Refining a Classic – Charlie Wheeler's 1993 Mercedes-Benz W201 190D

Words & Photos by Steph Clarke


We’re continuing the static, daily driven theme this week with Charlie Wheeler’s Mercedes-Benz W201 190D, and unlike Chris Phillips’ Lexus IS, this isn’t one of those cars that I can say I’ve always seen about at shows and meets, as Charlie has owned the Benz for a just over a week! The car was predominantly built by the previous owner, Nic Stubbs with the current styling majorly being down to him, but we couldn’t resist capturing the car as it is. Myself and Charlie actually work next door to each other, and I noticed he’d just picked up the new motor on Instagram so It was only a matter of time before I was going to get a proper look at it. But due to some resurfacing work that has been taking place over the last few days, we’ve been having to park randomly elsewhere, so it wasn’t until the day of the shoot that I really had a chance to see the 190D in all its glory.



Charlie’s car history has been heavily dominated by Volkswagens throughout the past 5 years of being seriously interested in cars. Having owned a Mk4 Golf and Mk1 Caddy where clean paintwork was the focus, and more recently a Mk1 Jetta 1.6GTD which went down the low and poke route. I don’t think Charlie will mind me saying, ended up being more of a ‘beater’ than a show car as “it would fall apart wherever and whenever” he admits.



Even with a relatively small car history, having his own workshop/barn meant engine swaps and interesting mechanical jobs were constantly being carried out on other vehicles, so there was always something exciting to be working on. With his Jetta project almost coming to a tearful end after a recent accident which led to the front end being cut off and a new one welded back on, Charlie decided that was the last straw and it spurred on the want for something a little different.



Charlie remembered a story told to him by his dad from back in the day involving his granddad cruising about in a Mercedes-Benz 190 over in Portugal, which got him thinking about the idea of a 190E or something similar. The hunt began for a Merc which led him to be let down by several cars that were either too expensive for what they were, or destined for the scrap yard.



After a brief involvement in the car market world, Charlie finally come across Nic’s 1993 W201 190D 2.5 Diesel automatic in Dunkelblau – which is a very deep, almost black blue with nearly all original paint. Just the bonnet and boot lid have been resprayed previously.



This is where some people will agree to disagree with the whole ‘bought not built’ argument. Charlie purchased the car as you see it, with the only real mods being wheels and suspension already in place. With wheels that work so well on the car, Charlie had to get his hands on it, a platform for him to build and expand on. For now though, I had to shoot the car as the combination works so well on this classic.



So, the wheels are OZ Futura’s in 17×8 up front and 9’s at the rear finished in silver with polished lips teamed with 195/40 and 205/40 tyres, not a crazy amount of stretch, but justified enough to suit the fitment. Futura’s really do look at home on almost anything and here used to keep that classic ‘gangster Mercedes’ vibe.



I’m just going to say again that this is daily driven and static and we don’t live in a very forgiving part of the country for smooth roads, so I tip my hat to Charlie for sticking with it straight off the bat.



To get the Merc sat how it is, BMW E36 front struts were installed, which are shorter than the original items although luckily still a direct fit. The original rear shocks have stayed, with the springs chopped allowing for the appropriate drop. I don’t know what people’s thoughts are on cutting springs these days, as I feel a lot of people do it but then won’t admit to it. With a huge increase in people running air or those who prefer to run coilovers, both options aren’t always affordable to everyone. Being a plumbing and heating engineer on minimum wage means keeping things on a budget…



I’ve run cut springs myself on a previous car for a couple of years and I haven’t killed myself or any puppies! I suppose it’s all dependant on how low you go. Charlie said that the Mercedes actually drives really smooth considering, a lot better than his previous Jetta which was on coilovers. Whilst driving to one of the locations for the shoot it involved multiple speed bumps which were tackled with ease, although I’m not sure the story would’ve been the same if he had any passengers!



Charlie has always gone down the static route and like those who go to the extreme, breaks into a smile when getting asked about whether the car is on air ride, even getting the odd appreciative comments from the older generation that we bumped into during the shoot.



Elsewhere, the car has been left as it was from the factory. Wood grain on the dash and centre console, cream (and questionably stained) seats, the bare minimum amount of switches, all straight from the 90’s with a different colour front arm rest that must’ve been fitted by a previous owner somewhere down the line.



Future plans for the Mercedes include overhauling the interior with a wooden Nardi steering wheel and grey or cream leather to bring it a bit more up-to-date, binning the slightly mismatched and tatty fabric interior it has now. Charlie is also debating about switching to an air setup, as right now he is unable to get up his driveway!



If air ride doesn’t go to plan, he’ll be tearing up his existing driveway to make it more low-friendly, now that’s dedication! After all that and it’s still a keeper, Charlie is also thinking about an engine swap with a 3 litre, straight-six M103 engine from the W124 for a bit more grunt.




Before I bought my BMW E30, I was tempted by a 190 myself, so I immediately had a soft spot for Charlie’s car when I first laid eyes on it. Being this low on a set of lovely wheels just makes it all the more appealing. Part of me hopes that Charlie will continue with the static life, but if it looks how it does now and is more suitable on air for his day to day travels and disaster driveway, then so be it. There’s no grudges from us here! Having owned the car for such a short period of time means there’s plenty of scope for progress and future mods, all of which I look forward to seeing.

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