All pictures © Rémi Dargegen Photography
It’s #TouringCarTuesday so let’s have a little bit of German #TouringCarMadness with the lovely 1990 Mercedes-Benz 190E Evolution II, a car which has been on my dream short-list of cars, although, people that know me know it’s a pretty long one… But yeah, the Evolution II is just the perfect symbol of an era now gone and which was all about homologation specials.
All of this originates back from the great and early 1980s, an era of motorsport which saw touring car racing rise to the top with national and international championships producing some of the best racing ever witnessed all around the world. Ze Germans were part of the gang that made history with Mercedes-Benz and later AMG being there to tackle no other than BMW Motorsport and their M3.
The whole story shows how bad the Stuttgart manufacturer and the Affalterbach tuner known as AMG wanted to beat Münich if considering how it all happened. Also, the whole motorsport program linked to the production model was the first trully official collaboration between the two and not a bad one if looking at the results and what AMG became.
So back in the early 1980s it all started with Mercedes introducing the 190E 2.3-16 model, to be understood as the first true performance sedan of the Stuttgart manufacturer. Based on the newly introduced W201 design (1982), it was the Stuttgart answer to the E30 BMW and nicknamed the “Baby-Benz”. Introduced to the public at the 1983 Frankfurt Motorshow, the performance version looked different if considering the line-up of the manufacturer at the time. By 1985 it had served the purpose of homologation for competition and the game was started.
Technically speaking there were two versions, the 2.3L original one and later 2.5L. Both were developped by Cosworth as at the time, Mercedes had no official performance department and relied on third parties. The early version was given for 185hp and the later one for 195hp in road going trim. Other than the wing and side skirts, it looked like a normal car but chassis, suspension, brakes as well as drivetrains had been upgraded to make it a true autobahn panzer.
The model was campaigned in various championships by privateers, the French Production which wasn’t really production but more about what pre-dated super touring, by 1986 it was entered in the newly revamped German championship which became the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterchaft as well. While Mercedes had done good with its model, it was not really a match at international level if compared with the likes of BMW, Ford, Rover and Volvo as well, but it was just the start to a long battle.
That same year saw the introduction to the public by BMW of another game changer, the mighty BMW M3 E30, a compact, light and beautifully worked out saloon with fantastic handling, engine and driveability. It would also prove by 1987 to be a giant killer by taking on the WTCC, ETCC, DTM and by winning the European and German titles outright. The Mercedes was by then an outdated old fart in a way…
1988 saw Mercedes raise its game with a full works effort being set for the DTM in order to answer BMW and Ford, also present with the Turbo Sierras, competition was fierce and Ford triumphed with Ludwig and Hahne taking 1st and 3rd OA with Asch squeezing in second place for Mercedes while BMW was left behind in 4th place. Not bad, still not good enough as second is first looser!
As said previously, Mercedes wanted it very badly and by 1989, they introduced the Evolution version of the 190E, developped on the base of the previous 2.5-16 version, it was a bigger and better version of the previous model with slightly different look as part of the Series 2 W201 introduction and 502 were said to have been built in order to be homologated for the DTM. The rear wing was the most noticeable change but altogether it was a better car and AMG was officially working on it.
In terms of competition, still, BMW triumphed that year with Ravaglia taking the overall championship as well as 3rd place with Giroix, leaving Ford in second place with Niedzwiedz, this being the last participation of the Cologne manufacturer in the Championship as weight ballast and air restrictors triumphed of the Ford RS500 while Mercedes was left out of honors with Kurt Thiim in 4th place. Clearly and while competition had been fierce once again, the M3 was proving better.
Nevertheless, BMW being set to introduce its 2.5L Sport Evolution for 1990, so was Mercedes with its own Evolution II. Again, 502 models were requested for homologation and this time, the whole thing would grow even bigger, wider and so on. And truly, it might look special but clearly it is and what’s not to like?
Imagine yourself cruising down das autobahn, with a pair of Zeiss Sportsman shades on the nose, listening to Ein, Zwei, Polizei while eating some apfelstrudel, yeah, this is exactly the sort of car you want to be driving. I mean das ist die Evolution II, the DTM on the road!
Whatever, the 190E Evolution II was introduced to the public at the Geneva Motorshow in March 1990 and it was quite a different Evolution to the ones presented before. From sober and elegant, the model became an aggressive looking beast, everything was changed in terms of look, big front spoiler, big rear wing, wheel arches extension and so on, a full aero kit fitted and sitting on 17″ wheels, a competition beast permitted on the road.
On the engine side, power went up to 235hp @7200RPM and the 2.5L, 16-Valves engine was good to power the car for a 0-100km/h in 7.1 seconds with a top speed of 250km/h. But the whole thing was a little heavy -1415kg – if considering the opposition like the M3 Sport Evolution which was given for 1200kg. But anyhow, period tests detailed the beast and engine as fantastic in terms of handling and driveability, something which you could expect from such a car and given the reason it was built, homologation again.
On the competition side, AMG took the beast to numbers near 350hp by the end of the 1990 season as well as becoming the official performance partner of the Stuttgart manufacturer but still, it wasn’t enough as the Ingolstadt manufacturer known as Audi had joined the DTM battle. Stuck took overall honors while BMW and Cecotto would end-up second with Thiim and Mercedes following in third place. The V8 had triumphed over the inline-4.
1991 would see Mercedes finishing second in the Championship with Ludwig while taking the Manufacturer Championship but Audi triumphed again with Biela taking the Drivers’ title and Stuck completing the podium in 3rd place OA.
And finally, 1992 would be the year, a symbolic year as it was the last year of the glorious Group A derived machinery, Mercedes fighting against BMW and Audi officially. It was also the year of the Audi scandal, a crank story which saw the whole effort stopped by the 6th round after the cars were found to be illegal.
Altogether, it was a glorious year for Mercedes who took overall honors and podium for the Championship that year with Klaus Ludwig, Kurt Thiim and Bernd Schneider at the wheel of the DTM Evolution II. Finally it happened and it would also be the last season of true homologation special racing in the Championship, right before the introduction of FIA Class 1 regulations for 1993 and the start to another era.
This is why the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II stands as a special car on my short list. As with the BMW M3 Sport Evolution, the Evolution II was the end to the most glorious era of touring car racing and #TouringCarMadness
And remember, Ein, Zwei, Polizei!
All pictures © Rémi Dargegen Photography