As I sat down to write this article, my husband took one look at the header image of the Mercedes-Benz 500 E and didn’t hesitate to ask, “Can I have one?” And on today, the car’s 30th birthday, it’s time to look back at the history of this Porsche-designed Daimler-Benz AG creation that had folks gaping when it hit the floor at the Paris Auto Show—straight from two of the people who were involved in its design and production.
But first, the specs. It was designed to house a V8 four-valve engine with a displacement of five liters from the 500 SL. It boasted a zero to 62mph time of just 6.1 seconds courtesy of its 322 horsepower and a maximum torque of 354 lb.-ft. Its top speed was electronically limited to 155 mph—and who knows what the four-door saloon could have achieved if it has been let loose.
That, though, wasn’t the point of the 300 E. The purpose was performance paired with comfort, so that you could enjoy speed from the comfort of, essentially, an armchair. As Mönig notes, ““Plenty of power, but without being ostentatious, both dynamic and luxurious at the same time. The 500 E is not a showy vehicle. It represents pure understatement, and catches the eye only at second glance.”
To celebrate the anniversary of the gorgeous machine, Porsche paired Michael Hölscher, Project Manager Development and Michael Mönig from Prototype Management together for a chat as they took the 300 E for a drive on a route that started and ended at the Porsche Museum. Because, of course, Porsche was awarded the development contract by Daimler-Benz AG, who didn’t want to undertake model upgrade challenges at its own facilities.
Porsche, at the time, was facing a crisis since it was facing a decline in revenue as a result of a loss of sales. So, when Porsche had this 300 E opportunity, it started off by producing 10 models per day, then increased it to 20, until its formerly empty Reutter building was in full swing.
From Mercedes’ press release:
Hölscher remembers, ““Thirty years have passed, and a lot has happened in the automotive industry in that time. Yet even today, the 500 E has nothing to hide. Its handling is magnificent. The longitudinal acceleration is excellent, the brakes are outstanding and it’s a pleasure to drive this car with its dynamic character. I really enjoy the beautiful and unobtrusive sound of the eight-cylinder engine.”
Production of demonstration vehicles helped Mercedes-Benz to take the decision to go into series production. “We planned development of the 500 E here and worked hard to make it possible to fit the large engine into the comparatively small vehicle,” recounts Hölscher. In order to achieve better weight distribution, the battery was moved out of the engine compartment and was installed at the rear right of the luggage compartment. The brake and exhaust systems were significantly modified, and the wings and bumper trim at the front and rear were revamped. The eight-cylinder engine breathed through the gap surrounding the two headlights so that it had a plentiful supply of air. With a 90 per cent development share, Porsche was responsible for practically all work that was necessary for integration of the drive and vehicle components.
“The collaboration with colleagues at Mercedes-Benz was very respectful, focused and on equal terms and was based on a great desire for success,” Mönig remembers. One key moment for him was the first day, he says, when he drove to the Sindelfingen site with his colleagues and numerous prototype parts. “That was very special.”
A gorgeous legacy for a gorgeous car.