If you thought Porsche’s first sedan was the Panamera, you’d be wrong. The brand isn’t a stranger to four-door vehicles because it has a history of collaborating with other automakers building fast sedans, wagons, and hot hatches. The Volvo 850 T5R and Audi RS 2 were just some of the vehicles that Porsche helped develop. One of the most recognizable, however, is the Mercedes-Benz 500 E, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary Its blend of comfort and performance made it a great all-around sedan.
Michael Hölscher of Project Manager Development and Michael Mönig from Prototype Management were both involved in the Mercedes-Benz 500 E’s development. Both took a 100-km (62-mile) drive through memory lane with a Black Pearl Metallic 500 E, visiting Zuffenhausen, Weissach, and Sindelfingen before returning to the Porsche Museum. “Looking at the car today, it’s almost impossible to believe that the design could be so perfect 30 years ago without CAD data,” says Hölscher. “I have enormous respect for my colleagues in the body shop and especially their vision.”
Porsche won the development contract from Daimler-Benz in 1988 in Untertürkheim, Germany. It outlined the requirements for the W124 series including its technical specifications. The car is powered by the same 5.0-liter V8 out of the 500 SL. By 1995, 10,479 examples of the 500 E were built and all of them were four-seaters because the rear differential’s size prevented a bench seat from being installed in the rear. The 500 E’sV-8 enginee made 322 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, allowing it to sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.9 seconds. It put that power down to the wheels via a four-speed automatic transmission. “Plenty of power, but without being ostentatious, both dynamic and luxurious at the same time,” said Mönig. “The 500 E is not a showy vehicle. It represents pure understatement, and catches the eye only at second glance.”
From 1990 andonwards, the Mercedes-Benz 500 E’s body was made in the Reutter building at Plant 2 of Porsche’s Zuffenhausen factory. “The order was very important for us to ensure good capacity utilization in Zuffenhausen and Weissach,” added Hölscher. Mercedes-Benz shipped the body components from Sindelfingen to Zuffenhausen where the Porsche team assembled the rest of the car with parts made in-house. The completed bodies were then sent to Sindelfingen for painting before going to the Rössle Bau back in Zuffenhausen for final assembly and engine installment. Production took 18 days with the 500 E traveling between Zuffenhausen and Sindelfingen twice. From a logistical point of view, sending the vehicle parts back and forth was a big challenge,” explained Hölscher. “After all, the relevant parts had to arrive at the right place at the right time.”
The collaboration with Mercedes-Benz for the 500 E came at the right time for Porsche as the brand faced a crisis during that time. It experienced a decline in export revenue and falling production numbers, which saw it only produce 10 vehicles per day. Thanks to the contract with Mercedes-Benz, the number of cars being made daily quickly doubled. Porsche eventually became the development service provider for the 500 E since Mercedes-Benz’s Sindelfingen plant was too small. The car’s wide body prevented Mercedes from producing the sedan and modifying their facility wasn’t a viable option.
Assembly of the early prototypes took place in Weissach where Mönig’s team carried out the development process for the Mercedes-Benz 500 E. Porsche carried out 90 percent of the work and was responsible for integrating the drive and vehicle components. Several tweaks were made to help the 500 E perform better including moving the battery to the trunk for improved weight distribution. The bumper, wings, braking system, and exhaust were also modified significantly. Gaps between each headlight helped the V-8 engine breathe better.
“The 500 E was and still is my favorite project,” added Mönig. “The collaboration with colleagues at Mercedes-Benz was very respectful, focused and on equal terms and was based on a great desire for success.”
Collaborating with other automakers expanded Porsche’s heritage. While four-door vehicles didn’t wear the Porsche badge until the late 20th- and early 21st century, the company had the know-how in making practical yet thrilling cars from their work with companies like Mercedes-Benz and Volvo.