Reliable. Contrary to what many seem to believe, the term isn’t necessarily synonymous with boring or bland. Sure, it’s a hoot having something quirky, spunky and unpredictable like an Alfa (for instance)…right up to the moment when you’re stranded by the side of the road at 3 am in a lousy part of town. The tow truck takes forever to get there, you get murdered in the meanwhile…it’s a hassle.
Right now I own two very modest hatchbacks; one of them I love more than Kanye loves Kanye and the other one, well…quite frankly it’s been driving me insane. For a long, long time now it’s been breaking down every day of the week that ends with a “y” so, it’s about time I stop just browsing and get real serious about evicting some bills from my account. The obvious question becomes “what to get?”. Well, I want something pretty much bulletproof, a car that – with the appropriate TLC – not only outlasts me but also my great grandchildren. It can’t be pricey enough to utterly bankrupt me, but it does need to have some personality and ideally, it should also be a good “multitasker”.
I’ve already narrowed the field down to a few models and I’m gonna talk a bit about each one, point some pros and cons. Hopefully soon I’ll pick one of these babies up and gain some peace of mind. Wanna weight in? Take the poll at the end of the article. Own one of these? Share some knowledge in the comments!
*Note* American models such as the Crown Vic or Roadmaster were left out because I simply can’t get them here.
Mercedes Benz W123 300D
I have to admit that I’ve been wanting one of these things like crazy for the longest time, not just because they’re tough as roaches, but also because they’re so damn good looking! Mercedes hit it out of the park with the W123. It is the very definition of quality and the diesel versions…well, they just go on for a million miles (quite literally). I could keep talking about how these were made to last a lifetime instead of being restricted in their excellence by budget and production costs and, as a result, they’re perfectly happy soldering on with minimum (sometimes completely null) maintenance, but instead I’ll present the emotional side of it. Because they’re so damn good I still see these around often and absolutely every single time that happens, I think to myself “Wow, I need one of these!”. Within the W123 range, the 300D (sedan) is my favorite due to its honest simplicity. The epic 5 cylinder up front is certainly not gonna make the damn thing go fast (at all!) but it’s a heart that keeps on beating forever and that is more than capable of pulling the considerable weight of this car around over pretty much any terrain. Long story short:
Pros: Indestructible – Ridiculously comfortable (I have a buddy with one of these and once I sit down, I never want to get up again. Ever) – Great looking – Already a classic – Cheap to buy, cheap parts, cheap everything
Cons: Tectonic plates are about as fast as a 300D – Rust can be an annoying issue
Mercedes Benz W124 300TD
The W123 was a hell of a hard act to follow and when the W124 showed up in 1985, it kind of dropped the ball to be honest. There were quite a few issues with the early W124s, especially related to gaskets. However, with time, Mercedes fine tuned its product and by the mid/end of their production run the W124s were already famous for their quality and reliability. By now you may be wondering: “if you love the W123 so much, why even consider one of these?” Well, this next generation of Mercedes was quite a leap forward in terms of refinement. Everything got upgraded: engines, suspension, consumption, interiors…even aerodynamics were carefully considered. The W124 is a serious car for people who like to ride in comfort and as such, it’s most definitely a strong candidate on my list. Again, I’m considering the diesel version, one of the late ones; more specifically the 300 turbo estate version. Although the sedan isn’t as charming or good looking as the equivalent W123, it certainly isn’t ugly either. However, I’m a sucker for estates/wagons in general and this particular version of the W124 is extremely pretty. It just looks so elegant and well balanced. Plus, I would welcome the extra space since I have the horrible habit of finding and stockpiling useless junk. The Turbo and the extra cylinder in the W124s 300s (l6) also helps to overcome the one major issue I have with the W123: speed (better yet, the lack thereof). In a nutshell, it comes down to this:
Pros: Versatility – Performance (well, in this context anyway)
Cons: (Very reliable, sure. But) not as reliable as the W123 – More complex mechanics translate to slightly more expensive and/or challenging maintenance. The more astute amongst you may point out that I could compromise a bit on the power/speed, go for a 250D multi-valves and spare the – possible – turbo related problems…and you’re not wrong…
Toyota Hilux N40 & N60
As Top Gear made clear , killing a Hilux is very, very hard work. So as a potential buyer, it’s already a relief to know that your car can survive being dumped on the ocean, set on fire and buried in the rumble of collapsing buildings. The debate around the Hilux is – for the enthusiasts anyway – SFA (Solid Front Axle) or IFS (Independent Front Suspension). Personally, I really like the older SFA stuff like the N40 but I’m also extremely partial to the N60 (IFS), especially the 2.5 “Tracker” version as pictured above (which is for sale right now…). Although seriously considering 4x4s due to my desire of moving to a very mountainous region soon, I wouldn’t particularly torture either one with solely recreational off-roading, so both generations are more than capable of meeting any occasional mountain climbing/mud diving needs I may have. Toyota pickups are a force to be reckoned with, time tested in the roughest of settings. If you turn on the news tonight, any footage of conflicts in Africa will feature a Toyota for sure; they’ve been transformed from work horse to war horse. Pushed to the limit, overworked and poorly maintained, they soldier on. Extraordinary machines.
Pros: The “Terminator” of the auto world – Extraordinary off road abilities
Cons: Not exactly comfortable – Extremely hard to find (seriously, I haven’t seen one for sale around here in who knows how many months)
Pros: Serious off road, comfortable on tarmac – Amazing looks
Cons: Not as reliable as its grandma (the N40), with all the cons that fact implies – Price! These things aren’t exactly cheap
Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40
Like the old Hilux trucks, the FJ40 is more or less unkillable. You can find these all over the world and that should tell you something about their ability to survive anywhere, doing anything. From transport, to farming, to war (yeah, Toyota seems to have cornered the market as far as war rides), the Land Cruiser is more than capable of handling anything you can throw at it. Plus, just look at the darn thing; such a good looking car! For me, the later models are the best ones (all-round) and engine wise, I wouldn’t mind a 2F l6 in order to make sure I wouldn’t be (severely) left wanting in the power department.
Pros: Already a classic – Timeless beauty – Extremely capable – Enormous bumper, perfect for ramming things out of the way if needed/wanted
Cons: Vague handling, weak brakes and rough ride…not a great daily driver – Rust!
Toyota Land Cruiser FJ80 & FJ100
My last choices are also by far the most improbable ones due to price, at least for the time being. Meet the FJ80 and the FJ100. The 80 is one of the most extraordinary vehicles ever made, frequently acclaimed as the best of the Land Cruisers (that’s certainly saying something). The FJ100 is more refined, certainly more luxurious as well and it surpasses the 80 in terms of reliability in some important points. The 80 versus 100 debate rages on between Land Cruiser aficionados and I’m left here wondering which – given the chance – I’d end up settling on. The FJ80 is a tough, no nonsense exploration vehicle in which you just happen to be able to drive the kids to school in the morning as well. However, because so many covet its jungle/desert/mountain devouring abilities, it’s tough to find a stock example of the 80. Plus, the brakes apparently leave much to be desired and head gaskets get obliterated frequently. The FJ100 is reportedly a more refined creation with extraordinary reliability. It is however big enough to develop its own gravitational pull and not as rugged as the solid front axle equipped FJ80. These are not necessarily bad things though; the size can come in handy and the more precise approach to handling should prove very useful for the everyday driving. I love its abilities, I just wish it looked better. The 80s is gorgeous, the 100…is a bit like Ann Veal.
Pros: Great build quality – Sober yet extremely captivating looks – Unstoppable
Cons: Key mechanical components can be sensitive
Pros: Extraordinarily reliable and refined – A great multitasker
Cons: Looks about as exciting as a can of soup
Pros: Endlessly capable pieces of machinery, fit for anything you can possibly throw at them
Cons: More than double the price of any other car mentioned on the article – Both can be expensive to run and maintain; just because a car is reliable doesn’t mean it can just be kept unmaintained forever. While stuff like the W123 soldiers on, these do require specific and timely attention
So, what am I really leaning towards?
As far as a daily driver, overall I believe the W124 would be the best choice. That being said, I keep teeter totting between that (which is the rational, logical choice) and the W123 (which is a much more emotional one). As I mentioned before, I hope to be settling down in a more rugged region soon, so a 4×4 will eventually become a necessity (or a sensible, practical option at the very least). On that regard, despite holding every model I mentioned dear, I’ll most likely be essentially torn between my genuine appreciation of the FJ80 and the fact that the FJ100 is a lot of bang for my buck and an astonishing piece of machinery in general as well. Hopefully in a short time, when my decision has been made, I’ll be sure to share. Until then, have your say:
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