James Brown is just one of those guys with a natural eye for style – as his modified Mercedes 190e proves…
Some people are lucky enough to have a natural, keen eye for design. It’s that simple. It doesn’t always take qualifications, the attendance of university or even after school clubs. Some people are just born with it. Not to go all Maybelline on you, but James Brown is one of these people. If I sound jealous, I suppose I am a teeny bit. I mean, have you seen the car that’s spread lovingly across these pages for your eyes to feast on? It’s just beautiful. But, James has always had a keen eye for what he likes and what works, and his latest 190e shows that more than ever.
The Essex-based sales manager is no stranger to the car scene. In fact, he’s somewhat of a mogul on Instagram. His previous project cars have included four separate versions of the Mercedes 190, as well as a few Essex-boy Fords (such as an XR2i and a Fiesta Turbo), a pink 106 GTi (he said, “Don’t ask”, so we won’t), as well as loads of other random cars. We can forgive the pink 106 GTi (for now, at least). We’re all allowed a lapse in judgement. Plus, I seem to recall hangovers lasting days when I was younger – we’ll just put it down to some alcohol influenced decision making. The fact of the matter is, James has always been into cars.
“I’ve had a love and passion for cars for as long as I can remember. My oldest friends and I grew up loving cars. It’s really never been any different. Nor do I ever see that changing,” James told Fast Car.
Sales man by day, owner of The Play Bay by night. That’s right, our James Brown is Essex’s answer to Hugh Hefner. Well, maybe in the detailing sense. The Play Bay is James’s side piece. He details cars there. Anything from, er, hand jobs, to full-on machine polishing action. Anyway, before we get too hot under the collar, moving on…
He first purchased this particular Mercedes around three years ago – completely standard might we add. She’s a 190e model, complete with 2.6-litre petrol unit producing 166bhp – standard engine output, but sick all the same.
The 190e is a car that any ’80s baby grew up loving. Released in 1982, the Evo I or II (or both) were on every little petrol head’s car bucket list. I’ll bet you didn’t grow up thinking it’d look anything like this, though. As you know, James has owned his fair share of Mercs, so why this one? “I’ve always loved this shape – I’ve already owned four – but never had the 2.6-litre. It was just time to scratch the itch, I guess,” says James.
As the car was completely standard when he bought it, modifications were very much needed. First up, he decided to get all the gaskets, engine and gearbox serviced. Very sensible, James. Jokes aside. Doing a service like this can prevent loads of shit going wrong. Basically, it’s well worth it on these older cars. Prevention is better than cure and all that jazz.
So, following a full service, it was onto the good stuff. He contacted Brian at Rotiform and put his order in, for the MBZs you can see in the pictures. The size being 17 inches at all four corners, with 8j up front and 9.5j out back and ET18 – meaning, no spacers! Yes, Jay, we do love a staggered set-up.
Having ordered the wheels, James took the car to Plush Automotive in Leicester for a completely custom air ride set-up. Plush head honcho Luke Massy then set about re-working parts to make a kit fi t properly; the result being some BMW E36 Air Lift struts to the front, together with a fully-custom rear set-up, all managed by an Air Lift V2 system.
Once the air ride was sorted and the car was sitting nicely, paint was on the agenda. Not a change of colour, mind. James decided not to upset the purists too much and went for a fresh new hue of the original Mercedes 199 colour. A full respray was required as opposed to a good quality machine polish. The car went over to Jags Bodyshop in Stapleford Abbots for a much needed respray. It wasn’t just a standard re-spray, though. James decided he needed more girth. Which resulted in all four wheel arches being pulled.
This width, together with the air ride, gives the whole car a seriously strong stance. This was enough for James. For a year and half anyway. Then the modifying itch was back, so James decided to get a full interior re-trim. Earlier this year, James took the Merc to SFP Design. “I’ve known Junior at SFP for years, ever since he worked for Carisma Automotive back in the day and I just knew it was him that had to do the interior. I’m glad I did, the guys did an incredible job! I couldn’t be happier,” James said.
The work included new grey carpets throughout, Recaro classic seats trimmed in green leather, Cosworth rear seats re-trimmed in green leather, a custom centre console (again, trimmed in green leather), the doorcards have had a custom speaker set-up fitted to the front and the rear and have also been trimmed to match, along with the dashboard. The Alcantara roof lining was also trimmed and fitted by SFP.
In terms of engine modifications, there are none. At the moment, at least. We can’t fault this car at all, though. James, however, has a power itch and he’s just got to scratch it. He’s hoping to perform some engine modifications in the near future, or maybe just swapping the engine out completely for something larger. The engine swap will upset the purists among you, however, we don’t care. In fact, we say go for it. A bigger, more powerful lump to the front of this beaut can be no bad thing. Manufacturers are sharing everyone’s kit these days anyway, what’s the problem with making it better than the original? Not every manufacturer can get everything spot on, after all. Not only that, technology has moved a long way since 1982, let’s take advantage of it!
Full respray in original colour (Mercedes 199), done by Jags Bodyshop. All four arches have been pulled by Jags Bodyshop (10mm front 15mm rear).
Standard petrol 166bhp 2.6-litre.
BMW E36 Airlift front struts with custom rear set up running Airlift V2 management, done by Plush Automotive. 17-inch Rotiform MBZ alloy wheels, which are 8j up front and 9.5j out back, complete with 195/40/17 rubber to the front and 215/40/17 rubber at the rear.
New carpets throughout. Re-trimmed leather dash. Recaro Classic front seats re-trimmed in green leather. Cosworth rear bench re-trimmed in green leather. Custom centre console re-trimmed in green leather. Door cards re-trimmed in green leather. Roof lining trimmed in Alcantara. All work completed by SFP Design.
Door cards have custom speaker builds front and rear. Kenwood DMX-7017DABS head unit. Rockford Fosgate components in all doors. Two Vibe black air 12-inch subs, with two amps.
Jags Bodyshop. SFP Design. Plush Automotive. Rotiform. Airlift. Kenwood. Meguiars.
Words Danielle Bagnall Photography Dan Pullen