We are finally into our top 5 future classic cars, and here is our third and final Mercedes Benz, the W124 500E (otherwise known among enthusiasts as the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’). If you know a thing or two about performance cars, then you know what this one is whether or not you live in a left hand drive country. Although the 500E is already regarded as a classic, we included it in our top 10 future classics list as we haven’t yet see prices reflecting that classic status.
The 500E was produced between 1990 and 1995 in a joint operation by Porsche and Mercedes. Modified W124 bodies were sent to the Porsche factory, and Porsche handled the mechanical side of things, producing the ultimate luxury sports sedan. All 500E’s were hand built, and each took 18 days to complete. Given the quality of Mercedes Benz cars of this era, a great car was made even better. This unique marriage between Porsche and Mercedes, combined with several other qualities give this Mercedes real potential for increased enthusiast interest and value growth into the future.
For the purpose of our top ten article series, we focus purely on the 500E (or E500 as it was known from 1994 onward). This excludes the E500 Limited and E60 AMG model, which are out of our scope from a price perspective given their extremely low production numbers and high demand even when compared to a rare car like the standard E500. Below we explain the rationale for our choice of the 500E in our top 10 future classics list, and why it sits in position 5.
Factors contributing to the Mercedes Benz 500E’s top 10 status:
As we mentioned in our earlier article about the 560SEC, The factors that contribute to the 500E’s inclusion in our list are very similar, however, the 500E has several elements which push it higher up the list than the SEC coupe. Like the 560SEC, the 500E lacks a strong motorsport history, but qualifies in the top 5 based on other very important factors. The car has a cult status today as the ultimate ‘sleeper’, with second to none engineering, performance and build quality. In addition, the 500E was produced in very low numbers, making a desirable car very scarce. These elements are outlined in further detail below:
1. Cult status as a 'sleeper':
The media branded the 500E as a ‘Wolf in Sheep’s clothing’ upon its release. Obviously, this is a reference to the cars combination of performance and conservative styling. Although the body of the 500E is wider, lower and slightly altered from its standard W124 form, from a distance the average person could not pick it apart from its executive cousin. This ‘sleeper’ status has become a bit of a novelty among enthusiasts, and remains part of the cars overall appeal. This is the type of car you could drive around the streets without attracting too much attention to yourself, yet outrun nearly anything else should a situation present itself.
Some people buy classic cars to look good and draw attention. This car is not for that type pf person, but rather for an enthusiast who prefers a more conservative appearance, but knows that real enthusiasts will recognise and appreciate what they have. Perhaps it’s also for those who like to surprise the odd sports car when taking off from the traffic lights.
Although the W124 E Class is a timeless design, it was never intended to represent a sports car. For some, the styling of the car may be too close to the road going E class of the late 80s and early 90s, but for a larger group of Mercedes enthusiasts, this car represents the ultimate ‘sleeper’ which will continue to attract interest from enthusiasts into the future. There are very few factory produced ‘sleeper’ cars of this form from the 80s and 90s, and this makes the W124 500E particularly special, combining Mercedes luxury and style with Porsche performance.
2. Advanced engineering & quality:
Mercedes Benz vehicles of the late 80s and early 90’s are well known for being the most over engineered cars in the world, and are held in high regard by motoring enthusiasts globally. As with the W126 SEC, the 500E is no exceptions to this stereotype, and is seen as one of the last true quality Mercedes Benz models that adhered to this high standard. Again, the number of standard W124 cars still on the road today demonstrate their bulletproof reputation, and much appreciation needs to be given to the Mercedes engineers of the time, and of course head designer Bruno Sacco, who now stands in the international automotive hall of fame. When you get up close to these cars, open doors, start the engine, and use any features available, you feel a huge sense of quality. Every button, and every latch, responds as if it were brand new whether or not the car has half a million kilometres on the clock. The quality and durability obsession Mercedes Benz had during this era is extremely admirable, and partly explains the desirability of these cars. When compared to the XJS, Audi UR Quattro and other vehicles we have written about in this series, the cars may as well be from different planets in terms of quality and reliability.
In addition to the quality of the fit and finish of these cars, they also provide very advanced features for their time. A drivers Airbag was standard feature on the 500E. Traction control, pre tension seatbelts, anti-lock brakes (ABS), crumple zones and safety cells, among many other safety features well advanced for the vehicles time were all built into the W124. Mercedes was even conducting its own 60/40 offset crash tests (among many other crash test types) well before this became common practice with national safety regulators decades later. These advanced features operated flawlessly in the cars, as Mercedes had a substantial amount of experience with such features in their cars throughout the 80s. Such advancements, quality and safety meant that the E500 is the type of classic you can comfortably and safely drive on the road today, and this will continue to be a major point of attraction for the vehicle going forward, and is certainly not something that can be said for many vehicles from the early 90s.
The Mercedes 500E was a luxury sedan, with all the latest features and trims, such as Recaro leather heated seats, full climate control and a stack of technology hardly believable for the early 1990s. A big luxury sedan like this is not often one associated with high performance, and therefore the E500’s amazing capabilities give good reason to its ‘sleeper’ status.
With a curb weight of over 1.7 tonnes, the 500E can sprint from 0 – 100 kph in 5.7 seconds in stock form (depending on the source). This is largely thanks to Porsche’s modification of the 5.0L M119 V8 engine, which produces 326hp (243kw).
In addition to the brute engine force, the W124s chassis was also modified to assist the car in keeping power to the ground. The E500 was lower and wider than its standard W124 cousin, with stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, wider and larger wheels, lower profile tyres and of course the flared mudguards necessary to house these changes. The front air dam was also modified for aerodynamic and cooling benefits, with many other chassis modifications further removing the 500E genetically from its W124 origins.
The result of all of these modifications was an extremely capable car on the road or track. For its size, the Mercedes 500E could easily outperform its other luxury sedan competitors in both straight line speed, and through the bends. The cars performance was amazing for its time, and is still amazing today, combining this performance with admirable levels of reliability. The performance factor will certainly keep enthusiasts interested in this car.
4. Limited production numbers and limited market availability:
As with all of the cars we discuss in our top 5, the W124 500E is an extremely rare car by modern production standards. Less than 10,500 500E’s were produced, and therefore many less grace our roads today. In addition to this already small production run, the 500E was only available in a small number of markets, which interestingly included the UK and Japan. I note these two nations in particular, as they are both Right hand drive countries, whilst the 500E was only available in left hand drive. It seems that Mercedes managed to convince the authorities in both nations that this car should be sold there despite the steering wheel being on a different side.
The majority of 500E’s reside in Germany, where approximately 5,500 cars were sold. However, these cars are likely to now be dispersed further throughout Europe, or perhaps have made their way to other continents. The USA in particular has an appetite for these cars, as it only received around 1,500 from the factory, making them exceptionally rare in a huge car enthusiast market. As for the Australian market, Mercedes Benz forums indicate that there are currently less than three in the country that are known of, all of which were personal imports.
The 500E is such a desirable car, and the numbers it was produced in will never satisfy the expected growth in demand in the near future. Although the cars availability in limited markets should have made the car less famous, the exact opposite occurred. The 500E is world renowned, and such low production numbers in a pool of demand will surely see prices increase over the years to come, including within right hand drive countries.
Why is the 500E in position 5?
Like its 560sec counterpart, the lack of a specific motorsport link is an issue. All other cars in our top 5 have a thoroughbred racing link (such as group A rallying), and perhaps this is the biggest influence on our positioning of the 500E. Like the 560SEC, the 500E had limited motorsport experience or success, and focussed more on providing road going performance and luxury. Despite the 500E never racing, Its engine was built by Porsche, who after all have one of the most successful racing histories of all brands. The influence of Porsche on this car puts it well ahead of its competition performance wise. This is enough of a racing link to allow us to include the 500E in position 5.
The other factor influencing the car clearly has to be its appearance. For many people, investing in a classic car is as much about looks as it is all other factors combined. The close link between the standard W124s appearance and that of the 500E does hold it back a bit as people see it as too conservative or conventional. As far as we are concerned, the styling of the W124 is timeless, and the stance of the 500E is certainly assists in giving it a sporting edge. Not everyone will agree with that, and this has been made clear from various online sources, and has therefore been taken into account in positioning this car.
Verdict and conclusion:
The performance and quality of the 500E is first class, however, the competition in the top 5 is too intense for the 500E to be ranked any higher than position 5 out of our top ten cars. Many will disagree, and if so, please comment on the article below, as we would like to hear your opinions. The availability of the 500E from around 9,000 Euro’s at the time of writing this article surely suggests that this car has hit its price floor. The factors discussed above suggest that the market will soon begin to recognise the significance of this car, and values should increase accordingly.
Shortly, Classic Register will be launching an identification guide for the 500E and other cars in our top ten list of affordable future classics. If you are thinking of purchasing a 500E, like our facebook page and keep an eye on our website for this new feature, which should assist any prospective purchaser, enthusiast or restorer.
I hope you have found this article interesting and informative. Please feel free to comment on the article below, and please share Classic Register with others if you think they might find our site interesting and useful (note that you must register with us to comment). Shortly, we will be publishing our article on car number 4 in the top 10 affordable future classic cars from the 80’s and 90’s, the famous world rally champion Toyota Celica GT-Four. To see our other articles, click here.
The Classic Register team.