10 Old Beaters That’ll Last Forever

(And 10 New Cars Built To Crumble)

The explosion of social media has given the entire world a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous. Their lives may seem completely different from the average person—and to a large extent, jet-setting around the world and being as exclusive as possible surely is different—but in the end, even celebs are people. They flaunt their fancy clothes, fancy houses, and fancy cars online for everyone to see but they still have to drive those fancy cars while wearing fancy clothes on their way to the grocery store.

While rich and famous people may enjoy their expensive cars, the rest of the world worries about making the next car payment on their new lease or when they’ll have to shell out at the mechanic’s shop to keep their old car running. But the automotive industry isn’t as black-and-white as they have and the have-nots. There are plenty of cars out there that were built to last forever without an enormous price tag to buy and without enormous maintenance costs to live with.

For most of the world, having a beater that will keep chugging along for years without even an oil change sounds great. But for everyone who finds meaning in the ostentatious values of the rich and fabulous, the old adage of “pay to play” certainly becomes a factor. Keep scrolling for 10 beaters that will run forever and 10 new cars that may seem nice at first but were definitely built to crumble.


Mercedes-Benz was famous before they started building tanks disguised as cars, it’s true. But their history in motorsport (which the 300 SL Gullwing only helped to bolster) couldn’t have foreseen the incredible reliability that their cars would become known for the in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, cars like this 300 TD station wagon still cruise along, with a soft ride, plenty of roominess, and at the very least, a modicum of modern luxury. But the real reason this 300 TD will be worth $20,000 or more for the next couple of decades is that everyone loves having a car that can be relied upon for another few hundred thousand miles.


There was nothing pretty about the Honda CR-X when it was still on the market as a new car in the late 1980s and early 1990s—and there’s still nothing pretty about the little, boxy hatchback. But for a car that was a dirt-cheap commuter three decades ago, these have maintained their values surprisingly well. That’s because buyers know that they’ll be getting the best that Japan could offer at the time: cheap reliability thanks to simple engineering and high build quality. Sure, no CR-X is about to sprint out on the highway or turn any heads but they’ll outlast just about every faster and better-looking car on the road.


Before the Tacoma cemented Toyota’s reputation as a builder of some of the world’s most reliable cars, their small pickup truck (a Hilux without the badge, in this country) was leading the pack. These trucks have all the panache of a brown plaid shirt but that’s the whole point; actually, the whole point is hundreds of thousands of miles, presumably between oil changes if not between times spent checking under the hood. Available in myriad configurations, one of these little trucks in 4×4, extra-cab, or base trim is still one of the best bets in the entire automotive landscape—new or used.


Everyone knows about Subaru’s rally legacy and the impressive Impreza WRX STI, which is essentially a race car for the street. But while today’s STI owners are getting stuck headed up to the ski slope to do some snowboarding and vaping, old ladies who’ve owned some of Subaru’s products from the 1990s will be cruising by through twelve inches of snow with no problems. Why? Because today’s STI models come with 20-inch wheels (and bigger) that measure 245 or 265 wide (depending on options packages, of course). These are no longer snowsports cars, they’re tarmac monsters; and the Subarus of old were just rugged, reliable drivers that could be depended upon on any day of the year.


Compared to today’s Acuras, the brand’s models from the 1990s and 2000s look much more like the Hondas with which they share lineage. But Acura today is struggling to live up even to its own reputation for reliability, simplicity, and performance that was set in stone in the 1990s (only to be broken in the late-2000s). Compared to the simple yet refined first-generation NSX, the modern iteration is a multi-engined computer freeze waiting to happen. Likewise, Acura has nothing like their old Legend on the market today, which could explain why their sedan sales have been dismal for quite some time.


These days, split-window Porsches have cracked into the seven-figure territory—unfortunately, that means that approximately zero percent of the remaining split-window 356 examples still out there will ever see a roadway again. Meanwhile, early Chevrolets from the late 1940s and early 1950s are just chugging along. If rust can be avoided—or at the least, mitigated—these trucks are the quintessential steel-bodied work truck of the era. In 1/2-ton or 3/4-ton configurations and with a bulletproof inline-six, they also provide style points galore (as long as they’re the five-window variants in an exterior finish showing the appropriate stage of patina development, that is).


The Geo Metro may be the punchline to a joking automotive industry (and it has been for decades) but that doesn’t mean it’s not one reliable little machine. With teensy engine options like a 1.3-liter four-cylinder or even a 1.0-liter three-cylinder, even a drivetrain made of Silly Putty could have handled the torque output for the rest of eternity. A curb weight of six and a half feathers helped keep the suspension from wearing out and the brakes are good to go until the universe fades into darkness. The only reason no one drives Geo Metros anymore is that it’s just scary when surrounded by so many massive crossover SUVs.


The Volkswagen Beetle may be the true ‘People’s Car’ but the VW Golf has a real claim to the title. Available since 1974, Golfs have always been at the forefront of the hot hatch category—but it was their simplicity and lightweight design that helped spawn an empire. Especially in diesel form, early Golfs were built to last a few lifetimes (even though later ones were built to cheat their way through a few lifetimes). In Europe, where fuel is much more expensive, the economical Golf is a mainstay of society, much less the automotive industry. Plus, even forty-year-old Golfs still look great.


The car that perhaps single-handedly established Japan’s dominance in the market of small, economical, and well-engineered vehicles is the Honda Civic. In the decades since it hit the market in 1972, every single generation has proven to be just about the perfect combination of minimal style and maximum reliability—until now. But while owners of the new, overly vented and flared, spoiler-wearing and rim-clad Civics might struggle to keep their cars from bottoming out on speed bumps, everyone who owns a Civic from the 1980s and 1990s is happy to let the paint fade, the wheels get nicked, and the engine just keeps on chugging.


Toyota’s Corolla may have gone a similar, if slightly less radical, route as Honda’s Civic in recent years but there’s no arguing that for overall reliability, the top of the heap is claimed by the two vehicles. And what’s the point of keeping a Corolla clean? It’s got zero style, a complete lack of panache, and the attractiveness of a sea urchin. But people from Japan love their uni and just like the prickly sea-dweller, a Corolla is a thing of beauty under the skin. Most people may not recognize it, but the engines are masterpieces of engineering that will happily crank their way into oblivion—lasting much longer than the exterior’s fit and finish. But no one cares!


Elon Musk has been plugging the future of the automobile for over 10 years now and it’s hard to argue with a guy that’s shipped a car to space just because it’s funny. But even he’s willing to admit that the Tesla Model X and its falcon-wing doors may have been a mistake. Not only do they cause problems in garages but they also seem to have a tendency to not work at all. Meanwhile, all of Tesla’s models are topping the charts for frequent maintenance repairs—and that’s not including the huge quantity of drivers who end up stuck on the side of the road when their vehicle’s computer misunderestimates the range to empty.


Fiat has long suffered from a hilarious acronym created by angry owners of their vehicles. But what does anyone expect from a brand that’s struggled from electrical gremlins since they first started making automobiles over 50 years ago. Today’s cars are increasingly computer-oriented and it leaves Fiat in the unenviable position of having to bring their cheap products to the market with a minimum of research and development—or risk losing money because they certainly can’t raise their prices. The 500L is among the worst crossover attempts in recent history and starts falling apart almost before it leaves the dealer lot.


If the Fiat 500L sounds bad, being little more than a slightly larger, slightly worse 500, wait until the 500E comes rolling on by. Even the late, great Sergio Marchionne admitted the 500E was built to a (somehow less than Fiat’s already) low standard and that the whole point was to add an efficient vehicle to an otherwise inefficient lineup. But with actual owners reporting that the 500E’s range is less than half of the claimed range, plus the fact that Fiat won’t lease the 500E because they don’t want to risk taking it back when it’s ruined after three years, there’s little surprise the 500E has proven to reinforce the ‘Fix It Again, Tony’ mantra.


When the saying surrounding cars from the UK is that owners had better buy two because one will always be in the shop, that doesn’t inspire confidence in an entire nation’s worth of brands. Jaguar and Land Rover have long suffered from notorious reliability issues—with rust and electrical problems being among the lowlights—so when the two brands merged in a strange conglomeration under ownership by Tata Motors in China, things were already highly questionable. Now, both brands have reestablished themselves as leaders in the luxury market but trusting a new Discovery to merge modern computerized features with off-road ability is still quite a stretch.


The Dodge Challenger Demon sets the bar for retro-muscle style and power these days. Sure, it was a limited release in 2018—but that’s still very new compared to most of the beaters on this list. And who would say that the Demon’s combination of drag-strip focused details and a supercharged, 6.2-liter Hemi cranking out up to 840 horsepower doesn’t sound great? With a transmission brake to help ruin tires and a quarter-mile passing in 9.65 seconds, this Dodge seems like the end-all be-all. But then again, Dodge is owned by Fiat-Chrysler, so maybe enough torque to shred a Fiat 500 to pieces might not last more than a few trips to the track.


BMW’s new 8-Series is supposed to be a return to form for the manufacturer, who still hasn’t quite figured out how to unite the driver with the road since bringing too much electronic gadgetry into the mix in the later years of the 2000s. But even before that—since the E36, really—BMW struggled with reliability issues, mostly surrounding their degradable coolant system plastics. And now they want to bring a sports tourer to the market with active anti-roll bars (sway bars)? And they’re hoping people will think this car can possibly last longer than the first lease? Sounds highly dubious to anyone who likes to own their cars for more than three years and 36,000 miles.


Does anyone trust Apple’s claim that their latest iPhone can survive a three-foot swim? (If the answer is yes, prove it.) Electronics and water don’t mix well, which is why Land Rover’s decision to make a Range Rover Evoque in convertible form seems, at best, suspect and, at worst, borderline delusional. Sure, celebs like the Kardashians may enjoy their Range Rovers but they’re not taking them anywhere rougher than the mean streets of Calabasas. Throw in enough electronics wrapped in enough plastic to make their faces jealous and the result is a car that’s sure to crumble the second it leaves the smoothest of asphalt.


The original Acura NSX would have been a perfectly inclusion on the beaters portion of this list—except even owners enjoying their NSX well past 300,000 miles on the odometer somehow manage to keep their cars looking good. The first generation was a brilliant combination of performance, design, and reliability, helping to make it one of the most desirable cars on the market today. Acura definitely peaked in the late-90s, though, and their new NSX is further evidence. Priced well above the average consumers’ budget, it’s a legit supercar with all the tech and features to match—but no one actually expects to drive a car with four (count ’em, four) separate motors for nearly as long as the original.


Audi helped change the automotive landscape forever with the turbo-five engines and legendary Quattro all-wheel drive. But that landscape has further changed since the 1980s and now, planned obsolescence is in and rugged rally cars are out. And yet, the RS3 tries to straddle that line. With a modern turbo-five mounted transversely in front of the front axle and cranking out 400 horsepower that’s routed to all four wheels through a front-biased version of Quattro and dual-clutch automatic, the RS3 is probably the nearest Audi stands to get to the original Quattro. But one glance at resale values of even three-year-old Audis today will provide all the evidence need to prove the RS3’s undoubted quick crumbling.


Jaguar’s F-Type has helped to put the brand on the map for wealthy customers looking for a little bit of performance and a lot of style. There’s no denying the model’s good looks but it seems healthy to question whether Jaguar will actually be able to turn things around and deliver a car that can keep running for more than a few years. The F-Type SVR offers features few other cars on the supercar market include all together, from its supercharged V8 cranking out 575-horsepower to an all-wheel-drive layout and sumptuous interior amenities. And yet, it seems likely the car will struggle to maintain a semblance of reliability while mashing all that grunt through its (admittedly gorgeous) structure.

Sources: Car and Driver, Jalopnik, and Bring a Trailer.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button