I Want One: Mercedes 500E (W124)

Munich airport taxis never looked this cool

By Tim Kendall | 20th January 2012

In the beginning was the AMG Hammer. It was good, and Mercedes saw that it was good. But it was too bloody expensive. Around 70% more than the first gen E28 M5 to be precise, so not many people bought one.

£50k was a heck of a lot of wedge to part with back in 1986 for a W124 Merc. So in the fight for ’80s city bonuses, the default 911/328GTB/SL won the day. Which was a shame, as the forerunner to today’s hotrod AMG saloons would have blown the pinstripes off many a stockbroker, had they seen fit to, err, put the hammer down with their Gucci loafers.

Mercedes AMG Hammer

image courtesy of Insideline.com: Mercedes AMG Hammer

The Hammer was a car that made me, as a child of the eighties, double-check the Top Trumps cards to see if the stats were correct – 5.6-litres (bored out to 6.0-litres if you threw a weighty brown paper bag at AMG), 0-60 somewhere in the mid-fives, and a top speed of 186mph for the ‘under-the-counter’ version. All this in a sober Mercedes saloon, confusing for a schoolboy whose staple automotive pin-ups wore prancing horse or raging bull badges. The subtle nuances of Q-car cool were lost on me back then. Wolf-in-wolf’s clothing was the only language I knew…

Which clumsily leads me on to the point of this post. The even more ‘Q’, innocuous-looking 500E of 1991. This V8 super-saloon, a divine collaboration between Porsche and Mercedes in the early nineties is oh-so-subtle, but to these eyes, massively desirable. And I Want One.

Mercedes 500E (W124)

No, not an airport taxi

Based on the W124 300E, it was hand-built in conjunction with Porsche and had a 5.0-litre V8 developing 322bhp squeezed under the nose. That saw it pass 60mph in 5.5 seconds in the hands of some motor mags at launch, earning it the ‘four-door Porsche’ label. And yes, today you could stick that label on any number of pumped up über-saloons, thanks to the relentless German horespower race.

Back in its day though, as a criminally understated, quietly brawny weapon, it was the kind of car that appealed only to those who knew their super-saloon onions and didn’t care if people thought it was an airport taxi. It’s an allure that appealed just as much to F1 drivers as Belgian arms dealers. And that well-known connoisseur of special metal, Mr. Bean.

Mercedes 500E

If it’s good enough for Rowan Atkinson…

Fast-forward a bit, and the 500E still looks hard-as today. With its widened track and mildly flared arches, it doesn’t shout loudly, but it could definitely do you over if it felt like it. Riding on innocuous 8-hole alloys looking almost identical to a 300E’s, it’s the most successful demonstration of less being more that I’ve ever seen on a performance saloon. Paint it beige and it’d blend into a German taxi rank as well as a 300D. Actually, don’t do that, there aren’t enough left to mess about with.

In truth, the 500E only seriously arrived on my radar after seeing Luc Besson’s film, ‘Taxi’, in 1998. But it’s lodged itself firmly into the ranks of ‘must-have’ ever since, and now it won’t go away. It’s the car that I window-shop the online classifieds for, again and again. This obsession has spawned an ambitious new year’s resolution — to get my name on the V5 of a nice one towards the end of this year. By which time I’ll have worked out which of my vital organs I’ll miss the least.

It could be harder than I thought to find a good one though. Thanks to a £57k price tag in the UK, it found less than ten homes through official channels. There’s more in circulation, due to subsequent Japanese and European grey imports, but good ones are properly rare beasts. The hunt is on.

By Tim Kendall
20th January 2012

Comments

  1. Rick Hauck says:

    I have one for sale. It’s beautiful and I love it (as my wife will attest) , but I store it during the nasty winter conditions and need to find something else to drive.
    I have a great appreciation for fine engineering and speed (Google me) and will hate to part with it, but….
    Mileage: under 53000
    Price: $26,000
    Location: Portland, Maine, USA

    • Tim Kendall says:

      A great looking 500E you have there, Rick. I’d come and take a look if you weren’t on the wrong side of the pond…

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