- Well, you won't exactly be going this fast...

Cheap Speed part 01

The first in a series of articles celebrating the accessible heroes for those of us with limited funds

3y ago
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What good is a car that you cannot own? It’s always nice to dream, but the cars that people so often drool over are almost always far too expensive for people to buy, and far too rare for them to even get the chance to drive. The poster car on your bedroom wall is just that, irrelevant and two-dimensional.
Indeed, the cars that are the most important—the ones that enthusiasts can actually afford—are so often ignored, despised even, by the Neanderthals who respect only horsepower. More for us, right?
Anyways, there are quite a few affordable speed machines out there, from hot hatches to FR’s, and oddly enough, rental cars.
This week though: The FR

An FR, for the uninitiated, is a car with a Front mounted engine and Rear wheel drive. This was the basic mold for every sports car, anywhere in the world for decades. In recent years though, it has become more rare. Typically, your average street car will have front wheel drive. This is great for making a car compact, light, and simple (read: affordable) but it tends to overwork the front tires, compromising handling.
There are, however, a few high-volume cars, in production today, that are relatively affordable, on dealership lots.

An FR, for the uninitiated, is a car with a Front mounted engine and Rear wheel drive. This was the basic mold for every sports car, anywhere in the world for decades. In recent years though, it has become more rare. Typically, your average street car will have front wheel drive. This is great for making a car compact, light, and simple (read: affordable) but it tends to overwork the front tires, compromising handling.
There are, however, a few high-volume cars, in production today, that are relatively affordable, on dealership lots.

The RF. Slightly heavier than the standard model, but suspension tuning that eliminates a lot of the body roll. A little more grown up if you will.

The RF. Slightly heavier than the standard model, but suspension tuning that eliminates a lot of the body roll. A little more grown up if you will.

The Miata

If you happen to find yourself at a Mazda dealership, you may stumble upon a car called the Miata, or MX-5. There are not enough words in the English language to express how good the Miata is. I have heard the recently released MX-5 RF (A hard—top convertible with new suspension tuning) called the greatest sports car ever made. This is coming from a journalist (Jason Cammisa) who has driven multi-million dollar hypercars. The Miata is the best-selling convertible in automotive history, and one of the most popular choices for track-day hotlapping, or even high-performance racing schools, making it popular amongst racers and moms alike.
Of course, you will hear all the slurs about hair-dressers and gay men and tractor engines (although that’s usually reserved for the Honda guys). For all the joking, though, the person who is laughing the hardest and smiling the widest is the Miata driver. You might only have 155 horsepower, but nothing handles better on a back road and no engine, despite its power rating, is as fun to take to the redline.

The Fiat. I tried to get a picture that showed how similar the dimensions are between this and the Mazda. As you can see, the turn signals are identical and placed in the same spot. That only the beginning of the similarities though.

The Fiat. I tried to get a picture that showed how similar the dimensions are between this and the Mazda. As you can see, the turn signals are identical and placed in the same spot. That only the beginning of the similarities though.

The Fiat 124

But what if you have a taste for quirky Europeans? Well, depending on your definition of “European” you might want to consider the Fiat 124, and the forthcoming Abarth 124. Let’s not beat around the bush; it’s another Miata. The 124 is built on the same production line in Hiroshima. It has its own unique sheet metal, and a Fiat engine. From what I’ve read, the handling isn’t quite as electric as in the Miata, but the Fiat is more appropriate for long journeys, or those in search of a more comfortable ride. The Abarth version will also have a considerable increase in power.

The new for 2017 Toyota 86. Not the prettiest from the front end is it?

The new for 2017 Toyota 86. Not the prettiest from the front end is it?

The Toyota 86 / Subaru BRZ

The JDM kids have it the best by far. In addition to the Miata, Toyota and Subaru have cooperated to give us the…well… it has four names: The Scion FR-S (in the U.S.) , The Toyota GT-86 (in the U.K.), the Subaru BRZ, and the updated version, post-Scion, called the Toyota 86.
Compared to the Miata, the Toyobaru has 50 more horsepower, but the genius comes with the tires used. The wheels are the exact same dimensions as the low-rolling resistance rubber that the Toyota Prius is equipped with. Of course, you cannot equip the Prius with a summer-compound, but that’s not important. What’s important is that the limits of the tire are fairly low, making oversteer—smoke—noise—hooning delightfully easy.

The Nismo version of the 370Z. More horsepower, some suspension tuning. The best thing to happen to this car in a while.

The Nismo version of the 370Z. More horsepower, some suspension tuning. The best thing to happen to this car in a while.

The Nissan 370Z

Nissan won’t be outdone though either. The 370Z has been in production since 2008, and has been around for almost a decade without any major changes. Its V6 is the largest and most powerful engine out of the bunch though. It takes itself more seriously than the others, as do other people. It’s been largely forgotten about, sadly, but is a hidden gem. You could call it a future classic car, waiting for its production run to end before people start talking about it again.

Another possibility...

Of course, there are options out there for someone who wants an American car. Don’t get excited. You won’t find anything with a V8 that you’d call affordable. But what if you equipped your Camaro or your Mustang with a four-cylinder. Half of you now want to shoot me, which is understandable. Consider it though, a modern inline four is more powerful than many post-oil-crisis V8’s. I have heard mention that a four cylinder Camaro with the 1LE handling package is a track-day weapon, consuming less fuel and tires than its more powerful siblings.
This option requires thick skin though. If Miata guys get jokes about being in touch with their feminine side, a four or six cylinder version of a muscle car will receive a lot more negative attention. For most, if it doesn’t have a V8, it isn’t worth buying.

Until next time

Again, lets be real, anything on this list is great, but we can get cheaper and faster still. One thing I have not taken into account is maintenance and consumables like tires, oil, gasoline... you name it. I'm also just kind of eyeballing the price here. Sometimes what we mean by 'affordable' is 'something I could buy, even though its not the best idea. You could make an argument that none of these are all that affordable, but then again, I'm not really listening.

Next week, I'm going to cover hot hatches, for people who like FF's! Eventually, I'll get around to used cars, maybe some classic cars (although we may have to actually have the debate about affordability). Rental cars will be a fun article to write--and to read (hopefully). Stay tuned!

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