Back in 1997, Mercedes-Benz had yet to formally acquire aftermarket tuning group AMG. But when it wanted to impress Jerry Seinfeld with a loaner Tri-Star, it couldn’t just give him a base model E420. Seinfeld needed something ratcheted up; all the soup for him. So Merc turned to well-known tuner Renntech, which installed more than $100,000 in updates in an E-Class — resulting in an E60 that remains a diabolical land rocket some 22 years later.
From the outside, the car appears bone stock. Only embossed Renntech logos on the exhaust tips offer a hint of the demons lurking within the drivetrain. Open the door and a sill plate emblazoned with “J.S. Edition” greets you, as does a comely blueberry-and-black-leather interior accentuated with bird’s-eye maple wood and an Alcantara headliner.
Turn the key to awaken an enlarged 6.0-liter V-8, featuring larger intake and exhaust valves and a more aggressive camshaft. Renntech’s completely stainless steel exhaust, boasting a sport resonator and muffler, emits such a deep, throaty note that you start salivating at the prospect of hearing it at full gallop.
With the throttle open wide, the E60’s growl is intoxicating. 434 horses and a staggering (for its day) 525 lb-ft of twist mean there are few cars of its age this sleeper can’t best. Mat the throttle on take-off, and you’re rewarded with satisfying wheel spin before the 18-inch magnesium monoblocks bite down into the asphalt and chuck you backward into the plush seat. The tear from 0 to 60 happens in 4.6 seconds. For reference, that’s faster than a 1997 Acura NSX or Ferrari F335 Berlinetta.
A specially-modified Mercedes-Benz five-speed automatic transmission pumps the power out through a limited-slip diff, which does a wonderful job of propulsion. A potential Mercedes customer was on a test drive of a new Mercedes-AMG GT C right ahead of us and would mash the gas whenever the road cleared. The E60 caught up in a few seconds, every single time.
Immense work was done to the suspension, and the result is tangible. A rear subframe modification with aluminum links was completed and specially-valved, fully-adjustable Koni dampers were added, along with Renntech-spec lowering springs and larger front and rear anti-roll bars. This sucker is planted. It feels impossible to shake it loose in a corner and there’s virtually no body roll, though it’s not so stiff that it’ll smash your teeth when it laps up the occasional pothole. The steering is impeccably dialed-in, giving you proper feedback while maintaining precision.
Perhaps the most admirable addition to the E60 is hiding in plain sight: the RS custom steel wide body kit that includes flared fenders all around. The amount of work that it must’ve taken to achieve a stock look here must be applauded. As a result, the car has presence.
After about 10,000 (presumably joy-filled) miles, Seinfeld returned the car to Mercedes, who let it sit for a spell before deciding to send it to the crusher. Mercifully, the Mercedes-Benz Classics Center got wind of the impending peril and swooped in to claim it for themselves. Today, it lives amongst the brand’s heritage fleet in Southern California.
Most well-maintained old cars feel like a treat to drive these days, but this E60 is something else. What Mercedes and Renntech created the first time out of the gate was so perfect, it can still ruin your perception of many modern cars.