1992 Mercedes-Benz 500E: A Stuttgart Superhero Prowling The Streets Of Boston
Photography by Thomas Lavin
Wider, lower, faster. That’s the philosophy behind the 500E. From a distance, there’s not much to differentiate it from your everyday W124-generation E-Class, but as you get closer to its angrily puffed-out cheeks the idea of a wolf in sheep’s clothing begins to make a lot more sense. A more aggressive stance, a set of chunky Recaros, those subtle but serious fender flares, and a torquey 5.0-liter V8 pushing out about 325 brake horsepower (a motor borrowed from the 500SL) are the most obvious additions to the base car that make this special version capable of doing the 0 to 60 in just under six seconds. This comes despite the fact that the 500E was only ever made with an automatic transmission and weighs about as much as the house it cost as much as back in the ‘90s. Porsche was instrumental in making those changes, and the car also features lowered, stiffer suspension, a special body kit, larger rotors and calipers, and more evolutions over the standard W124s.
Regardless of the slush box and the tonnage though, this big 1992-model-year Merc is still around a quarter of a second faster than its BMW M5 contemporary. It’s not all that surprising that the car was co-developed and hand-assembled by Porsche in their Rössle-Bau factory, a process that took a reported 18 days to complete. Just under 10,000 500Es were built between 1990 and 1995, but only 1,528 of these vehicles made their to American shores. Most of the examples you’ll find, this one included, are incredibly well maintained. Before the taillights throw anyone into a fit, know that they are temporary as the owner tracks down a clean OEM Euro-spec set.
I’ve always had a thing for boxy Mercedes built before the 2000s, so my adoration for my good friend Mez’s 500E should come as no surprise. I fell in love with this vintage super sedan when we went for an early morning photoshoot around Boston’s historic Beacon Hill neighborhood; at first I thought a brutish black Mercedes would feel out of place in a neighborhood filled with Defenders, Range Rovers, and enough golden retrievers to think they were an aggressively invasive species down here. However, like all good sleepers, the Mercedes is content to blend in discreetly in the quiet, small alleyways here as much as it enjoys speeding around the open-air hillsides just outside of town. Compared to the competing BMW M cars of the same era, it’s far more reserved and understated—which is saying something—but then again, when seen side by side, the 500E is certainly the more muscular looking of the two.
The car is anything but gaudy with its hard, neat lines swallowed by the black on black scheme, and even the chrome stripes around various parts of the car are tastefully laid out to not draw too much attention to themselves. The same goes for the heated leather Recaro seats, which you’d be hard pressed to identify short of sticking your head down into the footwell to read the labels. When you consider the big V8 under the hood, the car is basically the archetype of all the modern German V8 sedans from the big three. It isn’t loud and boisterous at idle like a shady Russian in a souped up E63 though, something that made moving the car around the quiet streets in the early morning between locations a whole lot easier!
I’m particularly fond of the paint on this car too, as it really isn’t totally black, but a milky metallic hue that varies between light blacks and dark greys, catching the sun with just enough sparkle and glint. The way the light reflects off the paint and hides among the subtle curves of the car only to be broken up by the creases is as mesmerizing as any vibrant shade of red. Again, the look is incredibly understated and the whole package reminds one of a subtle but very well-made suit. Although this particular car has seen some slight modifications such as newer AMG Monoblock wheels, the temporary tail lights, it still remains an absolutely brilliant testament to the original concept of the 500E.
The 500E really is the definition of a modern classic—it doesn’t reveal its age from the driver’s seat—for it is a timeless design and a masterclass of engineering by two brilliant car manufacturers. It will withstand the test of time. It’s refined, it’s powerful, sleek, overt. It may not be as joyously vulgar as the famous Hammer cars built on the same W124 platform by AMG, but it isn’t meant to be the fastest nor the most powerful car on the block. It’s meant to be driven everyday in the left lane, and I’m happy to report that this 178,000-mile 500E is no exception.