The “Baby-Benz” was born: Mercedes-Benz 190 – when the star fell from the sky

The “Baby Benz” is born.
Mercedes-Benz 190 – when the star fell from the sky

S-class drivers feared that the star had fallen from the sky, Americans mockingly called it “Baby Benz” – the compact Mercedes 190 sparked discussions in 1982 until it successfully attacked established competitors. And its diamond design soon characterized all Mercedes models.

This year, the familiar worldviews were confused, because the little ones made a great story. Helmut Kohl became the new chancellor in 1982 because the FDP wanted him. The little “ET”, extraterrestrial from Steven Spielberg’s dream factory, has turned a science fiction fairytale into the biggest blockbuster to date and a compact Mercedes has remeasured the firmament of the stars. This provocateur called himself Mercedes-Benz 190 (W 201 series) and had already caused unrest among conservative Mercedes customers such as Erlkönig.

“Ushido”: The Erlkönig was not yet recognizable as a Mercedes.

(Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

“Ushido” stood for camouflage as a type script on pre-series vehicles, the shrink format of which resembled an extraterrestrial. A good 30 centimeters shorter and 10 centimeters narrower than the previous 200 (W 123) Benz base, the sedan even angered the specialist media, which promptly spoke of the “Baby Benz”. No prestige bodywork, presumably no taxi format, instead an aerodynamically simple design and outrageously sporty ambitions: was the 190 really still a real Mercedes?

First he smiled, then a million salespeople

Today we know that with the agile mid-range 190 model, Mercedes has not only successfully attacked more dynamic vehicles such as the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. The Baby Benz also retained Swabian virtues such as premium prices, solidity and safety. The model was developed at the same time as the SW 126 Class. The 190 even met its extremely high safety standards.


A good 30 centimeters shorter and ten centimeters narrower than the previous Benz Type 200 (W 123), the sedan has even angered the specialist media.

(Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Ironically, the smallest required the largest investment in Mercedes history: as many as two billion marks, a new plant in Bremen and more than six years of development time cost the construction of the Mercedes 190, whose model code refers to the series of the same name (W 120) from the 1950s remembered. However, the larger E-Class later emerged from that classic pontoon of the economic boom.

In contrast, the W 201 series, the forerunner of today’s C-Class, attracted a new audience in the 1980s. Furthermore, this Benz discarded all Swabian fussiness and set trends, as until then only professional dynamics á the BMW 3 Series or the Alfa Giulia / Giulietta. In keeping with aerobics, break dancing, and fast inline skating, the sporting trends of the decade, the Mercedes 190 was good for adrenaline rushes, just as it loved the target group of well-funded yuppies and dinks.

Best times on concrete and asphalt


In August 1983, the 190 E 2.3-16 set three long distance world records in Nardò, Italy.

(Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

The 66 kW / 90 hp four-cylinder carbureted version of the 190 was significantly faster than the Mercedes 200 significantly more powerful and larger, but also just under € 300 less. The 90 kW / 122 bhp 190 E grazed the 136 kW / 185 bhp 280 E, and the 190 E 2.3-16 and all the furious four-valve offshoots that followed blew in the direction of Munich like the first true four-door Pilots Mercedes.

Even before the BMW M3 or Audi RS, the previously rigid star vehicles demonstrated world records, DTM qualities and record times that burned into concrete and asphalt like 16-valve engines decorated with wings and spoilers. Either as a 2.3-16 in 1983 in Nardò, Italy with an average speed of almost 250 km / h over a distance of 25,000 kilometers, or in 1990 in the final expansion phase as a 2.5-16 Evolution with 173 kW / 235 HP and driving performance at the level of a BMW V12.

Mercedes 190 as a Taxi

But the 190 also redefined diesel – and thus ultimately qualified as a taxi despite the snug trimmed bodywork. The first diesel series vehicle with engine encapsulation was the 190 D with the so-called whisper diesel, which BMW then contrasted with a six-cylinder diesel in the 3 Series. Of course, the diesel of the 190 turned into a success. In the final stage of the expansion, the 190 D 2.5 Turbo finally hit 195 km / h, no comparison with the 200 D (W 123), which reached 135 km / h with difficulty and also consumed 25 percent in more than a 190.

The W 201 series was also able to protect the environment, and it did so before many others. Diesel oxidation catalytic converters and three-way catalytic converters should help with gasoline engines against the much-discussed acid rain of the 1980s and forest degradation. A battery electric version of the Mercedes 190 was also tested.

“Diamond Cut Design” and “Sacco Boards”


Bruno Sacco, responsible for the design of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars until 1999, with a model of the Mercedes-Benz W 201 series compact sedan (construction period 1982 to 1993).

(Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

With the W 201 series, Mercedes reinvents itself following the oil crisis of the 1970s. Efficiency through weight reduction to 1080 kilograms (around 600 kilograms less than in a current C-Class) and aerodynamics were the order of the day in Stuttgart and so the little 190 became the ambassador of a new design language. which would characterize all Mercedes in the future. “Diamond-cut design” is what Daimler chief designer Bruno Sacco called the trapezoidal lines with the flush integrated radiator grille in the front for the first time and puristic lines up to the then unprecedented high rear. The trapezoidal surfaces must have been reminiscent of polished gemstone and two years later the revamped E-Class (W 124) really appeared with diamond outlines.

Unbelievable and unprecedented in a Mercedes sedan: small refreshments with contemporary accessories such as the “Sacco boards” in a slightly different color on the sides were enough to keep the 190 up to date beyond the end of production in 1993.

Almost indestructible cross-country runner


In May 1985, the 190 D 2.5 five-cylinder diesel model with an output of 66 kW / 90 hp brought new dynamics.

(Photo: Mercedes-Benz)

Indeed, the forerunner of the C-Class had a hard time transitioning to the classic state. A quarter of a century after market launch, 23,290 Mercedes 190s from the first two years of sale were still registered in Germany, while competitors only managed 1 to 45 percent of this vehicle stock. In 2007, the 190 series was considered an almost indestructible long distance runner and had such a timeless design that it briefly spurred discussions on raising the minimum age for H-plate candidates.

This was unthinkable in 1982/83: Mercedes dealers initially had to do an unusual amount of persuasion before potential customers could be persuaded to take it for a test drive. There they found: Except for the conventional handbrake lever instead of the foot-operated parking brake, everything looked like Daimler, including a huge steering wheel, loving workmanship and standard accounting equipment, as well as endless lists of extras. Of course, it pinched taller people in the rear 190 more than in the W 123 models, but the smallest star carrier inspired by the much vaunted “multi-link rear axle” and a new front axle with shock absorber.

When the specialist media in the mid-1980s made the Mazda 626 the first Japanese to win a comparison test with the new premium Mercedes 190, Stern’s clientele was not at all interested. Since the baby had already made it, it was one of the world’s loudest Mercedes-Benz series and made life more difficult for the BMW 3 Series and Audi 80/90 and A4. Just as the C-Class succeeds today, five generations and eleven million units later. Incidentally, these are also available in Asia as a state support long version with a lounge comfort level that was reserved for the S-Class in the days of Baby Benz.

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