Junkyard Find: 1987 Mercedes-Benz 190E, 601,173-Mile Edition

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1987 mercedes benz 190e 601 173 mile edition

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!

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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  • Dataman Dataman on Jun 20, 2017

    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.

  • Carzzi Carzzi on Jun 27, 2017

    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.

  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down. https://academic.oup.com/dh/article-abstract/42/4/548/5063004
  • Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
  • Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro processors...in today's vehicles?
  • Ravenuer The Long Island Expressway.
  • Kwik_Shift A nice stretch of fairly remote road that would be great for test driving a car's potential, rally style, is Flinton Road off of Highway 41 in Ontario. Twists/turns/dips/rises. Just hope a deer doesn't jump out at you. Also Highway 60 through Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Great scenery with lots of hills.