Whether it was your parents, your relatives, your friend’s parents or even your neighbour, it’s almost impossible to not know someone who owned the Mercedes-Benz W202 C-class in the 1990s.
Introduced as the replacement for the Mercedes-Benz 190E, the first generation of the W202 C-Class debuted in 1993 with smoother lines and rounder edges. It was so successful that Mercedes-Benz went on to sell more than a million units from the year 1993 up until production ended in 2000.
The W202 C-Class also marked the beginning of a new naming system where Mercedes-Benz started using letters before numbers i.e. C 200 unlike the 190 E it replaced but we’re not looking at just any W202 C-Class model but instead, the mighty C 36 AMG.
Built to challenge the BMW E36 M3, it was the first project between Mercedes-Benz and AMG and the first mass production model in the history of their collaboration.
The C 36 AMG was based on the C 280, with extensive engine and chassis upgrades. Opting out from the C 280’s 2.8-litre straight-six, a 3.2-litre straight-six engine from the W124 E 320 was adopted instead. Engine capacity was then increased from 3.2-litre to 3.6-litre with increased bore and stroke.
Other significant upgrades included forged pistons from Mercedes’ DTM race cars, ported cylinder head, reprogrammed valve timing, larger air intakes and exhaust. Mercedes-Benz and AMG were not mucking about with this car.
As a result, the engine made around 280 hp with 385 Nm of torque – nearly 40 hp more than the E36 M3 – deployed through a 4-speed automatic transmission. AMG later on claimed that engine output varied between 280 hp to 290 hp as they were hand-built.
With a significant power advantage over its M3 counterpart, 0 to 100 km/h was done in 5.9 seconds, while the equivalent E36 M3 sedan with an automatic transmission could only manage around 6.6 seconds, according to MotorTrend magazine’s review.
Top speed was electronically-limited to just 250 km/h but when de-restricted, word is that the C 36 AMG could hit the 280 km/h mark.
After a little digging through the Internet’s archives on how the C 36 AMG felt behind the wheel, Road & Track magazine claimed that the C 36 AMG had “reasonable punch in a straight line and good ride and stable feel through the corners”.
In optimising the C 36 AMG, Mercedes-Benz did not shy from cherry-picking the best components from other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The front brakes for example, were taken over from the R129 SL 600 while those at the back were from the W124 E 420.
It even had the same AMG Monoblock wheel design from the SL 500 and while the suspension setup remained unchanged, the springs and dampers were stiffened along with the use of custom anti-roll bars.
As a result, the car sat more than 20mm lower than the standard model and handled with the poise of a sportscar without compromising the comfort of a refined saloon.
Inside, it was probably unlike anything anyone had ever seen in the early 1990s. The C 36 AMG had a dual-tone AMG steering wheel, an AMG instrument cluster, powered seats, a moonroof, cruise control and a Bose sound system.
In the European models, it came with trims that mimic the carbon fibre weave, while over in the US, the C 36 AMG wore walnut trims. Either way, both would struggle to live up to the standards of today’s elderly.
By early 1997, more than 5,000 units of the C 36 AMG were delivered to customers and by the end of the same year, the C 36 AMG was superseded by the C 43 AMG, the first C-class to be fitted with a (4.3-litre) V8 engine, paired with a 5-speed gearbox. Only 5,200 units of the C 36 AMG were ever built.
In 1996, the C 36 AMG even started a legacy that has continued up to this very day when it began playing the official safety car role in Formula 1.
You may know Mercedes-AMGs to be the cream of Daimler AG’s crop now but it wasn’t until 1999 that the Stuttgart group acquired a majority stake in AMG and since 2005, Mercedes-AMG has been wholly-owned by Daimler.