Back in the early 1990s, Porsche had a big problem, it just completed the huge engineering project to build the 959 supercars but continued to have sales issues. The large R&D facilities and factory built for the 959 supercars lay dormant creating a financial drag on the company that it could not handle for long. In an effort to generate some revenue, a loose partnership was formed with their neighbor Mercedes to turn the W124 sedan into the companies first sports sedan. This unlikely partnership not only helped to save Porsche but it gave the world the 500E, the greatest sedan Porsche ever built.
The Mercedes 500E started life as a 300E but received numerous upgrades to turn this respectable sedan into a rocket. Production started when Mercedes shipped the W124 chassis to the Zuffenhausen factory to receive 18 days worth of upgrades. The hand-built sedans that emerged from Zuffenhausen laid the groundwork for every future Mercedes performance sedan, and its basic formula is still in use today.
The extensive upgrades required to create the 500E took the expertise of Porsche’s finest engineers and some careful raiding of the Mercedes parts bin. To start Porsche fit the M119 5.0Liter V8 from the 500 SL with, an upgraded fuel injection system, to bump up the power to an impressive 322 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque. This new found power meant a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds which, is very impressive for a 3,700lb sedan with an antiqued 4-speed slushbox. To accommodate this new larger engine the rest of the car received numerous tweaks like a battery relocation to the trunk and a revised lowered suspension. Stopping power came from the 500 SL’s 4-piston front calipers and larger rear discs ensuring this heavy sedan could be hauled down from its limited top speed of 155mph with ease.
In addition to drivetrain changes the 500E had a unique interior and exterior that subtly distinguished it from its lowly siblings. Porsche added fender flares to accommodate the larger wheels needed for the 500 SL brakes and aided in handling thanks to their larger footprint. Other than the fender flares, the exterior was relatively unchanged making this car difficult to distinguish from a base model, the reserved exterior styling made it a legendary sleeper when it came out and earned the nickname “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”. The interior received leather-trimmed Recaro front and rear bucket seats but little else was changed in the interior.
Only 10,000 examples of this limited edition sedan were built between 1990-94, with a few special order models built in 1995. Of the 10,000 only 1,500 examples were imported in the United states making them very difficult to find on the used market. The current market price for a good one is a reasonable $25,000, which is a small price to pay for hand built Porsche sedan and a piece of Mercedes heritage.
The 500E was a very important car for Mercedes and its impact can still be seen in their performance cars of today. The 500E was not a sharp handling sedan like the M5 it directly competed with, instead of building a sports sedan Mercedes built a missile. This large sedan with its massive V8 under the hood was meant to cruise at high speeds for extended periods of time on the autobahn rather than carve up your favorite back road. It laid the groundwork for Mercedes products we love today and helped Porsche survive through tough financial times making this a very important car for both companies. The 500E should always be remembered as the genesis of all fast Mercedes sedans and the savior of Porsche.