Fun on a budget: six performance car bargains for under $10,000
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It's a great time to be buying second hand.
That might sound like a weird call, given that so many of the iconic cars of the '80s and '90s are exploding in value thanks to a combination of nostalgia and accrued rarity. But, there are still plenty of gems out there for relatively little money — many of which being of the more modern, more safe variety.
Here's six of our picks.
2003–2008 Nissan 350Z / Fairlady Z
Forget what you've heard; the 350Z and its Japanese import Fairlady Z cousin represent achievable, accessible power. Mated to a rear-driven platform, no less.
Some might mock the ubiquitous nature of the mid-noughties Nissan 'Z car', but in some respects you could argue that that makes to Australasia what the 'Fox Body' Mustang ended up being to America. Aftermarket tuning options are endless, plus the platform itself is relatively simple and reliable (and more modern). Not to mention, they're fun to chuck down a twisty road.
The cheap end of the Zed market starts at around $6,500, but if you want one with decent kilometres on the clock. $10,000 will just about get you something with around 100,000km indicated on the odometer, but that's still plenty of car for not much money. If you're shopping in this budget, you'll be limiting yourself to early models fitted with the 214kW/371Nm 3.5-litre VQ35DE V6. Latter models with the 3.5-litre VQ35HR engine command more of a premium.
Why it's a good idea: relatively safe and modern, timeless design, plenty of examples out there
Why it's an awful idea: they binge drink fuel, ubiquitous at car meets, the strut brace in the boot is pretty funny
1998–2002 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG / 2003–2006 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG
There are plenty of token German sports sedan choices that could've made this list (BMW's E36 and E46 3 Series line-up, for example), but who can say no to a big luxury boat fitted with a thumping naturally aspirated V8? Enter the E55 AMG.
There are two models to consider; the earlier 'W210' E55 and the latter 'W211' E55 [pictured above]. Both come powered with a M113-derived 5.4-litre V8, which made 260kW/530Nm in its early years before being upped to 350kW/700Nm for the W211.
Neither was the quickest E-Class in the line-up, with a more powerful E63 AMG sitting further up the totem pole. However, E55s are much easier to find.
That said, there are some issues here. W211 E55 AMGs will be difficult to find in this price bracket (though not impossible), and more to the point any $10,000 AMG is likely to require a big further investment of coin to keep it healthy. It's not that these cars are inherently unreliable, but at this kind of age there could be all sorts of mechanical issues on the horizon.
Why it's a good idea: Endlessly cool, plenty of toys, that badge
Why it's an awful idea: Maintenance cost stretches the definition of 'bargain', not the easiest to locate
To search for Mercedes-Benz AMG models for sale on Driven, click here
2002–2008 Honda Accord Euro R
It might not have the badge power of the big Merc (or the glamour, or the style, or the luxury, or the ...), but the Honda Accord Euro R is compelling for a bunch of other reasons.
The Euro R never came to New Zealand initially, but has since flooded the country via our relatively open regulations on imports. And, like the aforementioned 350Z, it's a reasonably modern and reasonably reliable platform.
There are two different generations of Euro R; the CL1 and the CL7. The latter, built between 2002 and 2008, is the better call here. While the naturally aspirated 2.2-litre VTEC engine in the CL1 is a lovely thing, the 162kW/206Nm K20A in the CL7 is the better beast. Along with being more refined, it's also effectively the same motor you'll find in a Civic Type R or Integra Type R of the same vintage. Hooked up to a slick 6-speed manual, it's a cheap way to buy into the Type R story-line, but in a much easier to live with package.
The going rate for a CL7 Euro R with 150,000km and up on the clock should be well under $10,000. Shop around, and you'll fit something with around 100,000km indicated on the cusp of budget.
Why it's a good idea: Reliable, the ability to flex over having Recaro and Momo bits inside, VTEC yo
Why it's an awful idea: Everyone will wonder why you're driving your Dad's car
To search for Honda Accord Euro R models for sale on Driven, click here
1989–2015 Mazda MX-5 / Mazda Miata
As we all know, Miata is an acronym for Miata Is Always The Answer. Naturally, it therefore makes an appearance on this list. But don't expect this to be simple.
The first three MX-5 models can be had for under 10k; the first-generation NA and second-generation NB [both pictured above], as well selected examples of the much newer NC.
Purists will gravitate to the NA, since it is 'the first' and arguably the most iconic of the bunch. Clean, unmodified NAs are also still quite common, and well in budget too. However, the more modern NB (1998–2002) and NC (2005–2015) are even more common.
Ultimately, choice will come down to where you sit on the spectrum of age versus purity and simplicity. Though for what it's worth, the NC still comes with a few old-school engineering trinkets — including hydraulic steering.
Why it's a good idea: it just is
Why it's an awful idea: the inevitable tired hair-dresser jokes
To search for Mazda MX-5 models for sale on Driven, click here
How about a 'kei car'?
I wasn't going to include this recommendation, but the more I thought about it the more sense it made.
In the same vein as the 350Z, some performance car buyers shy away from the MX-5 because it's a common, obvious choice. To those people, I suggest looking at the kei car sports-car market.
The Japanese motoring world was awash with weird, quirky little kei car sportsters in the early '90s, like the gull-wing'd Autozamn AZ-1 and the already well established Suzuki Alto Works RS. But, there are two in particular worth noting; the 1991–1996 Honda Beat [pictured] and the 1991–1998 Suzuki Cappuccino.
Both come with a rev-happy 660cc three-cylinder engine (supercharged in the Cappuccino, naturally aspirated in the Beat), both are microscopic, and both are stellar to drive (although sadly, only one comes with Zebra-print seats). They aren't the first things that spring to mind when one considers the big 'performance car' world, but they certainly don't lack in fun.
The big allure of a kei car from this era is that there's an explosion of interest in them from the American market. Demand from the States is high, and slowly but surely it's driving the prices of these cars upwards.
Sadly, they're not easy to find. Just one Honda Beat is listed for sale on Driven, but it does thankfully sneak under budget.
Why it's a good idea: Great way to stand out from the crowd, should hold their value
Why it's an awful idea: Increasingly hard to find, practicality non existent
Almost anything fitted with a 4A-GE
Honda's naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines hog most of the nerd-driven limelight. But, the Toyota 'A engine' line-up should also get a mention. Like Honda's well-noted donks, performance-orientated versions of Toyota's A engine were known for the musical urgency in which they hit red-line. And, the 4A-GE is arguably the jewel in that crown.
The 16-valve and 20-valve 'four age' engine was fitted to a stack of cars — some mundane, some awesome, and some somehow straddling the line in between. Firmly in the awesome category are cars like the Corolla FX-GT and sleeper wagon BZ Touring, the 'AW11' MR2 sports car, the Celica of the late '80s, and the plethora of Corolla Levins and Sprinter Truenos.
My pick? Probably the relatively overlooked Levin BZ-R from the mid to late '90s. Such is the reliability and fun-factor of the platform that they've become a dominant platform in New Zealand's 2kCup Series. Factory mint examples will set you back almost $10,000, with most priced at less than half that. Bargain.
Why it's a good idea: Cheap as chips, reliable, parts are everywhere
Why it's a bad idea: Getting tougher to find in good condition