By on May 30, 2017

1987 Mercedes-Benz W201 190E in California wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The Mercedes-Benz W201 sold well in California, which is where I found this clean-looking ’87. Nearly all of the W201s sold in the American market came with automatic transmissions; this one has a five-speed manual, which makes it stand out from the many W201s I find in West Coast wrecking yards. What really makes it interesting, however, is the odometer reading: 601,173 miles!

1987 Mercedes-Benz W201 190E in California wrecking yard, odometer - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

This is the highest odometer reading I have ever seen in a discarded vehicle, though I’d be willing to bet that some of the 1960s and 1970s Mercedes-Benzes and maybe a handful of Hondas, Toyotas, and ancient Detroit pickups drove more miles during their careers (five-digit odometers and/or missing speedometers leave real mileage a mystery for most of those machines).

1987 Mercedes-Benz W201 190E in California wrecking yard, decklid emblem - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

An 8-valve four-cylinder engine and five-speed powered this sensible predecessor to the modern C-Class. With 130 horsepower moving its 2,780 pounds (about the same as a new Chevrolet Sonic), this car wasn’t punitively slow, but those frivolous 190E 2.6 six-cylinder (158 hp) and 190 2.3-16 Cosworth (167 hp) cars were much more fun to drive. Diesel-powered W201s were available in the United States, theoretically, but I have yet to see one.

1987 Mercedes-Benz W201 190E in California wrecking yard, hood emblem - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The price tag on one of these cars started at $26,400 (about $58,000 in inflation-adjusted 2017 dollars), which was a bit steeper than the cheapest BMW 3 Series ($21,475 for the 325 with a low-revving, 121-horse “eta” engine) but very similar to the cost of a hot 325iS ($26,990, 168 horsepower). If you wanted a small-but-prestigious European sedan in 1987 and didn’t worry so much about reliability, you could consider the Audi 4000CS Quattro ($19,850, 110 hp) and the Saab 900 Turbo ($25,515, 160 hp), but the original purchaser of this Benz went sensible and it paid off.

1987 Mercedes-Benz W201 190E in California wrecking yard, interior - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The interior is in very nice condition, which suggests the car had just one or two owners during its three decades on the road. Someone took meticulous care of this car, did all the maintenance on schedule, kept it in a garage, and had repairs done at non-fly-by-night shops; the sixth owner of a German luxury car tends to be somewhat more financially challenged and does repairs — if any — using Vise-Grips in the Autozone parking lot.

1987 Mercedes-Benz W201 190E in California wrecking yard, seat upholstery - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Of course, you’ll see MB-Tex seat fabric still holding up well in otherwise trashed old Mercedes-Benzes, but everything inside this car looks about five years old. The exterior shows some damage, but I think much of that happened after the car ended up in the junkyard ecosystem.

1987 Mercedes-Benz W201 190E in California wrecking yard, SRS warning decal - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Driver’s side airbags (or those hateful automatic seat belts) were required by the Feds in US-market cars built after mid-1989, but Mercedes-Benz had them earlier.

1987 Mercedes-Benz W201 190E in California wrecking yard, gearshift lever - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

It’s sad to see a survivor like this get thrown away, but the odometer reading probably scared away any potential buyers. Perhaps something fatally expensive broke in the powertrain, maybe it couldn’t pass California’s über-strict emissions test, or (most likely) the car was a trade-in and all the potential auction buyers staggered away in horror from its radioactive odometer.

“The heart of a sports sedan. The soul of a Mercedes-Benz.”

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43 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1987 Mercedes-Benz 190E, 601,173-Mile Edition...”

  • avatar

    I wonder what the carfax says? Ever think of looking into it to add that much more to the story of the car? Especially on a car with a ton of miles on it.

    • 0 avatar

      I do too.

      In keeping with Murilees’ theory about the owner(s), I’ll point out that the Borders bookmarks on the console indicate that someone who drove this car probably, gasp, read books regularly.

      I’m no M-B expert–an aunt did have one of these, bought new and probably 1-3 model years newer than this example–but I’d argue that this was one of the last Mercedes designed and built at a time when they weren’t directly completing with anyone. On the US market, there was some overlap with BMW; a bit with Volvo, Jaguar, Saab, and Audi; and a sliver (amongst S-class buyers) with Rolls-Royce. And M-B certainly had some Lost Generation and GI Generation owners who used to drive Packards, Cadillacs, Lincolns, Imperials, or Buicks but probably didn’t cross-shop those brands when purchasing their ’70s or early ’80s Benz. But to a certain extent, M-B was competing with no one, building cars as it saw fit, and not concerning itself too much with MSRP. Interesting time.

  • avatar

    I would have bought this for the lulz.

    RIP Über-Benz.

  • avatar

    Impressive mileage. A general contractor I used to work for had a 1999 F350 with north of 500,000 miles. Of course that was on its third transmission and it definitely showed its use. Makes me wonder how much of that Mercedes drivetrain is original, all of it?

  • avatar

    I salute you high mileage Mercedes. RIP.

  • avatar

    Poor little ol’ Benz. Most likely needed some routine Maintenance items: tires, brakes, clutch etc… or maybe the SRS light was on. Off to the Shredder!

    Speaking of high mileage on vehicles, nothing beats Airport vans! Riding Supper Shuttle from N. Colorado to DIA, I always like to sneak a peek at the Odometer on the econoline vans or chassis conversions. Usually 300k plus V-10 Gas or in the old days 460’s. The Powerstrokes were considered time bombs with huge downtime and expense for repairs. At a junkyard here, I would routinely see B Series Chry Co vans with 318 Magnum power with 500K + stacked up like cord wood.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    That is very impressive mileage for a non diesel powered car/truck.

    I can’t say that I have ever seen a gas odo that high actually, a couple SR5 Toyota’s have come close. Diesel Ram or F-series are common place, and yes they are on their 3rd transmission, but who cares really when you are getting 750k out of your truck.

  • avatar

    Weren’t these the choice for European taxi drivers back then?

  • avatar

    Euro taxis are usually the E-class MB, which has a more spacious rear seat. The ‘E’ on this ‘190E’ doesn’t mean that (it stands for ‘Einspritz,’ meaning fuel injection). This car is what today would be termed a C-Class.

  • avatar

    The highest mileage I’ve seen at a shop I’ve worked at was a one ton Chevrolet Express cargo van ~830,000 on a 7.4L vortec with a 4L80 trans. It was owned by a courier service, original engine and trans, admittedly it was a pretty under stressed application for that powertrain. I’ve also seen a 600,000+ mile 02ish Escalade that sounded like a coffee can full of marbles but kept on going, and a 500k mid nineties Maxima that was so rusty it looked like it was dragged from the bottom of a lake, couldn’t even put it up on a hoist.

  • avatar

    Nice .
    Blue Nelson’s old Mercedes Diesel W123 station wagon just rolled over 500,000 miles and they had a party for it .
    I missed the party because I was driving my old Mercedes Diesel in Death Valley as it turned over 418,000 miles .
    This little car looks worth saving to me but too late now .


    • 0 avatar

      Aye, it’s sad. It has that perfect combination of a caring owner and a simple powertrain that make the mileage more of a conversation piece than a concern.

  • avatar

    This is the perfect vehicle for an LS swap. Other than the small tear in the drivers seat it looks decent on the inside. Outside parts are an easier fix.

  • avatar

    That is amazing for a non-diesel engine.

    Most mileage I got was 240kish out of a ’87 Nissan Stanza. It was a hand-me-down car so my dad did most of the mileage driving for work. It still had the original distributor cap, which was so thin that you could see the sparks at night.

    I also had a Toyota T100 with 220k miles that I ended up selling to a friend for a very low price. His wife is still driving it 3 years later. It’s the rust that is catching up, not the mileage.

    A co-worker of mine has a 2002 Tundra with the 4.7L V8 engine. I got to borrow it to do some hauling, and I saw it had over 310k miles on it. Also a new frame, thanks to Toyota. His last vehicle, a 4Runner, had over 300k miles on it when he got rid of it. It sold quickly too.

    • 0 avatar

      We used to have a 2003 Land Cruiser with that same 4.7L 2UZ-FE V8. It ended up lasting 14 years and 315K miles until it required around $4K in maintenance [due to living in a rust belt state]. It then sat for a few months until it was donated to charity where someone bought it at auction, for $8.5K.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I believe that these got something of a reputation when first released, particularly the Diesel version for being incredibly slow/boring to drive.

    However, when I see a ‘survivor’ like this Mercedes or the Daihatsu, I must tip my cap. More than the ‘collector’ vehicles or ‘supercars’ I feel that these unsung, loyal companions are deserving of praise and preservation.

    A little care and preventative maintenance resulting in 3 decades of dependable service. What consumer could ask for more?

    • 0 avatar

      Arthur I’m the exact same way. I’ll crane my neck in traffic more for a clean and rust free 1990s Eddie Bauer Explorer or a clean Lumina Eurosport than I ever will for a Maserati/Porsche/whatever. Gotta respect the owner who can keep a vehicle that well.

    • 0 avatar

      I couldn’t agree more. I have a 28 Mile round trip commute from suburb thru Amish country, with my employer a half mile down a gravel Rd

      I have been making this commute the last three years in an 85 LeBaron mark cross convertible (88k 4th owner, now 104k mechanically reconditioned) with a Mitsubishi 2.6 and a Weber 32/36 carb, tuned with a wideband and an O2. Basic crutchfield stereo, nice chrome and paint, some minor rust and door dings. Total grandma car.

      I get to commute in a rowdy little antique, top down as often as possible. And heads swing, thinking I’m crazy, or realizing they haven’t seen a Kcar LeBaron on quite a while.

      The rubbernecks are on par with times I have driven my dad’s Viper. Probably for different reasons though.

      Thanks for rooting for “the Maintainers”…if sufficiently discouraged, we could all end up in latw model beigemobiles.

  • avatar

    This is definitely the powertrain/drivetrain configuration to hit that kind of mileage IMO (that or a diesel with a stick, if that’s even an option). The optional gas I6s in these are long lasting motors, with a few big caveats. Timing chains stretch, headgaskets go, and wiring harnesses disintegrate (on certain years). Auto transmissions are also known to have issues at higher mileage depending on style of use and maintenance.

    I test drove an ’89 2.6 with an auto last year. Super solid feeling going down the road despite the age. The transmission starting out in 2nd by default really dulled the acceleration as well as reduced the auto trans “creep” to almost nothing which also was very unfamiliar.

  • avatar

    This was the first Mercedes chassis (W201) that featured the five bar link rear suspension. It was a revelation in handling at the time.

    This particular 190E may actually have more miles on it than indicated, believe it or not. Look at the trip odometer and how the zeros are misaligned. Benzes from this era were known for failed odos. When you pushed the little button to zero out the trip odometer, some little mechanical piece would break and both odos would stop working.

    I owned a ’91 for a while. Bought it with the SRS light on. Got an SRS module from a wrecking yard for $30, put it in and the light went out. Purchased new from M-B the SRS module is about $1000.

  • avatar

    I had an early 90’s 190E with the 2.6L 6 cylinder.

    It really was a great car, and felt WAY nicer than modern day “entry level” Mercedes do now. I bought it used for a song, it was an ex company car that I paid off the lease for a buy out. It had an almost perfect blend of luxury ride with great handling. It seems modern Mercedes have lost that.

    I looked up the price new and ran it through an inflation calculator, and I want to say the “today” price was like $50k, so it makes sense it was much nicer than a new $30k Mercedes today.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    600K mile Mercedes finally given out on you? Sad to see it go? Have eighteen thousand euros to spare? Here’s your Lazarus:

    You lose some displacement and a pedal, but you gain crank windows and cloth that puts the MB-tex vinyl to shame.

  • avatar

    Seeing this car makes me think of the lyrics to Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind.”

    Eventually, no matter how loved, properly driven or maintained, etc, a car is still just a machine and it will always meet its fate.

    601,000 miles is a lot of miles.

    Time goes on.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I recognize that gear selector. One of the B&B has it as his / her avatar, though I cannot recall who.

  • avatar

    Was in Mexico for work and in the morning I took a Nissan Tsuru Taxi (nee’ 1992 Nissan Sentra 4dr) that had 890,000 km on the odometer or about 550,000 miles. It rattled and squeaked like it had 1/2 million miles on it that it had. All wheels were different colors, interior was beatup, and the stick shift (all Tsuru taxis are 5 speed manuals) was polished smooth like a black billard ball with no texture or shift pattern obvious…
    That car contrasted with the brand new afternoon Tsuru Taxi that only had 29,000 km (around 18,000 miles) on it, the body was tight, stick shift was textured with shift pattern on it, and almost had the new car smell still in the spotless interior…

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had similar Tsuru experiences, albeit not quite with that mileage. I’d love to be able to buy a new one here in Mexican spec. I’d just make sure to oil-undercoat the hell out of it.

  • avatar

    Head gaskets get to be a problem on these as they age– they leak oil. I had a ’93 190E 2.3 a few years ago with much fewer miles. I was planning on keeping it since 1993 was the last year for the 190E.

    The head gasket had begun to leak, but I was watching it religiously. Suddenly, without warning the engine completely seized going up a freeway overpass. I’ve had over 100 cars and I don’t think I’ve ever had an engine lock up solid like that. I assume it was due to sudden oil loss. The car’s next trip was to the pick-N-pull like this one.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Over 600k we’re talking half a Irv Gordan Volvo 1800 here.
    These Benz’s were quite well made, essentially 3/4 of a S-Class. Not some Renault/Nissan based CLA.

  • avatar

    I’m with Nate. Too bad someone didn’t buy it and drive some additional miles – maybe to the million mile point. I drove my 84 Shelby Charger to 400K+ before I sold it to a gentleman in IL who was going to use it for parts on the Rampage he had. Still had the original clutch at that point although it was slipping a bit. Only ate a quart every 2K and still got around 35 mpg. Only reason I got rid of it was due to all the rust. I couldn’t jack it up to change a tire! Figured if I was in an accident the car would disintegrate upon impact. I always wanted to get it to the half million mark.

  • avatar

    130hp, manual transmission, and 2,800lb curb weight would be able to keep up with modern traffic too- you just have to be in the right gear and pay attention to your driving.

  • avatar

    Jack, I have a seen a handful of 190-Class diesels over the years. Maybe they weren’t that common in California?

    A friend had a 190E 2.3-16 5-speed for awhile. He bought it from a guy in California, and I suspect it left Cali because it couldn’t pass emissions – some of the underhood wiring was jury-rigged, evidence of some dodgy repairs.

    He never could get the thing to run quite right, even with the help of decent indie mechanic. A dealer (and a cashectomy) could probably have solved that, but the car wasn’t worth that much. He ended up selling it after a few years, and I believe it went back to California.

  • avatar

    Highest mileage I’ve ever seen on a car was a 1980s Ford Econoline for sale on Autotrader for $1500 back in 2011. Shag carpet interior, fringe curtains in the windows, and 891XXX on the clock.

  • avatar

    I owned one one these W201’s about 10 years ago. Stick shift “Sportline” trim 2.6 litre, 5-speed manual. It had four individual bucket seats and had a fairly taut suspension for a Benz — I’d describe it as “sized like a 3-series, handles like a 5-series”. The previous owner had outfitted it with AMG-Sebring long-tube headers, which gave the thing quite a second wind from 4000rpm to about 6500.

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