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

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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.”

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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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.

  • ToolGuy The other day I attempted to check the engine oil in one of my old embarrassing vehicles and I guess the red shop towel I used wasn't genuine Snap-on (lots of counterfeits floating around) plus my driveway isn't completely level and long story short, the engine seized 3 minutes later.No more used cars for me, and nothing but dealer service from here on in (the journalists were right).
  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.
  • Lou_BC "That’s expensive for a midsize pickup" All of the "offroad" midsize trucks fall in that 65k USD range. The ZR2 is probably the cheapest ( without Bison option).