Vintage: Late 1970s to mid-1980s
Price Range: $1,000 to $4,000
Best-known nowadays as candidates for biodiesel conversions, Reagan-era Benzes are some of the best car-for-dollar options for those who recognize and value the cachet they carry. They may be primitive, but diesel-burning Mercedes engines are considered bulletproof, and the heavy bodies they propel have enjoyed the same reputation as the car of choice for diplomats and war-zone political figures. If you can avoid the onset of rust with frequent winter washes, a diesel Mercedes will probably survive to be passed down to yet another generation after your family is through with it. Besides, everyone can appreciate that star hood ornament reassuringly guiding them along the road.
It’s important for new drivers to realize the performance limitations of older cars, whether it’s a vintage Mercedes or any of the other cars listed here. If your learner’s permit hours were racked up driving your father’s late model Acura, you may not consider how differently the brakes on a mid-1990s sedan are going to respond. New drivers must take the time to familiarize themselves with their own vehicle before venturing into the unforgiving fray of traffic, for the sake of themselves and others.
Parents will like: The innate safety of sluggishness, the proven safety of solid steel.
Students will like: Cachet, fuel economy (diesel), simple enough to teach yourself to repair.
Downsides: Lack of pace and somewhat brutish driver feedback may lose its charm for those who don’t have an affinity for the analog lifestyle.