May 24, 2010

Grey-market Mercedes-Benz 190 (W201).

It's hardly unusual to find a European-specification Mercedes-Benz in a junkyard. In the early 1980s, Mercedes-Benz chose not to import its high-zoot 500SEL to the lucrative North American market, instead concentrating on the fuel thrifty 380SEL. Thus, a number of Mercedes-Benz importers were born, mostly in port cities in California, Texas (Houston) and along the East Coast (Florida, Baltimore and New York).

These importers didn't just federalize higher-end European market Mercedes vehicles; they also concentrated on bringing over some less expensive examples that significantly undercut similar-looking models sold at Mercedes-Benz dealers in North America.

Typically, we see W123 models (usually 300Ds, but sometimes 240Ds, 230Es and 280Es) and W126 models (mostly 500SELs), as well as a number of SL roadsters.

What we don't often find are W201s - known as 190E or 190D models, depending on gasoline injected (E) or diesel (D) configuration. On a recent junkyard outing, I stumbled on two European-market 190s that had been federalized by importers - one in California (blue car), one in Texas (taxi yellow car). Both were 190Es and both were equipped with automatic transmissions. As I'm not necessarily a W201 enthusiast (although I like them well enough), I can't comment on the exact appeal of owning one - aside from the initially lower purchase price and the modern relative rarity.

The blue car is virtually identical from the exterior, although if you look closely, you'll see that the wheels are slightly different.

Open the door and you'll find roll-up windows, textile upholstery, a headlamp leveling switch and rotary knob HVAC controls.

The taxi-looking W201 is a little newer and, despite its rather downscale color scheme, it features significantly more equipment - like power windows and leather seats. It still features rotary climate control knobs, no wood trim and a headlamp leveling switch.

Outside, this car has its side repeater lamps on the fenders - a Euro-only feature that marks it as a slightly newer car than the blue one. I have to admit that I'm a little confused about these repeater lamps, however. I found them on a few European-market 190s using Google Image Search, but not all, and something about them doesn't look very OEM. Yet they seem identical to the cars I've found online. Maybe somebody can shed some light?

Unfortunately, I didn't get build dates from either car, nor was I able to snap many camera phone photos. This particular yard takes a strong stance against photography because of all the classified activity that goes on inside a junkyard. Right?

Do you have a European-market W201 in North America? Did you import one? We'd like to hear about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I /think/ side repeater lamps were required by law in some european countries, but not all. And yes, that looks like the stock one you'd find on most mercs. Manufacturers usually use the same repeater lamp across their entire model range.

Adaptations for local European markets are some times done with universal accessory parts, like the single rear fog light on some japanese cars in the 80's and 90's (essentially a square red light in the rear bumper) or the side repeaters on some cars.