MERCEDES BENZ – C180 CLASSIC

IN PRAISE OF OVER-ENGINEERING

WORDS PHOTOS DR JOHN WRIGHT

I DON’T remember the detail but I remember the gist of the silliest speech I ever heard in my life as a motoring journalist. The earnest Mercedes bloke said the company was going to cut x-per cent (was it 20? 40?) out of the engineering budget for its cars but that quality would not suffer. (Rather like Fairfax saying it was sacking a heap of journalists but the papers’ quality would be unchanged. Right.)

OUR SHED, OUR CARS, OUR STORIES

This was in 1993, not so long after the launch of the over-the-top W140 ‘SwineClass’. Ms Mercedes, the Lady, was clearly for turning. No more double-glazed windows. Doubtless the marketing dudes had won the day by saying ‘BMW doesn’t spend as much on engineering as we do and its cars are pretty good (and more desirable to many enthusiasts than ours!)’. But I’d like to have heard what the engineers said.

The last model launched under the outgoing profligate ‘Engineered like no other car approach’ was the W202 C-Class, successor to the W201 190E. The W202 appeared internationally in 1993 and arrived in Australia the following March. I owned one of the stripper 180Es, a cut-price 1.8-litre 190E. It had no ABS, no tachometer. But it did have window winders. Initial acceleration was embarrassingly slow. It was a wonderful car, solid in feel like no other of its size, beautifully built, rather stylish. I like overengineering.

This entry level C180 Classic is more of the same but at least with a tacho.

My 1998 example also has Zebrano wood trim, leather upholstery (an expensive option) and fast glass. I ditched the nasty plastic wheel trims for more of the Bauhaus look and also because I remember the days when you took off the Premier’s hubcaps and painted the wheels black. All I need is Go Domes. Bauhaus or Bogan? You decide.

“I REMEMBER THE DAYS WHEN YOU TOOK OFF THE PREMIER’S HUBCAPS AND PAINTED THE WHEELS BLACK”

Despite an extra gearbox ratio, the C180 is still absurdly slow off the mark, but because I live in the sticks I’m not concerned. On the highway, it purrs along and uses about seven litres per 100.

When the 180E arrived in 1992 I reckoned it would be the car you’d buy as your last car. That doesn’t seem so funny now that I have its successor and retirement age is nigh. But, seriously, wouldn’t you prefer a C180 to any Hyundai? This is a helluva lot of car for $5K and I would always trust it more than, say, a Maserati Quattroporte!

If I were to get silly with this car, I’d go for lowered Eibach springs all round and a Whiteline sway bar because, believe me, in a C180 you want to keep as much momentum as you can.