The Wayward Son

The Wayward Son

The Mercedes-Benz W201 comes from a Mercedes Benz era of fastidious engineering without compromises. It was clearly aimed to compete with a certain Bavarian car manufacturer. We know all about the 2.3-16 and 2.5-16 Cosworth versions. The 3.2 AMG version is lesser known. With a huge 3.2 Liter inline-6 is a genuine AMG car. Fully customizable to its owner’s wishes and hand built of course.

The 3.2 AMG or baby hammer as it was lovingly nicknamed by journalists after its appearance in 1987 does remind you of his bigger W124 brother, the executive sport sedan that puts regular sports cars to shame, known as the “Hammer”.

So this is his little brother. The Baby Hammer started out as a Mercedes Benz W201 with a regular M103 2.6 liter SOHC inline-6 that produced 158 Hp (118 Kw). AMG replaced that engine with a M103.983 engine from the W124 300E and turned it into a 3.2 liter AMG tuned inline-6 with 12-valves, 234 horsepower (172 Kw) and 305 Nm (231lb-ft). They gave the car the usual tuning measures such as a crankshaft with a larger 3.75 mm stroke, 7.1 mm large pistons for extended bore and they increasing the compression ratio of 9.2:1 to 10.0:1. Obviously a sharper camshaft in addition to polishing and smoothing the cylinder head channels, adjusted engine management system and a 2 metal catalytic converters.

This significant increase in performance was realized while staying within the boundaries of the emission regulations. The transmission was either an adjusted 5-speed manual from the 300E-24 or a 4-speed automatic from the 300E. It made the 190E speed from 0 – 100 Km/h (0 – 62 Mph) in 7.7 seconds (7.6 with the four-speed automatic gearbox) and capable of a top speed of 244 km/h (151 Mph). It certainly doesn’t seem like much power today, but it was a monster by the standards of its time. 

The w201 distinguished itself at the launch by a very advanced multi-link rear suspension compared to its rivals, including the BMW 3 Series e30. Some genuine AMG engineering exacerbates the winning combination for very good on-road comfort and sporty stability on the track. The work on the chassis and the suspension was remarkable. It was a subtle balance between comfort and sportiness. The mad scientists at AMG changed the standard configuration of the W201 with springs and shock absorbers from their own fabrication.

This reduced the ride height in favor of handling and aerodynamics. With Stability, traction and steering sensitivity enhanced, the general feeling of control you had as a driver improved significantly. There was never a feeling of not being in control with these cars. AMG just managed to improve on something really good. The 190E 3.2 AMG had a wider track with its alloy rims wrapped in 225/45 R16 rubbers. True to their experience in racing AMG makes a point of building cars that accelerate hard but brake even harder. So they went on and borrowed larger ventilated front and rear discs from the W124 300E, and made them better.

Founded in 1967 in the city of Burgstall by a Mercedes engineer, Hans-Werner Aufrecht, and his partner Erhard Melcher, AMG quickly became a recognized tuner of stars. When the 190 went on sale in December 1982 AMG was not yet a part of “Das Haus”, but still a separate racing and tuning company. AMG had racing experience in the DTM and they were tuning factory petrol engines for Mercedes Benz customers.

In 1983 they introduced the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3 AMG with 160 Hp (118 kW) output. Although not a powerful car by today’s standards, the absolutely brilliant wide-body version is the embodiment of petrol fuelled insanity.

In 1987 when Mercedes-Benz and AMG still hadn’t officially cemented their relationship, AMG came out with 2 new models. The 190E 3.2 AMG and the W124 300E AMG.

Then in 1988 Mercedes-Benz collaborates with the small craftsman of genius for the preparation of their racing models. The launch of the 190E 2.5-16 also marks the time of Mercedes-Benz returning in motorsport. One year later, a homologation version with type approval for road use made its debut, the 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution 1. The engine output had remained the same but the running gear had been modified for the sort of racetrack work for which the Evolution 1 had been designed. 502 units were built to obtain homologation, a precondition for participation in DTM motor sport.

The Evolution 1 was highly successful in numerous races. In the first year, AMG offers six victories to the team. The joint DTM race successes have certainly not only promoted marketing considerations, but also the “coming together” of AMG and Mercedes-Benz. Their union is finally sealed in 1990 with a commercial partnership that will eventually give life to the second generation of 190E 3.2 AMG’s in 1992. Although the AMG brochures were always based on the Mercedes-Benz layout, the products were finally officially included in the Mercedes-Benz price lists in 1992. In addition to independent AMG rims, bodywork and edgy-intrusive spoiler systems, the new option code 957; technology package, caused a sensation. Not just at the price of 28.158,- DM, but it was more or less the emerging of a brand new car.

Daimler-Chrysler eventually bought 51% of AMG shares in 1999.

The second generation 190 E 3.2 AMG was the first model sold through Mercedes-Benz dealerships with Mercedes-Benz new car warranty but still stamped as an AMG. About 200 complete cars were made in black or silver. They were very expensive and cost much more than the average family house of the era. To say the little power star was very expensive still feels like an understatement. An engine tune could be ordered separately at a price of 21.000,- DM. An appearance package was available for 6612,- DM and a rear spoiler for 1425,- DM. There was also an option to purchase a radiator grille in body color for 673,- DM. A full options (standard) 3.2 AMG would set you back 124.000,- DM.

Alternatively you could buy a brand new W140 500SEL or get a package deal on a190E 2.6 and a 190E 2.5-16. Besides 200 complete 190 E 3.2 AMG’s, AMG continued to offer a à la Carte menu of upgrades for Mercedes customers to choose from. As a result, a number of W201’s were specified with an idiosyncratic mixture of AMG styling and performance parts. Inside, according to the preferences of the owner could be a standard 2.5-16 interior or a totally personalized set including colors, materials and two superb adjustable Recaro seats. Already remarkable at the time by its manufacturing quality and ergonomics, the interior of the 3.2 AMG could be transformed into a luxury lounge according to the many options in the AMG catalogue. 

Compared to the first 3.2 AMG engine with its characteristic torque curve, a steep rise to around 3500/min, with the second version they created a harmonious and limited-revving engine, which is actually better suited for w201. It did come at the expense of 12Nm loss. But that doesn’t matter, the 190E 3.2 AMG is a true 80’s monster. It digs in and serves up real character. It’s charming; the engine is great and strong in the mid-range, if you stand on the throttle it kicks down a gear and fires you forwards with hearty intent. It’s got retro-cool appeal oozing out of every blocky line, and given the rarity factor and those magic AMG letters on the trunk, it’s not hard to see why it’s such an appealing car to many collectors and car enthusiasts.

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