There was also probably something of a monopoly mindset where foreign brands by and large were a lot less available and not desirable by American standards (small, slow, etc).
That was the case before 1975, sure. After that, the Japanese brands became the ones everyone wanted; they were faster, nicer, had better fuel economy, lasted far far far longer, kept their resale better, were better looking, etc. The American brands finally started catching up in the late 90s or so.
The American companies have had literally decades to get their act together.
It's funny, but I've heard horror stories about Mercedes reliability and few positive things about Audi. BMW I hear mixed bag stories -- expensive to maintain, but not completely unreliable, either. My wife and I owned a VW Jetta 20 years ago that was junk.
High-end German cars are indeed infamous for outrageous repair costs. They're really just status symbols. If you want serious reliability, you want a Japanese-made car. It's been this way for a long time. Even VWs are known to have problems, especially the Mexican-made ones.
We've had excellent luck with Honda, but my understanding is they've had their own problems -- "a quart of oil a month is normal"
How old? The Hondas of the 90s were some of the most bulletproof cars ever made. I think they've lost some of their luster since then, but that's probably more because other brands have caught up a lot. I had two 90s-era Hondas and those things never burned oil.