My son and I each have the "old" style HF saws and they both have cut tons of metal. I modified my vertical table with both a wood plate and a steel plate on the table to get the gap between the blade and table down to close to 0. this works for finer cuts especially on aluminum.
The only real trouble I have with both saws is that a small chip can get under the blade and cause it to jump off the big wheels. That was the primary reason for going to the tight gap sub tables.
As far as gear lube...I almost think the stock lube is whale oil. It is the stinkiest stuff on the planet. I replaced mine with standard 90-140 gear lube and it runs great. I do think you are right about the newer ones being lesser quality gears. If the gear wear out maybe McMaster would have a part that would be fitted. You might have to bore the gear or change ratio.
The motors on these are very weak. Hard to believe they are 1/2 hp. A new 1/2 hp motor is nearly the cost of a new saw.