In the last few years, E30 M3 prices have been skyrocketing. Now even run down high mileage examples are regularly fetching more than 15 to 20k with pristine low mileage examples sometimes bringing in more than 60 grand. If the prices keep on rising at this rate, the E30 M3 will have disappeared into the realm of unaffordable dreams before I am even old enough for a drivers license. This prompted me to curl up in the corner of my room and quietly shed some tears. After recovering from this episode, I decided that I couldn't just ignore the rising prices of wonderful eighties cars which I will unfortunately never be able to afford unless I win the lottery. So I set out to find an eighties homologation car which I might still be able to afford someday. After countless hours (minutes) of research I stumbled upon a craigslist ad for a Mercedes 190E Cosworth at the amazing price of 7500$. At first I thought it was probably just a scam, but after seeing plenty more listings at similar prices I realized that this was the norm.
A little history on the 190E 2.3 Cosworth:
In the late 1970's Mercedes wanted to replace the heavy V8 powered R107 Coupes which they were rallying with something lighter and nimbler. The 190E, being the smallest car in the Mercedes stable at the time, seemed fit for the job. To supply the Baby-Benz with adequate power, they called up the British racecar engineering company Cosworth to work their magic on the M102 2.3 liter 8 valve four cylinder engine already fitted to the standard 190E. In full rally guise the engine was said to produce about 320bhp and have twice as many valves. Mercedes Benz was going all out on the development, patenting a hyper-sophisticated 5-link rear suspension to make use of all that power. They were pouring all their funds into making the 190E a WRC champion, and a WRC winning car needs a WRC winning driver, so Walter Roehrl was going to do the driving. The emphasis being on was going. Shortly before the project was completed, the Audi Quattro was released. The turbocharged all-wheel drive monster made the Baby-Benz appear hopelessly outclassed. As you can imagine, this angered the management board very much, so much infact that they instituted a company wide ban on motorsports.
Despite this unfortunate event, Mercedes engineers weren't about to give up on the 190E, since they already invested so much money in the development of the engine. Instead they adapted it for DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft) racing. But there was a catch (actually two, but i'll get to that in a second), cars racing in the DTM had to be based on a road going model, so Mercedes put into series production a detuned version of the 2.3 Cosworth. The roadgoing version, while not quite as fast and crazy was still quite peppy with 182 hp and a 7100 rpm redline. The car also featured a dogleg pattern Getrag transmission, Recaro seats (yes I know you can get Recaros in Fiesta nowadays, but back then it was something special) and a subtle bodykit (which back in the day was criticized by magazines for being too aggressive and boy-racerish) to reduce the 190E's aerodynamic lift by almost half. Now onto the second catch: Well, the Motorsport ban which I mentioned earlier was still in place, so to get the little Cozzie-Benz on the track the Mercedes engineers had to get creative. Instead of racing it themselves they assisted independent DTM teams and helped them with fine tuning the cars. One of those teams was AMG, which later became Mercedes' in-house tuning firm. The 2.3 Cosworth was extremely successful in DTM racing. So successful in fact, that BMW took notice and gave their E30 the ///M treatment. Yes, you read that right, without the 190E Cosworth the E30 M3 would have probably never existed. In the end, the E30 M3 proved to be the slightly better car, garnering marginally more DTM wins than the little Cozzie.
So why should I purchase a 190E 2.3 Cosworth?
The Cosworth tuned Baby Benz presents an excellent value in todays classic car market. Prices are still quite low, so low in fact, that 15k will get you a pristine low-mileage example. Just like in full-on DTM racing guise, the production 190E Cosworth was not quite as good as the E30 M3. Despite the fancy self-leveling 5-link suspension, it was plagued with excessive body-roll and some testers felt that the gearbox in the 2.3 Cosworth was not quite as good as the one in the M3 (even though they were basically the same Getrag unit). But if you can look past those things and live with the fact that your car will always be in the shadow of the E30 M3, you can buy a car with nine-tenths the performance of an E30 M3 for a quarter of the price of an E30 M3.
Actually, the 190E 2.3 Cosworth is a horrible car: It is slow, doesn't handle well, and lacks box flares. Go buy an E30 M3! Leave the Cozzies alone, and affordable for me.