Back To The 80s: Mercedes-Benz 190

Sun 27th Oct 2019

When we think of the classic eras of motoring we might cast our mind back to stylish cars of the 1950s, the muscle cars of the 1960s or the super cars of the 1970s. What might not spring to mind however is the motors which were produced in the 1980s - an era which certainly favoured practicality over power, style and sophistication.

But the cars of today owe much to 80s, it was a decade which brought us turbochargers, multi-valve engines and hot hatchbacks, an era of the people-carrier and the rise of the SUV. Digital displays and electronic gadgetry, were the norm as designers pushed the boundaries of of what was capable in a production vehicle.

So let's celebrate the 80s, a period of huge change across Britain as a whole, and one which had incredible landmarks in the motor industry.

Mercedes-Benz 190
Developed at a cost of £600 million during the 1970s and early 1980s, the 190 marked a new direction for Mercedes, with a smaller more compact saloon aimed at competing with the Audi 80, Saab 900 and BMW’s impressively popular 3 Series.

For a vehicle which had been in research and development since January 1974, the 190 took a remarkably simple approach, with Mercedes classic proportions complemented by a ever-so-slight wedge profile which helped deliver exceptional aerodynamics. But the fact remained that this was a car which was ‘massively over-engineered’, and could have possibly been sent to market much earlier than its 1983 launch.

The 190 may have hit the roads earlier had local politics not denied Mercedes’ Bremen factory from producing the vehicle, and forcing the company to continue producing commercial vehicles. So the project was switched to the smaller Sindelfingen factory, where for the first year they could only move 140,000 units. Production did eventually move to the Bremen factory, and for good reason - Mercedes had hit upon a winner.

With a 2.0 litre carburettor engine providing a smooth drive on launch, the 190 incorporated Mercedes’ patented five-link independent rear suspension system and a lightweight rear axle. Here was a compact saloon which was clearly capable of handling some of the 1980s most powerful engine designs and would soon see a British race engine installed thanks to Cosworth.

Though Mercedes suggested that the 190s high-strength steel made it very light, the focus there was very much on safety, and while some have suggested that the 190 took safety measures at the cost of comfort, certainly with cramped space for rear passengers, the previously mentioned over engineering may have been the culprit.

As to be expected from Mercedes-Benz, the 190 delivered top level build quality and excellent sales during its ten year run from 1983 to 1993, almost 1.9 million sold.

Manufacturer: Mercedes-Benz
Designer: Peter Pfeiffer and Bruno Sacco
Class: Compact Executive Car
Assembly: Bremen, Germany
Did You Know?: A young Ayrton Senna drove the Mercedes-Benz 190 in saloon car racing in the mid-1980s.