The Workhorse

A Workhorse is a type of vehicle, weapon or other type of equipment, that is so reliable or cost-effective that it's kept in service for decades, outlasting other more flashy and advanced types. While the Workhorse might receive some modifications and upgrades during its lifetime, it is never as advanced as its newer cousins. Likely an example of Boring but Practical.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Being a Long Runner, the original UC Gundam series has a few examples. The mass-produced Federation Mobile Suit Jegan, first introduced in Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack is still in service in Mobile Suit Gundam F91 three decades later, though this has more to do with the fact that there were few major conflicts in the intervening years. The real winner, though, is the Salamis class cruiser, which debuted in the original Mobile Suit Gundam and turns up in nearly every sequel and spinoff since, right up to Victory Gundam, taking place 74 years later.

Film
  • Star Wars:
    • The Imperial-class Star Destroyer is introduced two decades before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope and serves for decades after. Super Star Destroyers are more powerful, superweapons like the Death Star are flashier, but the Imperial Star Destroyer brings just enough overkill to intimidate in true Imperial fashion while being economical and standardized enough to form the backbone of the fleet.
    • When it comes to starfighters, the bog-standard TIE fighter is fragile, undergunned, and not nearly as flashy or intimidating as the dagger-shaped TIE Interceptor or Vader's TIE Advanced prototype, but throw enough of them at a problem and they'll get the job done.
    • In the Rebel starfighter corps, the Y-Wing is seen as this, in contrast to the newer, faster, shinier X-Wing. X-Wings are generally held to be superior fighters and fighter-bombers (although they aren't quite the Y-Wings' match in the dedicated bomber role thanks to the latter's heavier maximum payload), but there are never enough of them to go around.

Literature
  • Star Wars Legends (formerly the Star Wars Expanded Universe):
    • While not much seen in the films, in the books, the Victory-class Star Destroyer fits the trope better than the Imperial class. Smaller and not as powerful, but cheap and reliable and just as useful in mass quantities.
    • On the New Republic side, the X-Wing becomes the workhorse of the fleet. Many hotshot pilots prefer the Difficult but Awesome A-Wing, the B-Wing is a much better dedicated bomber, and later on, anyone who has the option would likely rather hop aboard the powerful but expensive and finicky E-Wing, but the X-Wing's versatility, ubiquity, and perfect balance between cost and utility mean that they continue to see service long after just about any contemporary craft you can name has been phased out.
    • For anyone without the resources of a major government backing them, the Z-95 Headhunter is a solid budget choice, especially in works set relatively early in the timeline. A favorite of smugglers, gangsters, and criminals, they're commonplace enough that it's easy to find parts to keep in good repair, and you won't get better bang for your buck if your wallet is light.
    • The Corellian YT-1300 light freighter— the most famous being the Millennium Falcon— was designed to be easily customizable, making is useful for any number of roles with the right modifications. Those who don't push things quite as far as the souped-up but notoriously finicky Falcon tend to find them incredibly reliable, too.

Television
  • Star Trek:
    • The Miranda-class frigate is another one, entering service at least as early as Khan Noonien Singh's reappearance and serving at least as late as the Dominion War.
    • The Excelsior-class starship was introduced during the 2280s. Its design was so versatile that it was still in service during the 2370s, nearly a century later. Many Excelsior-class ships filled the Federation ranks during the Dominion War.
    • The Klingon Bird of Prey was introduced during the same decade as the Excelsior-class and it too served during the Dominion War of the 2370s.
    • The K't'inga-class Klingon Battlecruiser had roughly the same operational length as the Bird of Prey, even being used alongside newer ships in the Dominion War, over 100 years since they entered service.
  • Firefly: It's noted by a starship-jacker that a Firefly-class freighter is a collection of parts that are all, by themselves, commonplace and worth very little... except that if you put them all together, you've got yourself a Firefly. Not the largest cargo-hauler, and nobody's idea of a warship, but with the right mechanic to keep her flying, she'll take you anywhere you need to go. Mal's Serenity is already outdated by the time he buys her, but it's love at first sight, and she proves a remarkably resilient little ship with enough TLC.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40K Universe is filled with long-service vehicles and tech. Some maintenance is required, but most gear used by the Imperium of Man dates back decades if not thousands of years. These can range anywhere from regular bolter firearms to power fists, imperial star ships and Dreadnought chassis, which in turn house some of the oldest living members of the Space Marine chapters.
    • Probably the crowning example is the Rhino transport, a converted tractor (really) that serves the Space Marines not just as an Awesome Personnel Carrier, but as a tank (as the Predator) and an artillery platform (the Razorback), and is also used by the Adepta Sororitas (including in flamethrower and anti-tank heat gun configurations). It's even used by the Adeptus Arbites (Imperial police) as a riot vehicle. Like most of the other Imperial examples, it's a Standard Template Construct, which means automated factories on thousands of worlds produced them during humanity's golden age, and while the factories have fallen out of repair, enough of them retained their blueprint data that STCs are ubiquitous.
    • Crossing over with Real Life is the heavy stubber, a weapon manufactured by the billion which is just an M2 Browning.
  • There are numerous examples of this in Traveller. Probably the most iconic is the Beowulf class Free Trader.
  • BattleTech has many BattleMech models which have seen service for centuries of warfare (and sometimes, the individual mechs have seen centuries of combat). The Atlas is one of the most recognizable mechs, and has seen continued use and upgrades for almost four hundred years. On the other handa, most of the modernized workhorses are only externally similar to their originals; an original production AS7-D Atlas (2755), for example, shares very few internal components with the more modern AS7-K Atlas (3050), which carries a completely different fusion reactor design and weapons (dropping the short-ranged Autocannon in favor of a long-ranged Gauss Rifle, for example), though it does share the same combat roles - frontline command and intimidation. And that four hundred year service history? That's pretty unimpressive compared to a few other mechs like the Banshee or Wasp, which have both been in continual use (and in the case of the Wasp, continual production) for close to 700 years.
    • The Torrent bomber is of note for being in use for close to a thousand years; designed by the United States in 2093, operated on the front lines of the various Great Houses until the 22nd century, and used by militias until Aerospace Fighters began to show up in the 24th century, where it then became a warbird used by civilians in firefighting operations. After the Word of Blake Jihad in 3067, the Capellan Confederation began to bring the planes back into active service.

Videogames
  • E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy has the Rotten Mound and KA93 assault rifles, both of which are centuries old (dating back to the Dark Ages) and extremely simple, but are used heavily by all factions due to their heavy stopping power, low cost, and high accuracy. In-game, they're some of the most common weapons used by enemies, and the preferred weapons for many players due to their versatility.
  • The TX1 Repeater in PlanetSide 2 has been the standard issue pistol in the Terran Republic military for over 300 years - despite its small size, it has surprising stopping power due to its 3-shot burst (which is effectively fully automatic with a quick finger) and large magazine. Newer derivatives like the TX2 Emperor (200 years old, semi-automatic) and TS2 Inquisitor (New, semi-automatic, huge magazine) have failed to eclipse the Repeater's popularity.
  • In the X-Universe, various ship designs have been in service for decades, but the Argon Elite Space Fighter takes the cake. It was in service with the Argon Federation navy when the Earth State test pilot Kyle Brennan is marooned in the X-universe in 2912, though it was retired sometime before 2932 and replace with the Nova. In 2935 it was brought back into service, with reworked internals and reclassified as a heavy interceptor, and was used til at least 2947 with the jump gate network shutting down.
  • Starcraft: The humble Terran Marine, and by extension their standard-issue Impaler gauss rifle and Powered Armor, were already pretty old during the Guild Wars and certainly haven't gotten any younger over the span of the franchise — in contrast to the huge leaps in development of pretty much every other sector of military technology. Nonetheless, they're the first line of defense for any human settlement. Indeed, this carries over to gameplay; as one of the few Terran units that doesn't Require More Vespene Gas, the Marine is a part of virtually every Terran strategy.
  • In Elite, most Faulcon DeLacy ships have been in near continuous production for centuries, with minimal aesthetic changes. Elite: Dangerous takes place in 3300 AD and beyond, yet pilots are flying ships first designed in the 2800s. However, functionally the ships of yore worked completely differently, using overpowered thrusters for direct flight between planets, while by 3300 thrusters have been toned down in favor of the Frameshift Drive Faster-Than-Light Travel for interplanetary travel.

Real-life
  • The Soyuz rocket and capsule design were first introduced in 1966 and both are still in active service. The Soyuz rocket design has flown more than 1700 times, making it the most used space launcher in history. The Soyuz rocket itself is a direct descendant of the rocket that launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite.
  • The AK-47, the most popular assault rifle of all time, has been around since 1949 and is still in use with several dozen countries. Around 75 million AK-47s have been built, and that's not counting various modernized models such as AKM, AK-74 and AK-12.
  • The Mosin-Nagant rifle, designed in 1891, was continuously produced until The '60s, and was the Soviet Union's standard weapon until the end of World War II. It was used for even longer as a specialist weapon (generally a sniper), and is still sometimes used by Russian police forces. Seventeen million of them have been made and exported, making them one of the cheapest high-powered weapons available.
  • As the name implies, the Colt M1911 was introduced in 1911. While it's been phased out as the US Military's standard issue pistol, it's still in use with the FBI, the US Marine Corps and about two dozen other militaries.
  • The B-52 Stratofortress was introduced as one of the first bombers made by the United States following World War II, entering service in 1952. Not only is it in service today, it's expected to stay in service (with upgrades) into the 2040s.
  • The M2 Browning .50 cal machine gun was designed in the 1920s, and is still being used as the M2 HBAR (Heavy Barrel) in the U.S. Armed Forces, almost 100 (!) years after it was first introduced, and there are still no plans for a replacement. Well, there were plans—but they failed.
  • The American automotive industry, while phasing out individual cars and sometimes entire brands, often continues to use parts originally designed decades prior. The AMC I6 engine was first produced in 1964 and outlived the company that made it, its final application being the Jeep Wrangler in 2006 (in itself a workhorse, being visually unchanged for decades). However, the old parts are often modified beyond their original design, such as the aforementioned engine being upgraded to use fuel injection rather than a carburetor.
  • The German Type VII U-boat was the workhorse of the Kriegsmarine U-boat Force. Out of 1171 submarines, 770 were Type VIIs and the most common class was the Type VIIC, of which 568 were built (the workhorse of the workhorse). A few captured boats remained in service for years after, with one, U-573, being used in the Spanish Navy until 1970.
  • The humble Linksys WRT54G router, with its unassuming blue exterior and familiar double-antenna design, is the wireless-router answer to this trope. It's cheap, reliable, so ubiquitous that answers to troubleshooting questions are easy to find, and has a dedicated homebrew community that supports it with custom firmware that gives it features usually only found on much newer and more expensive routers long after Linksys has more or less moved on.
  • The original Volkswagon Beetle is the most prominent automotive example. A triumph of German reliability, its design is, well... "dorky" would be a kind descriptor. But the fact that you can still occasionally see them on the road 35 years after they were last in wide production, and almost eighty years after they were first designed, is testament enough to their longevity and popularity.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheWorkhorse