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Veteran automotive journalist Jason Cammisa and SCCA hall-of-fame race-car driver Randy Pobst line up and race the Mercedes 500E (known later as the E500) against the RS 2 and M5, and the results are surprising. Will the Mercedes’ 4-speed automatic kill its chances against the two other manuals — a five-speed in the M5 and a six-speed in the Audi?
And what’s with the six-cylinder E320 dogleg manual wagon and its DOHC 24V 3.2-liter straight-six?
The 3.8-liter S38 is the biggest straight-six that BMW has ever made, and it produced 340 PS (335 hp) at an insane, independent-throttle-body screaming 6900 rpm. The Audi’s much-smaller 2.2-liter, 20-valve turbo five-cylinder made 315 PS (311 hp), and the 5.0-liter quad-cam, DOHC 32V Mercedes V-8 made 326 PS (322 hp) but had variable valve timing so it creamed the others on torque.
The next question is: can any of these 1990s legends keep up with today’s slowest sports car, the ND2 Mazda MX-5 Miata? You’ll be surprised by the outcome.
0:00 Purple Manual Wagons — and a 500E
0:50 Hagerty Driver’s Club Offer
1:11 E34 M5 Touring Specs and Info
2:06 Audi RS2 Avant Specs and Info
2:41 Mercedes-Benz S124 E320T 5-speed Dogleg Specs and Info
3:11 Mercedes-Benz W124 500E/E500 Specs and Info
4:15 1/4-mile: 500E vs RS2 vs M5
5:28 Walkback: How is the 500E so fast?
6:40 Launching and racing the E34 M5
7:40 AWD launch in the RS2 — plus turbo lag in the 1/4-mile
9:06 Jason and Randy kiss their own Valentine 1 radar detectors
9:56 ND2 Miata vs Mercedes 500E 1/4-mile drag race
11:16 Drag Race Results Leaderboard
11:25 Conclusion: power-to-weight is wrong!
Hagerty Video Transcript
Picture this it’s the mid-1990s and you are a wealthy German car fan with a ponchant for purple paint and taste for the clutch pad and a serious Need for Speed and a really really good radar detector also you have no appointment with the fertility clinic that’s right these were
The three fastest baby haulers in the world and we’re gonna race them what’s that [Applause] you can help support these videos by joining the Hagerty Drivers Club it includes a subscription to our award-winning magazine unlimited access to our evaluation tool 24 7 flatbed roadside assistance free classified listings exclusive coupons and offers and Early Access and VIP perks to select Hagerty events more info in the link below
Let’s start out with the purplest of the Triumph the BMW if there’s one generation of M5 that’s the Forgotten generation it’s the E34 not because it wasn’t good looking or fast but probably because it’s s38 engine was mostly carried over from the E28 M5 except in Europe they got a wagon
And they got a 3.8 liter the biggest straight six BMW has ever produced it made 335 horsepower out of violent independent throttle body screaming 6900 RPM and even though the wagon weighs 192 pounds more than the US spec sedan that made only 311 horsepower which is exactly the horsepower the Audi
Rs2 made 311 but from a much smaller engine the double overhead cam 20 valve inline 5 displaced just 2.2 liters but used a turbo to make 10 Newtonian meters of torque more in the MW more importantly the transition from regular Audi wagon to rs2 was carried out at
Porsche so not only is the rs2 typically Audi gorgeous it’s Porsche fast and it may be down one cylinder on the BMW but it’s up one gear like the BMW the Mercedes has six cylinders and five speeds but this is the coolest 5 speed in the world because it’s a dog leg
U.S market did get the famously well-built Mercedes 124 in wagon form but we never got it with a manual paired with the late m104 twin cam 24 valve 3.2 liter straight six it may be a hundred or so horsepower down on the other two cars but I’m not concerned in the least
That’s because Mercedes made an even faster 124. this is not purple it’s not a manual and it’s also not a wagon but like the Audi it was built by Porsche then it has a V8 it is the Mercedes 500e it’s 5-liter quadcam variable valve timing 32 valve V8 made 322 horsepower
That’s midway between the others but it trounced them both in torque will the four-speed auto tragic transmission ruin the day or can the ultimate non-purple 90s sedan trounce the ultimate 90s purple ish wagon all right Foreign I was not supposed to happen Okay the Mercedes has the least favorable power to weight of the entire group and yet it left those two other cars for dead that is seven and a half car lengths back to the BMW whoops this is why numbers don’t always tell
The whole story the Mercedes gets off the line with a little brake torque and just enough wheel spin not to piss off the non-defeatable traction control displacement plus variable valve timing means this thing makes ludicrous torque everywhere and despite its long nine mile an hour first gear it’s almost
Even with the other two cars on the launch it’s old school automatic slam shifts instead of cutting power so each of the two times it shifts it just gains even more ground on the other two cars it crosses the line in 14 seconds flat barely into third gear with the other two cars
Distant Memories in the rear view mirror oh with an aggressive launch the M5 gets off the line with just the right amount of wheel spin so that the big s38 is coming on cam right when the tires hook up it pulls like a monster to Seven Grand
Just a dainty little kidney Grill ahead of the Mercedes but when it comes time to shift Mercedes pulls away from that point on the Benz just keeps pulling further and further meanwhile the real close race is back here between the two uh wagons the cars that probably should have raced
Against the Mercedes wagon getting a 30 year old turbocharged all-wheel drive manual transmission Audi off the line in a hurry is the kind of thing that could bankrupt a small nation so we did what any prudent Enthusiast would do we beat the out of it but
We only did it to the point where we didn’t break it got Psyduck which is thank God in Audi speak the all-wheel drive Audi launches hard enough to bottom out its rear suspension but ultimately manages to stay out front for just a fraction of a second it
Quickly runs out of revs in first and requires a shift into second where it drops from first place to the last reason why after the shift you gotta wait for the turbo boost to build back up again this actually pulls a tiny bit harder in gear than them
But the gaps in acceleration after each shift put the car with the best power to weight ratio in the back Thank you Imagine you were lucky enough to grow up in one of these really fast cars you’d go to school and you’d bench race your friend’s parents cars proudly boasting that your dad had the fastest wagon of them all and the world’s best radar detector well it’s 30 years later and
You want to recapture that speed that thrill that muscle you know what you need right I’m Miata and a brand new Valentine One Gen 2 radar detector they’re sponsoring this episode Jason Randy Valentine one has been inadvertently sponsoring my driver’s license for more than 20 years
Me too oh I love this thing that’s a thing if you ever want to know what death tastes like kiss your filthy 20 year old radar detector anyway with barely more than half the weight of the 500e the nd2 Miata doesn’t exactly scream speed will the miata’s 181 horsepower be enough to
Stop Randy from humiliating himself Oh oh You’re a Big 5 liter badass Supercar V8 Mercedes barely kept up with this Miata yeah see what happens on road turns people well that was all a bit of a mind fudge because everyone thinks of the Miata as a slow car nobody thinks of a Mercedes
500e as a slow car and yet the slow Miata was in front for half of the quarter mile and then by the way the Miata beat a 3.8 liter E34 M5 and a porsche-built Audi rs2 finishing order for that race was exactly the opposite of what you would
Have expected based on the power to wait damn it maybe that means we should have raced the slow purple wagon next time