This just in: Not everyone can afford a Lamborghini. Or a Porsche. Or a Ferrari.
Most people can, however, afford something a bit more modest. And when I say modest, I’m talking about the really sketchy stuff that goes for two grand or less. You know, the cars that may or may not be started via screwdriver in the ignition; the cars that have at least one window that won’t go down, or one door that won’t open. Yeah, those cars. And I’m willing to bet the vast majority of you have owned at least one such car in your life, if not several.
For people who truly love cars, there’s something oddly endearing about getting to know the unique quirks of a cheap car, at least for a little while. It’s a passion only enthusiasts can appreciate, but it’s real. Old used cars gain individual character over time; it’s why I’ve owned 30 cars in the last 15 years, and it’s why I keep searching for new cheap car adventures every single day.
We can’t all drive high-end exotics, but most of us can find $2000 or so for a cheap beater with some potential for fun. Drive it, wrench on it, fall in love with it, and if you chalk up more successes than failures in a few months, pass it on and make a few bucks in the process. That’s right—it’s cheap car challenge time, and these five quirky vehicles have all the key ingredients: low price, availability of parts, relatively simple maintenance, and the most important ingredient of all, fun factor.
I’m not necessarily opposed to a Civic cheap car challenge, but the two-seat CRX just has a bit more fun factor for me. They are ridiculously light so it doesn’t take much motor to really make them move, and if you just want to stick with the basics, a few greenbacks for suspension will give you a street legal go-kart.
You might even get lucky in your search and find an already-swapped pocket rocket like this 1991 b16 CRX in Chicago. Yeah I know, the price is $2600, but I bet he’d take $2000.
Pontiac Grand Ams might be the obvious cheap choice here, but the Bonneville offers a better ride, better looks, better options—and of course the bullet-proof supercharged 3.8-litre V6 that’s easily upgradable - all for the same cheap price.
Spend a couple hundred bucks for a pulley swap and tune and you’re looking at 300bhp, albeit funneled to the front wheels through an automatic transmission. Still, that’s enough to have some serious straight-line fun, and they are readily available—like this 1998 SSEi for $1600 in Gainesville, Florida.
I know I’m going to catch heat for this one, but the simple fact is the Neon has fun factor. There’s a reason why these cars did so well in SCCA Solo events—they handled well right out of the factory, and even the base models were zippy with a 2.0-litre, 130bhp four-pot connected to a five-speed manual.
Head gasket and electrical issues caused them to fall out of favor, which is why you can find these everywhere for little more than a song. Even the rarer R/T models with the 150-horsepower DOHC engine can be scored for under $2000, like this one in Long Beach, California..
There are few things more American than a big, body-on-frame sedan with a V8 up front driving the wheels in back. This long-time police-issue favourite is actually a very good platform on which to build a modern muscle car. Why? Because cop motor, cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks, that’s why. What’s not to love about big burnouts and power sliding a 4200-pound chunk of steel?
Prices can vary, but it’s not tough to find a cheap interceptor like this one in Houston selling for just $1500.
I’ve always liked the look of the 1987-1988 ‘aero’ Thunderbirds, and the Turbo Coupe was Ford’s last dance with a muscular turbocharged mill in the US until EcoBoost entered the scene just a few years ago. Sadly, many Turbo Coupes had their 188bhp 2.3-litre engines swapped with 5.0-litre V8s, and most surviving stock Turbo Coupes need some help. In other words, they’re perfect candidates for epic cheap car challenges. Oh look, here’s one for sale near my home town. Now that’s tempting—very tempting. I may have just found my next cheap car challenge…