Here at Road & Track, we love homologation specials. These race cars for the road—many of which were completely unjustifiable from a financial standpoint—existed for the sole purpose of allowing automakers to build even crazier race cars for racing. Some of them spawned the greatest performance sub-brands in the auto industry. Others, like just about everything from the Group B era of rallying, were commercial failures, memorable for their incredible impact in short-lived racing series.
The road-going W201-generation Mercedes-Benz 190E Cosworth falls somewhere in between: An instant classic in its own right, still known to many as the car that lived in the shadow of the E30 BMW M3. The 190E race car, however, was an entirely different story.
German touring-car racing (DTM) is considered now to be the pinnacle of Eighties and Nineties sedan racing, but the series didn’t begin awarding a manufacturer’s championship until 1991. When it did, Mercedes won the title, twice, over competition from the factory-adjacent BMW M3 and Audi V-8 Quattro programs. That success came thanks in no small part to AMG, then an independent tuning house and racing program that traced its roots all the way back to the “red pig” 300 SEL 6.3 of the late Sixties. The Cosworth 190Es would not have a direct successor, but Mercedes saw enough value in its partnership with AMG to build a performance variant of the C-Class that followed. Soon after, Mercedes acquired AMG, the old DTM racing arm was spun off (into the still-extant HWA team), and the rest is history.