I’ve been living with my W126 300SE for several months now. In that time I’ve clocked up about 1,500 miles and taken the car on a few road trips in the mid-Atlantic region. Apart from a couple of initial hiccups (which I wrote about here), it has been a pleasure to own and a real joy to drive. Comfortable, stately and classically good looking, my friends joke that all it needs is a set of ambassadorial flags on the front bumper. It’s true that the 3.0 liter motor lacks the low-end torque made by the larger V8 models – I have to use the kick-down switch at the bottom of the throttle pedal more often than I did in my smaller W201. But once up to cruising speeds on the highway, the 300 behaves much like the 420 and 560. The six cylinder M103 motor is robust and relatively easy to fix (except for the fuel injection system, which can be a bloody nightmare when it goes wrong). And the proportions of the short-wheelbase exterior are, to my eye at least, just right.
When I got my first job out of grad school, I needed a cheap daily driver to commute to work. Everyone told me to just buy a Honda and be done with it. But I knew that wasn’t going to work. I wanted something unusual, safe, classy and preferably German. And that’s how I came to buy a W201. I didn’t really know much about them at the time. But a nice looking example popped up for sale near me, and as soon as I drove it I was hooked. The 190E rides like a shrunken S-class: luxurious, sturdy and solid. The straight six motor is creamy and robust. And the design of the car is really quite handsome, under-appreciated even, especially when seen from the rear three-quarter angle. True, the 190E is not fast, the KE-Jetronic fuel injection system is a real pain when it goes wrong and, owing to the gearing on the old school four-speed automatic, the 2.6 is not as fuel efficient as it should be (the 2.3 isn’t much better either). Still, a nicely kept W201 can be a neat and satisfying entry point into budget-friendly German motoring. Provided you pick a good one.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1992 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.6 on Central NJ Craigslist
The first BMW to arrive in our family was an Arctic Silver E36. My dad bought the 318iS coupe from the British telecom giant he worked for, some time toward the end of the 90s. It was a manager’s company car and after three years serving on the fleet it was to be sold off. Ever since then, I’ve always enjoyed seeing arctic silver paint on this generation 3-series. Despite articles proclaiming that silver is the new beige, I think the color really suits the clean, crisp lines of the “dolphin” body shape. But the paintwork isn’t the only thing to admire about this particular car – an M3/4/5 (a four door, five speed M3). The sedan version of the E36 M3 is as fast and finely balanced as the coupe, but adds the practicality of two rear doors. A pocket rocket for those with a family to cart around, these cars are fun and practical, even if they are notably down on power in comparison with their Euro-spec counterparts.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 BMW M3 on eBay
While I love my W126, I miss the E34 that I sold back in May. Mine was only a lowly 525i, but with its tight suspension and fun-to-use 5-speed manual gearbox, it drove more like a go-kart than I was expecting, when I picked it up on a whim. I hope to own another E34 someday, perhaps one with a bit more grunt than my old car had. So I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the M5 market for a while now. Values on these cars have risen steadily over the last few years, as buyers looking for a bit of old-school, hand-built M GmbH magic have woken up to the charms of this generation 5-series, with its 3.6 liter inline six powerplant. Of course, this means that an E34 M5 will most likely be out of reach before I can afford one. But for those with cash on hand right now, the last year or so has seen a steady supply of neat examples coming to market. Right now, buyers looking for a tidy, daily-driver quality example can expect to pay between $15,000 and $20,000. Grab one while you can.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 BMW M5 on eBay
You don’t see many E32s on the road anymore. Most have been consigned to the junk yard by now. That’s a shame. With this generation 7-series, BMW hewed close to the guiding principles that served it well back in the day, when it offered cars with simple, unfussy styling and a brawny but somewhat subdued road presence. The V12-powered 750iL was marvelous when running right but monstrously expensive to fix when it broke. The “entry level” 735i, on the other hand, was powered by the notoriously robust, inline six M30 engine. Displacing 3.4 liters, it’s the same motor that found its way into the 535i and 635CSi of the same period. With about 208 hp on tap to move around a car weighing about 3,500 lbs, it was no performance behemoth. But it certainly cost less to run than its larger-engined siblings. That makes this nicely kept 735i the perfect candidate for use as an interesting daily driver.