Spot the hidden Porsche...
Despite the fact we fought against them in both world wars, the Germans are, in many ways, kindred spirits to us Yanks. Think about it: We both share a love of beer, tube-shaped meat products, and muscle cars. Yes, muscle cars, though not quite the same formula that we use; whereas our factory hot rods are often stylish two-doors that concentrate on straight line acceleration, our Hoff-worshiping friends like to take their Brot und Butter mid-size sedans, stuff big, hairy-chested engines under the hood, and tune the chassis to handle Alpine switchbacks and the passing lane of the Autobahn with equal dexterity. One car that typifies this concept to perfection is the Mercedes-Benz 500E/E500.
When the iconic W123 line was discontinued at the end of 1985, it was essentially replaced by two new models: The compact, sedan-only W201 (which arrived in the U.S. in 1984) and the intermediate W124, which was offered as a sedan, wagon, coupe and, eventually, convertible. Around the time of the W124’s introduction, AMG – the tuning firm now wholly-owned by Mercedes-Benz – noticed the new mid-sizer had room for a V8 under the hood; thus, the Hammer was born. But as the 1980s rolled into the 1990s, and Mercedes introduced DOHC V8s in the R129 and W140 ranges, the company thought it would be cool to do a hot W124 in-house. However, this factory Hammer wasn’t a 100% factory endeavor either…not the Mercedes-Benz factory, anyway. Daimler contracted its crosstown cohorts at Porsche to handle much of the assembly, though transporting the cars from one side of Stuttgart to the other and back meant each car’s gestation period was 18 days. In addition to the 5.0L DOHC V8 (producing 322hp and 354 lb./ft of torque) mated to a 4-speed automatic, the 500E also featured flared fenders, a revised front valence, and Recaro seats for all four passengers (the rear had a console). In 1994 the car was renamed the E500 to go with the company’s new letter-then-number naming convention, as well as receiving a new grille and some other minor trim tweaks. As far as hard numbers are concerned, the 500s would be shoe-ins for the inaugural class of the Q-Ship Hall of Fame (assuming such a brain-meltingly awesome place existed, of course): zero-to-sixty took roughly six ticks of the stopwatch, and the engine ran out of revs at 155 mph in fourth gear – stats which may be no better than those of modern “normal” V8 mid-sizers from Deutschland, but were borderline Olympian in the early ‘90s. Yet the uninitiated are likely to assume you’re driving just another humdrum six-cylinder model whose days of puttering around the Valley with a Century 21 agent at the tiller are long forgotten.
At the end of the production run, a paltry 1,505 of the 10,479 examples made it Stateside over the three model years. Yet despite there being only one über-Hundertvierundzwanzig for every 204,186.7 Americans, current prices aren’t exactly sky high. Clean examples with over 100,000 miles fetch around $10,000, while museum-quality examples with super-low odometer readings will be closer to $25,000. If you plan on buying one, be sure to check the underhood wiring for heat damage and, like most Benzes, power window regulator failures are not uncommon. With proper maintenance, reliability of most major systems is generally pretty good. And while there are plenty of faster, more capable sport sedans on the market today, none of them have the exclusivity afforded by miniscule production figures or the dual parentage of two of the Fatherland’s most fabled carmakers. What more can a car nut ask for?