Having grown up in America in the fifties and sixties, from classic to muscle, I have been fortunate to have owned, and still own, some of Americas most iconic cars. I think most of us collect the cars we grew up with, and have special memories of. These cars tend to be stored and only driven occasionally, so we are always looking for that perfect driver! But even that driver has to be older and interesting.
I've found European cars from the mid-sixties to mid-eighties make great drivers. They handle really well, are comfortable and have modern accessories such as power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, etc., and have 12-volt electrical systems that can accommodate modern audio systems.
My first encounter with Euro cars was in the early 1970's. I bought a 1961 Mercedes 190 diesel. It was a 4-door, dark red with black interior and a 4-speed manual column shift. It was truly a barn-fresh car. I was living in Kentucky at the time, and a friend of mine had bought it new, and when it got old, he just put it in one of his barns on his horse farm. It had dust all over it and no battery, but everything else looked good, and it had only 50,000 miles. We washed it, changed the oil, fuel, filters, and put in a new battery, and drove it virtually trouble-free for the next five years. It was still running when I sold it (I bought it and sold it for $500!). This began my appreciation for Mercedes diesels. Over the years I've had the 190, 240 and currently own an '82 300D turbo. (The turbo really does improve performance.) The '80-'85 300D's are considered the best of all MB diesels. They were made in a coupe CD, sedan D, and station wagon TD, and a few limos. They are known for racking up 500,000 miles before needing any major mechanical repairs. My '82 300D has over 400,000 miles and has never had any major repairs.
The gas-engined cars (220 & 280 SE series cars) of the mid-sixties through 1972 were built in Stuttgart, Germany, and were mostly hand-assembled, so they are virtually rattle-free. They have wooden dashes and trim with leather upholstery and overhead cam engines in sixes and V-8's. We have a 1972 280 SE. Theyre great driving cars by any standards.
Another interesting Mercedes is the SL and SLC (coupe). The pre-1973's have become very expensive, but the '73-'80 SL's with a 4.5 V-8 are affordable and are real performers. We have a 1974 SLC 4.5. They are fast, well-built and smooth-driving cars.
Jaguars of the 1960's through the early 1990's are also nice cars. XKE's are now very expensive, but the 1959-'67 Mark 2's have a similar drive train and are still very affordable. We have a 1967 Mark 2 3.4. The bodies are considered to be of timeless classic design with a cockpit that must be experienced to be believed. The dash is solid wood with hand cut burled walnut veneers, a center black panel with all gauges and a row of toggle switches to operate all of the cars accessories, leather interior and a dual overhead cam six cylinder and a Jaguar leaper hood mascot! This car would do over 120 mph and was a LeMans winner in its day, and is still driven in rallies today.
For a modern driver, the 1990-94 Jaguar XJ-40 4.0 sixes can be an excellent choice. We have a 1992 Sovereign. They are the last of the cars built in Coventry, England before Ford bought and moved the company. After the long-running XJ6's, the XJ-40's were built. They had a dual overhead cam engine that is so smooth you can hardly hear or feel it running. The dash and wood trimmed interior is matched burled walnut veneer hand-cut by Jaguar's special cabinet studio in Coventry. This, along with a leather interior and racing suspension make for a fun car to rally with or comfortable travel in town or on the open road.
These are some of the cars that will be added to our Driving Old Cars articles, and will be covered in detail with the pros and cons, restoration data, drive reports and parts sources. These cars are still affordable and can be driven in the European tradition of "some patina is a good thing." If they are kept in top mechanical condition and not over-restored, the cost of ownership will be kept affordable for most collectors. Parts, which can be a problem on some old cars, are still available from Mercedes and Jaguar--most everything from mechanical to complete interiors, with vendors offering them at discounted prices as well. Keep 'em driving!