To be honest, if all you want to do is pound a circuit on the cheap, then you can buy virtually any old city car and fit a few choice mods to have some genuine fun. An ideal car to get you started would be the Citroen Saxo VTR, since it’s been the car of choice for young modders UK-wide for years, meaning there’s lots of aftermarket support. If you want a serious power hike, the Saxo is also popular as an amateur rally car, so you can actually find some decent engine upgrades should you decide to spend a bit more further down the line.
You could get yourself a 1999 model for about £500, a decent set of tyres and a nice suspension upgrade for well under £1k. Now all you need to do is strip it out and you’re good to go!
The phrase ‘Miata is always the answer’ has been ringing around internet comment sections for years, but when the question is “what’s the best budget track car?”, well, then the mk1 iteration of the little Japanese roadster really is the answer. Forget its tiny dimensions, convertible-ness and cutesy styling, this car was designed with the driver in mind, and at this budget you’ll be hard pressed to find something that’ll offer as much ability and as many thrills.
As our very own ‘Phil’ proved, MX-5s are susceptible to rust, so it’s probably worth splashing out a bit more for a car that’s structurally sound, rather than saving a few quid at the dealer only to find your car collapses around you when things go wrong at the track…
At this price point you’re not getting a mint ‘Teg Type R, but even so, you are getting what is regarded as one of the best handling front-wheel drive cars ever made. If you write this car off because its power goes forwards rather than rearwards you’re missing out - plus, if you’re fairly new to the track scene, FWD is a safer and no less exciting introduction to driving at the limit.
In the late 90s, Honda wasn’t doing things by half, so in the Integra Type R you get a lot of weight saving, a hand-built engine making around 200bhp that revs to 8500rpm, and a Helical limited-slip differential. It’ll keep much faster machinery honest, and make you look like you know what you’re doing…
Now I know that I haven’t been the most complimentary about the E46 M3, but it’d make a fantastic track weapon. The manual’s a bit vague and slushy for track use, so get the SMG ‘box and up the ferocity of the shifts to slam each cog home quickly and you’ll be smashing out lap times all day long.
If you can budget in upgraded suspension and some stickier rubber you’ll transform your ride into something that not only looks great, but will dominate much newer cars on track.
If you fancy something a little more hardcore, may we point you in the direction of the Vauxhall VX220? You can’t put your shopping in the back, and you won’t be able to give your mother-in-law a lift to the bingo, but when you’re really pushing on during a track day few things can match it for clarity of feedback. Pure little beast, this.
We’re getting into serious money now, so we need to start looking at serious kit. Lotus has been the go-to driver’s car since before most of us were even born, so it only seems apt that the British manufacturer should have a starring role in this list. For £30k you can get a Series 2 Exige, which is essentially a more focused coupe version of the soft-top Elise.
It’s a mid-engined, two-seater sports car, with aerodynamic upgrades over the Elise that give the Exige much more downforce - so you know it’s designed to be driven fast. The engine is a 1.8-litre unit designed by Toyota and Yamaha, and in base form is naturally-aspirated. At this price point, though, you could get yourself a supercharged example, meaning 218bhp in a car that weighs under a tonne and handles like only a Lotus can. If you’re lucky, you may even find the occasional S 260 model, which ups power to 260bhp and drops the weight even further to 920kg.
With a budget like this you don’t even have to hit the classifieds to find something special. Step up, Porsche Cayman S. The 911 might be the Bavarians’ halo car, but the Cayman is inherently more suited to brisk driving thanks to its mid-engined layout, and brand new will set you back £48k in manual form. The S model gets 325bhp and will hit 62mph in five seconds, as well as providing mind-blowing handling ability. Should you need to daily your part-time track car, the Cayman also offers up the kind of refinement and high quality interior we’ve come to expect from Porsche.
If you like your track cars to be a little less cosseting and a lot more terrifying, the hardcore alternative would be the bonkers Caterham 620R. It might look like scaffolding on wheels, but it’s been honed for track use. There’s a 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine making 311bhp, which results in a Bugatti Veyron-beating power-to-weight ratio of 580bhp/tonne, a six-speed sequential transmission that lets you flat shift through the gears, and magnesium wheels shod in track day rubber. Pure and unfiltered madness.
This is a lot of cash to spend on something with the sole intention of driving it on the track, but if you’ve got the cash and the inclination then you could do a lot worse than get yourself a BAC Mono for around £80,000+.
For the money you get a Cosworth 2.3-litre engine, which routes its 280bhp to the rear wheels through a six-speed sequential transmission with a limited-slip differential. The car is constructed from carbonfibre, has pushrod suspension with Sachs Racing motorsport dampers, AP Racing brakes, and bespoke OZ wheels.
The name Mono refers to the fact this car is a single seater, with the driver positioned centrally - the intention was “to bring formula race car levels of handling, performance and thrill to the public road.” Probably safe to say it’s been a success, as the BAC Mono is the second fastest car to lap the Top Gear test track, losing only to the Pagani Huayra.