I'm partial to the European machines of the 50's to early 70's. The American and Asian machines of the era just didn't compare in features or quality. Today's budget machines are absolute junk. (the (usually plastic) gearcase expands under hard use, which throws the timing off)
The old machines will work well on all but the flimsiest fabrics and will stitch through the heaviest materials you can slip under the presser foot.
Pfaff, Elna, Bernina, and Viking all made excellent machines at the time, and many of them have had very little use. Pfaff's 300 series automatics (332, 332-260, 360 and 362) are excellent machines, basically scaled-down versions of their industrial models. Elna's "Supermatic" series is sturdy and offers many unique features (including a surprising level of portability).
Viking's venerable 2000 to 6000 series machines are real workhorses that feature a 5-to-1 step-down transmission that makes both slow and heavy work much easier. For the Do-it-Yourselfer who wants to play with upholstery, this feature is a veritable Godsend. I run 70's 4000 Series Vikings in a commercial sewing shop. Reliable as rocks.
You can buy a nice 4000 Series for a couple hundred bux. You will need to spend about $125 to have it properly cleaned & serviced. The lube gets sticky & they stick in reverse after a few decades.
PLEASE employ ONLY an old and experienced Viking mechanic for that.
Last edited by hardhatz; 02-15-2012 at 03:11 PM.