Mercedes-Benz 190E Group A

BMW’s E30 M3 is, for many, enthusiasts the archetypal Group A racing car. Sure, plenty will cite Ford’s Sierra RS500 or Nissan’s mighty R32 GT-R. Still, some might even point to the parade of homegrown Holden Commodore Group A machines, or oddities such as the Ford Mustang and hand-grenade Maserati Biturbo. But few would name the Mercedes-Benz 190E in their top three Group A racing cars.

Of course, the 190E is a car with very significant racing history and pedigree. A young Ayrton Senna somewhat put the car on the map with his win at the 1984 Nürburgring Grand Prix support race against established stars and retired legends, but the 190E was also a weapon in the German DTM series. And unlike the lightly-modified 190E that Senna and company drove at the Nürburgring GP circuit, the DTM/Group A-spec 190E 2.3 16V was a proper racing car.

The car you see here was one of two 190Es run by RSM Marko in the German DTM series that, at the time, conformed to Group A regulations. That ‘Marko’ was none other than Dr Helmut Marko, now of Red Bull F1 fame, but briefly an F1 driver and then team manager in DTM, Formula 1 and other open-wheeler categories. The car won two races in the 1986 DTM championship, and driver Volker Weidler finished second in the standings.

Bob Jane, then a retired racing legend and the AMG importer for Australia (long before AMG was fully integrated into the Mercedes family), convinced Marko to bring his two cars to Australia for the 1986 James Hardie 1000 at Bathurst. Dr Marko went one better and brought along Hans-Werner Aufrecht, one of the founders of AMG.

And the well-presented team didn’t skimp on driving talent either, with the two-car assault headlined by 1967 Formula 1 World Champion, Denny Hulme. The affable Kiwi would sadly suffer a fatal heart attack while at the wheel of a BMW E30 M3 during the 1992 Bathurst 1000 – the infamous ‘pack of arseholes’ year. For 1986, Hulme was eventually partnered with Austrian Franz Klammer, a former downhill skier (1976 Olympic gold medallist) turned racing driver.

Marko also brought out from Europe, German Jorg van Ommen who was just 24 at the time of the race. van Ommen is the nephew of Armin Hahne (1985 Bathurst winner) and would later finish second for Mercedes in the 1995 DTM championship.

The final piece of the driving puzzle (actually, he was the first driver selected) was Andrew Miedecke. ‘Mad Andy’ as he was dubbed by legendary commentator Mike Raymond, was one of those super quick drivers who never had a lot of luck. Prior to his switch to tin tops, Miedecke was a very handy driver of open wheelers – he finished fourth in the 1976 Australia Formula 2 Championship and third in the 1982 and 1983 Australian Driver’s Championship.

Recalling how the deal come together for his first-ever Bathurst 1000, and his first touring car race since the early 1970s, Miedecke said, ‘‘Bob had sponsored me in the World Endurance Championship the year before, when I drove a Porsche 962. The car had Bob Jane T-Marts and Playboy sponsorship. I’d always gotten on well with Bob and I don’t think he’s remembered well enough for the support that he gave a lot of drivers.’’

When the cars arrived at Bathurst in 1986, it certainly wasn’t easy to get them on the grid. In theory, Group A was a set of international regulations for touring cars, but there were plenty of areas open to interpretation (as would come to a head the following year at Bathurst with the disqualification of the first two Ford Sierras across the line) and the brace of Benzes fell foul of local scrutineers.

‘‘There was a problem with the fibreglass dashboards which were deemed to be okay in Europe but not here,’’ said Miedecke. ‘‘I can’t remember if we were eventually allowed to run them or whether we changed them overnight.’’

The scrutineering hiccup wasn’t the only issue facing the team. Of the four drivers, only New Zealander Denny Hulme had ever driven at Bathurst, so they all took a while to dial in to the circuit and the car, one of which was suffering a misfire during practice. And all of this was occurring under the stern glare of Dr Helmut Marko.

‘‘Marko was just as you’ve heard,’’ began Miedecke. ‘‘He was tough, he was stern and with no sense of humour at all. Very typical tough Austrian.’’

In contrast, Miedecke fondly recalls Hans-Werner Aufrecht, ‘‘Dr Aufrecht was a lovely guy. Warm and one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet.’’

Initially, Hulme and Miedecke were entered to race car 41 (and Miedecke completed much of practice in that car, but eventually he was paired with the young van Ommen in car 14). Now that the restoration of the car is complete, Miedecke has returned it to its original Hulme/Miedecke pairing.

‘‘The plan was to run Klammer and van Ommen in the A car,’’ explained Miedecke, ‘‘and Denny and I in the B car, but the A car had a misfire that they were having trouble trying to fix. So they swapped Denny into the A car and Jorg into the B car. The first time it ran properly was in the warm-up [on the morning of the race]. We were really looking forward to it because it was actually the faster car.’’

Unfortunately, Bathurst 1986 never got going for Miedecke as his young teammate started the race and was forced off the track and out of the 163-lap enduro before completing one full lap. There was more luck for the Hulme/Klammer entry as it stayed out of trouble and finished second in class and ninth outright. Not a bad result for a naturally aspirated 2.3-litre four-cylinder that gave away serious amounts of power and torque to the V8 Commodores and Mustangs, straight-six BMW and turbocharged Skyline that finished ahead of it.

To highlight the power deficit that the Benz was dealing with both up and down the Mountain, consider that the Hulme/Klammer car qualified in 23rd with a 2:23.74 lap. Pole in 1986 (the last year before The Chase was added to Conrod Straight) went to Gary Scott in the turbocharged Nissan Skyline in 2:17.159. According to Miedecke, the 190E made around 165kW, screamed all the way to 8500rpm and weighed between 1050-1100kg.

‘‘Up against the 5.0-litre cars, they were underpowered,’’ said Miedecke, ‘‘but they were really good across the top of the Mountain and quite good fun. You just had to wait a while up the hill. It had amazing grip and it was a rocket down through the Esses. You could just pick it up and throw it. It was terrific, very benign.’’

After 1986, Miedecke moved to a Ford Sierra and famously led the 1987 Bathurst 1000 during a fantastic duel with the more-fancied and better-financed European-based Sierras of Steve Soper and Andy Rouse. Meanwhile, the pair of Benz race cars were purchased by Phil Ward and stayed in the southern hemisphere where they raced in Australia and New Zealand with some success. The cars continued to compete at Bathurst for a number of years, and aside from the ninth outright (second in Class B) on debut, the next best result came in 1990. Phil Ward paired himself with John Goss (1974 Bathurst winner) and the 190E stood atop the Class B podium and finished 12th outright. Later, one of the pair was modified to compete in the Super Touring category before the cars eventually made their way to the United States. One was modified to Group N specification and the pair raced sparingly before ending up in a Mercedes-Benz spares warehouse.

Renowned car collector, Chris Bowden, eventually stumbled upon the 190Es about five years ago, alerting the principal of a Sydney Mercedes-Benz dealership, who in turn contacted Miedecke to see whether he’d like to go halves in the pair.

Miedecke’s car is now close to completion, with some of the restoration work having taken place at Phil Ward’s workshop. The sensationally compact and purposeful 190E looks every inch the proper racing car and it just made its first public outing at Melbourne’s Motorclassica.

‘‘I really bought it for posterity’s sake,’’ said Miedecke, ‘‘to restore it back to those colours but I’m pretty sure that I’ll run it in some historic races [the car qualifies for the Heritage Touring Cars series for Group C and Group A racing cars]. I won’t do a full season. I’m a Tasmanian, so I’d love to go do the Baskerville Historics.’’

Having been denied the chance to race this car 33 years ago, here’s hoping that Miedecke finally gets an opportunity to turn a wheel in anger in this fabulous slice of Mercedes and Australian racing history. Perhaps even at Mount Panorama during the Heritage Touring Cars event at the 2020 Bathurst 6-Hour.

Words: Jesse Taylor
Photography: Simon Anderson

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