Which Car? 'Will a Mercedes be the perfect car to last?'

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Guy Duckworth, a 43-year-old human resources officer from Buckinghamshire, wants a car that will last 20 years. He has had Volvos and Mercedes but wonders whether such cars are still built as well. He is thinking of a Mercedes Benz G-Wagen. Is it a sensible buy?

Good for Mr Duckworth for wanting to make a car last more than three years. My companion automotive theory to Bangermonics is called Carobics and involves making a car last as long as possible.

With the right exercise, care and attention many vehicles can have their automotive life prolonged almost indefinitely. It is a myth to think older cars lasted longer; it just felt that way! Poor build-quality, rust and lower grade fuel and oil meant many cars were worn out at 70,000 miles.

But there was a golden era in the 1980s when some manufacturers over-engineered their products, including BMW, Mercedes and certain Volvo and Saab models. They still require regular servicing, but there is not a lot to go wrong with pre-catalyst 1992 models which have the minimum of luxuries.

With modern cars, there is so much to go expensively wrong. Airbags, catalytic convertors and hugely complex electrics will condemn many cars to the scrapheap early because they will be too expensive and possibly impossible to repair. There are not many new vehicles I could recommend to last 20 years with the minimum of hassle.

A car for the heart

Mercedes G-Wagen owners swear by them, but they are expensive and are essentially an unadventurous copy of a Land Rover. I believe Mr Duckworth would be much better off with the real thing.

He should go for the basic Defender model, and prices start at £19,930 for the shorter 90 and £22,650 for the longer 110. Another option is to buy a 10-year-old example for much less than half that and rebuild it to his own specification. Land Rovers are like Meccano sets, because you can swap engines and interiors for more power, economy and comfort. Best of all, Land Rovers enjoy a huge nationwide support network of dedicated specialists and enthusiast clubs.

Most models built in the past 50 years are still working hard for a living. Getting parts is easy and compared with many cars cheap. Reassuringly over-engineered, these are very basic vehicles and the better for it.

There is not much to go wrong. Mr Duckworth can own a real icon which in 20 years will look as stylish and rugged as it does today.

A car for the head

New Mercedes are nowhere near as solid as the old models so I would recommend a decade-old E class estate. It has the space of a G-Wagen, but should be cheaper to run and just as durable.

The Mercedes W124T (its model designation) is among the most useful vehicles built. They arrived in May 1986, and you could choose from a 200, 230 and 280 petrol, or wheezy 240 and 250 diesels.

Stick to the 280 and later, injected, 200 and 230TE. From 1989, there was a minor facelift, and new 24-valve engines delivered decent performance. From 1993, all models got the E prefix and everybody wants these late E200s, 220s and E280s.

The W124 will last forever. Rust, if any, will be minor, but a full service history is essential. In the £6,000 to £8,000 bracket there will be great buys. If Mr Duckworth still wants a G-Wagen he should visit the website of the sole UK concessionaire at www.g-wagen.co.uk

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