The Mercedes-Benz W201 2.5-16 Evolution

The Mercedes-Benz W201 2.5-16 Evolution

Following our journey from the previous Storytime, where we uncovered the history of the Mercedes-Benz 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 models, it’s time to venture into the evolution of the 2.5-16, affectionately referred to as Evolution I. Interestingly, back then, there were no immediate blueprints for a second generation. Technically, this car was just called the 190E 2.5-16 Evolution.

Let’s begin in the year 1985, during the second season of DTM. Midway through that season, Leopold Gallina made his entrance into the race series behind the wheel of a Hartmann Mercedes-Benz 2.3-16 W201. Unfortunately, he faced formidable competition in the form of Volvo 240 turbos and Ford Sierra 500s, and success never came.

However, in 1986, with the upgraded 2.5-16, things took a turn for the better. This time, the car secured two impressive victories. A talented driver by the name of Volker Weidler achieved an admirable second-place finish overall, piloting a W201 2.5-16 for Helmut Marko’s “Marko RSM” team.

However, the subsequent year posed considerable challenges as BMW’s newly introduced E30 M3 and the Ford Sierras, notably the XR4 and RS Cosworth variants, emerged as formidable adversaries. In spite of a trying season, Jorg van Ommen managed to secure a remarkable third-place finish at Hockenheim, signifying the high point of achievement for the W201 2.5-16 in that season.

The winds of change began to blow in 1988 when Mercedes-Benz intensified its involvement in the DTM. Sierra Cosworths faced constraints imposed by the rulemakers, providing Mercedes-Benz with an advantage. With a fully-fledged AMG presence and the inclusion of teams like Snobeck Racing Service and BMK Motorsport alongside Marko RSM, the W201 was ready to take on the competition with renewed vigor.

Johnny Cecotto, racing for the AMG Mercedes-Benz team, claimed two remarkable victories at Avus and the Hungaroring. In an unexpected twist, Roland Asch, behind the wheel for BMK Motorsport, took second place in the overall standings despite not capturing a single win that season. His consistent performances played a significant role in his remarkable achievement.

As the 1989 DTM season drew closer, Mercedes-Benz executed a strategic move by unveiling the 2.5-16 at the September 1988 Frankfurt Motor Show. This well-timed introduction set the stage for Mercedes-Benz’s formidable 1989 DTM race cars. The Group A regulations, now allowing evolved versions of the initial homologation model to be released every 12 months after its initial launch, paved the way for the grand debut of the Evolution model at the March 1989 Geneva Motor Show. This model showcased an upgraded engine, enhanced aerodynamics, bigger brakes, and larger wheels. All meticulously designed to homologate similar features for the 1989 DTM cars.

Let’s take a closer look at the Evolution’s chassis. It had stiffer springs and shocks, a stark departure from its regular 2.5-16 counterpart. The ride height could be electronically adjusted via a switch in the cockpit, allowing for a 19mm lower stance than the non-Evolution variant. To increase stopping power needed in a racing scenario, Mercedes-Benz incorporated bigger brake discs sourced from the new R129 500 SL. The front brakes increased from 284mm to 300mm, while the rear brakes increased from 258mm to 278mm.

The Evolution’s appearance was enhanced by its iconic 8 x 16-inch “evolution” wheels, which can also be found on the R129 model and even on the later W124 Limited edition models. These wheels were an inch wider and an inch taller than before, providing better traction on the road and on the race course. Additionally, the track dimensions were increased by 14mm at the front and 24mm at the rear.

Like its 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 predecessors, each Evolution started its life as a standard 190 unibody chassis with the same wheelbase measuring 2665mm. The front suspension of the car featured a MacPherson strut and separate spring arrangement, while the rear came with the well-known five multi-link layout. Anti-roll bars, along with anti-dive and anti-squat geometry, were incorporated at both ends. This provided the Evolution model with exceptional stability and control. These models also came with much stiffer bushings, a self-leveling rear axle, a quick steering rack, and a 70-liter tank for its new thirsty engine. The 2.5-16 Evolution was really set up for optimal performance and handling on the racetrack.

Under the hood, the Evolution was a true engineering marvel. Unlike its regular 2.5-16 sibling, which featured a Type M102 E 25/2 engine, the Evolution was equipped with the much more exciting Type M 102.991. The same inline four-cylinder engine, but this big-bore, short-stroke version not only exhibited better responsiveness, it also gave the engine more tuning potential. This made it ideal for fine-tuning the engine for any racing scenario. The cylinder bores were enlarged from 95.5mm to 97.3mm, and the stroke was shortened from 87.2mm to 82.8mm, resulting in an overall displacement of 2463cc, just 35cc less than the original 2498cc.

Mercedes-Benz also fitted an exhaust with an increased diameter, allowing the engine to rev higher, which unleashed even more power. Officially, the peak output figures for the two engine versions were unchanged from the previous model: the RUF version, free of a catalytic converter, produced 204 hp at 6750 rpm and 177 lb-ft at 5000 rpm, while the cleaner KAT version delivered 194 hp at 6750 rpm and 173 lb-ft at 5000 rpm. However, it was a well-known secret that the Evolution’s engines were significantly more potent than Mercedes-Benz claimed.

Transmission-wise, the Evolution model could only be paired with a five-speed manual Getrag dog-leg unit. Mercedes-Benz excluded the option for an automatic gearbox. This decision was in line with the car’s racing DNA, as the manual transmission provided more precise control and driving experience. The transmission featured a single-plate clutch and Mercedes-Benz’s electronically controlled Anti-Slip Differential (ASD). The ASD was a hydraulically locking differential that maximized traction, allowing varied amounts of differential lock from the standard 15% up to a full 100%. However, the ASD system wasn’t a traction control system, and it didn’t prevent wheel spin.

Cosmetically, the Evolution received a striking makeover that accentuated its racing purpose. A completely new aero kit was designed for the exterior, featuring a deep front spoiler with a chin splitter and a rear spoiler with an adjustable central plane, inboard pylons, and stabilizing endplates. The addition of bigger wheelarch extensions, which were not only wider but also bigger in diameter at the front of the car, accommodated the larger wheels. This, combined with deep side skirts, enhanced the already lower ride height, giving the Evolution a more aggressive and cohesive appearance compared to its competitors.

Inside the cabin, the Evolution retained its sporty and purposeful design and looked pretty similar to the regular 2.5-16. It had a small-diameter leather steering wheel and recognizable sports seats both in the front and back. The curved instrument cluster housed a large speedometer and a slightly smaller rev counter with an analog clock. A combined gauge for fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, and fuel economy sat to the left, while additional readouts, including an ammeter, digital stopwatch, and oil temperature gauge, were located in the center console beneath the ventilation controls and audio system.

The Zebrano wooden insert, as so many Mercedes-Benz cars had at the time, also sat on this version around the transmission. This added a touch of elegance and recognizability to the sporty interior. The upholstery featured black leather for the seats, matching the door panels. The rest of the interior was a mix of hard-wearing, soft-touch black plastic and vinyl, keeping the focus on performance and functionality.

Mercedes-Benz offered several optional extras for the Evolution, allowing buyers to further customize their driving experience. These options included anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, electric windows (front-only or front and rear), an electric sunroof, tinted glass, an outside temperature gauge, a driver airbag, electric aerial, rear headrests, headlight wash/wipe, a higher capacity battery, and rear speakers. Furthermore, buyers could choose from electric front seats, electric front seats with a memory function, or electric heated seats, adding an extra level of comfort and convenience to the DTM racing-designed car.

In terms of weight and performance, the Evolution shed approximately 80kg compared to the standard 2.5-16, weighing in at 1320kg. This obviously was without adding all additional options. Despite the weight reduction, the top speeds remained unchanged, with the RUF version capable of reaching 238 km/h (148mph) and the KAT version reaching 233 km/h (145mph). However, thanks to the shorter rear axle ratio, the Evolution had significantly improved acceleration. It could sprint from 0-100 km/h (0-62mph) in just 6.4 seconds (RUF version) or 6.5 seconds (KAT version), impressive numbers at the time.

Mercedes-Benz produced a limited number of 502 Evolution models between March and May of 1989, all of which were left-hand drives. Among these, approximately 60 cars were equipped with the optional AMG Power Pack, which upgraded the output to an impressive 225 bhp at 7200 rpm and 177 lb-ft at 5500 rpm. The AMG Power Pack also included an even sportier exhaust system.

In terms of competition history, the Evolution proved its mettle in the 1989 DTM championship, which consisted of eleven rounds with double headers at each event. The AMG team driver Klaus Ludwig secured an impressive five wins, with victories at Hockenheim, Diepholz, and the Nurburgring. Kurt Thiim, also driving for AMG, claimed two wins at Mainz Finthen and the Norisring. Additionally, Roland Asch achieved a single victory at Mainz Finthen for MS Jet Racing. Among the Mercedes-Benz drivers, Kurt Thiim achieved the highest overall position, finishing fourth in the final standings. The 1989 DTM championship was ultimately won by BMW’s Roberto Ravaglia.

In the next Storytime, we’ll take a closer look at the most famous W201, the 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II. Stay tuned for an exhilarating ride through automotive history.


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