When Mercedes-Benz launched the W124 back in 1984, it represented a watershed moment for a number of reasons. It was the first model to be given the designation E-Class and it also boasted a look that astonished people.
The combination of a bold new design, reduced fuel consumption, and a range of innovative features has ensured legendary status for the car in the years since then. Is it the best classic car of all though?
What Makes the W124 Special?
Devised by Bruno Sacco, the gentle rise of the body, short overhang at the front and high-tail trunk changed ideas about what sedan cars should look like. That design appears a little dated and boxy to 2023 eyes, but it was a genuine revelation at the time.
The subtle alterations that Mercedes-Benz made to the standard sedan design proved hugely influential within the industry. Pretty soon, sedan cars closely modeled on the W124 became extremely common and that is why anyone looking at the car today will find the shape so immediately recognizable.
That design was not just about aesthetics though. Tests conducted by Mercedes discovered that a more angular body made the car better able to withstand off-set crashes at regular driving speeds.
Thus, the W124 helped to move car safety forward and it was fitted with exciting innovations. These included a plastic molded undercarriage that improved vehicle stability and cut fuel consumption.
Then there was the use of one windscreen wiper instead of the usual two, with this ability to stretch to reach all parts of the windscreen. All of these features helped to make the W124 a vehicle that is sought after as a used car to this day.
It is regarded as a masterpiece of both design and functionality. The appeal of classic cars lies in that blend of quality and style, right down to the tires, which are the equivalent of the luxury vogue ones on top models today.
The six-cylinder engines that W124s typically have are not as powerful as you would expect with a modern car. That is not really the point of the vehicle though and never was – as it was designed as a car for laid-back cruising rather than acceleration.
It still delivers the goods for that, while the engineering throughout is of the highest standard. The vintage aspects, including the wood dashboard with less buttons than contemporary cars, also give it a pleasing nostalgic feel when you are behind the wheel.
It is definitely one of the best classic cars then, but what rivals does it have?
Classic Cars to Rival the W124
It’s hard not to pit the following models against the W124 when talking about the best classic car out there:
1. Saab 900
Arguably a lot of the unique qualities of Saab models have been lost in modern times, but this car followed the basic template that General Motors used up to 1993. It has a similarly unusual design to the earlier 99 model, but the engine makes it better to drive for those used to modern vehicles. The downsides to this are gearbox issues and a tendency to rust.
2. Mercedes 190
This is another Mercedes-Benz model that has become a popular older car pick. When fitted with a 2.0 fuel-injection four-cylinder engine it can compete with modern cars and will be affordable for most people who want a classic model instead.
3. Austin/Morris 1300
Going back even further, this car was a huge seller during the 1960s and early 1970s. The 1300 does not have a hatchback but does still have a surprising amount of room inside.
The hydrolastic suspension makes it a very smooth and stable car to drive and it is a classic model that remains available at very reasonable prices. On the downside, rust can again be a problem.
These cars are genuine rivals, but none quite match the smart look and performance of the W124. It remains the top classic car to buy if you can afford one.