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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

These two affordable classics reveal '80s America and Germany at their best

Car magazines and car TV shows are filled with the stuff of dreams. In fact, popular media would lead you to believe that our entire hobby is devoted to ultra-expensive rolling sculpture.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/magazine-features/these-two-affordable-classics-reveal-80s-america-and...
74 REPLIES 74
hyperv6
Collector

Note I am a Pontiac fan but the STE while was the best 6000 was far from a great car. This is a perfect example of GM and how they never understood Pontiac or gave the engineers the money or the proper platform to show what they could do.

Today the STE is rare as stated above and nearly impossible to restore as parts are difficult to find and even then it would be a labor of love as it would cost more than the value of the car.
Pontiac engineers did the best with what they were given but GM just never really gave them what they needed as they really did not have the money to do it right.

Too many today mistake cars like this as Pontiac at its best. Most were never exposed to the cars of the 60's where true innovation was promoted by Delorean. His group of engineers held together breaking rules till about the Fiero and then it was all cooperate badge engineering think.

MGBTGKG
Pit Crew

I had one of these, sans the AWD, when they were new. At the time they were a good handling sedan given their size. Mid-size then, today it would be a full-size car. Slightly under powered, I seem to recall something in the 160hp range for a car just at 3k#. Acceleration was fair, but it would really shine on a twisty open two lane road where the combination seemed just right. All those buttons, the hard surfaces and cheap plastic was less than desirable in the interior. Had a Bonneville SSE with the 3.8, wish it had been available in the 6000. What a car that would have been!
js100
Detailer

I recall the day I took delivery on a special ordered (I believe each dealer was only getting 3-4 of these) 6000STE in '84. At the time, it was the best GM alternative to a European car (which my "all American" sales job prohibited me from driving). After starting the car for the first time after dark, watching the "Tokyo by Night" fluorescent displays do their left to right dance and the "vehicle diagnostic" display run it's checklist, I was blown away, so fun! As a note, my date thought I was nuts. I seem to remember the suede seats were actually pigskin and had a peculiar odor in the Phoenix summers. The trunk panel for the on-board air compressor was also very cool, for the time. Sadly lost to a rear end collision, but replaced by a sequential pair of Bonneville SSE's. I missed the STE's digital dash, but the 36 or so console mounted buttons for the power seats was another example of Pontiac's fascination for "more buttons must be better" philosophy. I agree on the engine options!
Smilodon
Instructor

Please read my comment above. Put a supercharged 3.8 in my '98 Monte Carlo Z34. At well over 130, it drove like 70mph.
audiobycarmine
Technician

I have no personal experience with Benz's, so I'll agree with their overwhelming reputation for quality and engineering.

It's interesting that the author owns one AND owns a Pontiac... He knows whereof he speaks/writes.

Pontiac is probably the most-missed GM division, and for good reason.
They were usually in the forefront of GM's forays into performance (a la the GTO,) and the brand always built "excitement" into their vehicles.

OK, Cadillac usually had the most advanced technology, but a Trans-Am had the street-cred.
As a much earlier article on Hagerty's pages attested, even the Fiero was finally becoming the car it was meant to be, when GM pulled the plug.
Smilodon
Instructor

Thank you. I am a child of the '60's/'70's, my uncle who attended a private spendy Catholic highschool (Brebeuf Academy) was my ride to my private secular school (Park Tudor Academy, Indianapolis, Indiana). He had a beautiful deep aqua '67 GTO, professionally built, with the Hurst His/Hers shifter and the then obligatory airshocks to jack the back, staggered tire sizes, and a straight pipe exhaust system to wake the dead. Old Pontiac motors sound GOOD loud. At a school where kids arrived by Caddys, Benzs', Lincolns and limos, as a Lil dude my Unk's GTO got us both in trouble often and made me the coolest kid ever. The others were all rich kids, I was a scholarship poor kid. My Uncle and the GTO evened the field, the admin never realized that every time I got called to the office, I was made cooler. And my Grampa had more than enough money to protect his son. I am, at 62, a GTO guy, own a 2004 TorRed 6spd 40th Anniversary with an aftermarket 7.0, and support everything Pontiac. Ask me about the time the hag principal grabbed the window frame while screeching, and unk powerbraked a WW2 volume of smoke so I could escape, then left stripes that lasted a couple of years. Came back at 3pm to pick me up, no opposition.
God I miss being young.
Driver17
Intermediate Driver

We bought a used W124 Turbo Diesel wagon in the early 1990s. The turbo went bad, but--well out of warranty--Mercedes replaced it, at no charge. That was a great car, and I don't think they have made any as good since. I have gone on to a 2000 BMW 540i manual which my wife won't even let me part with now, and Porsches, but that wagon still lives in my memory as one of the best I had. Oh, it was replaced by a Volvo turbo wagon. Great seats, but a maintenance headache.
Bunka
Detailer

This conversation is basically about reliability, specifically the reliability and maintenance costs of of German "Quality" automobiles. The comments start with the MB and then mentions Audi and BMW. I recently forked over more than $ 7,000.00 to repair a $10,000 Porsche Cayenne S. I may be certifiable, however, that's not the point. I have owned this Porsche for eleven years and not once during that time was there any instance of the car not having something that needed repair. There are still repair issues that I chose not to address at this time because the cost would exceed the value by a lot. An issue which seems to have been lost is that back in the 1950s - 1960s, it did not take a mechanical degree and a IT degree to fix what was broke. Cars were simple, roll up windows, mechanical door latches, etc. It was part of the ownership experience that you could jury rig a fix on the fly. I once fixed a broken accelerator rod on the side of an interstate highway with a piece of 12 gauge house wire and a pliers.. Simple and fast. That's all been lost. I'm not sure if quality has nose dived or complexity has increased. I do know that it is not near as much fun to own a car now as it was back in the day. I guess the point is that an old MB may be expensive to repair, however, it may also be easier. Stay away from the high tech money pits.
Smilodon
Instructor

I feel this deep inside.
Smilodon
Instructor

As an '80's advisor in the Middle East, high mileage, perfectly functional MB turbodiesel wagons were everywhere. If you can survive the fine quartz sand for 250xxx miles, you're a great car. They did and do.
pcchuck
Intermediate Driver

Slightly off topic but in July, '87 I bought a new Bonneville... completely redesigned modern FWD. fully loaded. My first 4 door... It was FAST... 3.8 engine.. Very sharp... dark green with a lighter green lower cladding. The instrument lights were red and there was alot of them, including the steering wheel radio controls.

Pontiac, Buick and Olds all used the same 3.8 platform. 6000's were very popular...
hyperv6
Collector

The Bonneville SSEI was a much better car and developed into a very good car. I still never felt it was a true Pontiac as it was just so cooperate in the mechanical bits. 

 

It was the most interesting of all the GM brands on the same platform. 

Smilodon
Instructor

Read my comment above. Got almost 400k out of my 3.8 '94 Bonney SE. Loved that car.
Beemerbob71
Intermediate Driver

There is no such thing as an "affordable Mercedes." Even if it's free, it's not "affordable."
majorbob
Intermediate Driver

I totally agree. They are sure expensive to service and maintain.
I also find it curious that in the USA they are valued as luxury vehicles. In Europe they are taxi cabs.
holleyb
Pit Crew


Do taxis in Europe have two doors?
Smilodon
Instructor

No.
Smilodon
Instructor

Low line MBs and BMWs make up the taxi fleet every time I arrive in Amsterdam. The drivers are the best, and I have no idea how they afford maintenance on these cars. I tip @ 25%, and would encourage you who travel to Amsterdam to so do. Best people ever.
Smilodon
Instructor

Yes! This! Go for the simplest service, be prepared to sacrifice your first born. Or take out a second mortgage. Or pull a gun and make the staff fix sh*t.
Ask your dealer or provider for MB wiper blades. My 2004 Tahoe? Best Bosch $32. My 2004 GTO? Best Bosch $26. Yeah. "Affordable MB" is like "affordable Jaguar". Buy lotto tickets instead.
SteveNL
Detailer

Thank you for the focus on the 300CE. I own a 1988 300CE. It looks just like Mr. Vaugha's car, but only has the less powerful single cam six. I purchased the car about five years ago for $5,500 but didn't get the great deal that Mr. Vaughan got. You might say that I got the worst of all worlds. I purchased a relatively rare, high end car that isn't worth much. Just the same, I really like my coupe.
These W124 coupes sold for about $54K when new, but they are cheap as chips today. Mine was a rust free Kentucky car with a good engine and drive train, but I still managed to invest another $20,000 into restoration. So, now I've invested about $25,000 into a $12,000 car.

These W124s aren't very hard to work on but are extremely expensive to restore. As I said, my car was basically a straight and solid car, but it needed a lot of work. The engine had oil leaks and the drive line needed service. The brakes needed full rebuild, including master cylinder, rotors, hoses and calipers. The front and rear suspension needed a full rebuild including shocks, springs and mulit-links. The interior needed new leather seat covers and the car got a full repaint. That's just a partial list of work done.

Now the car runs and looks like new. I love the lines of the body and the quality of the car. It's such a shame that many clean and basically sound W124s simply aren't worth rebuilding at this point. But I don't regret my 300CE restoration project.

However, it is advisable to purchase the nicest example that you can find. If you can do the service and restoration work yourself, you will save a lot of money, but will still probably be under water when you are done. Finally, because these cars are rare, some parts will be hard to find. Plastic interior parts are very rare. I had to purchase some parts from eastern Europe.


avanti5010
Intermediate Driver

I'm not so sure that German cars are noted for their "reliability" I have had quite a few examples over the years and very few were reliable. The M-B adds another insult to that - the expense involved in fixing them.

80's Mercedes are known to be reliable. The current stuff is not and I don't expect that to change as the software increases on these things.

Scags
Pit Crew

6000ste as a car to own? April fools was earlier in the month
10FoldRetribute
New Driver

Agree the MB is an awesome design. Like others mentioned - ridiculously expensive to fix. 2JZ Nissan crate engine swap fits right in these engine bays and can be tuned to over 500hp with little effort. Luxury and the ultimate sleeper.
Geok86
Instructor

The 2JZ is Toyota, Nissan is RB.
hyperv6
Collector

Here is the deal with the German cars. While they can build some exciting cars, some can still be money pits. 

 

But to be fair. Here is the deal. I had several customers with Benz in the 80's and I have to say the only real issues we saw were tires, brakes and one Exhaust in 300,000 miles. on a 300 Diesel. The Cosworth sedan we never saw an issue in 100,000 miles. 

 

On the other hand I saw money pits on multiple BMW models.  

 

The Benz parts were not cheap but it needed so few parts it really did not matter. I am sure with complexity the cars today are more difficult and expensive to repair but that was not always the case. Like my father said when he lived in Germany they used Benz for taxi's because they reliable and did not break often. 

 

As for Pontiac I like many long time Pontiac fans did not miss them when they died. After so many years of GM just miss managing it we feel it was a mercy killing. 

pcchuck
Intermediate Driver

Yes... Consumer Reports grades all the cars every April.. and MB, BMW are among the lowest in quality and satisfaction.
hyperv6
Collector

I have no real belief in CR ratings on cars. Actually working on them I find there findings inaccurate and not exactly scientific. 

LoneWolfnoClub
Pit Crew

I like the site: https://www.carcomplaints.com/
Seems more accurate and has helped more than a few purchasers.

I admit that as a Kid I thought the 6000STE was cool but that was mainly because of the digital dash. Beyond that I never really cared for much of 80's GM beyond sports cars.
CitationMan
Gearhead

I liked the 6 headlights. They were very cool at the time, including the last version. Haven’t seen one in decades

speedsmiles
Pit Crew

Back in 1989 I bought a California MB 300TDT wagon when down in LA with the family on holidays. I had owned several VWs and had bought into the German road car mystique big time. I bought it from a broker with low mileage for a 7 year old car, still had the plastic on the door cars. I was thrilled. I couldn't believe that you could find a great car with such low miles. I got it home driving at interstate + speeds and was convinced it was the best car I had ever owned. However, after I had owned it for 3 year I understood how it never got any miles put on it. It was always in the shop. Never a driveline problem but the AC and control systems were JUNK, vacuum over electric everything never worked for more than 6 months, suspension was expensive to replace. Vacuum door locks were unrepairable. It was the last German car I ever purchased and I will never purchase another one.
Smilodon
Instructor

The perfect Rodney Dangerfield car- more miles vertically than horizontally, always going up and down on a lift.
MARK400
Detailer

Better off with a 99-05 3.4 V6 Grand Am or a 04-08 3.8 Gran Prix then the 6000 if your into older everyday drivers or second cars.They handle well, run well and you are still able to find used part`s for them if needed. GM lost it`s way in the late 70`s and been a downward spiral since then.Yes there were a few exceptions on some of the vehicles produced during that era but for the most part just another car. In the end they turned Pontiac into another run of the mill point a to point b vehicle far from what it was from the 1960`s and mid 1970`s. Why do you think Toyota and Nissan sedans became so popular over the years. Pretty bad when a car like the Impala that was around from 1958 to recently is now just a memory. Bottom line In my opinion I blame GM management for not having the insight to deliver a vehicle that the public wanted.....not everybody drives a truck GM..
golfnut53083
Intermediate Driver

The Pontiac 6000 STE AWD brings back a fond memory from the early "90's. As a young car salesman, I had worked my a** off convincing my GM to give Autotrader a try. He was convinced that this "internet thing" would never fly. I listed a '89 STE AWD on Autotrader and within a day had a gentleman from 2 states inquire about it. I sent him requested info and within 2 days he was loading the Pontiac on his trailer. As he drove off, our GM exclaimed that maybe there was something to this internet stuff after all!!
Sajeev
Community Manager

Now that's an awesome story, thanks for sharing!  

TrustyRusty
Detailer

Both are nice cars, but the Mercedes costs about ten times as much to maintain (parts AND labor) as the Pontiac. Condition and price of the cars being equal, the Pontiac is THE bargain.
RickL
Advanced Driver

Two totally different cars owned by an enthusiast. You can love a car for what it is, what it was, what it meant to you, or that you came into possession and learned to appreciate it. I have owned several different cars. Mercedes in the 80's (I have a 560SL bought "cheap"), were in the transition phase from vacuum everything to electronics. They can be expensive if you do not do your own work, but the support is there from parts to experts. I love that car when the top goes down and just cruising along. It does like the gas stations; I would love to have converted to electric (Tesla motor) but that is another story. The other car I have owned since new, a 1984 FOX body 20th anniversary Mustang. My first "new" car. I have so many stories about it, from drag racing to cross country moves. So many memories. 200,000 some miles. Reliable yes, but far from fancy or really even build quality. I know what it is, but also what it means to me. Enjoy them all but most importantly DRIVE them. As I say, "Rest is Rust, Motion is Lotion", not only for cars but our bodies as well.
Smilodon
Instructor

Yes. This!
ScottM
Intermediate Driver

I bought an 82 olds Ciera brougham after looking at celebrity, century and 6000. Ultimately the comfort touches and a better price made the decision. I had a friend with an Audi 5000 and she liked the cutlass better and bought one, hers had the 4 cyl too. She said it was so refined she would find herself going 80-90 without realizing. When I went to replace mine in 86 I was suggested I try the brand new Honda Accord sedan 5 speed, it was fabulous in every way, triple door seals, silky transmission, amazing response from the CVCC engine, simple European style interior. Only foreign car I ever owned. Not destined to be a classic but so fun it begged to be used up and enjoyed.
83ragtop50
Intermediate Driver

Both of them leave me cold.
uweschmidt
Instructor

Good Story Good Cars but beautiful? neither one of them
Maestro1
Technician

I've had two Mercedes, a 280SE and a very tired 280SEL 4.5, a monster even in its declining state. The 280SEL was sold after the two months I drove it, and the 280SE, a 6 cylinder car ran forever with very little issues.
The Pontiac is stunning and I kick myself everytime I think of the 6000 I was offered in the parking lot of a laundromat years ago. It was Silver, and the original owner was a Math Teacher at the local High School. He had purchased another car, and wanted out of this one. Very dumb on my part.
Camarojoe
Detailer

THe Benz was the car buy back then no question.
on the STE, not sure where he found suede interior...we called it mouse fur, and I was at GM marketing. Pontiac was given the banner to go after the more sports/touring customers. The STE started with those really cool 6 headlights, but Bonneville SSE and then SSEi were the best representation of what they could do with a seriously compromised architecture. Buick on the other hand made some understated winners. The T type Century (6000 cousin) was understated but did offer the 3.0L version of the 3.8L so it was actually a lot more fun to drive. Although Pontiac engineers (yes in the 80tiesand 90ties each division still had dedicated engineering input) went further to improve handling, faster steering and less lean. Buick always errored on the side of ride quality.
JohninNC
Instructor

I'd assume each of these cars costs a grand or two a year to maintain if driven regularly? If so hands down I'd take the Mercedes. Classic, classy, timeless.
FloridaMarty
Instructor

Mercedes after 1990 are garbage. They will nickle and dime you to death. Mercedes used to be quality, not anymore. I always giggle when one of my younger neighbors buys a MB, it's usually not long before it's replaced with a Japanese luxury brand. BMW is equally troublesome. My next door neighbor just kicked his BMW, after he learned that the dealer must change the car battery when needed. The cost sent him through the roof.
Utopia1
Detailer

Dad had company cars when I was a kid. His company offered a choice between a base 6000, base Taurus or base Celebrity - none of which were terribly exciting choices. He always went with the base 6000 just in a different colour combo every two years because it had more standard equipment than the others. I would have killed for even an SE, never mind the STE. An STE would have blown my 10-year old mind I'm sure. I always thought it was impressive back then what GM could do to differentiate the top trims from the base models. The same, but different enough that you could feel justified in the expense.
franimal007
Intermediate Driver

This was the funniest story ever...News flash.....cars were junk in the 80's
turbobill
Intermediate Driver

They still are.