The Mercedes-Benz W201 was the first compact executive car from German automaker Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes spent over £600 million researching and developing the 190 and subsequently said it was ‘massively over-engineered’. It was introduced in 1982, positioned in the size category below the E-Class and marketed under variants of the Mercedes-Benz 190 nameplate. The model marked a new venture for Mercedes-Benz, finally giving it a new smaller model to compete with the likes of the Audi 80, BMW 3 Series and Saab 900, as well as the more expensive versions of the many medium-sized saloons and hatchbacks from mainstream brands. The W201-based 190 was introduced in November 1982, and was sold in right-hand drive for the UK market from September 1983.
Mercedes wished to take the 190 E rallying, and asked British engineering company Cosworth to develop an engine with 320 bhp (239 kW) for the rally car. This project was known as project “WAA’ by Cosworth”. During this time, the Audi Quattro with its all-wheel drive and turbocharger was launched, making the 2.3-16v appear outclassed. With a continued desire to compete in high-profile motor sport with the 190, and also now an engine to do it with, Mercedes turned to the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM) (German Touring Car Championship) motor sport series instead. Cars racing in this championship, however, had to be based on a roadgoing model. Mercedes therefore had to put into series production a 190 fitted with a detuned version of the Cosworth engine. This high-performance model was known as the 190 E 2.3-16, and debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September 1983, after its reputation had already been established. An enlarged 2.5 L engine replaced the 2.3 L in 1988.
With the debut of the BMW M3 Sport Evolution, Mercedes’ direct competitor, it became obvious that the 2.5-16 needed a boost for the circuit. In March 1989, the 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution debuted at the Geneva Auto Show. In March 1990, at the Geneva Auto Show, the 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II was shown. With the success of the first Evolution model, this model’s 502-unit production was already sold before it was unveiled. An obvious modification to the Evolution II is a radical body kit (designed by Prof. Richard Eppler from the University of Stuttgart) with a large adjustable rear wing, rear window spoiler, and Evolution II 17-inch wheels. Period anecdotes tell of BMW research and development chief, Wolfgang Reitzle, saying “the laws of aerodynamics must be different between Munich and Stuttgart; if that rear wing works, we’ll have to redesign our wind tunnel.” The anecdote claims that BMW did.