JMO, but I agree with scattershot. I have several old guns and I am talking late 1940s/early 1950s and a couple from the 1980s and they are all excellent as long as you keep them clean and well cared for. And I have several I have bought just in the last five years with the same results. Maybe I am just lucky, but with the multitude of people decrying quality control, I have to say none of the new ones I have bought have been a problem. Had a couple that needed some "break-in time", but with patience and a little care, they all work flawlessly now.
If we're talking Rugers, here, don't know that I would hold out for an older one as far as the trigger, given that Rugers have always been unpredictable as to what you'll get for a trigger, out of the box. Have seen old and new with good and bad triggers.
Personally, I do think Ruger's QC has slipped a bit in its recent rush to keep up with production, but to me, that means just exercising more care in inspecting before you buy and it's also countered to some extent by the more modern machining and metallurgy you get with the new guns.
Some people will say the newer firearms that have "mim" parts aren't as good as pre "mim" parts firearms . I wouldn't know because the oldest pistol I have is a S&W model 29, don't know how old it is but the trigger & hammer look & feel different than what's on my GP-100. I also wonder what constitutes "better"? Is this a gauge for how smooth the action is or the longevity of the materials? I know Colt pistols are well revered but if one breaks, I'm sure it would cost more to fix. So what is better?
I agree with everybody else. Each gun is different. However, I will say that in my experience it seems that newer guns have a slightly higher tendency to have minor problems but the ones that don't are just as good as their elder counterparts.
Better is a subjective term so the answer you get will depend on the desires of the person answering.
Here's my take. Years ago I switched from wheel guns to semi-autos. So are the semi-autos better than the wheel guns? For me, yes. But if wheel guns are your bag your answer would be no.
So for years my choice for EDCC was a SA/DA semi auto. For example, S&W 9mm and/or Walther PPKs. Great guns! Served me well. Now some folks swear by the 1911's which are SA only. Great gun! But I wouldn't have one for my own use at least. Am I saying the SA only is no good? Absolutely not ... I'm saying for me, my likes, and my use the SA/DA is "better".
Now. For years I have wanted to add a laser to at least one of my EDCC guns. Too expensive for my budget! Simple as that. Then one day I walked into a LGS to "window shop and saw a new LCP with laser attached! Asked to see it. Handled it. Told the owner of the LGS that I had a Walther PPK I'd trade him even up ... went home and got it ... traded!! Now. Did the LGS get the best of the deal? Dollar and cent wise, yes ... and I knew it when I traded. But I got a pocket 380 with attached laser WHICH IS WHAT I WANTED so for me it was a great deal. Was the Walther a better gun? Some would say yes and I'd not be inclined to argue with 'em. But for me the little pocket gut gun with the attached laser filled a need I had been wanting to fill for years!!
So that got me interested in the "plastic guns". I like the lighter weight. I like the striker fired actions. I like the additional fire power. So I traded my S&W 9mm for a LC9! Then traded the LC9 for the LC9S. Now I have a small, light weight 9mm with attached laser!! And it's still light, very concealable, more comfortable for all day CC, and it's striker fired! I prefer the striker fired because every shot is the same trigger .... no pull out the gun, long trigger pull of the first shot then short easy trigger pulls ... every shot from first to last is the same short, easy, light trigger and BANG! I like!!
Next I added the SR9C and a rail mounted laser! Great gun!! Great shooter! It's my preferred EDC! And just for giggles the SR22!! Yeah it's DA/SA but it's the "funnist" little .22 plinker I ever owned! A real fun gun!!
So are all these Ruger "plastic guns" [if that's what some prefer to call 'em] "better" than the old chunks of iron? In some ways yes but in some ways no. For sure the "plastic guns" are lighter thus more comfortable as EDCC guns, and you don't have as much iron to worry about rustng. But the Brownings, Colts, and some of the Walters I've had were "prettier". But me, I don't buy a gun to look at. I like my stable of guns that I have now just fine. They all work flawlessly and they all fill a niche I wanted filled. While I am careful with them and clean them regularly I don't worry if one does show some holster wear on the slide like I used to.
In other words, to me "better" is as "better" does for the owner/user.
For you and many others the answer would be different. But then if we all fell in love with the same blond it'd be a miserable world to live in for every man except one.
Rifles and shotguns from the early 80's were more nicely furnished. Almost everything was walnut or beech. Really todays rifles are more accurate. Shotguns are hit and miss. Revolvers were better along that time but I seldom buy an old revolver. Most of them are out of production. Parts can be hit or miss. A friend bought a wonderful nickel finish L frame. The bent the cylinder crane and ended up with a blued cylinder crane, no chance of finding a nickel part.
Me, personally, I tend to look at older guns first...very carefully, of course, and do my research prior to purchasing. That being said, you can have a winner or a loser with a new pistol in the same way you can with an older one! Don't skip an opportunity for an older pistol simply because of it's age while at the same time don't simply snag a new one just because it looks nice or is the current 'hot' gun to have!
Figure out what fits you..what you like / prefer...and go with that! Ex: I like Glock pistols...preferably Gen II's and Gen III's...I have no Gen IV's!
if you look at many of the mods people make to the mark 3 22/45, you will see they are to turn the mark 3 into a mark 2.
sometimes, so called advances are a step back.
many people find changes made to guns to avoid lawsuits irritating.
so in the case of ruger, newer may not mean better.
My take is Newer guns or anything new is made with cheaper material then older things! Look at cars.. BUT a cheaper /lighter material sometime is better! Today with the Corporate structure it is all about making a buck the cheapest way possible! My 9E or my S&S Shield are my first 2 plastic guns and I love them! Light weight is a + SO IMO new or old a Reliable trustworthy gun is what it is about Quality is the key as you know! CS and QC is what is way worse today! Oooops off my soap box