Part of the joy of having a project car is actually getting the thing out and about for a drive. It’s a chance to explore the fruits of your labour and, in many cases, find something else that needs attention.
Since I purchased it in March, my 1990 Mercedes-Benz 190E Sportline has sat in that rare project-car camp of being able to be driven the whole time. It’s just that through Melbourne’s prolonged movement restrictions, there just wasn’t the ability to actually go anywhere.
It’s a roughly 150km trip to the Island, a 10-fold increase on the Merc’s previous personal best, and I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive. Given my previous experience with European classics, I know the gauges sometimes lie, that temperatures change quickly and as I have learned with the Mercedes already, fuses aren’t immortal.
But, fortune favours the brave and I loaded up the INXS: Kick cassette into the Becker, threw my coffee out as there’s nowhere to put it, filled in the club-permit logbook, popped the sunroof and hit the road.
The four-speed automatic in the 190E starts from second-gear, giving the car a somewhat sedate and lazy move off the mark. You can stamp on the accelerator to trigger a kick down into first, which certainly changes the sprightliness of the little Merc, but to be honest I think I prefer the more laid back approach.
Power output was impressive for the time, the fuel-injected 2.0-litre four offering 89kW at 5100rpm and 175Nm from just 3500rpm. They aren’t huge numbers in today’s currency, but considering a 2021 Mercedes-Benz A180 offers a bit over 10 per cent more of each (100kW and 200Nm), it's not a bad result for the 30-year-old ‘baby Benz’.
But as the 190E ate up the Monash and then Princess Freeways, power output took a clear second place to the car’s premier skill, comfort.
It’s just so smooth.
The big sidewall 195/65 R15 rubber, of a brand that is solely used to pass roadworthy inspections, provide a sublime level of ride comfort that only feels matched by the multi-chamber air suspension of my long-term GLS.
The Sportline sits lower than a regular 190E, and I’m still yet to determine whether the 15-inch Gullideckel wheels, with their ‘rectangle’ holes (as opposed to ‘ovoid’ ones), are in fact the correct Sportline ones.
I’m pretty sure they are 15x7J, but considering the same wheel is available in 15x6.5 and 15x6 (welcome to the deep pit of variant-specific Mercedes parts), this will take some effort and require a wheels-off check and clean, and probably a refurbish and maybe some new rubber that is an improvement over the ‘ol Membats…
Back on the road, and the 190 continues to cruise along quite happily.
The weather has deteriorated somewhat but the mono-wiper does its’s always efficient wiggle across the screen to keep things clear. It might not have been the most glorious day for a drive in the countryside, but the Merc has thus far, performed faultlessly.
It feels good and stable at cruising speed, even in the wet, and continues to be simply enjoyable to drive.
Not everything went to plan though, and about a kilometre away from the bridge at San Remo, I decide to up the fan speed to try and clear some of the windscreen which was fogging up in the humidity.
It gave a brief Big Bad Wolf-like huff and puff and then died. Completely.
I cracked the windows and roof to try and ‘organically’ demist the car, and kept on to my destination.
Once stopped, a quick look under the bonnet revealed the likely culprit, that sole 25-amp fuse that sits outside the main fuse box had blown. I had a replacement handy but decided I would not try and run the blower fan at maximum until I understood the issue.
A quick Google and a chat with one of the Mercedes techs on-site at PI (who had done his apprenticeship on the W201!) suggested this was a common issue with the blower motor, and would require a reasonable amount of tinkering (and lo, another project car update topic) to fix. Plus, the air-con hasn't worked since I've had the car, so it might be a good chance to get that looked at too.
As the weather was clearing, I figured a tilted sunroof and lowered window would give the right amount of old-school demisting ability that I needed.
After a day of fun with AMG, I headed back to town, noting that the fuel needle was approaching the reserve.
Mercedes claims the 190E 2.0-litre has a combined cycle fuel consumption of 8.5L/100km, which given the 55L tank, should give me a range somewhere in the 600km window. With my trip meter, reset each time I refuel, at less than 400km, it has me thinking the 30-year old fuel consumption has slipped somewhat. C'est la via, or as they say in Stuttgart, "so ist das leben!"
With a full tank and sunny skies, I opened the roof and cruised comfortably back to the city, giving Kick and Power alternate spins on the Becker.
Assuming the blower-fuse issue is of the more generic kind, I’m happy to report the little Sportline was an incident-free joy on the highway run. It’s a car that even three decades on, is suited to big-mile touring in effortless comfort, irrespective of your choice of period-correct tunes.
I’m liking the car the more I drive it, which is now making me want to address the paint and body issues that I feel take the ultimate shine off what is a great modern classic.
While a proper respray is outside of my budget, in the next update I’ll look at either the wheels, boot or blower motor, plus will indulge the Mercedes with a top-to-toe clean to try and bring what sparkle there is from the Blauschwarz paint.
All while planning my next decent drive.
Current Status – Looking for another chance to go for a drive.
Odometer – 213,563km
Next up – Wheels maybe?
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