Photos: Mohammad Sadman Islam
The first time I came across a Merc 200 was at the age of six. My eldest cousin was getting married, and as a student of architecture, he felt a strong inclination towards beautifully designed objects. His wedding would need a garnish that conveyed his passion, and one of his friends who shared similar interests, graciously lent him his bright red 200, similar to the 280E you see here.
Having drooled over at such a young age, the Three Pointed Star always had a special place in my heart. Zaeem Aziz might have felt something similar, going by the attention to detail with which his Merc has been restored to former glory.
The Benz takes on an approach that is very familiar thanks to the internet and people vaguely interested in European car culture will find a comforting connection to the machine, although it's not a very familiar sight when seen without a digital medium in between. When you see it in front of you, its the finishing that is so surprising, because all you can think about is the incredible level of craftsmanship that went into the restoration of this Benz. The paint is glassy smooth, the panel gap non-existent, the body returned to a state in which it left the factory. The front end has the classic Mercedes look - an imposing fascia composed of massively wide headlamps and a crate grille with impeccable chrome contrasting brilliantly with the bright red paint. The overall fit and finish is a clear example of how much Bangladesh has progressed since the days of wavy body panel fixes and orange peel paint - the bodywork done by Motorwerks, so not really surprising.
The stance comes about thanks to genuine H&R lowering springs mounted on genuine Bilstein shocks, leading to an astonishing 40mm drop and copious amounts of negative camber front and rear. The cambered wheels themselves are a joy to behold: original BBS wheels, 8.5j at the front and an eye-popping 10j at the rear, which when combined with the suspension package, makes for a squat and mean stanced classic Merc. All the major suspension components (and the brakes) have been replaced by newly minted original parts, all shipped in from Germany.
The interior has redone carpeting and was largely unblemished even before the restoration began, so the main focus in Zaeem Aziz's plan for the car was outside and in terms of performance. The thin dash is very 80's with a lavish helping of “Zabrano wood”, but has a distinct look that does not make it look as aged as it actually is. The instrument cluster features three huge dials, with a centered speedometer, RPM on the left and a massive clock on the right. The placement of the clock on the instrument binnacle is a theme that Mercedes follows to this day. The seats are comfy and you don't much sit on them, you disappear into them, aged foam welcoming your journey ahead. You sit very low, and the view out the front is dominated by the three-pointed-star at the end of the infinitely-long-but-not-really hood.
Under the hood is a stock 2JZGE, graciously donated by a Toyota. The 3.0 litre inline six may attract haters concerned with originality, but it makes a whole lot of sense going for it because it has the torque to provide the thrills and the reliability to keep running for years on end. The inline six is mated to a Toyota auto transmission, and the factory Mercedes gear shifter is retained so that the near-sacrilegious (to purists) internals of this magnificent Benz is not given away at first glance.
You expect it to be slow because of the Toyota engine and the slushbox driving it? Hah. Empty stretch of road, pedal to the floor, the Benz is turned feral. Not an STI-Evo X kind of feral, no. To get the idea of what it feels like to be doing 160 km/h in what appears to be a clean and well-maintained but positively ancient Benz, think of a bulldog with a British accent, a top hat and an impeccable Saville Row suit. It looks all smart and classy and toned down, but when push comes to shove, British accent gives way to mad growls and spit flying. The front end of the Benz rises as the rear end squats, the raucous custom exhaust burbles, and the speedometer needle makes jumps it was never designed to make. Its all contained drama that puts a smile on your face.
And that's with “just” a 2-JZGE (with “just” 220HP and 215 lb-ft of torque). Zaeem tells us he's looking into bringing in a E55 AMG supercharged 5.4 litre V8 (with 469 HP and 531 lb-ft torque) from the UK, so he can swap in a “proper” Merc engine into his restomodded beauty. While the effort that has been put into replacing every seal, every rubber channel and every malfunctioning part with original parts might be lost on the so called “purists”, the car is not lost in a crowd at all. The careful selection of tasteful parts and careful application of the mods have given this 280E a fresh lease on life, and haters be damned.