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Define 'Quality' For Me.

Started by michaeld, 01 March 2006, 09:56 PM


Hi all,
I've got a question for you: what is quality?  Now, I can look it up in a dictionary, and get something like 'character with respect to excellence or fineness, high grade, superior excellence.'  What does that mean to you with respect to cars?
Are there various categories of excellence, such as: 1) beauty; 2) materials; 3) performance; 4) reliability or durability; 5) craftsmanship (and perhaps you might add some to the list?)?  Does a high quality car have to possess high levels of all of these things, or can it have some but be lacking in others?

Now, it would seem that price must enter in also, high quality with respect to price.  I had a base version '82 Datsun 200SX I bought new with my bonus money when I got out of my Army training: that thing went forever with little maintenance.  I'd probably still be driving that thing if someone hadn't smashed into it at 217,000 miles.  I would say that was a quality car.

I have often heard of Mercedes cars going a million miles.  Is that because they were made so much better than "lesser" cars, or because the owners put high levels of maintenance and made expensive repairs (top and bottom end work on the engines, rebuilding transmissions, etc) that owners of less expensive cars would have just walked away from?  Do Mercedes cars truly possess greater reliability/durability than American and Japanese cars which cost much less?  Take my 77 450 SEL with 124,000 miles: the original owner put $28,000 in maintenance (and no accidents!) before I took possession.  How far would a 70's Chevy go on $28,000's worth of post-purchase maintenance money?

At least some of the categories I listed above seem to be mutually exclusive: Jaguars are very high in performance, but they are legendary maintenance pigs.  'High performance' usually means extremely fine tolerances that get out of whack more often than the lower performing cars.  From what I hear, the 6.9 (while NOT at the level of Jaguars) likewise trade performance for reliability/durability.  How many million-mile 6.9's are there out there?  I've yet to hear about one with 200,000.  Maybe you 6.9 guys will vehemently disagree; I'm willing to let an odometer prove me wrong.  But when a car performs at the legendary level of a 6.9, is it even fair to ask that it have legendary durability as well?  The candle that burns the brightest usually burns out the fastest.

Now, I love my MBz.  I love the wood, the way the doors shut, the ride (i.e. suspension), the precision of the steering, walking away from it in a parking lot and just admiring the beauty of the body.  But my car has its share of problems too: I'm wary of the climate control; one of the windows is intermittent; one of the door locks is a bit iffy.  How much money should I expect to "invest" in my car to hit 200,000 miles?  500,000?  Now, if I go ahead and put the necessary money in to hit those milestones, is it the quality of the car, or the quality of the love that I have for the car, that really accomplished the mark?

Or is that last the most important barometer of a car's quality; the love and passion that it inspires, such that a man will go to the extreme lengths of keeping an old car on the road for a million miles?  What do you think?  I've already said way too much, I'm sure.


Big Richard and Styria,
I had a feeling that I might be raising the ire of 6.9rs when I referred to the 6.9 as lacking the durability of some other Mercedes.  Now, first of all, I would gladly take over someone's 6.9; I'm not knocking them as being inferior.  ANYTHING BUT!  But let it be said, as I've been trying to find literature on the 450 SELs, I've come across a lot of articles such as, which says, "With the 6.9 be very wary of any mechanical troubles as the M100 is specialised and expensive to work on. Gearboxes, prop shaft joints and final drives take a hammering on this torquey model."  If you have the money to repair these beasts, they are awesome cars to have.  But if you're not someone who is willing to pay big bucks, it is probabely not the car for you.  At least, that's what the Sep 99 buyers' guide from Unique Cars says: "Unlike the 4.5-litre cars, the 6.9 used hydro-pneumatic suspension and dry-sump lubrication, multiplying repair costs if something fails and rendering them less practical for everyday use."

At the same time, I have a Road & Track Evaluation by Peter Bohr that says, "I've driven a number of early 4.5-liter SLs with 750,000 or more on their engines," said Rugg. "At a million miles they get a little edgy". That may be stretching things just a bit, according to Cunha and Marx. But both agree the iron-block V-8s are exceptionally long-lived.  "Around 350,000 before a bottom-end overhaul isn't unrealistic," said Cunha. "The top end is often good for 180,000-240,000 miles."  And from Marx, "I have some customers with at least 300,000  miles on their cars and the engines haven't even needed valve jobs."  It seems to be common knowledge that true high performance cars are generally expensive propositions to maintain.  To give an extreme analogy: Indy cars are built to scream for 500 miles; they would fare terribly on a cross-country jaunt.  I'm glad that Big Richard's 6.9 has 193,000 miles (and here's to hoping you double that!); but the fact remains that there are million mile 4.5s out there.

I like Styria's post.  It gets to the heart of my question: how does one define quality in a car?  He is clearly pointing out that quality is in the eye of the beholder, because there are numerous categories, and one prioritizes based on his own value system.  That was really why I introduced the 6.9 and the Jaguar (and now Indy cars): the Indy engine is a high quality engine built for a specific purpose; if you try to judge it by a different criteria than which it was designed for, you will get garbage.

The most important question is this: how do we w116 owners define quality?  Why do we think of our cars as quality cars?
I've been thinking about a post I read over on titled, "What in the !?!? is going on?"  He was genuinely outraged at Mercedes quality over the last 10 years measured in terms of breakdowns and high part/component failure levels.  Now, maybe I'm wrong, but I always thought that Mercedes cars went on and on forever.  That was what made them quality cars.  Now I'm wondering if they really are that much more durable than American and Japanese cars that cost much less.
At the same time that I say that, I can also tell you that I've never enjoyed looking at any car I've ever owned as much as I enjoy looking at my 116.  And again, maybe the secret of million mile MBz cars (and this includes the 6.9's) is owners who have such passion for their cars that they are willing to do whatever they have to do to keep their beloved cars on the road.       



"...eye of the beholder."  Absolutely! And as I've posted before, to a fellow owner no explanation is necessary. But for me quality is in build which reflects in the driving experience.  Looks, features and power aside, I too love the way the doors close, equidisant gaps between panels and doors, steering, suspension, the sound, the commanding steering wheel etc.   I like Styria's reference to a "magic carpet ride".  My car's no rocket, but when we drive, we glide, even with a few more rubbers still to be replaced.

I owned an '85 Ford Fairlane with a view to restoring before I woke up and it went to the wreckers.  This car had done 390,000km and in the family since 1988.  It was the features and size that attracted me to this car.  As many buttons in the cockpit of an aeroplane, triple deck pioneer stereo, digital gauges electric everything etc. Today, feature rich cars have multifunction everything with "cycle thru" operations to find fuel usage or up the bass on the stereo.  I'd argue that this cheaper method is more distracting than the ability to press a button or slide a lever that has one label and one function. Especially when you press a button once too many times and have to cycle thru a menu again.

Similar km to my 350se, the Ford's driver's door sagged, panel edges were uneven, far less durable interior and generally loose components in chasis, steering, suspension and interior.  The only noises I get inside the 350 are the rub of MBTex when I get in and the heating vents when they're all the way closed (hardly noticeable) with 380,000km remember this car has 12 yrs on top of the Ford.  At 33 years of age it's going strong, compared to the Ford that was rust free but falling apart regardless of maintenance.

As far as mileage is concerned, I'd has a guess to say that these cars aren't being used the way they were in the years of ownership of original owners.  In Australia, farmers mercs would typically do all the km's compared to city Mercs.  I'd also bet that because of wealth being concentrated in the coastal cities, country 116's were cheaper variants compared to the top of the range 6.9, hence the higher km's travelled in the lower variants.  6.9 owners then and now would typically have at least one other car.  30 years down the track, fewer and fewer of any 116 are being driven as family cars or doing the mileage they once used to.  There's a split in ownership of 116's as they're so affordable compared to 10-15 years ago.  The good ones are being saved and preserved, and the crappy ones destined for wreckers don't have owners with computers to prove me wrong on this forum.   ;D  I'm not doubting that any 116 could make the million, I just don't think they'll be given a chance to reach that goal.  My 350 does under 3000km/year.  We all have other cars that do the hard yards.

1973 350SE, my first & fave


I still think that the 6.9's will necessitate a fair degree more maintenance than the 4.5's.  But I DO agree that the 6.9's are legendary cars (much more so than any 4.5) for good reason.  I've just read too many articles from auto industry writers that back me up (re: the 6.9's requiring of more maintenance and the much greater need to buy a 6.9 in very good condition cf. other MBz cars).  It doesn't strike me as an insult to 6.9's to state that ultra-high performance cars require a great deal more maintenance.  It just seems to be a statement of fact.  I'm sure one can  keep a 6.9 on the road forever; it just cost a heckuva lot more money than it would for most other Mercedes cars.  Now if someone has both a cast iron 4.5 and a 6.9, and has the complete comaintenance records for the lifetime of both cars - and the 6.9's expenses are comparable - then you've got me.  Styria said that there are cars that go forever - like the Datsun B200 - that you wouldn't want people to see on your driveway; his point that durability and reliablity are only ONE measurement of quality.

I have a couple articles that talks about the M117 being the kind of motor that can just keep going and going even if poorly maintained; even w/ infrequent oil changes and disregard for timing chains and valve adjustments and what not, they'll keep running like tanks.  That's just not my understanding of the M100 or the hydro-pneumatic suspension.  That said, the 6.9 is CLEARLY a quality car.  I think it was Road & Track that called the 6.9 one of the greatest cars of the century.  I'm not arguing with that even as I claim that it is not on the list of "indestructable" power trains.

Big Richard and Styria both clearly have unabandoned passion for their 6.9 cars.  And perhaps that is the epitome of what it means to say a given car is a quality car: that long-term devotion that continues on and on years after the last one has left the factory.  How many Datsum 200B forums are there out there?  How many people are passionate about their Ford Pintos?  Some cars rise to a certain level of status where they develop a following, and people devote themselves to restoring and maintaining pristine examples of their beloved cars.  Mercedes (at least used to) hit that mark with regularity.


Thanks for coming back to this post with more discussion.
Denis had some things to say about the M100 that I really found insightful.  You know, one of the reasons I bought my 4.5L 450 SEL is because I like v8s; at some point I came to the conclusion that bigger motors didn't have to work as hard and therefore lasted longer, and I still believe it despite all kinds of long-lived little 4 bangers.  Denis mentions the dry sump oiling system, which is clearly an advantage in that it both improves oil flow without frothing and increases oil change intervals.
It's a great engine.  No question about it.  There is simply no way it could have achieved its status w/o being a great engine.
But as Denis points out, when it DOES have a problem, it is generally much more expensive to work on.  From what I've read of the articles that are on the forum's main link, 116 cars (mainly in Europe, I'm sure) have largely become bangers, with too many 4th and 5th owners driving once-great cars into the ground by not doing needed maintenance they can't afford to do. That includes 6.9s.  Your right, Styria, nothing is more expensive than a cheap Mercedes.
Your also right that quality is in the eyes of the beholder.  If I value durabilty over anything else, I'll get a diesel and putter along.  That was kind of what I was trying to get at; how do YOU (the individual subjective owner) define quality.  What matters most to you?  I was interested in getting into the discussion of pros and cons of various models (and fuel types) in terms of which aspects of quality mattered most to them.  You're completely right, Styria (and Mb350); it's impossible to objectively, unequivocally state an answer because it boils down to preferences.

Some day I'd actually like to get a 6.9, and so I'm glad you guys are getting such good reliability.  But for now, I think I have the best car for ME.  I like to have enough acceleration these days to get by cars for lane changing purposes and not much else.  I don't need the raw power of a 6.9 and I don't have a budget for a quality example of a high performance car at this point.  I want more performance than a diesal can give, but I also value reliability.

I guess what I'd really like most is to hear discussion on what Mercedes quality in general for our specific 116 models "looks" like compared to other manufacturers offerings.  They have some things that MB doesn't have; MB offers things they don't have.  What are those things?