The Panamera is not the first sedan Porsche has ever made. Years before, the company built the Type 2758, more commonly known as the Mercedes-Benz 500E. This is based on the W124 generation (1985 to 1996) of the three-pointed star's ever-popular premium midsize sedan.
After the 959 and 928 models ceased production, Porsche needed to drum up some business to keep its line in Rossle-Bau, Zuffenhausen from falling idle. It just so happened that Mercedes-Benz wanted something with appeal to drivers who weren't chauffeurs or popes. The answer was a Porsche-fettled E-Class, the stealthiest of stealth sport sedans.
This was a time when the AMG tuning house was still an independent company and its great claim to fame was the "Hammer," based, again, on the W124 and powered by a rudely muscular V8 to reach a top speed of 190 mph. The 500E (whose proper code number is W124.036; some people like this stuff) went for more modest engine power but could still hit 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, which was fast in those days.
Propulsion comes from M-B's M119 engine. Also energizing the Mercedes-Benz 500SL, it's a 5.0-liter V8 renowned for its ability to cover half a million kilometers without skipping a beat, as long as it's maintained properly. Remember, this is the era when Mercedes-Benz over-engineered everything. Variable valve timing on the intake side helps to make 322 hp.
A four-speed transmission isn't such a downside. The strength and elasticity of the engine's 354 lb-ft of torque make this gearbox easy to live with. That drive goes to the rear wheels turned by an R126 axle.
The brakes also came from the 500SL, with 11.8-inch ventilated front disks bitten by four-piston calipers. Rear discs are 10.9 inches and ventilated, regardless of model year.
It's generally not easy to tell a Mercedes-Benz 500E from the rest of its W124 brethren, even though a lower front lip helps make a distinction. A wider track (by 1.5 inches), along with wider wheels and tires, means larger flares above the wheelwells. The car left the factory with 16-inch alloy wheels; the regular models had 15-inchers. And thanks to a suspension re-tuned by Porsche (using Bilstein shock absorbers), the 500E sits 0.9 inches lower than standard.
Jamming a V8 into the engine bay left no room for the battery, so that was relocated to the trunk.
To sit in one of the four leather-covered Recaro seats (the fronts are heated) is to enjoy a serene wood-trimmed cabin where one could almost be oblivious to the quickly gathering momentum if one neglected to check the speedometer. Only slightly worrying is the fact that some early versions didn't have any airbags.
Each car is virtually handmade and took 18 days to build. Compare that with the three days required to build a regular W124 E-Class. Completion rate was an average of 10 cars a day.
The basic bodies in white came out of Mercedes-Benz's Sindelfingen plant, headed to Porsche's Rossle-Bau line at Zuffenhausen, just to the north of Stuttgart, for structural mods. Then back to Sindelfingen for painting and rustproofing. And finally back to Rossle-Bau (where the Audi RS2 Avants were later made) to receive the drivetrain, chassis, and interiors.
More than 10,000 examples were produced, with 1,500 or so going to the United States. If you ever see an E500 Limited with an even plusher interior, that was the final run of 12 cars made for Switzerland. There's an ultra-rare E60 AMG version of the Mercedes-Benz E500 packing a 381hp 6.0-liter version of the M119 V8, with an AMG suspension and AMG twin-outlet exhaust.
The name went from 500E to E500 for the 1994 model year face-lift that applied to the whole E-Class range. The E500 now took the 12.6-inch front brake discs from the SL600. Sadly, 1994 U.S.-spec models also saw a 7hp downturn; blame emissions regulations.
As well as looking out for the usual stuff-bashed alloy wheels, general signs of abuse, uneven tire wear, whether the heavy seller has ruined the cushioning of the driver's seat, etc.-possible buyers should also be aware of some other specific things. The main problem seems to be the engine wiring harness, an issue shared with many Mercedes-Benz cars from this period. The wires were sheathed in materials that were supposed to be environmentally friendly, but they sure turned out to be less than driver-friendly by disintegrating and causing electrical shorts. The ignition control module has also been known to fail on rare occasions.
Earlier 1992 models had Brembo aluminum calipers. When the brake pads wore down, the system would start making a noise. Cars from later in the year (and 1993) had heavier iron calipers supplied by ATE that never had such a problem. With a car that's both powerful and heavy (3,850 pounds), substantial brake wear is unavoidable. A change of rotors every 60,000 miles or so would be a good call.
And think about rebuilding the transmission every 150,000 miles. The rear suspension is a self-leveling setup that stands the rigors of time and use.
The Becker 1432 audio system in the 500E has a reputation for patchy quality; E500 models received a 10-speaker Alpine system that was definitely a step up.
Kelley Blue Book values a good-condition '94 E500 with 100,000 miles on the clock at $11,746. But things are never that simple in the world of collector cars, which the 500E/E500 is fast becoming. Expect to pay around $30,000 or more for a low-mileage example in great shape. A quick web search unearthed a '93 500E with 50,300 miles going for $49,900.
Tech Spec1991-1994 Mercedes-Benz 500E/E500
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
5.0-liter, dohc, 32-valve, V8, Bosch electronic port fuel injection
Struts, coil springs, antiroll bar (f); multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
322 hp @ 5,700 rpm ('91-'93); 315 hp @ 5,700 rpm ('94)
354 lb-ft @ 3,900 rpm