The Brabus 5.0 liter V8-powered 190E of 1984 was spectacular but expensive and impractical for most customers. So the M103 straight-six that debuted with the W124 in 1985 was a godsend.
As its reply to BMW’s 323i, Mercedes dropped the 2.6-liter version of this engine into the 190E, and the power race was on. Where AMG was more tentative, producing 3.2- and then 3.4-liter versions of this tough new straight-six, Brabus’ development chief Uli Gauffres went straight for the jugular with 3.6.
With 268 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, the 12-valve 3.6S rocketed to 62 mph in 6.3 seconds and on to 162 mph with the shorter sprint rear diff or a 177-mph top speed with the taller equivalent. The extra 25 hp and 18 lb-ft that came with the M104 24-valve based 3.6S version in 1990 made little difference against the stopwatch, and the 12-valve M103 was reckoned to be more robust in the long term.
I remember driving the original red 3.6S back in 1988. I had already tested the 190E 2.5-16, and while this factory homologation special was a track demon, it lacked low-end torque in normal road conditions.
In comparison, the six-pot Brabus 190E 3.6S was a revelation. The combination of a lusty, high-revving six-cylinder in a relatively light car was an intoxicating mixture. It was super smooth with plenty of grunt down low, and being blueprinted and balanced, it revved to the skies. This car just wanted to go all the time, so even though you could trickle through town effortlessly in a high gear, your enthusiast brain wiring meant it really was hard to drive slow.
Low weight and a well-sorted chassis also meant agility and sharp handling, while strong torque and a limited-slip differential also provided loads of fun for drift junkies. In an age when compact cars really were compact, this was one very rapid and entertaining cross-country or autobahn stormer.
This one is a better-than-new, one-of-a-kind Brabus 190E 3.6S replica that was slowly built up in 2008, and I’m having vivid flashbacks to the day I drove the original.. This brand-new car belongs to Sven Gramm, Brabus’ effusive PR manager, who built it from scratch as his fun car. It’s a dead ringer for the 1988 demo car, right down to the identification stickers on the under-bonnet slam panel. One subtle touch from the original car is the front grille, welded to the hood and color-coded red so that it all looks one-piece. The egg crate part of the grille, wiper arms, door handles, boot trim, and rear badges are all painted Mercedes 040 gloss black.
This is one of my favorite Brabus cars of all time, Gramm says. It’s small and light, and has no electronics to interfere with the driving experience. It is effectively a 190E Clubsport, and is even faster and more hardcore than the factory 2.5-16 Evo 2.
A good donor car is paramount for such a project, and Gramm was lucky enough to find a 190E 2.6 equipped with a five-speed manual locally, owned by an elderly man since it was new. Immaculate inside and out, this car had been religiously serviced at the supplying Mercedes dealer, and had covered 175,000 accident-free kilometers (about 109,000 miles). The original owner had obviously intended to keep the car a while as he had specified uncommon options like the 70-liter long-range fuel tank and heavy-duty battery.
Gramm’s search for rare Brabus 3.6S parts began in earnest in January 2008, and he called in favors from friends both inside and outside of Brabus. Rummaging around Brabus’ spare parts warehouse coughed up the period front spoiler, alloy wheels, brakes, and some other parts. There were no rear spoilers, but we found the original mold and my colleague in the design department made one up for me by hand, Gramm says. I had to buy him dinnerbut it was worth it.