Fancy driving the car that put Ayrton Senna on the map?
Okay, it’s not the actual car, now a hallowed object in a museum, but you can have an identical, slightly worn, example for not (too) much cash.
Birth of a legend
Ayrton Senna? In May 1984 the Brazilian legend drove in a single-model support race staged to celebrate the opening of the new Nürburgring as a grand prix venue. Mercedes provided 20 identical cars for big-name racers including Stirling Moss, Niki Lauda, Carlos Reutemann, Keke Rosberg, James Hunt, Alain Prost and the then almost unknown Senna.
Sign of things to come
What happened next is legend, but Senna took on this race with gravity and dedication of a judge passing sentence. Figuring that this was a superb chance to prove himself, he drove his 190E to victory and in a preview of things to come, had Prost off the track on the way.
Senna’s 2.3-16 racer now lives in the Mercedes museum, but the rest of us still have a chance to buy one of these high-performance saloons from the ever-diminishing pool of 19,487 that the company built between 1984 and 1988.
The 2.3-16 first appeared at the 1983 Frankfurt motor show, but difficulties manufacturing its highly tuned cylinder head delayed production by a year. That head was made by Britain’s Cosworth, and was the key to lifting the output of the standard two-valve 2.3 motor by some 72bhp to 185bhp and its rev limit to 7000rpm, a stratospheric crank speed for any Benz in those days.
The only transmission up to the power torrent was Getrag’s five-speeder with dog-leg first gear - selecting ratios with this box was about as easy as wrestling a bone from a dog - while the 190’s sophisticated multi-link rear suspension was kitted with self-levelling and a limited slip diff. And while the body kit looked a little crass, it knocked a point of the 190’s Cd, which fell to 0.32 despite wider tyres, and usefully reduced lift too.
Inside were bucket seats trimmed in leather and check seat trim that looked like your granddad’s suit, and there was a trio of extra instruments buried at the foot of the center console, where the stopwatch was virtually unreadable.
But never mind that. What made the 2.3-16 was not its engine, which could sound a little rough, so much as its chassis, a mix of sublime balance and supple ride that made long distances a joy, whether you wanted to play drifter or cruiser. Gone are the days where you could pick up a basic car for just £1,500.
The cheapest we could find was £10,500 for an automatic left hand drive model with 161,000 miles. Whereas manual, right hand drive cars start at around £17k and can go up to £35k for a minter.