Perseus finds that the BMW F650 and the Mercedes-Benz E 220 are still immensely capable.
I grew up in a family of petrolheads and started glancing at photographs of cars in magazines from the time I could turn a page.
Back in 1996, the best and most expensive car you could buy in India was the Mercedes-Benz E 220 (W124) or the E 250 if you wanted a diesel. Even though most enthusiasts back then weren’t very pleased that the W124 came to India at the end of its life cycle, I am glad it made it to our shores as it is my favourite generation of the E-class.
If you wanted a big motorcycle, though, the most powerful one you could get was the BMW F650, or ‘Funduro’ as it was popularly known. Unlike the E-class, the Funduro was BMW’s current model back then, and the first-ever BMW motorcycle with a chain drive. What made the bike special for me was the Rotax four-valves-per-cylinder engine and BMW’s Dakar rally wins in ’99 and ’00.
I got my E 220 – which was displayed at the ‘20 years of E-class in India’ celebrations last year – after a painful four-year search that started in 2009 when I did a story on buying used E 220s for this magazine. However, for the Funduro, I had to wait right until last year for my dad to hand it down to me.
Both the W124 and the F650 may have had their share of faults, but they don’t feel their age and are still very capable, even by today’s standards. Especially the W124, that started life way back in the mid-’80s. The E 220 is almost as easy to drive as any modern sedan of the same size. It misses out on features like electronic parking aids and infotainment systems but comes with a decent amount of comfort and safety features. What I love most is its styling and tank-like build quality; particularly the thud with which the doors shut. The mechanicals too aren’t complicated and are easy to fix and maintain. Even though I bought a manual by choice, I sometimes wish for an automatic as I drive mainly within the city.
The Funduro still has enough performance by modern standards and is as comfortable as any dual-sport bike in the same segment today. The use of two Mikuni carburettors, instead of fuel injection, and the absence of any sort of electronics make the Funduro even more appealing to me. It does have its share of issues too, but those that can be easily sorted, like updating the voltage regulator, which is prone to failure, to a re-engineered one. If you want better city rideability, a common modification internationally is to drop a tooth on the front sprocket; I admit I haven’t done that yet though.
Today we are spoilt for the choice. And while I’m sure we’d drool over today’s automobiles, 21 years hence, I’m not convinced they would age as graciously as the W124 and F650. If you want a modern classic car or motorcycle with an Indian heritage that you could enjoy for many more
years to come, look no further than these two models. Buy one now before prices rise exponentially. You won’t regret it.