- 25 Min Read
- By: Danny Kruger
Reimagining The 'Golden Era' Of DTM Racing: Mercedes 190E 2.0-16 Build Thread
By toeing the line between historical success and modernized engineering, we often see some of the greatest automobiles of all time flourish; acknowledging the greats of history and building upon their blueprint captures the spirit of a car built by the enthusiast, for the enthusiast.
Here at FCP Euro, we’re always appreciative of the time period we’re living in as automotive enthusiasts. Cars are making more power than ever, more efficiently than they ever have, and are doing so more reliably and for longer than we could have ever dreamed of only a few decades ago.
Through our admiration of vehicles past and adoration of where we’ve arrived, we began thinking: What would it look like if we took the heart of a modern monster and mixed it with the spirit of one of the greatest periods of worldwide motorsport history?
Enter FCP Euro’s project “190E 2.0-16.” At the surface level, our goal is fairly straightforward. Take a Mercedes-Benz 190E bought off of Facebook Marketplace and turn it into the ultimate modernized tribute to the most ludicrous period in Germany’s “DTM” racing series by using some of the latest technology out of Stuttgart.
My name is Danny Kruger, and I’m FCP Euro’s resident Mercedes enthusiast and longtime Silver Arrow-tinkerer. Over the next few months, I’ll be detailing everything involved with FCP Euro’s creation of the ultimate Mercedes 190E in this thread, from the big wins and developments to the tribulations of trying to re-engineer a modern drivetrain into an old shell and everything in between. This series will be documented in detail on our YouTube channel, but I’m here to provide the granular details and specifics of how we’ll be getting this car to maximize its potential through the lens of a die-hard Mercedes enthusiast.
Be sure to check back every week as I'll be updating this thread regularly. If you want to learn even more about the build, visit goldenera.fcpeuro.com.
Building the Ultimate Evolution
When it came to selecting a chassis for our ultimate DTM tribute build, it didn’t take us long to select the W201 190E as our starting point for the build. The legacy of the Mercedes 190E paints the perfect depiction of late-1980s DTM war-room engineering (something we’ll be detailing at length in our Youtube Series). We as a company also have a bit of an adoration towards Mercedes in motorsport as well; see our current IMSA AMG GT4 twins, or our factory-manual W204 C300 that we built for AER endurance competition a few years ago.
With our chassis settled, we came to a more difficult selection; a proper driveline for our build.
To encapsulate the spirit of the venerable Cosworth-tinkered M102 four-cylinder of the 1980s, we needed a modern powerplant that could provide a similarly strong powerband and could produce similar power figures and driving dynamics, but with one key difference; a robust design.
The engines of “Golden Era” DTM competition were incredible in their own right, but were effectively manufactured as disposables to set the quickest flying laps or stints possible. We were shooting to fully encapsulate the spirit of those race-ready M102s, with enough reliability added to even make the car streetable should we choose to do so; effectively, we wanted a turn-key racecar that could fuel at the pump and could be maintained with parts off of our shelves.
With all of these concerns in mind, we unanimously came to the AMG-tuned M133 four-cylinder. Sold in the US market in either the X156 GLA 45 AMG or the C117 CLA 45 AMG, the fierce four-cylinder briefly held the title for the most powerful mass-produced four cylinder before being superseded for the title by its younger brother, the current M139.
If you’re a die-hard DTM fan, you’ll likely be yelling at your screen right now. The M133 fails to satisfy the 2.3/2.5L displacement requirement, it uses forced induction, and is entirely outside of the rulebook present in the “Golden Era.” We’re aware of it too.
But hear us out for a moment.
The Cosworth-contracted 2.3-16 (as well as the later 2.5-16) M102 variant was a neat piece of machinery. Beginning life as an eight-valve workhorse in more pedestrian M102-equipped 190E 2.3 models, legendary engine builder Cosworth was contracted to improve internals, build the head, and allow the class-sized four cylinder to breathe appropriately as a good DTM car was supposed to. The resulting M102 in full DTM competition trim would see nearly 350 horsepower at its peak in 2.5L, “Evo II” application. In the roadgoing iteration of the 2.5L Evolution II, we saw a maximum of 235 horsepower at a lofty 7200 RPM and a peak torque figure of over 180 ft-lbs at an equally-lofty 5000 RPM.
Returning to the M133 we deemed suitable to live a second life, we find some interesting similarities. The M133 began life as something rather pedestrian, sharing a 2.0L block with both the M270 and M274 four-cylinders (both effectively the same engine when boiled down to the block, with the former being a “transverse” application for front-drive-biased vehicles, and the latter for rear-drive applications). The M133 specifically shares the most in common with the M270, as both target the same drivetrain blueprint (the M270 serves as a pedestrian, workhorse-type offering in common models such as the GLA250 and CLA250). For a performance application in the GLA45 and CLA45, the M270 was worked in-house to include an upsized turbocharger, forged internals, a larger throttle body, and generally better respiration…which wasn’t all that far off from a modernized approach at the work Cosworth did to the M102, albeit with forced induction serving as the key differentiating factor. The result is about 375 horsepower in standard trim for the M133, peaking at a lofty 6000 rpm. More notable, perhaps, is the torque figure; 350 ft-lbs at only 2250 RPM. The M133 spools its turbo quickly for a boosted punch of torque down low, and then carries its powerband upwards in an almost naturally-aspirated manner.
Despite being different in nearly every way, the M133 became the obvious choice for our modernized approach to the 190Es of DTM heritage. And thus, the “190E 2.0-16” was born.
Watch it come together on Episode 2 of the project, live on 8/25/2022!
With the spirit of the project decided upon, we set out to source the main ingredients for the ultimate modernized “Golden Era” tribute. Before long, we had two of the more crucial boxes ticked; Nate found a well-loved and rust-free 190E up in Rhode Island that had resided in California for decades, and I located an X156-chassis GLA 45 AMG partout down in New York.
With the arrival of the two main pieces of the puzzle, we set to work planning our build. We came to the discussion of three primary areas of focus to get our build started.
As our first order of business, we needed to decide on what gearbox would be transferring the power from our M133 to the rear axles. Numerous ideas were floated, ranging from a straight-cut dogbox for a true motorsport feel, to attempting to fit the factory-equipped and rapid AMG dual-clutch.
Our plans for this build ultimately dictated our decision. While we wanted the 190E 2.0-16 to be as proficient around a racetrack as possible, we also wanted the car to remain true to the spirit of DTM…and possibly even streetable.
Parts diagrams from overseas mentioned an M274-powered W205 running a Mercedes manual transmission from the factory, and we began to theorize that our M270-based AMG M133 engine likely shared the same bolt pattern. As Mercedes isn’t exactly known for producing a plethora of manual boxes, we dropped the 716.6 6-speed out of our factory-equipped W204 C300 we prepared for AER competition some years ago. We had theorized correctly and it was near enough to a direct bolt-on, matching the bolt pattern of the M270-based M133.
Our path was clear; our vintage Mercedes with a modern heart would be a row-your-own, courtesy of a gearbox of appropriate lineage.
The factory geometry of the old W201 chassis can actually be considered “motorsport-grade.” The rear multi-link suspension layout (the first of its kind) wasn’t particularly adjustable in standard trim, but provided excellent road-handling and consistency through cornering load. Similarly, the front suspension was more than adequate for performance demands with a MacPherson layout still used in most cars today. The biggest hang-up, we found, was the layout of the 190E’s front MacPherson design.
While most cars using this type of front suspension have a coil-on-strut layout, the W201-chassis (and many other Mercedes from this time period until the early 2000s) use a spring located alongside the strut, sandwiched between a perch on the control arm and a bucket on the body itself.
For our motorsport-targeted build, we elected to ditch this design in favor of a modern “true coilover” MacPherson with the coil spring position atop the shock absorber. We also elected to run the exact same Bilstein Clubsport front coilovers as used on our W204 AER C300 competition build, using the W204 C63 steering knuckle and hub as a lower mounting point. This was effective in two manners; our front suspension layout was now solved for, and we had now switched our steering rack pickup from the rear to the front of the knuckle. As we had decided we would be cutting the front crossmember and removing the steering box for easier fitment of the M133, we could now run an E46 M3 power steering rack to work with the tie rod mounting points on the C63 hub.
We were then able to completely remove the front spring bucket, allowing for a massive increase in space within the wheel well, providing us the option of utilizing C63 braking artillery on our new hubs. Rounding out the suspension at the rear, we opted to maintain the factory rear multi-link, albeit utilizing Ground Control rear arms for complete adjustability as well as Garagistic solid aluminum subframe bushings.
With our W204 C63 hubs came an easy solution for our braking equipment, as the stellar factory C63 6-piston fixed caliper and massive 360mm factory discs were now a direct bolt-on option for our 190E 2.0-16. Rather than running ABS, we elected to run the car as it would’ve in the period; raw, organic, and entirely in the hands of the driver. Adding a Tilton pedal box helped to allow for more driver modulation to compensate for this, and also allowed us to upsize our brake master cylinder rather easily; with a custom bracket for the factory 190E knuckles, we would be able to run C63 calipers on all four corners. At nearly half the weight of the vehicle that its braking equipment was sourced from, the 190E 2.0-16 will have substantially more bite than its DTM ancestors would have dreamed of.
With our key pillars situated, we prepared ourselves to move forward and create the ultimate evolution of the Mercedes 190E.
Making it Happen
With some of our key points of concern sorted, we began the daunting task of actually piecing together the ultimate evolution of the Mercedes 190E.
As with any build series videos you can find on the internet, we had a lot of tricky solves and behind-the-scenes, labor-intensive jobs under the hood to knock out in order to get the car running in top form.
The M274 oil pan swap bought us a bit of space underneath our M133 to make it fit in the antiquated chassis, but as mentioned earlier, the front crossmember ultimately had to come out to position the engine as low as we could in the bay. While this added a new hurdle to the project, it gave us an opportunity to revise and improve. We ditched the factory steering box and center link in favor of the E46 M3 power steering rack and E90 steering shaft, giving us a nice and tight ratio with sufficient feedback and modernized packaging.
While our custom crossmember bought us a lot of space and allowed us to tuck out 716.6 manual into our transmission tunnel, the blueprint of the M133 still warranted a bit of further alteration to the chassis and the engine’s design.
The M133, usually a transverse-mounted engine, would require a lot of plumbing alterations to accommodate its new layout. At FCP Euro, we were able to add a weld-on extension to the thermostat housing to route coolant in the appropriate direction from the radiator. The turbocharger, in the new longitudinal layout, faced the firewall; we took some measurements to create an adapter plate that would flip the stock twin-scroll unit on the factory M133 exhaust manifold 180-degrees, pointing the inlet of the “cold side” housing toward the front of the vehicle.
Additionally, with the rotation of the engine and the cutting happening under the hood of our W201 chassis, we needed a way to actually mount the turbo-four in the car. Nate set out welding a custom engine mount that would also act as a chassis brace, both allowing us to solid-mount the engine to the chassis and stiffening the W201 a bit further to accommodate for the cutting being done. The result was a front-mounted engine mount that bolted to the face of our M133 and tied it to both frame rails, effectively mounting the M133 while also allowing for incredibly easy removal in case we sought to pull the driveline in a pinch. As an added bonus, it looked excellent.
From there, we reached out to our local custom-fabrication automotive gurus at “SwoopsBuilt” for a couple of solves; a custom 90-degree bolt-on adapter that would allow us to retain our stock M133 intake manifold but would flip our M276 throttle body (factory equipment for the M133, to accommodate the increased airflow of the larger turbo versus the M270) towards the intercooler, as well as a completely redesigned billet oil filler neck to allow our M133 to clear the hood. While the former would simply require some careful attention to detail for bolt holes and channeling in the metal for the appropriate factory gaskets, the oil filler neck proved to be a pretty interesting piece; the factory M274 neck is a part of the PCV system, so the reduced-height billet piece was machined to be installed with factory gaskets while including a custom fitting to vent to our Radium catch can. Additionally, the quality of the fabrication at hand by the Swoops team helped to brighten up our engine bay a bit.
From the factory, the M133 uses an air-to-water intercooler system. While this is generally a pretty effective way to charge cool and to keep packaging tight, we opted to simplify the design with a massive, air-to-air intercooler. After test fitting a host of performance options off of our shelves, we decided to run with a colossal Volvo C30 intercooler courtesy of DO88 perched atop our motorsport-grade radiator. Custom brackets were welded both underneath the radiator to support it, allowing us to stack our intercooler atop our radiator behind that trademark W201 front grille. A trick stolen from our MK7 GTIs campaigned in TCRs, we intended to “box off” the intercooler from the radiator, ducting air flow directly into the cooling system rather than allowing the air to navigate organically.
With our engine loosely “installed,” we moved towards the newly-appointed 716.6 manual transmission.
The pairing of the M133 and the manual transmission seemed meant-to-be, but would still require some attention to make things work as intended and with a motorsport focus. The custom single-mass flywheel borrowed from our AER C300 had a slightly different bolt pattern, and included additional elements in its design to appease W204 electronics, which were unneeded for our M133 dual-clutch replacement plan. We reached back out to AASCO for a new single-mass flywheel to stick between the M133 and the 716.6, as well as their “Rally” twin-disc clutch package.
Outside of the bellhousing, the transmission install was pretty simple; weld together a plate to hard-mount the rear of the transmission to the tunnel, and cut a hole in the interior to run a custom extended shift linkage to a proper motorsport-grade shift assembly hard-mounted to the chassis.
While Mercedes never sold all that many manual transmissions here in the United States, we saw a fair amount of variation in their applications. From the early W203 to the late W203 C-Class, the late R170 SLK-class to the R172-Class SLK-Class, to the W204 C-Class and even the Chrysler Crossfire as well as many more, the 716.6 is actually a unit readily available in the “used” marketplace.
While the transmission remained mostly consistent throughout its many years of service, the market saw a relatively pivotal shift in the way the linkage was designed in the mid-2000s; originally using one shift cable and one solid linkage, later 716.6 linkages (pending the vehicle application) instead received two solid shifter arms. We opted to go with the latter of the options for shifter feel, choosing to fabricate our own shift arms to run from the 716.6 to our hard-mounted Coolerworx shifter.
And with that, the process of mounting the world’s first longitudinal, manually-shifted M133 was mostly solved for.
Making it Happen (Continued)
With the engine and transmission mocked up in the 190E 2.0-16, we still had a grocery list of solves to accomplish just to get the chassis ready and rolling ahead of a rapid-approaching debut at GRIDLIFE’s “Circuit Legends” at Lime Rock Park.
With the position of the engine and transmission resolved, we were ready to plan our rear axle in order to measure for a custom driveshaft. While the factory 190E 2.6L differential did contain the same snappy 3.27 ratio that the “Cossie” 190E 2.3-16 received in period, the 3.27 unit in our car was both void of limited-slip internals and under-bolstered for the amount of torque the M133 would be delivering.
While we wanted to upsize to a sturdier rear gear set, we wanted to keep the rear end ratio high in order to create an eager driving dynamic, accurately mimicking that trademark naturally-aspirated spirit of “Golden Era” DTM. To toe this line, we had to find a middle ground between a differential sized for a newer, more modern car larger than our W201 (thus being stronger) while also finding a car with a low enough power figure to command a short-ratio diff. We ultimately settled for a unit out of a 2000s W203-chassis C240, typically built to accommodate the workhorse engine of the M112 family. With a 3.46 ratio, the pairing between the torquey M133 and our six-speed box would be a voracious one still capable of settling into a comfortable street drive to (and from) the track.
Having settled on a differential, we needed motorsport-grade internals to provide motorsport-grade torque manipulation to manage the increase in power adequately. We reached out to the pros at OS Giken for a few measurements, and found that with a bit of axle manipulation to our W203 differential, we’d be able to fit their Mercedes internals inside of the W203 housing. Offering one of the best packages possible for our chassis in their “Super Lock” LSD, the OS Giken unit became the clear choice for our 190E 2.0-16.
After selecting the OS Giken unit, we were ready to solve for our rear subframe and rear suspension assembly. Ultimately, the multilink rear suspension geometry of the W201 was more than adequate for what the 190E 2.0-16 was destined to accomplish, and our C63 Bilstein Clubsport package would fit with almost no modification. While the front end was entirely redesigned and updated, the rear was simply upgraded.
To provide the desired range of adjustment, a full set of adjustable rear arms were sourced through Ground Control Suspension, and the decades-old rubber subframe bushings were ditched in favor of fully-aluminum units designed by Garagistic. Aside from some custom bracketry to accommodate our W204 C63 calipers as well as a thicker anti-roll bar, the rear end was mostly solved.
With the driveline situated, we were able to put the car in the air and take a final driveshaft measurement to link our 716.6 to our W203 differential. The typical Mercedes two-piece design was shed in favor of a one-piece carbon fiber driveshaft made for the build by The Driveshaft Shop, with custom discs on either side to accommodate the unique Mercedes three-bolt flanges on the transmission and differential. This unit promised the strength to manage the power and shock created by our new powerplant, while also weighing very little.
We were then able to work outward as our driveshaft was being fabricated and our differential was being prepared. With our E46 M3 steering rack now in place, we began to solve for its function; E90 BMW M3 inner tie rods were found to provide the extension of the E46 rack that we needed, while also maintaining appropriate threading between the rack and the W204 C63 outer tie rods and knuckle. An E90 steering shaft was also used to bring things into the cabin, providing us with control of the front wheels for the first time since the 1980s chassis was stripped down and the crossmember was chopped.
Running the C63 front knuckles provided us more than just an upgrade to a true coilover and a robust braking system. While the original 190E design used an older-style press-fit bearing, the C63 knuckle accommodated the latest bolt-in wheel bearing and hub design available from Schaeffler. This was a massive improvement for the chassis; while the antiquated design could be prone to rapid wear as the car leapt over curbs or slid around a track, the W204 design would be significantly stronger and safer, providing a motorsport-grade solution through off-the-shelf W204 parts. Coupled with a new set of Schaeffler wheel bearings in the rear for our factory subframe and knuckles, the car was a set of brakes, wheels, and tires away from a complete rolling chassis.
Ditching the factory W201 fuel tank propped vertically behind the rear seats, we set about cutting a hole in the spare well for a Radium fuel cell. A custom frame with captured nuts was welded by Nate, allowing the fuel cell to become a drop-in affair once the car returned from bodywork. Karim of KARS Engineering would be fabricating our entire wiring harness from scratch, and stopped by FCP Euro to begin picking his way through the factory Mercedes M133 loom in anticipation of the car’s return from fabrication.
On went a bruised set of wheels from our C300 to allow the chassis to move, and the car was rolled into our trailer for fabrication and paint ahead of our GRIDLIFE reveal date. Despite the car still being void of its "EVO II" widebody or its final motorsport alignment, the rolling chassis already commanded attention quite well.
With the car departing from our Milford location and left in the capable hands of JPC Fabrication for roll cage assembly and exhaust fabrication, we still had plenty of work to be done in-house.
Hoping to channel the spirit of the “Golden Era” style into equipment engineered for today, we reached out to the team at Rotiform to source a wheel light and strong enough for motorsport, but large enough to clear our massive front brakes and stylish enough to adequately capture the DTM spirit. The team recommended their “R113” wheel with some custom sizing and drilling, a six-spoke design with the exact amount of “Late-80s” flair that we sought for the build when painted gold. The wheels were ultimately measured for an 18x9 squared fitment, and were wrapped in modern Kumho Ecsta V730 tires in hopes of being able to put all of the M133’s power and torque to the ground.
As the livery continued to be finalized and fabrication on the chassis progressed at JPC in Pennsylvania, the research to fully capitalize on the car’s hand-designed potential continued as stress built ahead of Circuit Legends.
Making it Happen (Continued)
As the car rolled into JPC Fabrication fairly incomplete, their team had a fairly narrow window to get the car situated before sending it back to FCP Euro for buttoning up ahead of GRIDLIFE.
Inside of the car, much of the fabrication needed would revolve around driver safety and comfort. Ahead of the car’s departure from Connecticut, we had stripped the interior as close to bare metal as possible to assist this process; dry ice was used to remove sound deadening, the door cards and roof were gutted and cleaned, and the sunroof received a block-off plate welded in by Nate to ensure as much rigidity as we could get. This would allow for our rollcage, in theory, to be a straightforward installation.
Our roll cage was a weld-in unit that arrived from overseas, and in the end, a bit of modification was needed to fit. The JPC team chopped and spliced where necessary to make the cage fit, providing motorsport-grade crash protection as well as a secure mounting point for driver and passenger Sparco harnesses. Crucially, the team was able to tie reinforcement bars from both the front and rear strut towers into our cage, massively improving the rigidity of the old chassis while providing additional strength to the strut tower area and allowing us to mate the C63 rear dampers.
As Nate had fabricated a plate to secure the floor-mounted Tilton pedal box to, the fabrication team could also square away the driver’s final seating position in the 190E 2.0-16. This included the final mounting points of the Sparco seat bracket and Circuit II seat, as well as fixing the new steering column and shaft to put the R325 steering wheel in-reach.
Outside of the car, plenty of work was due as well. The Evo II widebody kit fresh from Vuik Motorsports overseas would require some slight fiberglass molding to fit perfectly, and would require a fair amount of cutting and chopping of sheet metal underneath to provide the maximum amount of tire clearance in the fender well. An exhaust would be custom-fabricated to run on the opposite side of the vehicle from the factory layout, as well as the appropriate intercooler piping to meet our rotated turbocharger and Swoops-fabricated throttle body neck.
After final fabrication for steering and engine mounting was completed, our team returned to JPC Fabrication to harvest the M133 from the W201 body and to bring it back to FCP Euro. First, the engine would receive a bit of a refresh; a fully revised ignition system, a freshened cooling system, and some additional tidying up to make the turbo four good as new. Once tidied up a bit and prepared for duty, we met one of our bigger challenges as we prepared to cut the block.
As a transverse-mounted, DCT-shifted blueprint originally, the factory starter motor location for the M133 would be completely incompatible with our rotated M133 and our 716.6 manual transmission, We would effectively have to cut a chunk out of the block to allow the starter motor to engage the flywheel, and would then have to run extended bolts with added collars for reinforcement to secure our starter to the block and bellhousing.
As weeks dwindled before the official reveal of the 190E 2.0-16, the DTM-inspired livery was finalized to be applied as a wrap upon the car’s return, and the chassis was prepared for a final widebody install in Pennsylvania before heading off for paint. We were projected to receive the car on the Monday ahead of GRIDLIFE, the reveal being that Thursday; the team would have a lot of work to do to make the bare shell a rolling, wrapped, and presentable chassis in just a few days to meet the deadline.
Readying for Reveal
One of the trickiest parts of installing a tribute-style aero kit is the fact that they’ll always require a bit of cutting, trimming and extending to fit a chassis perfectly. This was true for our 190E 2.0-16 and its Evo II kit, of course, with the added caveat that the original metal Mercedes fenders would have to be brought up substantially behind the fiberglass flares to accommodate the widest rubber possible. As the body shop continued to chop and grind away in preparation for paint, the 190E 2.0-16 slowly started to look like a true DTM hero.
On the night of August 14th, just five days prior to the car’s official reveal at GRIDLIFE, the 190E 2.0-16 returned to FCP Euro HQ in Milford, Connecticut. Sporting a fresh coat of white paint both inside and outside as well that period-correct Evolution II aero kit, the car certainly looked the part. We took a moment to enjoy the “clean slate” appearance of our DTM-styled W201, knowing that to hit our marks and debut the car in time, it would be wearing its Schaeffler colors in only a few hours.
With the return home of the 190E 2.0-16 came a mad dash to the finish line, as the extended FCP Euro team and friends leaned in to get the car settled as a proper rolling chassis.
The first task of the week was documenting what still needed to be accomplished, to create a checklist that would ensure completion. Areas of focus besides wrapping the car included re-fitting both front and rear glass, installing the dyed black interior panels to give the car a true “Touring Car” interior feel, completely refreshing the engine and building a stand for the engine and transmission for display at GRIDLIFE, screwing together all of the suspension to be a proper rolling chassis rather than a “transportable” chassis, installing our C63 front and rear brakes, buttoning up the interior, adjusting ride height to finally accept the Rotiform wheels with the new widebody, and a good deal more. Along the way, there would be many hands cleaning, scrubbing, painting, cutting, trimming and affixing, all to capture the massive project we’d undertaken in full.
As the hours ticked by, the shop became increasingly busy. As the glass went in, the team from RabidWraps began to affix our custom 8380Laboratories vinyl, whilst the FCP Euro team set about tidying up the engine and interior trim pieces, assembling the rear subframe for the final time with Ground Control arms and Garagistic bushings, and creating custom brackets to attach the C63 rear calipers to the standard W201 rear knuckles.
The hours ticked by as the wrap went on (the retro styling of the vinyl made for a meticulous install, the RabidWraps team nailing every corner, bend and curve), the chassis came together and the car began to look like a true DTM hero. As Thursday came close to closing out and we rolled the car out of the shop and onto the trailer for Lime Rock, it became clear that we had certainly succeeded in capturing the heart of a modern AMG with the soul from the “Golden Era.” The 190E 2.0-16 was becoming a vision realized.
The team arrived at the beautiful Lime Rock Park early Thursday evening, entering the paddock as many of the weekend’s drivers and race teams arrived to set up their stations. The trailer was dropped and the 190E 2.0-16 rolled into the sunlight and onto foreign pavement, for the first time, in its final form.
With the car stationed at the mouth of Lime Rock’s legendary “A Paddock,” the car and its modernized heart were displayed throughout the inaugural GRIDLIFE “Circuit Legends” at Lime Rock Park. As the weekend closed out with a “Circuit Legends”-themed FCP Euro Sunday Motoring Meet, the sun rose over the car as we pushed it out onto the legendary Sam Posey Straight. The next time, it would do so under its own power.
Following a successful public debut as the first episode launched for the “Golden Era” YouTube series online, the car was packed back into the trailer and returned to FCP Euro HQ in Milford. The chassis looked reasonably complete, but still required a lot of adjustment in the suspension just to make it a road-ready roller, let alone all of the wiring, fuel system routing, and braking attention required to install the M133 with the intent to fire. A lot of work remained on the horizon, but in the moment, the team acknowledged what had already been accomplished so far.
With no time for rest, the team tore back into the 190E 2.0-16 shortly after its return from Circuit Legends.
While the car was cosmetically complete, the driveline still required a fair amount of attention before the car could fire for the first time. It became apparent during the longitudinal mounting of the M133 that even with an M274 oil pan and an M274 oil pickup tube, clearance would be insufficient; while the blueprint is the same between the M270 and M274 families, it appeared that the oil pump on the front-drive variants sat slightly lower in the pan than the M274 pump. As the pickup tube would kiss the pan when using OEM parts, we elected to have a custom pickup tube fabricated, retaining the OEM oil pump flange and welding on a new tube that would clearance properly.
Outside of the oiling system, the car required plumbing for fueling, breathing and braking. Nate began to fabricate some AN fuel lines to connect from the engine bay to our trunk-mounted Radium fuel cell, and created some additional lines to omit the complicated M133 PCV system in favor of a direct route to an external Radium catch can. While the M133, M274 and M270 use a pretty novel ventilation system that successfully cuts direct-injection carbon buildup to a minimum, the complete omission of the system would help to downsize packaging, simplify the engine and its functions, and would clean things up cosmetically.
The driveline continued to be situated, as the OS Giken differential was stuffed into the W203 differential housing. To manage the transition from our W203-style differential to our W201 rear subframe, custom axles were assembled using W203 inner CV joints on W201 shafts.
Karim of KARS returned once again, both to assess some final pieces for the wiring harness install and to begin installing the PCM that would put system controls at the fingertips of the driver. Some adjustments were made around the front and rear suspension and subframe as well, to ensure that once the wiring was managed, the car would simply require a motor install and some fluids to drive out of the garage and to the track.
With the close of the first week of October, the car was coming together to the degree that a first fire-up was anticipated for the end of the month. As we waited on a wiring harness, various odds and ends were buttoned together.
Project "Golden Era" Returns - Starting and Driving the 190E 2.0-16
It’s been a while since we’ve come to you with an update on the 190E 2.0-16. The last we spoke, Project “Golden Era” had just returned from its official reveal at GRIDLIFE “Circuit Legends” at Lime Rock Park. With the build series officially hitting YouTube in-tandem with the public unveiling, a new pressure grew; finishing the car not only in time to head out West for SEMA and AAPEX, but also to wrap up the car in a manner that the car would be running, driving, and attacking the track for a series wrap. The 190E 2.0-16 was always designed to be a potent tool rather than a showpiece, and the car was still a ways from becoming the fire-breathing, potent little homage it was destined to be.
Nate and I host a "Golden Hour" Livestream, answering viewer questions and providing insight on the state of the car.
A major piece of the functionality puzzle arrived shortly before the car’s departure to AAPEX in the form of a custom wiring harness. With the car’s subsequent return to Connecticut, Karim returned to assess the one-off, and assisted as both Nate and resident FCP Euro technical mastermind Cory Calvin worked every facet of the new harness to be sure that every connection transmitted as desired and was pinned correctly. Fuel lines and brake lines were plumbed underneath the car and AN fittings began to appear in the engine bay, as the rather tasteful shell began to rapidly resemble a functional racecar even beneath its skin. As the wiring harness endeavor was a relatively tedious process (made infinitely more difficult by fiddly Mercedes-Benz plastic connectors), the gang meticulously worked through with a multimeter and a re-pinning tool…until eventually, everything seemed prepared for an attempt at a first fire. The car was filled with leftover race gas from one of our AMG GT4s, fluids went in, and the team eagerly congregated by the car as a battery was dropped in. The PDM was powered, and Karim called in remotely to set up a base map and keep an eye on things over TeamViewer in hopes of finally breathing life into the 190E 2.0-16.
The first crank is imminent.
Even hearing the car crank was an accomplishment in itself, keeping in mind the work required to do so; the starter, custom-mounted on the wrong side of the M133, was turning a custom-machined, manual-transmission flywheel through a hole we cut in the bellhousing of a transmission never before mated to this engine. With fuel pressure and oil pressure appearing healthy and the shop floor void of fluids, Karim commanded the Motec to add spark to the equation.
With all cameras on the car, it cranked, and cranked…endlessly, without firing. Fuel pressure appeared fine, and while all seemed in check, we became weary of hydrolocking on the amount of fuel entering the cylinders without ignition. The plugs were pulled and it was determined that we had fuel, but not in excess. Karim toyed with the maps a bit more, a few vacuum leaks were resealed, and some individual connectors in the harness were flipped and re-pinned, but the car was still reluctant to fire with the exception of the odd sputter amongst cranks.
As a small part of the massive performance package that the M133 offers in both the CLA45 and GLA45 AMG twins versus its standard M270/M274 cousins, the AMG variant receives an upsized throttle body (which Mercedes found in diving into the parts bin, using an M276 V6 throttle body). The throttle body that came affixed to our M133 looked as if it had seen better days, so a new replacement was ordered…but much like the rest of the project had been, the transit time on our new replacement unit had been slightly delayed. Cory and Nate had custom-wired the throttle body to function for the sake of a first start, with the intent of mounting a new one prior to actually tuning and driving the car.
The tune looked fine on Karim’s end and all systems were operating appropriately, so all parties were slightly confused. It was noted by a team member that while Nate’s inputs on the factory Mercedes gas pedal translated to movement of the throttle body, it only cooperated temporarily; snapping wide-open, and then slamming shut, even with Nate firmly planting the gas pedal on the floor. With this in mind, he feathered the pedal a bit more willingly, and after a bit more cranking, the 190E 2.0-16 roared to life for the first time.
Keeping the car alive once running proved to be a challenge, as the throttle body simply wanted to be closed at all times. Screwdrivers were inserted in an effort to hold the throttle open just enough to allow for proper combustion, but ultimately, we settled for the win; the car ran, it sounded healthy, and with the arrival of our new throttle body, it would be a dyno away from tuned.
With the installation of the new throttle body and armed with proof of concept, Karim returned back down to Connecticut once more with much more exciting intentions than ever before. Nate was able to fire the car up, warm it up and drive the 190E 2.0-16 onto the trailer on the predesigned base map. The team flocked to The Shop CT and loaded the car on the rollers, and Karim and his laptop settled into the driver’s seat to work some DTM magic.
The car left the rollers a running, driving, angry and buzzing little pocket rocket. A bit of power was gained from the slight modifications made to drop the M133 into our W201 shell, but the big triumph for the build primarily came in the form of the powerband. Power was never a priority in this project, with the featherlight chassis and short-ratio diff already serving to make the car plenty fast. The goal had always been a powerband mirroring that of the DTM cars of the 80s with the longevity and robustness of today’s engineering, and the car left the dyno with a near-flat torque curve and a strong, linear power curve to redline.
Plus, as an added bonus from the real 190E Cossies of DTM heritage, we had antilag. One of many perks of modern injection and turbocharging.
With a running, driving, and functionally safe project, the car went back into the trailer and left only days later for “The FCP Euro Proving Grounds” at Lime Rock Park. On a chilly December day, Nate and the film crew prepared for a first official shakedown of the 190E 2.0-16 under heavy driving.
As the car was worked up to temperature (with the assistance of some tape on the front grille, to block off a portion of the oversized radiator) in the cold December morning air, the soft crackles of antilag and the flutter of an oversized turbocharger permeated the hills of a quiet and still Lime Rock Park. Nate began to build pace as the fluids reached temperature, and the gorgeous Schaeffler-adorned W201 began to dance around the FCP Euro Proving Grounds. As more than just a proof of concept, the 190E 2.0-16 began to pop off some aggressively fast laps.
With a largely-successful test day under the belt, the 190E 2.0-16 was loaded back into the trailer and returned to Milford for some fine tuning. While testing was undoubtedly successful and the car performed well, finally driving the project at its limit revealed exactly what we needed to change to make the 190E 2.0-16 a proper touring car. Sway bar installation would become mandatory to maximize performance, as would a thermostat to control coolant temperature (in the case of any other cold-weather or some hot weather days), programming of the variable-flow M133 oil pump through the Motec to optimize volume, and some attention to our steering system to assure optimal performance. Additionally, some rubber would be added to the driveline and exhaust to make the car a bit more comfortable to drive.
The 190E 2.0-16 isn't finished just yet, but it is a fully-functional, fire-breathing racecar.
FCP Euro’s Mercedes Expert and longtime “Silver Arrow” tinkerer. Lover of oddball vehicles, and former owner of two 6-speed W203 C-Classes, a Kleemann-modified 5-speed R170 SLK, and a 1987 190E 2.3-16. The current owner of a daily-driven and AMG-swapped W208 CLK430, a 6-speed W203 C350, and a Honda Fit driven in GRIDLIFE’s “Sundae Cup.” ••• Instagram: @danny_playswithcars