There is a theory, especially among taxi drivers, that classic Mercedes models from 1968-1997 were more reliable than today’s models. How much truth is there in this theory? Several experts, including former 1980-1990s Mercedes chief designer Peter Pfeiffer, try to explain this perception.
You’ve probably seen numerous YouTube videos of taxi drivers boasting that their Mercedes W123 and W124 cars have gone millions of kilometers without significant repairs. Hence, the idea that classic Mercedes models are more durable and reliable and new ones would no longer have these qualities.
Deutsche Welle tried to unravel what lies behind this perception and talked to some top people at Mercedes, including former chief designer Peter Pffeifer, FIVA expert, and former BMW Motorsport boss Mario Theissen.
Former Mercedes drivers, who have driven hundreds of thousands of kilometers, are very proud of their cars and have fuelled this myth of indestructibility. One of them says:
“Do you know what the Mercedes star logo means? You can drive three times around the globe, and the car remains a Benz, i.e., indestructible. That logo is unique“.
How much truth is there in this myth?
Peter Pfeiffer, the designer who created the Mercedes W124, one of Mercedes’ longest-running models, produced between 1984 and 1997, says the philosophy of the model was simplicity in design and development and reduction to the essentials.
Mario Theissen, now a FIVA expert, inspects, analyses, and certifies thousands of classic cars annually. He sees German quality as directly linked to German engineering. Fifty years ago, marketing did not play an essential role in developing a car as it does today. Designers and engineers dictated the planning of a product, not marketing departments. Several years ago, when marketing was becoming increasingly important, a BMW official said that the time had come when “we no longer produce cars that we engineers want, but cars that marketing want.”
So today, marketing gets involved right from the development stage and dictates what features a car should have to face the increasingly fierce competition.
Classic car dealer Burkhard Steins explains where the myth of the W124’s indestructibility comes from. He has lifted the coupe version of the W124, called the C124, onto the elevator and shows that all the components were oversized to stand the test of time, whether it be suspension arms, bushes, or drive shafts. The whole concept of the car is based on using the best materials. He also says that not only the build quality of the W124 series is excellent, but the repair and maintenance operations are simple and easy for less skilled people to carry out.
“The engine compartment is very airy, and you can service and repair the engine using simple tools. For example, you can remove spark plugs in minutes“.
Steins says that the W124 series is the pinnacle of Mercedes’s quality. After the demise of the W124 in 1997, manufacturing quality began to decline. That’s when Mercedes management decided to make a significant change due to increasing competition and shareholder pressure for higher profits. As a result, suppliers were under pressure to offer components at lower prices, and Steins says that when you put pressure on the supplier, you won’t have the same quality components as before.
On the other hand, exponentially increasing electronic complexity has led to various reliability problems. Steins says today’s cars have a limited lifespan of 15-20 years, whereas the vehicles like W124 were designed for eternity.
In conclusion, all the experts interviewed to confirm that this myth of the indestructibility of classic Mercedes models produced between 1968 and 1997 is as authentic as it gets and that it is not just a myth, being explained by the quality of the components and the simplicity of construction that made these models indestructible.