Mar 052012
 

It’s a copycat world, I guess.  Every self-respecting car magazine, it seems, has to periodically do a top-whatever (-5, -10, -50, -100, etc.) list of the best cars in whatever arbitrary category they have decided on for that month’s issue. That being the case, my own humble publication is clearly lagging behind. So what to do about that?

Back in 2008, on the 10th anniversary of the “immaculate reception” (otherwise known as the day I got my driver’s license), I wrote a large, all-encompassing piece on the top ten cars I had driven in those ten years.  Some day, perhaps, that will find its way up here as a really long feature, or in parts. In the mean time, though, I need something a little smaller—not to mention easier to read.

I first tried to think about what my readers would like to read about. Then I remembered that I don’t really have any. And even if I did, what do I care what they want to read about? This is my blog, right? I don’t know who I’m expecting to agree or disagree there, since I literally just got done pointing out my lack of readership, so I’m going to go ahead and agree with myself. Right.

With that out of the way, I decided to simply contemplate what are the 5 best inexpensive used cars for car enthusiasts like me.

Here, loyal reader, is what I came up with:

5. BMW 3-series (1988-1991, 1992-1998)—The biggest reason this one isn’t higher up the list is the cost of parts, both for upgrades and normal repair. None of the cars on this list are getting any younger and, since this is a European car, even if you find one in great shape you’ll probably have to shell out for repairs sometime in the near future. Even third party parts (those not made by BMW) are pricey. Aftermarket upgrade parts, likewise, are more expensive than those for the other Japanese cars on this list. Once you get past that, though, these are really fabulous cars. The front engine, rear-wheel drive layout makes them ideal for all sorts of motorsports and I frequently see examples of this vintage cleaning up at the autocrosses I attend. The initial purchase price is attractive as well; even a later model year example in excellent condition should come in under $10K. For the performance they offer, that’s a steal. Just be prepared to invest a little more to keep that performance up.

4. Toyota MR2 (1988-1989, 1991-1995)—It is sad that Toyota has never really tried again with a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive car (The MR Spyder doesn’t count. I always thought that car to be a bit soulless). The MR2, though not wildly popular, was a gem of a car. The balance was excellent and even the base engines had enough oomph to get the cars around more than admirably. Sure, the turbo cars suffered from chronic heat-soak, but that’s the trade-off you accept with a powertrain located in the back. Even the body is still attractive. Well, to me anyway. I love the wedge-shaped design of the early generation, and the second iteration has aged surprisingly well, despite its flip-up headlamps. Finding one at all is pretty difficult anymore, but if you do price shouldn’t be an issue.

3. Honda S2000—“What’s this?” you say? “I thought you were only doing ‘inexpensive’ cars.” Take a look, I prithee, at Autotrader and you will see what so astounded me as well. Early, higher-mileage examples of this wonderful roadster have come down in price considerably of late. Though some may turn their noses up at the term “higher-mileage,” I remind you that this is a Honda we’re talking about here. Yes, you’ll have to be extra-careful to not get stuck with one that has been previously abused. But even one that was only modestly cared for will serve you well for quite a while to come. Aftermarket parts are abundant as well, although I have to admit I would leave it pretty much stock. Indeed, it exists in such a high state of tune that many have found so-called “upgrades” to actually affect its performance negatively. This is an enthusiast’s car through-and-through, no changes necessary.

2. Mazda Miata (1990-1997, 1999-2005)—Far too many misunderstand the Miata. Accusations of the car’s femininity and questions about the alleged sexuality of those men seen driving it may abound, but enthusiasts who understand it know its true character: a moderately powered, perfectly balanced carving knife for concrete. With a little tweaking they can be made to perform at virtually any level of competition, from simple spirited street driving, to autocross, to full-on road racing. Its balance makes it a perfect car for drivers of all levels and its versatility is second only to number one on this list. Examples run the gamut in terms of condition and price.

1. Honda Civic (1988-2000)/Acura Integra (1990-2001)—There isn’t much to say here that hasn’t been said already. An enthusiast’s Swiss-Army knife, these are the cars that nearly single-handedly ignited the rise in popularity of import cars. The double-wishbone suspension, in combination with easy interchangeability of myriad engines, means they can be built to suit the needs and wants of nearly any driver. They can be found at every level of motorsport, and they are usually found in a favorable position. Aftermarket parts availability is measured by the warehouse, and they are numerous, so initial purchase price is low as well. Inexpensive, easy to upgrade, versatile, and easy to drive. Could there be a clearer choice to top this list?

So there you have it. Or rather, there you have my opinion. If you think I left something off, or messed up the order, feel free to make use of the comments section below. I can’t promise you’ll change my mind, but like the benevolent ruler of this domain that I am, I will entertain discussion on the matter.

  2 Responses to “The top 5 inexpensive used cars for car enthusiasts”

  1. your blog intrigues me, as i am a “new” car enthusiast. 18 now and realizing the beauty of the “automobile”. It’s always been said that the civic, or integra are the most abundant in parts, very cheap and extremely easy to drive. Putting it off as much I can it may be a choice i have to make. $1500 is currently my price limit, so something cheap indeed is what i’m settling. Thank you for this list for you, or whoever it’s for. non the less i’m great full there are people who take the time to write and explain some things that may come natural to some, but practically foreign to others.

    • I appreciate the kind words. When I was 18 I had a Civic as my first car and it taught me more lessons than I can probably recall. My unsolicited advice would simply be to start slow; don’t start your tinkering life with something complex like an engine swap. Learn the easy stuff first and then grow your knowledge and experience. Most important, though: don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a ton of people out there who have done just about everything there is to do to most cars. Google and community message boards are your friend. Have fun and good luck.

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