A W124 Mercedes-Benz Is the Best Classic Car for Beginners

Driving a vintage vehicle may be enticing, but classic car ownership isn’t always for everyone. Sure, they’re stylish, but dealing with an old ignition system or a flooded carburetor can get annoying. And then there’s the potential nightmare of rust. However, some classic rides provide a lower barrier of entry into the vintage world. And one of the best classic cars a beginner can get is a W124 Mercedes-Benz.

The W124 Mercedes-Benz, not the W123, is the best classic car for newbies

A tan 1976 W123 Mercedes-Benz 280E
1976 W123 Mercedes-Benz 280E | Mercedes-Benz

Some fans of old Mercedes-Benz cars may find it odd that we’re placing the W124 ahead of its predecessor, the W123. Because while both are durable classic luxury cars, the W123’s reputation was built on its longevity. Petrolicious calls it “the epitome of Mercedes-Benz quality,” and Road & Track lists it as one of “the…best classic cars for daily driving.” So, why suggest the W124 over the W123?

There are several reasons why the W124 Mercedes-Benz is a better choice for new classic car owners than the W123. For one, R&T qualifies its statement with “…as long as you keep up with maintenance.” Hagerty echoes a similar sentiment. Yes, the W123 is a durable car, but it’s not necessarily a reliable one. They have relatively short maintenance schedules and parts are getting expensive, Honest John explains. Also, while they were reasonably rust-proof by ‘70s and ‘80s standards, they’re not immune to corrosion, Classics World reports.

A dark-blue 1988 W124 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon
1988 W124 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon | Mercedes-Benz

Meanwhile, it’s not like the W124 Mercedes-Benz is poorly built in comparison. R&T describes it as “famously bulletproof,” while Bring a Trailer calls it “among the last of the traditionally overbuilt and over-engineered Mercedes-Benz road cars.” That ‘bank-vault’ feel old Mercs have? This one has it. And it’s the first true E-Class, one of the most reliable Mercedes models. But because the last W124 was built in the mid-to-late ‘90s, it has several modern touches the W123 lacks.

For example, the W124 Mercedes-Benz has independent rear suspension, automatic seatbelt tensioners, and more advanced crumple zones, Honest John and Curbside Classic report. It also has ABS, more airbags, a modern O2 sensor to improve fuel efficiency and emissions, and optional AWD, Hagerty and Hemmings report.

The gray-leather front seats and dashboard of a 1995 W124 Mercedes-Benz E320
1995 W124 Mercedes-Benz E320 front interior | Bring a Trailer

And because it’s an E-Class, it has luxury features like soft-close doors, leather upholstery, electronically-adjusting headrests, and on wagon models, self-leveling rear suspension, Gear Patrol reports. Plus, its lone windshield wiper’s design is so effective, Koenigsegg still uses it, Autocar reports.

Whether AMG-modified wagon or 500E sedan, there’s a W124 Mercedes-Benz for everyone

Speaking of wagons, that’s another reason why a W124 Mercedes-Benz is the best classic car beginners can get. Mercedes offered it with a variety of turbodiesel and gasoline engines and in multiple body styles. You can get a W124 as a coupe, a convertible, a wagon, and a sedan. And each one has its own special touches.

When it comes to W124 sedans, arguably the most desirable is the Mercedes-Benz 500E, later renamed the E500. Although Porsche helped assemble and re-engineer it, it’s still ultimately a W124 sedan. Or, as Hagerty describes it, “the world’s most perfect sedan.” Essentially every sedan that’s come after the W124 has copied its design, and its drag coefficient is still impressively low by modern standards.

The W124 Mercedes-Benz also set the stage for another famous sedan: the AMG Hammer. While it wasn’t the first AMG-tuned Mercedes, the Hammer solidified the firm as a performance powerhouse. And with a 355-hp 5.5-liter V8, the AMG Hammer could out-accelerate some supercars, Car and Driver reports.

RELATED: AMG’s First Race Car, the Mercedes ‘Red Pig,’ Flies Again

Plus, there were even some AMG-tweaked W124 Mercedes-Benz wagons, MB World reports. Technically, only one of these is a Hammer wagon, Hagerty explains. The rest are Japanese-market 300TEs and 320TEs (‘T’ for ‘Touring,’ ‘E’ for ‘E-Class’) fitted with body kits, new wheels, sport seats, and larger engines. But even a base 300TE could match some contemporary sports cars in acceleration, Car and Driver reports, while still providing excellent cargo space and a comfortable ride.

They’re durable, easy to work on, and still affordable

As we said earlier, a W124 Mercedes-Benz makes for a durable classic car. And it’s simple enough for a home mechanic to service; plus, parts are still plentiful. But there are few areas to check before you get one.

RELATED: The W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Was an Overbuilt Luxury Marvel

Besides age-related issues like rust, worn gaskets, and old suspension bushings, arguably the biggest issue is the wiring harness, Classics World reports. At the time, Mercedes used a biodegradable harness that often degrades, leading to electrical problems and even overheating issues or fires. And if overheating remains an issue, the engine’s cylinder head can crack. So, before you buy check to see if the wiring harness and head gasket have been replaced.

Additionally, early four-cylinder engines had issues with stretched timing chains, Honest John reports. But 1988-and-later W124s don’t suffer this problem, and neither do the six-cylinder models. And some later four-cylinder models had stretched head bolts, but most have been replaced by now.

The rear 3/4 view of a black 1993 W124 Mercedes-Benz 320TE Wagon with the AMG kit by a NYC bridge
1993 W124 Mercedes-Benz 320TE Wagon with AMG kit rear 3/4 | Cars and Bids

RELATED: Cars and Bids Bargain of the Week: 1991 W126 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL

There’s one more reason why a W124 Mercedes-Benz might be the best classic car for newbies. Apart from the 500E and the rarer AMG models, W124s are still fairly affordable. The vast majority of examples on BaT sell for less than $20K, and often for around $10K. It’s a similar story on Cars and Bids.

Affordable, comfortable, practical, and durable: that’s a great recipe for the best classic car.

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