While you can find inexpensive used luxury cars—even Rolls-Royces—cheap to buy doesn’t necessarily mean cheap to own. Plus, while modern cars have more features, they can actually work against you with luxury cars. ‘One more thing’ means ‘one more potentially-expensive thing to break.’ However, simplicity and ease of maintenance, along with styling, are some of the biggest classic car draws. And that even applies to some classic luxury cars.
Classic luxury cars not described here
There are a number of impressive classic luxury cars that offer great bargains. For example, you can get the Japanese Imperial Household’s favorite car, the Toyota Century, for less than $15,000. For a little more, you can get a Porsche 924, or a BMW 2002.
However, this list of classic luxury cars takes into account both purchase price and running costs. In the case of the Century, for example, there’s simply not enough information available for us to recommend it. And while something like a 1980s BMW 7-Series may be cheap to buy, and fairly reliable, Heritage Motor Insurance reports, it can be fairly expensive to service, Community CarTalk forum users report.
Additionally, there are some classic cars, like the BMW 2002, and the Porsche 944 and 924, that do offer a level of luxury. And the BMW 2002 is an excellent reliable classic car, Hagerty reports. Plus, except for the highly-valued Turbo models, it’s fairly affordable; a good-condition one can be found for $15,000-$20,000. However, these are more like upscale sports cars then true luxury cars.
Mercedes-Benz W123 & W124
With proper maintenance, Road & Track reports, the 1976-1986 Mercedes W123 “drive like tanks.” The six-cylinder 280 models can be a bit complicated to work on, Classic & Sports Car reports. And the diesel models, while basically bulletproof, are rather slow. However, as Hemmings describes, all W123 models were meant to be forever cars.
With regular oil and timing chain changes, Motorious reports, a W123 can last hundreds of thousands of miles. They’re regularly used as taxis around the world, Motoring Research reports. Plus, not only are spare parts plentiful, most are fairly inexpensive, r/mercedes_benz sub-Reddit users report. And it’s possible to find a well-maintained Mercedes W123 on Bring a Trailer for under $15,000.
The W123’s successor, the 1986-1995 W124, is also an excellent classic luxury car purchase, Hagerty reports. The W124 is the first E-Class and is also the car that introduced all-wheel drive and multi-link independent rear suspension to Mercedes’ sedans. It was also available as a coupe and a wagon; which Gear Patrol describes as “indestructible.”
Some of the mechanical components, like the A/C compressor, can be a bit pricey, Hemmings reports. But overall parts availability is good, Autocar reports. And it’s a car you can genuinely daily-drive. Plus, with an average BaT list price of $10k-$20k, it’s relatively affordable.
E28 BMW 5-Series
Although some used modern BMWs can be generally reliable, the classic models are arguably even more so. And for buying an inexpensive-to-maintain classic luxury car, R&T recommends the 2nd-gen 1981-1988 E28 BMW 5-Series.
Even after 200,000 miles, Autotrader reports, it’s possible for an E28 5-Series to drive without rattles. And despite its overall simplicity, it drives like a fairly modern car. Plus, after 1984, it came standard with ABS.
Apart from a cracked dashboard, Bimmer Forums reports, most repairs and maintenance on the E28 are relatively straightforward and reasonably priced. But apart from the typical old-car glitches, it’s possible to spend only $500-$1000 on annual maintenance, MyE28.com forum users report. The E28 is also fairly affordable, typically going for $10,000-$20,000 on BaT.
Few classic cars, let alone classic luxury cars, have as strong a reputation for reliability as the Volvo 240, aka the 200-Series. R&T describes it as “Volvo’s legendary brick,” and Petrolicious describes the 2-door 242 coupes as “very reliable tanks.” That reliability came in handy during its relatively-successful career as a touring and rally car.
It was also an extraordinarily long-lived model. The Volvo 240 family was produced from 1975-1993, Hagerty reports, and actually outlived its successor, the 740. Roughly 2.8 million examples were built, and most of them are still on the road, Jalopnik claims.
The 240’s range of four-cylinder engines aren’t particularly potent—the most powerful is a 165-hp 2.1-liter turbocharged four-cylinder—but they’re extremely easy to work on and modify. And the engine bay is large enough to accommodate a variety of engine swaps, BaT reports. The only issue, Hagerty reports, is a tendency for pre-1987 wiring harnesses to disintegrate.
Apart from the wiring harness, the biggest problem is rust, which is more prevalent in earlier models. Parts are plentiful, with some even being officially-licensed Volvo reproductions. And the Volvo 240 is extremely inexpensive for a classic luxury car: many are sold on BaT for $5000-$10,000.
With its turbocharged engine, the Saab 900 Turbo was in many ways the precursor to today’s hot hatches. But even in naturally-aspirated form, the 900 is an excellent reliable classic luxury car, R&T reports.
Later models, Classic & Sports Car reports, offered leather upholstery and power seats. But even the earlier ones were remarkably comfortable for their time, BaT reports, with a dashboard designed around excellent ergonomics. They’re also remarkably safe; Saab and Volvo tested their cars by ramming them into moose surrogates, Petrolicious explains. And it was a former Saab employee that created the first seat-belt.
Although the Turbo model is the most desirable, most Saab 900s can be picked up for $5000-$10,000 on BaT. And although some parts can be difficult to find, Popular Mechanics reports, costs are fairly low, according to Hemmings.
The Lexus LS400: the game-changing classic luxury car
Perhaps the defining example of an easy-to-maintain classic luxury car is the Lexus LS400. The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah drove one until it hit one million miles. All without opening its 4.0-liter V8 once. And it is, indeed, old enough to be considered a classic: it first debuted in 1989.
A product of the Bubble Era, the LS400 was utterly overbuilt. Even after 900,000 miles, some claimed Farah’s Lexus drove like a 150,000-mile car. The interior is serene even at triple-digit speeds. And the car rides more comfortably than some new cars, Gear Patrol reports. This classic luxury car genuinely proved that high-end cars could be reliable and inexpensive to operate, and made everyone from BMW to Rolls-Royce pay attention. The only real headaches, Jalopnik reports, are starter motor and EGR pipe failure.
Today, a well-preserved LS400 can be found for $10,000-$20,000 on BaT. And average annual maintenance tends to cost about $400-$450, RepairPal reports.
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