Curbside Comparison: War of the Roaches – ‘Til Death Do Us Part

They all seemed to serve different purposes upon introduction, but after some vague point, each of the four cars pictured above turned into “Roaches of the Road”, a term if not coined by Curbside Classic commentators, it’s decidedly one of our signature ones to define cars that never die. May the odds be ever in your favorite roach’s favor.

Roach #1 : Ford Falcon (Introduced Fall of 1959, last produced in original form in 1991 in Argentina).

For our eldest roach, I know I’m going to endure a lot of heat for Picking the Falcon over the Valiant and other Mopar A-Bodies. I have a few reasons for doing so. The Falcon has seen somewhat of a Phoenix-like surge in popularity in recent years, in spite of the fact that it was introduced nearly 53 years ago. And that popularity has a lot to do with the fact that a few staples of Roachdom are apparent in its design: they’re hard to break (outside of early Australian ones), and when they break, they’re amazingly easy to fix.

Also, there wasn’t much modification done to the version sold in Argentina all the way through 1991 other than more modern head lamps, wheels and updated engines and suspension. In that international scheme of things, the other 1960s compact that saw an international life, the Valiant, diverged on different paths quite early. Anyways, what we got here is a very solid uni-body car with an assortment of Inline 6 and V8 engines, a good cross section of transmission availability,

and our only factory Convertible among the roaches. Also, given the fact that the Falcon was practically the parent of every uni-body Ford before the Fox Platform, and you might think we can fair and square declare it the King of the Roaches right now. But don’t act so fast….

Roach #2: Volvo 200 Series (Introduced Fall 1973, last produced May 1993)

Although technically just a refresh of the 100 Series cars introduced at the end of 1967, there seemed to be a decent character shift away from the 1 to 2 shift in 1974. For one the PRV-V6 powered cars don’t have such a prominent image compared to the 164 Series inline six. When’s the last time you’ve seen a 260 running?

But then a majority of these Swedish Stones came with one of Volvo’s ridiculously sturdy B-series engines in normally aspirated and particularly joyful turbo incarnations. And at the time they drove with a respectable purpose that wasn’t the skill of a number of competing, at least American, cars in the same price bracket.

And undeniably they’ve proven to be long lived, either due to the devotion of their owners or their innate goodness at being an appliance, or a decently healthy parts supply and mechanics that are willing to (overcharge) work on them for you.

Roach #3: Mercedes W123 Series (Introduced January 1976, last produced 1986)

I’m not going to play favorites since I currently drive this particular roach. Really. But among the roaches it probably played the most diverse role depending on where it was sold. The same 240D could be a drab durable taxi cab in the rest of the world yet have enough sparkle and snobbery to make a Cadillac Eldorado seem plebeian in Los Angeles.

It also has the most weird mix of sensibilities, with 4 wheel disc brakes soon to be accompanied by an Air Bag and ABS with recirculating ball power steering and miles of vacuum lines monitoring a number of power accessories. And again, in the US they were maddeningly expensive when new, as a 300TD estate would be a $75,000 car, price adjusted for inflation.

But they represent the last meticulously-overbuilt Benzes before increasing electronics creep made future Mercedes Benzes, especially the W126, harder to consider the one investment you can make in a car for a lifetime. Given that they still thrive all over the world (not so much for the far less popular 230 and 280 models) 35 years after they clogged the air with blue diesel smoke, they make a good candidate for best roach of all time. If they weren’t so damned expensive to fix when they do break…

Roach #4: General Motors FWD A-Bodies (Introduced September 1981, last produced 1996)

It’s worth noting that Consumer Guide didn’t recommend buying one of these as a Budget or Best Buy until the 1990 Model year. In other words, it took General Motors nine model years to make these roaches really worth buying. That’s almost as long as Roach #1 was on the US Market. And then it stuck around another six model years.

But for a number of reasons, from finally decent mechanicals, especially for the upper-echelon Cutlass Ciera and Century in the form of the short deck 3300 V6 and the pretty good 4T40 Hydra Matic, plus the ridiculously copious and cheap parts supply to allow owners to keep these things alive on a modest budget.

It also helps that of all the Roaches, they are the newest and have the adage of GM cars run bad longer than any other car runs at all on their side. And there was the promise of what the X Car promised to be underneath it all. They also, I believe, might be the roomiest of our roaches despite having the shortest wheelbase. Roomiest, but probably the second-least comfortable after the original Falcon.

So before I unleash the voting war and write-in candidates, I have to say I have love in my heart for each roach coach, given that I could have my own specialized or favorite version of each:

For Roach #1

All of our Roaches came as station wagons, but my favorite has to be the Falcon Squire. It helps that it was the only one available with a factory V8, and that the 1963 version wears the zaftig lines the best of the original body. I’d definitely take this one above.

For Roach #2

I’m sure there has to be one running or well preserved 265 Wagon out there right? And if the engine is too far gone, ironically, it’s not too hard to swap in a 302 Windsor crate motor.

For Roach #3

We technically had to wait for the W124 to get a factory convertible, but apparently there were a few W123 Coupes converted into droptops. Give me one with an unfettered M110 6 (I’ve learned to love that engine in my 280E) with a 4 speed stick. It would be the last ultimate European Convertible. It’s actually quite sad Benz didn’t bother with one for this generation of car. It’s quite beautiful.

For Roach #4

If I were to suffer…er live with our newest of roaches I might as well go for one of a few hundred of the early Hess & Eisenhardt Convertible conversions with the 3.8L V6 making 150hp for 1986. Sure it probably would rattle itself to bits, but it would be far more fun than a 1993 Value edition SL Sedan.

So vote your roach, or dissent. I know it’s coming.