Not that long ago you could have bought a far from immaculate but perfectly usable E30 M3 for less than £20K. Now an equivalent car would cost you at least double that, desirable special editions like the run-out Sport Evo into six figures.
I respect the M3 for all it stands for and it’s a lovely car to drive. But it wouldn’t be my choice, partly because I’m naturally rebellious and disinclined to follow the crowd. And partly because the alternative, while also appreciating in value, is still available for half as much. That car is the Mercedes 190E 2.3-16, commonly referred to as the 190 Cosworth, even if Mercedes never publically celebrated the association.
Given the timeline you could argue this car even spurred BMW into building the M3, the 2.3-16 unveiled at the 1983 Frankfurt motor show a whole two years before BMW brought the first M3 to the same. Looking at the specification BMW settled on it’s hard to escape that conclusion, both cars powered by 2.3-litre four-cylinder engines with 16-valve heads, revvy power deliveries and an eye to competition development.
In the 190’s case, the Cosworth connection was that 16-valve conversion, the plan being to use it as the basis for a rally car. When Group B was axed and Group A took its place a rear-wheel drive saloon was no longer going to be competitive, Mercedes pressing ahead with a road car version all the same and launching it with a star-studded race in identical 190s at the newly opened Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit in 1984. The driver line-up was extraordinary – the names on the entry list including (but not limited to) Lauda, Moss, Scheckter, Brabham, Hunt, Surtees, Prost and many more. The winner? Some up-and-coming Brazilian by the name of Ayrton Senna.