She’s got that loving feeling! As a nod to its interesting history, owner number twelve Amy Kitching has named her Mercedes-Benz 190E after a character in the eighties blockbuster Top Gun. Here, she tells Charlotte Vowden why she’s besotted and reveals what’s required to pilot, push, repair and improve a rare and iconic car.
Solid, hardy and capable, the Mercedes-Benz 190E was the brand’s first attempt at a smaller saloon. With period modifications, an interesting history and a five-speed manual gearbox, this Mercedes-Benz 190E has elevated appeal.
“My parents had three daughters and we’re all into cars. I have a twin sister called Marie and a little sister called Becky and although I’m the only one that’s hands on with cars, we all have a little bit of racing instinct in us because when we drive, we drive.
I wasn’t looking for a Mercedes, I just fell in love with the Mercedes-Benz 190E and took a bit of a punt; I’m 38, I’d been sensible and got set up in life with a house, so thought it was time to buy something a bit cool.
With 108,000 miles on the clock, 11 previous owners and period modifications, I knew it was probably a bit of a rough diamond when the Mercedes-Benz 190E came up on eBay for just over two grand in April 2021, but I liked the look of its boxy squat stance, square backend and classic big headlights so bought it without going to see it. Structurally it was OK, but it had a two page list of things that needed doing when I took it for an MOT.
I’m not trained mechanically, I’m just an enthusiast, but my dad, David, can do anything. I grew up helping him work on his cars (and my grandad’s tractors) but he’s really into his Fords so I didn’t tell him when I bought E. He was surprised and thought it was shabby, but he’s really fallen for the car because he’s found it so easy to work on. He was also pleasantly surprised by the heated wing mirrors and electric windows, which have a blue tint and look good against the white paint.
When I bought the car, which is a 122bhp four-pot built in 1988, I think gut instincts were involved too. I prefer a manual and mine is a five-speed, which makes it quite rare, but I hadn’t seen any that had the same period modifications and that makes it even more special.
The car had been lowered and was fitted with part of a fibreglass replica Cosworth body kit (it had the spoiler, side skirts and rear bumper but was missing the front splitter) as well as an original modified exhaust, which is hidden – most people cut out holes and put in twin exhausts so I like the fact that the back looks nice and clean.
The 15” Centra Tuner wheels had been badly curbed and were totally wrecked but I wanted to save them so had them refurbished – which involved having the centres powder-coated and lips diamond cut polished – by a lovely guy called Greg at Top Wheels. I also had new gel badges for the centre caps made by DMB Graphics and the new chunky tyres fill the arches naturally. During the winter months I swap the Centra wheels for a set taken off a Mercedes w202 C Class.
It was on a test drive after I upgraded the suspension that I tried to do a donut for the first time, but it didn’t end well… I starved the 2.0-litre engine of oil. I nursed it back home but it was knocking and smoking like mad. I got a quote for getting the engine rebuilt but it would have been about a grand so I went on the hunt for a secondhand replacement and found a smaller 1.8-litre M102 engine (which has the same block) on Facebook Marketplace for fifty quid. We picked it up on a Saturday, put it in on the following Saturday and I was back on the road by Monday! I’ve thought about doing another engine swap and upgrading to a 230 Kompressor M111 engine out of an SLK.
My confidence has grown massively from getting hands on with the Merc and by doing so I’ve met so many people who are willing to help because I’m willing to have a go. Generally me and the Merc get a good reception – it’s quite a happy car that seems to bring a smile to everybody’s faces and I’m quite a happy person – but as a woman, and there aren’t that many of us into cars, if you’re faced with old-fashioned opinions, don’t rise to it. But, don’t be afraid to say something back as long as you have something constructive to say.
When I posted about the 190E on Facebook my old school friend Paul got back in touch because he’s got the same car. His is very classic and has a bigger 2.3-litre engine, so mine may look like a boy racer car but even when I’m foot on the floor he burns me off. I’m like, wait for me!
Together, we’ve been to loads of places in our benzies – the monthly car meet at Bridge House Farm just outside of Kirkby Lonsdale is fantastic – and have joined the Mercedes Car Club. It’s important to support these groups not just because of the technical advice they can provide but because it lets Mercedes know their older cars are still being used.
The first proper drive I had was after I’d fixed the Mercedes-Benz 190E’s wheel alignment. I live in Kendal so I took it through the Lake District and couldn’t believe how well it handled; I was chucking it around corners and it gripped the road so well. I enjoyed the freedom and experience of the power-steered rear-wheel drive as the sun was coming down and I had tunes blaring. Dad’s feedback? He thinks it has a good turning circle.
The car is known as Goose [as a tribute to the character in Top Gun] because I found loads of receipts inside it that belonged to a Private who I think lived on base at RAF Mildenhall. There are only 1000 miles between each of the 11 previous owners so I think it might have been passed between people who were part of a car club on the base.
Obviously it’s had a bit of a life – my cat Jimmy had a good nose inside the car when I got it and kept sniffing at the glove box (which I hadn’t looked in properly) and it turned out there was a little ball of cannabis in there – but I’m trying to find out more.
I feel like I’ve had the 190E for years because it’s given me a lot of good memories and experiences already; it’s part of the family. I’ll be sad when there’s nothing left to do on it because seeing it progress is fulfilling, but I’ve done too much to let somebody else have it.”
Mercedes Benz Club
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