Words & Photos by Henry Phull
The Mercedes-Benz 190E has been a hit with petrolheads ever since they were used as touring cars and seen throughout legendary motorsport events. However, with the sought-after Cosworth models now out of most people’s price range, the spectacle has turned on to the standard 190E’s, which back in their time would’ve looked like any normal boxy German saloon car, simply blending into the landscape. What owners are doing to them now though, is quite remarkable. Who’d have thought dumping one on the floor and adding some larger wheels could make such a basic car look so appealing? Even though they’ve been a popular vehicle of choice in the modified scene ever since the late 80’s/early 90’s, the demand has massively grown over the last couple of years in the UK show scene… One of our favourites being Matt Payne’s Arctic white 1992 W201 which we’re showcasing today. Although we’ve already featured a W201 this year, Charlie Wheeler’s static 190D (click here to check it out), we’re switching things up and taking an alternative look at how things can be done using air ride, with Matt’s simple yet effective build.
Matt has been interested in cars for a long time, mainly through family influence. Since he was 17 years old he’s been following the car show scene, attended local meets and helped out on cars with his friends. Training as a Volkswagen technician certainly played a huge part in his ever-growing fascination with cars and predominant obsession with VW’s. In fact this led him onto starting his own business, Only Charged Dubs (OCD), who predominantly specialise in VAG cars – G40/G60 forced induction, air ride, servicing and much more.
The car that really got his company noticed was down to Matt’s third car, a Mk2 Golf which started out as a ‘1.6 Driver’, which he fully restored and eventually converted to a G60. After two years of daily driving, something more modern was required – a Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo… This really helped OCD grow as a recognised business.. it was the ultimate car to show off their air-ride services to a ‘general’ audience, not forgetting the development of OCD’s custom Polo platform air ride kit which put them on the map.
So why the Mercedes-Benz you may be asking? “I’ve never been a huge Merc fan, but I’ve always had a soft spot for any modern classic car… late 70’s, 80’s & early 90’s cars just have that square boxy look that I love” he tells us. The Fabia had been around for nearly three years, so Matt decided it was time for a new OCD demo car, whilst he could still drive the Fabia daily (although this has now finally been replaced by a bigger Audi A6 C5 Allroad, on custom air of course). “The 190 seemed to be a new modern classic, and after seeing a couple bagged and thinking we could get a cheap kit for it, I bought this one.” Matt explains.
Matt found the 190E through eBay, it was a completely standard 1.8 8v petrol, but the head gasket had gone due to lack of use and the exhaust had fallen apart inside so it ran way too slowly for his liking. The all-important paint, however, is original and came up incredibly after a good detailing session and machine polish/seal. It was an ideal base for OCD’s demo car and it meant they could create something from a completely blank canvas.
“We needed it to be on the floor, looking OEM+ and really show off what OCD and air suspension can do. Not just the usual brands of air & wheels!” he explains. Only Charged Dubs are well known for their custom air work, not just bolting on the usual ready-made kits which are widely available. This car is a fantastic example of what is possible when you think outside the box.
The air setup on Matt’s car was created completely from scratch, after trying out a cheap kit that was available for the platform and realising it was “crap”. The team at OCD got to work on creating a better solution, including new front arms, bag mounts and a custom BC Racing damper kit with camber top mounts, allowing for adjustment all round. “Our kit is a full comprehensive suspension kit, this replaces the OE front arms with no other modifications required. The only thing that’s needed is 2 holes drilled in the rear upper spring seat to allow the air bags to mount up.” Matt reveals.
This allows the body of the car to drop as low as possible with no rubbing or catching – now that’s what we like to hear! “This allows much better air bag pressure when driving, allowing a much nicer drive – it really feels like factory still and just floats along the roads.” he continues. After fully testing the setup, OCD’s kit is now manufactured and available for the W201 platform – get in touch with them for more information.
Along with the custom front LCA’s and bag mounts, Matt opted for Universal Air ‘AirHouse2’ bags front and rear, 3/8″ air lines all run by dual Speciality Suspension 28″ & 24″ air tanks, two Air Zenith OB2 compressors, an AVS 9 switch box, Zaetech Digigauge and wireless touchbox. “The main piece is the RideTech BigRed manifold that really makes the car bounce!” he chuckles… this really has a different effect to airing up and out in comparison to a lot of other products on the market – making it that extra bit cooler! All this has been built into a beautiful boot installation which is a superb demonstration of hard lines and fabrication which OCD are known for.
With the car on the floor, Matt wanted to get the wheels right. They’d already gone custom with the air ride, so why not go the same way with the wheels? The outcome was a set of Mercedes-Benz ‘Barrock’ wheels, a Mexican hat-styled wheel originally found on W123’s. OCD had their machinist precision cut the wheel faces and matched to a BBS RS 16″ face bolt pattern, allowing them to go for 16″ to 17″ ‘bubble’ step up lips, resulting in 17×8 up front and 17×9 rears. “It’s a slight mod that no one really notices over the custom wheels. Which I like, it adds even more to the OEM+ look of the car and really suits the car well.” Matt explains. These are paired to 195/40 tyres up front and 205/40 at the rear, a tasteful amount of stretch.
Interior-wise, Matt preferred to keep everything original, similar to the outside of the car. “I wanted black as it doesn’t age as much and appears to be quite rare in the old 190’s”… The only elements out of the ordinary that you might notice are; the Zaetech Digigauge air pressure display which is neatly installed into one of the blower fans and the chunky AVS 9 switch box used to control the ride height. Sticking to a manual air set up just seems so right in a classic car like this – a modern looking digital controller wouldn’t look at home in the W201.
We’ve seen the Merc at several car shows this year and it’s unsurprisingly turned a lot of heads. Matt and the team have put just the right amount of modifications on the car. Only air and wheels you may ask… What more could you possibly need on a classic car like this? Matt has put his touch on an already beautiful shape. As well as putting the car on a set of BBS RS for a few shows to change things up, the custom Barrock wheels do suit it perfectly. From now, not much will be happening with the Merc other than a little more colour coding to the boot build over the Winter. Matt mentioned he may even regrettably put it up for sale in the new year to make way for another OCD demo car. Despite the name ‘Only Charged Dubs’, the 190E demonstrates that they really can tackle any sort of air build, whether it’s a ‘dub’ or not. We’ll be finding more about what they get up to with an exclusive shop visit, so check back to Slam Sanctuary soon.
More info on Only Charged Dubs: