Arman Mariano's Mercedes Benz E320 wagon has an undeniable presence on the road. When's the last time you saw a bagged E-Class wagon as clean as this?
Arman already had a collection of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, but he decided he wanted something a little different—a roomy Benz that would turn heads everywhere he went. So, in 2017, he found a new car to add to his Mercedes fleet—this 1995 Mercedes-Benz E320 Estate. Despite the fact that Arman frequently drives his car to events all around Southern California, it’s kind of surprising that there aren’t more wagon builds.
There was a time that families in the United States loved the wagon. It was the ultimate road-trip car, a family hauler, and a utility vehicle that American families needed in the 1960s. They were considered cool, even to hot-rodders and muscle car enthusiasts. Then, one unfortunate day in the 70s, station wagons suddenly became too family friendly and boring and disappeared from the scene.
Add to that, films like “National Lampoon’s Vacation” made the wagon into a joke instead of the awesome-mobile we’d seen it as just a couple of decades prior. We can even blame the Malaise Era, with their boring sedan-based wagons rather than big, V8 muscle-wagons we loved, too. You know, the underpowered, fuel crisis era cars from 1972 to 1983 that basically killed the muscle car until recently.
Overseas, particularly in Europe, station wagons had a whole other appeal. They were better known as “Estates,” and why Arman’s E320 is named that way. The word, specifically “estate car,” comes from what they were typically used for. They would carry people and luggage from a country estate to the nearest train station. Estates also have a specific design and why a three-door can’t be called such. An Estate must be a two-box design, four-doors, with a tailgate or lift gate at the back.
“Two-box” refers to how a vehicle is sectioned off between the engine, passenger compartment, and cargo area. A sedan is three-box because the engine, passenger compartment, and cargo area are self-contained and none of the spaces occupy each other. An estate and three-door car are two-box because the passenger area and cargo areas are open to each other while the engine is not. Yes, there is such thing as a “one-box,” and the 1997 to 2004 Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a perfect example as its A-pillars are so far forward that the engine compartment is shared with the cabin, though covered. So, yes, the classic 70’s van with its dog house engine cover and minivans are also considered “one-box” for exactly that reason.
Over in Europe, these Estates were as popular as ever, and that was especially true for the German marques. For Mercedes, it didn’t start as a factory-made design. Instead, in 1965 the Importateur des Moteurs et d'Automobiles (IMA) made a conversion of the 230S knock-down kit for Belgium to create an Estate version. It stayed that way until tariffs were reduced by the European Economic Community (EEC) 1973.
With the reduction of those tariffs and the popularity of estate cars, Mercedes began building their own as it made more financial sense. The 1978 W123T would become the first factory-made estate for Mercedes, and their popularity hasn’t stopped since.
In California, the W124 chassis is iconic in its association with the Malibu-types during its run from 1986 to 1995. If you were a preppy girl being dropped off at the high-dollar private school in the late 1980s to mid-1990s, you were in a W124 wagon. At least, that’s what Hollywood made it seem like.
Despite that, this car was worth the want and attention it got. Like much of what Mercedes puts out, it functioned very well for how it was built. This was the staple of an estate car, and it did its job as a good German car does. It had more than enough room for people and luggage, so much so that you could even hide things behind the cargo panels, and you wouldn’t know because there is still room left over.
That’s not a custom panel in the trunk, that’s where the spare tire once lived. It’s now home to the dual Viair compressors and air tank for the air ride, managed by an AirLift 3P Air Management System.
So, yes, the Slam Series Bags are what gives this E320 Estate its stance, but it’s still very functional when you raise it up. Commonwealth Motoring Custom Control Arms and Silver Project Adjustable Camber Arms keep the wheels pointing in the right direction, no matter how low Arman drops this S124.
Tucked under the perfect front fenders are a set of BBS RS wheels in 17x8.5 (+35 offset) up front. Arman had to remove the plastic fender liner and cut the inner fender lip off in order to drop the car this low while still using wheels wide enough to make jaws drop.
In the rear, 17x9.5 (+35 offset) rear wheels with super fat BBS stepped lips grab attention from onlookers, with perfectly mirror polished outer lips and pristine mint condition black hardware and matching black lug center caps satisfying the pickiest of fanatics with supreme attention to detail.
Heck, even the third-row, rear-facing seats are still here, and you’d never know it until they were popped out. The “7-seater” models featured a flush luggage compartment cover over those folding seats, so again, this isn’t a custom job but a well-thought-out design by Mercedes. The cargo net is retractable when it’s not needed and originally an optional part up until 1994 for the US, and it’s nice to see this one in working and near perfect order.
Inside is perfectly stock, darn near restoration level. The only deviation from Mercedes is the use of the cellphone holder. Arman uses an app on his cellphone to lower and raise the car.
Yes, that’s 241-thousand-miles on the odometer. That’s means this car has just been broken in, as these E320s pretty much run forever with proper maintenance and regular fluid changes.
Sitting immediately in front of the driver is a beautiful, wooden Nardi Gara 3 steering wheel. It’s a perfect match for the factory wood paneling inside this gorgeous E320.
The twenty-four-year-old seats are in still perfect condition with supple factory gray leather, without a tear in sight. That's quite an achievement for a vehicle that's been driven over 240,000 miles—it's just a testament to the fact that Mercedes builds vehicles that last and the fact that Arman and the previous owner of this E-Class took excellent care of the car.
To make the exterior look immaculate, Arman had the car fully repainted by Michael’s Body and Paint in Fullerton, California. It’s the same factory 199-code Black Pearl Metallic that was used on the legendary Mercedes Benz hammers, and the entire car was meticulously re-shot and clear-coated for an extra dimension of shine.
The M104 engine used on Arman’s E320 is the 3.2-liter, M104.992. Unless you’re familiar with Mercedes naming schemes, you probably only just realized that the “320” is the displacement. However, what makes the M104.992 interesting is that it has a lower compression ratio at 9.2:1. It makes around 228-horsepower and 229lb-ft of torque in its stock form, however with some minor tuning and the intake manifold from the M104.994 (Mercedes W140-chassis S320) can net another 3-horsepower and torque. On top of that, the original M104.900 was a 2.8-liter VW VR6. It was the M104.98s where Mercedes finally made its own inline-six to replace the M103.
For a car that you’re dailying, the M104.992 does very well so long as you don’t over-rev it or overheat it. Leaks tend to come from a head gasket or front timing cover that, over time, begins to leak oil. That being said, it’s a reliable engine that isn’t over-powered. It makes for a great daily driver engine.
One interesting detail from the engine bay is the fact that Arman swapped out the factory strut tops with units from Silver Project so he could lower the car more but still have adequate suspension travel. He mentioned that people wanting to duplicate his setup could also use strut tops from an R129 Mercedes if they wanted.
He also has short stroke Bilstein HD shocks up front, and Bilstein B8 shocks in the rear to make this wagon ride well. There's no reason for a super low car to ride too stiffly, especially if it's something as prestigious looking as an E-Class wagon.
Arman Marino has been working at Mercedes Benz USA for over a decade now, and he can use new company-owned vehicles if he wants to. However, since he is devoted to the brand, he owns a small personal fleet of Benzes and chose to buy this E-Class Estate because he wanted something utilitarian over an SUV.
We think his 1995 E320 S124 is a great example of why the Estate should never die. It’s a great hauler that you can make look good or even make into a European muscle car. We’d love to see this trend continue and hopefully, we will.
Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you like this wagon, you can find additional Mercedes-Benz content at mercedes.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, 90s hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to several racetracks and automotive museums in Europe. He is currently devising a plan to return to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and drive the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS