Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3 16 W 201 2

Well, the world records were old – but they had been set in 1956 with 8 litres of engine capacity. In 1983 Daimler-Benz only needed 2.3 litres in the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16.

“For us, the drive was actually a compulsory exercise,” Prof. Breitschwerdt chatted over the obligatory glass of champagne: “Because the 50,000-kilometre high-speed test was part of the development programme anyway – and the fact that three world and twelve international class records were set during these test drives is something to be pleased about.


Swabian understatement? Chutzpah from Untertürkheim? Who can gaze into the souls of the Daimler-Benz engineers and mechanics, who in 1983, after 3956 laps at full throttle – as it seemed to the unsuspecting observer – snatched various records from various companies on the southern Italian high-speed circuit of Nardò without any major effort.

Of course, the Swabians had prepared themselves well: such things have a tradition at the company that often took the tarpaulin off its racing and record-breaking cars and then put the competition to shame – in this case it was the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16, whose simple designation had led to lengthy discussions in the company. For a 190, despite its 2.3-litre engine capacity, must of course not be a 230 – because this designation is permanently assigned. The same applies to Mercedes’ holy S.

But they are quite proud of the “16” because it indicates the number of valves. Of course, they didn’t want to do without this gentle hint, so inevitably nothing other than Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 could come out.

And what’s more: After 201 hours and 41 minutes, the 190E 2.3-16 had rushed through the 50,000 kilometres the fastest of the three competing cars – with an average speed of 247.939 km/h.

The educated reader will now rightly ask how it is possible that a 2.3-litre car can reach such average speeds.


To do this, we first need to take a critical look at the regulations book, which covers all misinterpretations. Here one can read out some advantages that are granted to a car – in the series version over 230 km/h fast – in order to reach the necessary top speed of just under 265 km/h. The engine, however, was not allowed to be changed.

However, nothing was allowed to be changed on the engine: “The three engines had between 185 and 187 hp, and the five-speed gearbox was also standard – apart from the fact that the reverse gear had been removed.” Prof. Breitschwerdt also knew why: “Since you’re not allowed to drive in reverse during record runs, we just got rid of these gears.”

In addition, the rear axle ratio was lengthened; after the computers had calculated the route, including gradient and slope (80 metres difference in altitude between the highest and lowest point), he decided on 2.65:1 – which may have been a sensible decision, because this kept the revs between 5,500/min (uphill) and 6,100/min (downhill).

In addition, the three test cars were slightly lower, by 45 millimetres in total. In contrast to its series brother, however, the world record holder is only a single-seater, because the various monitoring instruments, the radio system and the spare parts on the back seat make for less family-friendly space conditions here.

At ten o’clock at night, the race began: the three vehicles set off – six drivers per car and 60 mechanics stood by, monitored by 108 commissioners who kept a sharp eye on what was happening. After one thousand kilometres, the first international record was broken – at 247.094 km/h. And so it went on: 1000 miles, 5000 kilometres, 5000 miles, 10,000 kilometres, 10,000 miles, 25,000 kilometres, 25,000 miles, 50,000 kilometres, the 6-hour record, the 12-hour record, the 24-hour record – nothing could stop the vehicles. Every 610 kilometres the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 came into the pits, took 170 litres of petrol and a new driver in 20 seconds – every 6500 kilometres the rear tyres were changed for safety reasons and every 17,000 kilometres the front tyres – every 25,000 kilometres a major inspection was carried out in just under five minutes, including checking the valve clearance. And every 1,000 kilometres, the drivers pressed the button to add 0.3 to 0.4 litres of oil to the engine – from an extra container.


So there were no problems, apart from the fact that on the night before last, a love-hungry fox on the hunt for a playmate ran in front of the spoiler of the “green” car (the cars had been labelled green, white and red), lost his life there and initiated an unplanned pit stop.

The following night a major defect struck for the first and only time: the distributor finger broke on the same car and driver who had already mastered the fox related adventure at 265 km/h – at two o’clock in the morning, three kilometres from the pits. And since no distributor finger had broken for years, there was of course none in the replacement stock. The driver glued the remains of the small part together again with two-component glue and reached the pit again.

It then was the turn of the most expensive mechanic in the company: development director Breitschwerdt and his entire department heads worked on the engine to find a solution to repair the part in such a way that the commissioners could not prove a violation of the rules. The solution was then found by Erich Waxenberger, who – after quickly setting the best lap time on the “red” car – discreetly suggested to his boss to saw through a new distributor finger in such a way that the missing part of the original finger could be completed with it and the two-component glue. “So we only repaired the original part and did not replace it,” Waxenberger beamed, before he fired up “his” five boys again to win the in-house competition of the three cars.

And they succeeded: the “red” Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 crossed the finish line at 7.41 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Afterwards, a few laps with the freshly crowned world record car showed the concentration required for the 45 laps that each driver had to complete – despite the lack of power steering and the well-adhering tyres, corrections have to be made constantly. A glance at the numerous instruments ensures that one is two metres off the ideal line. During the day, 50° C prevail in the car, at night the loneliness and boredom, in between there are twelve hours of rest that you have to use for sleeping, there is little joy.

This is reserved for the owner of the standard version, even if his car only reaches 230 km/h: The 16-valve car goes insanely well, just over 7 seconds to 100 km/h, it sounds rich – and also needs a little less than the Nardò car, which had around 22 litres flowing through the injection system. And it also has ventilation, which the record drivers had to do without – because that would have cost 4 km/h at the top speed.

This text was first published in the Austrian Autorevue, issue 10/1983.

Photos: Daimler AG

Author: Classic Trader

Die Classic Trader Redaktion besteht aus Oldtimer-Enthusiasten, die Euch mit spannenden Geschichten versorgen. Kaufberatungen, unsere Traum Klassiker, Händlerportraits und Erfahrungsberichte von Messen, Rallyes und Events. #drivenbydesire

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