5. Mercedes W126
So my dad came very, very close to buying one of these as a grocery getter years ago, and I’m still pissed that he didn’t. Of all the cars on this list, the W126 S class is probably the best buy and hold proposition. If you want to drive a classic but you’re worried about safety, this is the car to buy.
These things are built like absolute tanks, and they were decades ahead on safety — perfect for a classic daily first car. Old Merc’s doesn’t race cars, they’re autobahn cruisers. You can absolutely cruise at 110 all day long in these things; it’s pretty much the ultimate road trip machine. This is the last Mercedes that was built “like a Mercedes.”
And the result is that Mercedes W126s can be time capsules at 300k miles. The interiors are beautiful, and the seats are super comfortable. The M116 and M117 V8s are pretty bulletproof; there are one or two routine age-related services, but other than that, it’s not gonna cause you any grief. Yes, genuine Mercedes parts are expensive, but you can usually buy OEM for a fraction of the price — and they’re not too complicated to work on yourself with basic tools.
The forums and YouTube resources for these old Benzes are also wonderful, so don’t feel daunted. Price-wise, buy the absolute best one you can afford, but there is no real price consensus on these things. The same car could sell for $3500 here in Philadelphia or $6500 in L.A. — so wait around for a good one; you can even make a road trip out of it if it’s a distance away.
4. Lexus LS400
This is a serious stealth proposition. First of all, telling your parents you want a used Lexus is going to set off exactly zero alarm bells. True Lexuses are slightly on the boring side — but the Lexus LS400 has one of the best V8s ever made under the hood, and these things are dirt cheap at the moment.
The 32v quad-cam 1UZE is a legendary engine: not only is it crazy smooth and easily tunable, but it’s also probably one of the most reliable power plants of the past 40 years. Yes, the timing belt is annoying, but it’s well documented that these things can reach the half-million-mile mark with regular maintenance.
If you want to go the tuner route with a V8, this is the car for you. It is the undisputed V8 drift king in Japan, and The VIP tuning style largely originated with the L.S. Also, it’s a Lexus — it’s comfortable, well equipped (for the 90s), and if you’re not a complete idiot, it’ll last you for years. A good one of these runs around $5,000, with great ones closer to $10K, just make sure it comes with records of timing belt services.
3. Lincoln LS
The Lincoln LS is one of those ‘if you can find one’ cars. This was Ford’s attempt to make a 5-series rival sports sedan — and they actually did a damn good job. All the press at the time put the L.S. on or ahead of the 5-series in terms of driving dynamics, I actually drove one of these things years ago, and I can say it doesn’t disappoint.
The engine was co-developed with Jaguar, but thankfully the L.S. doesn’t share any Jaguar electrics. This wasn’t a very successful car for Lincoln; it turns out their clientele was still more of the Town Car type — but the upside of that is that if you can find one of these, you won’t pay a lot for it.
I saw a completely mint example for around $7K on Auto Trader, and usually, they hover around $4K. If you want a V8 sports sedan without the parts prices or insurance premium of a BMW, check out the L.S.
2. Buick Roadmaster / GM B Body
So I actually owned one of these too — I kept mine stock because it was a mint condition wagon, but it is incredibly easy and cheap to turn these boats into speed machines. All Roadmasters came with 350s or the LT1 corvette engine (which is also a 350) — and this is excellent news. Why? Because the Chevy small block is one of the most prolific, cheap to fix, reliable, and easily tunable V8s ever produced.
The 4L60E transmission isn’t half bad, it’s very reliable if serviced as directed, and it’s dirt cheap to replace. You can even do a manual swap if you have the time, skills, and money — and that turns the roadster into one hell of a sleeper. You have the option of a sedan or groovy wood-paneled wagon, but both have equally plastic-y interiors.
These B bodies will always be big boats, but great artists need big canvases. In my anecdotal experience (future articles coming), Buicks are also better maintained than their Chevy counterparts, but any B body will be nearly identical (mechanically) year for year.
Buy a hooptie for as little as a grand, or a really nice example in the $6,000 range. Wagons will usually cost a little more, but hey, if you want room for 8, that’s the price you pay.
1. Ford Crown Victoria / Panther Platform
Oh, you want an old cop car? Sure, why the hell not. That’s most parent’s attitude to the Crown Vic because these things have a great reputation of being cheap, safe, reliable cars. I guarantee that if you don’t think you can’t even afford a car — you can afford an old Crown Vic. Yes, I know this is a predictable choice… but it’s predictable for a reason.
The great thing about a Crown Vic is that, given its large body-on-frame American car heritage, you can make it into whatever you want to. Track car? Sure. Off-roader? Why the hell not. Dragster? Yup, you can do that. Sleeper? Done to death, but again, cliches are cliches for a reason. The community’s amount of knowledge about tuning and modifying these things is immense, and parts are dirt cheap.
You can build your Crown Vic any way you want with a basic mechanic’s tool kit, jack stands, a jack, and a visit to Auto zone. Look, pretty much everything about the Panther Platform has already been said — so I’ll just say that these things are talked about as much as they are for a damn good reason. It’s simply the easiest-to-get-into V8 RWD car on the market.
Pick one up from around a grand to $10K for mint last year of production model with 35 miles on it. Buy a Grand Marquis if you want, its the same damn car. Town cars are cool too, but they have annoying air suspension. The p71 isn’t actually THAT much different from the stock ones, but fleet vehicles do benefit from good maintenance.
One to Avoid - Cadillac DTS / Late Model DeVille
Yep — my high school car. So I loved my Cadillac DTS, but I got rid of it for a reason — and that reason is the Northstar V8. These engines are something else: smooth-revving and powerful, they even sound great…but they have a 100% catastrophic failure rate.