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HWA's stunning Evo is a twin-turbo V6 homage to Merc's big-wing 90s hero

It's not a restomod, but a ground-up reimagining of a steroidal Merc touring car from the Nineties

Published: 20 Jun 2024

It had a clumsy name. It wasn’t that fast. It wasn’t even great to drive. It didn’t have a particularly long or illustrious motorsport career. And yet the Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 Evo II is an icon. A big wing and mad wheelarch extensions will get you most places, right?

Unlike the BMW M3, which arrived in 1987 and quickly set about dominating whatever championships it competed in, the story of the Mercedes 190E’s motorsports career was decidedly mixed. Originally the 190E was intended to go rallying, so Mercedes commissioned Cosworth to turn its 2.0-litre M102 engine into something more exotic. The resulting 2.3-16v featured twin overhead cams and power climbed from 107bhp to 185. But this was 1983. The Audi quattro was busy blowing the opposition into the weeds on rally stages around the globe, a rear-drive 190E wasn’t going to cut it. Merc didn’t even bother going there.

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Instead the 190E 2.3-16v became a road car, went to Nardo and set various distance records (including completing 50,000km in 201hrs 39mins at an average of 154.07mph) but had its moment in the spotlight at the 1984 Nurburgring Race of Champions when Merc managed to slot a load of F1 drivers into them for a one-off race, only for them all to be trounced by a young upstart by the name of Ayrton Senna.

Appetite whetted, Merc decided the 190E, having met Group A regs by selling over 5,000 examples, would be fit for racing. This was 1987. Remember the M3? It was busy sweeping all before it in the DTM (German Touring Cars) championship, including the 190E. But this time Merc didn’t duck the challenge. It developed the 190E, the engine grew to 2.5 litres and the bodywork sprouted splitters, skirts and wings. 502 of these Evo I specials were built to satisfy homologation in 1989, but again it wasn’t enough to usurp a dominant BMW.

The Evo II was Merc’s final boss DTM-inspired road car. Another 502 were made, with bolt on arches covering wider tracks and a towering rear wing claiming to deliver 70kg of downforce. The 2.5-litre engine was now up to 232bhp in road trim, while the racer produced some 370bhp. It arrived in 1990 and… got beaten. This time by Audi. But it was nearly there, finally winning the championship in 1992. It was the start of a golden period for Mercedes in DTM, one where costs spiralled and technologies banned in F1 were embraced (including active suspension, aero and even active ballast). Side note: HWA keeps a stash of the original laptops, as they’re the only way of starting the cars from this era.

The road car’s work was done. It became a sleeper. Deeply cool, but largely unheralded. And then, with 80s and 90s cars in vogue, prices started creeping up. Now they’re dizzying. Around £350,000 for a four door saloon that, let’s not forget, is powered by a humble four cylinder engine and takes 7.1secs to get to 62mph. A good back story goes far huh?

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Well, that, a good set of wheels and some bonkers bodywork. Those signature elements have timeless appeal, enough to convince someone the 90s semi-super-saloon is worth a reinvention. And more besides. Because what you’re looking at here is not a restomod – the work goes too far for that – it’s a reimagination and wholesale reengineering of the Evo II for a modern audience. It’s called the HWA Evo, and it leads us straight down another historic rabbit hole.

Because I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard of HWA. There’s no reason you should have, because it’s a company that, until now, has always done supercool engineering… for other people. It was founded some 25 years ago by Hans Werner Aufrecht, a chap who had already lent his name to another outfit you absolutely have heard of. Because he was the ‘A’ in AMG. He’d worked in the race dept at Merc, then left and set up AMG with Erhard Melcher in the town of Grossaspach in 1967.

And the rest is history? Nah, that was just the beginning. He sold AMG to Mercedes in 1999, and came away not only with an extremely healthy bank balance but a contract for his new company to run all Merc’s racing programmes outside of F1. Since then HWA has built and run race cars from GT3 to Formula E, developed engines for Pagani, built the SL65 Black Series, has done skunkworks projects for AMG and is the engineering power behind several hypercars, including the Fittipaldi EF7, Apollo Intensa Emozione and De Tomaso P72.

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They, and other projects, are littered around a labyrinthine facility where every corridor is lined with cabinets overflowing with trophies. They’re on top of filing cabinets, holding doors open, found on just about every flat surface. On the day I visit, the Isotta Fraschini Le Mans hybrid engine is on one of the four dynos, in the engine build room I find the Pagani Huayra R’s bespoke 6.0-litre V12 and the 4.8-litre V8 that HWA designed for the stillborn Lotus Esprit. There’s also a fascinating prototype braking system for EVs that’s intended to eliminate toxic disc brake emissions. HWA developed that as part of a government research project.

But the firm’s main source of work is Merc. When he ran AMG, Hans Werner Aufrecht wasn’t directly involved in the Evo II, but if you’re looking for an outfit that understands Mercedes, has the sporting and technical know-how to do the job properly and, crucially, the intrinsic historic links that allow us to make the leap and suspect this is done with Merc’s tacit approval, well, you can’t do better than HWA.

It’s going to cost £725,000. Let’s get that out there now. It’s a ridiculous amount of money for any restomod, let alone a four door saloon with less than 500bhp. But as I said earlier, this isn’t a restomod. No Evo IIs will be sacrificed to create the 100 that HWA will build. All you need is an original 190E, which is then stripped so nothing but the chassis remains. And that is then cut up as well.

Because here’s the thing that impressed me most about this Evo. Not the twin turbo V6, nor the manual gearbox, not the wind tunnel honed aero nor the full carbon fibre bodywork. Instead it was a crash test. HWA did all the computer simulations for what would happen to a 190E chassis in an accident and didn’t like what it saw. “At 50kph [31mph] into a solid wall, there would be some damage to the driver’s legs," chief technology officer Gordian von Schoning tells me. So HWA will cut the chassis up and build in their own front and rear subframes and deformable crash structures. Show me another restomod that goes to these lengths – or has been produced by a firm that has these resources at its disposal.

The whole chassis is strengthened, and a surreptitious roll cage is built in. The front axle has shifted forward some 50mm to help improve the weight distribution. “We want it to be a front mid-engined car with 50:50 weight balance,” von Schoning says. So the whole 3.0-litre engine sits behind the front axle, it’s dry-sumped to get the centre of gravity below 400mm and the gearbox is on the rear axle. It’s a Mercedes powerplant – von Schoning is reluctant to say which one, but it sounds a lot like the 24 valve M276 that was used in everything from the CLS350 to the SLC43.

The internals are left alone, but HWA strips the engine completely, packages most of the ancillaries in the back and fits its own cooling systems, ECU and thoroughly revises the turbos. The promise is ‘over 450bhp’. The other promise Is 1,350kg, because that’s what an Evo II weighed in period. This one will have double the power, though. And a six-speed manual gearbox. Double wishbones all round. Six piston brakes. DTM suspension.

Options will include everything from an extended range 85-litre fuel tank to a fitted luggage set. We suspect many will be fitted with the Affalterbach Package which adds 50bhp, carbon ceramic brakes, Track driving mode, sports exhaust and a 185mph max (up from 168mph).

See what I mean? It’s not a restomod, is it? There’s not a trace of genuine Evo II in it and it can’t wear a Mercedes badge. But look at it. Look at the perfection of that stance, the baleful headlights, how downright sinister it is. This one’s a work in progress, still features a largely original interior which will be ditched in favour of digital instruments, Recaro seats and all new switchgear. But it has the right engine in it. Sat in the studio in the bowels of HWA, I start it up. The shrieking rasp from the pipes is nothing like a Mercedes. But everything like you want it to be. A sound with a motorsport edge. Fitting, for the first car ever to wear an HWA badge.

13 minutes 34 seconds

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