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Cars Porsche Published by J. Doe

Tracing the story of the Mercedes-Benz 500 E, as it turns 30

Porsche was commissioned to design the fast touring saloon by what was then Daimler-Benz AG. Thirty years on, two of those involved in the project take a look back.

After impressing the public at the Paris Motor Show in 1990, the 500 E went on sale in the spring of 1991, combining the comfort of a touring saloon with the performance of a sports car.

Michael Hölscher, Project Manager Development, and Michael Mönig, from Prototype Management, last sat in the 500 E almost three decades ago. Looking at the car today, it’s almost impossible to believe that the design could be so perfect 30 years ago without CAD data. I have enormous respect for my colleagues in the body shop and especially their vision, says Hölscher as he looks the saloon over like an old friend he hasn’t seen in far too long. He and Mönig keep crouching down, marvelling at the pronounced wings – one of the features that distinguishes the 500 E from the production models of the 124 series.

In 1988, Porsche AG was awarded the development contract by Daimler-Benz AG in Untertürkheim, an outer district of Stuttgart. The technical specification laid down the requirements for “design and experimental series development of the base type W124”. The vehicle was to be equipped with the five-litre V8 four-valve engine from the 500 SL.

A superior touring car

Thirty years ago, I drove to Lake Constance with three colleagues. We spent the entire trip talking to each other. At one point, one of them looked at the speedometer and had quite a shock when he realised the needle was showing 250 km/h. We had tuned the chassis, brakes and engine to perfection, which meant a superb driving experience was guaranteed, recalls Hölscher.

With its standard four-speed automatic gearbox, the 500 E – depending on the model year – sprinted from zero to 100 km/h in just 6.1 seconds with a power output of 326 PS (240 kW) and a maximum torque of 480 newton metres. Plenty of power, but without being ostentatious, both dynamic and luxurious at the same time. The 500 E is not a showy vehicle. It represents pure understatement, and catches the eye only at second glance, Mönig says of the flagship model in the series.

The body assembly line in the Reutter building

“The order was very important for us in order to ensure good capacity utilisation in Zuffenhausen and Weissach,” remembers Hölscher, leaning against the brick wall of the former Reutter building. From 1990 onwards, the bodies were manufactured right there, in the Reutter building of Werk 2 in Zuffenhausen.

The procedure was clearly defined: Mercedes-Benz supplied body parts from Sindelfingen to Zuffenhausen. In Werk 2, the Porsche team then assembled the body with these components and with parts manufactured in-house, such as the distinctive front wings. The production process took 18 days, and each 500 E made the journey from Zuffenhausen to Sindelfingen twice.

Project launch in the middle of a crisis

The timing of the cooperation between the Stuttgart-based car manufacturers could not have been better. One of the lessons from the project in those difficult times was that you should always take on every challenge. We were able to keep the team together with orders like these, recalls Hölscher, who worked at Porsche from 1982 to 2016, when he took early retirement. At the start, the sports car manufacturer produced ten vehicles a day; due to the demand, those responsible soon increased this number to 20 after just a short time.

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May 29, 2021 at 18:47

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