1991 Mercedes-Benz 560SEC

The C126, the coupe based on the W126 S-class, is a firm favorite around here. And for good reason: the lines penned by famed designer Bruno Sacco have aged very well, and these cars still command great road presence even today. With the C126, you get the stately good looks and bank-vault build quality of an S-class, but repackaged into a slinky, pillarless bodyshape. Collectors might want to park their money in ultra low mileage examples. But I think these cars deserve to be driven and enjoyed – they’re wonderful grand tourers, ideal for covering vast distances while keeping the passengers inside cosseted in safety, comfort and style.

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1979 Mercedes-Benz 280S

Produced between 1972 and 1980, the W116 was the first car from Mercedes to officially bear the name “S-class.” Representing the pinnacle of luxury, safety and German engineering in the period, American customers could choose from several gasoline-powered V8s: a 3.5 liter unit in the 350SE/L, a 4.5 liter unit in the 450 SE/L and a gargantuan 6.9 liter unit in the infamous, high performance 6.9 SEL. But in Europe, the car was also available in base spec as the 280S, powered by a carbureted (rather than fuel injected) version of the M110 2.8 liter straight six.

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1991 Mercedes-Benz 500SL

The R129, produced between 1989 and 2002, is a bit of an odd duck. It’s too old for those in the market for a roadster with modern levels of power and convenience. But it’s not yet old enough (or rare enough) to be of interest to collectors or vintage aficionados. The upshot is that a nice example can be had for relatively little money and it might well appreciate in value over the coming decade, following R107 values through the roof. The 600SL was the halo car of the lineup, with a monster of a V12 under the hood. But the 500SL – powered by a 5.0 liter V8 that developed a perfectly usable 320 hp – is where real value for money can be found. Perhaps not as sporting as one would hope, these SLs nonetheless continue in a long line of high quality boulevard cruisers known for their high precision engineering, longevity and classic good looks.

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1980 Mercedes-Benz 230TE

For many, the W123 remains the definitive Mercedes-Benz. With an iconic silhouette, invincible build quality and well-deserved reputation for durability, these cars can still be spotted on the road today, serving as daily drivers and usable classics. In fact, there’s a mint condition 300D in smoke silver that I see driven around my neighborhood on a regular basis. Looking like it just rolled out of a showroom, the owner is a young professional who I would guess is in his mid-thirties. Now that is a man with good taste. The estate bodyshape adds a useful amount of cargo space in the rear, making it the perfect choice for a stylish trip to the beach (or the lumber yard). To the uninitiated, they might just look like old wagons, but prices for mint examples can quickly reach into the high teens.

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1991 BMW M5

The E28 M5 that Carter wrote up the other day was a nice piece of kit. But the E34 remains my favorite version of the M-powered 5-series. Sure, it was heavier than it’s predecessor. But even with the additional heft, the dynamic chassis and dialled-in suspension setup meant it was still a spritely, potent car. It was also subtle, distinguished from lower models only by a few, discreet M-badges, restyled lower valances and unique alloys. That’s no bad thing. Super sedans should be understated, in my view, and the conservatively styled E34 was handsome then and remains so now. That understated exterior conceals a glorious, screaming 3.6 liter inline six, replete with six individual throttle bodies, a motor that was good for just over 300 hp when new.

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1986 Mercedes-Benz 300SL

The R107 arrived in 1971 and remained in production for an extraordinary 18 years, enough time to establish itself as a well-loved symbol of motoring decadence. Today, these roadsters remain usable and admired classics. The 300SL, available in Europe between 1985 and 1989, was never sold in the US. American buyers were therefore deprived of the six cylinder R107 experience, having to choose from a range of V8s instead. A shame, really. In many respects, the bulletproof 3.0 liter engine was a nice match for the chassis. The R107 was always more of a boulevard cruiser rather than a sports car anyway, so the 190 hp offered up by the creamy six cylinder unit is sufficient. With a little less weight up front, these tend to feel a little more agile than the V8-powered models. And aside from some well documented weaknesses (head gaskets, valve guides and stem seals) the M103 is a notoriously reliable motor.

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1992 Mercedes-Benz 500E

The 300k-mile 500E I wrote up last week was a bit of a hot mess. It needed extensive cosmetic work along with who knows what else. But to my surprise, it sold for $7,700. I wish the brave soul who bought it all the luck in the world, whether they restore it to its former glory or use it as a comically powerful beater. The sale price got me thinking: how much would you have to pay for high mileage 500E that wasn’t all torn up? As if on cue, this nice looking example popped up on eBay. The miles are high, but the condition of this Porsche-Mercedes mashup looks great, a testament to the longevity and durability of the W124 platform on which it is based.

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1995 Mercedes-Benz E300 Diesel

Before the W124 bowed out in 1995, the last oil-burning version you could buy was the E300 Diesel. It received the exterior tweaks associated with post-facelift cars of the late W124 era, including a rounder front grille, updated glass headlights and smoked taillights. It also got the OM606 engine under the hood, a 3.0 liter inline six cylinder diesel unit making about 135 hp. Unlike earlier W124 diesels, there was no turbo. But fret not. These were still fast enough (for a diesel), and the OM606 is one of the most rugged engines Mercedes ever made. These cars will cruise effortlessly on the highway while returning 30+ MPG. Perfect for the commuter looking for tank-like build quality, reasonable running costs and a bit of class.

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1995 Mercedes-Benz C280

With the exception of the high-performance C36/C43 AMG, the W202 C-class tends to get short shrift around here. That’s probably because for many, the W202 marks the point at which Mercedes began to lose its way. Not only did the taut, angular design language of yesteryear give way to the rounder, less attractive lines of the “jelly bean” era, Mercedes products from the mid 1990s onwards just never seemed as reliable or as well-built as those that came before. I think there’s something to this, but the upshot is that a garden variety C280 can be had for not much money. And while it isn’t quite as tank-like as the venerable W201 it replaced, it can still make for a satisfying commuter. If you squint hard enough, you can even see the design parallels between the two.

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1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SLC

Produced between 1971 and 1981, the C107 was a fixed roof, four seater coupe based on a longer version of the R107 chassis. Badged as an SLC, it was effectively an SL in 2+2 configuration, with a modest amount of room in the back for a couple of (small) adults. The 4.5 liter V8 in the 450 put out a meagre 190 hp, so it wasn’t all that fast. But it was, and remains, a gorgeous and classy cruiser whose looks neatly capture that moment at which the design language of the late 1960s began to give way to that of the 1970s. Even in elongated form, the car retains the timeless good looks of the SL. Those pleated, curtain-looking louvres behind the rear windows? I always thought they simply gave rear passengers a bit of privacy while also letting in some light. But a bit of internet research reveals they have another purpose. They allow for shorter rear windows that can slide downwards into the body without hitting a wheel arch. This means the car can retain a completely pillar-less look. A typically German solution to a problem: practical and elegant at the same time.

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