercedes-Benz Club of America
mbca.org
(800) 637-2360

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Comments

View comments on the GRM forums
David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/16/17 12:50 p.m.

A little behind-the-scenes bit of (kinda useless) info about this story.

In the print version of these Vintage Views stories, we also run an old ad--something to give the piece some flavor from the times. For this one, we ran the Automobile cover that featured the "Like a Drug" headline. We blurred out the address label, but that issue is from my personal stash. I knew I had it somewhere. The address? My college apartment from my senior year in college.

Good times in Athens. Good times.

racerdave600
racerdave600 SuperDork
5/16/17 12:59 p.m.

I remember reading that article in Automobile!

I was able to drive a fairly new Mercedes recently (2015), and was stunned at how good it drove. It wasn't a 500 or a hot rod, but a lowly C250 coupe. Driven back to back with my dad's 328i, the Mercedes was definitely the better driving of the two. I also liked the seats and interior better. I suppose it's a result of getting older, but I want a Mercedes more and more as time goes by.

Robbie
Robbie UberDork
5/16/17 2:33 p.m.

I just read this article on a flight this week, and was struck at how similar the specs of this thing are compared to the 1990 750il I challenged in 2015.

Slippery
Slippery Dork
5/16/17 2:38 p.m.

I really want a 500E, but good ones are not cheap.

crankwalk
crankwalk Dork
5/16/17 3:23 p.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

Go Dawgs

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/16/17 6:15 p.m.
crankwalk wrote: In reply to David S. Wallens : Go Dawgs

Sic 'em. Woof, woof, woof.

Seriously, UGA was fun. It was a bit of a culture shock from growing up on Long Island, but I very quickly came to love Athens--awesome people, amazing music scene and a degree I still use every day.

TheRyGuy
TheRyGuy New Reader
5/16/17 9:17 p.m.

When I worked at a Mercedes dealership in Colorado, a customer brought one of these in for service. I got the chance to drive it to take it back to the customer. I didn't do anything stupid with it but man, despite having "only 322 horses" that car really wanted to get up and run. Sounded and felt good just cruising around at normal highway speeds.

I really wish I had the 25 grand the owner was asking for it at the time.

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
5/16/17 9:41 p.m.

I have been looking for one for a really long time. They just don't come up for sale that offen and when they do a real good one is 35k. I have seen them as cheep as 20k but these are well used with many needs.

Cotton
Cotton UberDork
5/16/17 10:15 p.m.

I like Porsches and Mercedes, so a 500e is right up my alley. One of these days I'll pick one up.

markwemple
markwemple UltraDork
5/16/17 10:24 p.m.

Why not urs4 and 6. Porsche and Audi. More drivable and way more modable. Plus wagon!! And manual for the win!!!!!

ChasH
ChasH New Reader
5/16/17 10:47 p.m.

Did the later 500s suffer the self degrading wire insulation that other 124's did? Same for the A/C evaporator. The engine wire harness for my '95 E320 was $900 or so, but relatively easy to install compared to the A/C evaporator which was a 22 hr flat rate to change. I did the job in about 26 hrs.

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