The best cheap cars to turn into track cars
You don't need a big budget to have a fabulous track car
Every car enthusiast wishes to own a track car, a car that should be all about entertainment and thrill, but most cars designed for this are way too expensive for the majority of petrolheads. In most cases, you need 6 figure sums to afford a new one, but thankfully, the used market has a lot of quirky gems that have massive performance potential, for just a fraction of the cost of the new ones. Here are some of the best choices.
The BMW 3-series E30
The BMW E30 is the second generation of the popular 3-series model, and it is also the most loved by enthusiasts. One of the reasons for being so appreciated is its driving experience. Its chassis is fantastically calibrated, the car is light, and the controls feel spot on. I can even argue that is one of the most beautiful 3-series generation, and the hardcore M3 has only made it more popular and cooler.
As a result, the examples in good condition can be expensive, so i recommend the lower powered versions, such as the 318i or the 320i. Another advise would be searching for estate or saloon versions, yes they are heavier and not as pretty as the 2-door models, but they are significantly cheaper and easier to find in decent condition than the coupe. E30 prices start from as low as 1.500€, and with some mods such as improved brakes, suspension and some proper tires, the E30 can be an excellent cheap track car.
The Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG
The C32 was made between 2001-2003 and it is based on the W203 C-class. There are 2 cars which have overshadowed it over time: the E46 M3, which was its direct competitor, and the C55, which was made after 2003. The C55 had a V8, with much more power, therefore, people only remember the C55 and the M3, and often forget about the C32. But because of that, you get a lot of "bang for the buck" with the C32. It is powered by a 3.2l supercharged V6 with 354hp and it has all-wheel-drive. It is a very quick saloon, with a 0-100km/h time of around 5 seconds, which is impressive even by today's standards.
Furthermore, Mercedes has also made a limited run of estates, and some were used as medical cars in Formula 1. You can pick a C32 for as little as 4.500€, which is considerably less than an M3. Few cars have this much power and equipment for so little money.
The Ford Focus ST170
The Focus ST170 is the cheapest car on this list, with its price starting from below 1.000€, which is basically nothing for a car, and especially for an exciting one. The mk1 Focus is still believed to be one of the best handling family hatchbacks, and making a performance model seemed just right, but it didn't work quite that well. The issue is the power, as the name suggests, it has 170hp. The car just felt underpowered, even back then, because the car's chassis could take much more, as the RS range topper later proved.
But that power deficit means we can pick one dirt cheap, and because Ford has shifted so many of them, there are always parts and aftermarket support for it. And the best part, there is an estate version, and frankly, its price doesn't differ to much.
The Porsche 944
The Porsche 944 was made before Porsche has gone to mid or rear-engined sports cars, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have to be good. The power varied between 160hp in the base model and 253hp in the top end Turbo S model. It has a perfect 50:50 weight distribution, rear wheel drive and on most models a lot of power.
On the other hand, Porsche took part in racing with the 944, so there are vast parts and support for building-or restoring- your 944. The 944 is one of the basic answers to a cheap fun sports car, and if you don't believe me, drive one and you will see. The -very- low powered ones start from as little as 4.000€, but they can be all right as a project car.
The Fiat X1/9
The Fiat X1/9 is one of the oldest cars on this list, but it is also one of the lightest and most beautiful. I first clapped my eyes on it in a The Grand Tour episode, and i was staggered when i heard Richard Hammond had only spent 2.000 pounds on one. It was built between 1972 and 1989, so it had a long run on the market. Initially, it had 74hp from its transversely mounted 4-cylinder, but because of its small curb weight, it wasn't that slow.
In fact, it was very good to drive, thanks to its agility and beautiful engine noise. In my opinion, it is one of the best choices on the list, because it is cheap, it can be a cracker on tight circuits and it looks gorgeous, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Obviously, if you are tempted, check the car rigorously, it is an old Italian car, everything can go wrong with it.
The Mazda MX-5 NA
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the most popular choices for a cheap track car. For starters, it is a small, lightweight and nippy two seat roadster built in the 90s. They really are the definition of fun and that is mainly due to its simplicity. The engine is a 116hp naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, it has a manual gearbox and it is rear-wheel drive. No turbocharger, not many luxuries inside, just the basic formula. It isn’t that fast, but it manages to put a smile on your face at entirely legal speeds.
Furthermore, a big advantage is the price. Old, high milage cars start from as little as 1.000 €, while the reasonably maintained ones with decent milage won't get any pricier than 6.000 €. They are cheap, but they are also reliable and easy to work on, and because Mazda sold millions of them, parts are cheap and easy to find.
The Jaguar XJS
The Jaguar XJS is probably the cheapest V12 engined car you can currently buy. Sometimes i cannot believe i can pick a 6-cylinder one for as little as 5.000 €, and the V12s are not that much more expensive. It is also good looking, but most importantly, it has racing heritage. Because of its racing pedigree, you can easily tweak it to make it ready for the track, because after all, it is quite heavy.
I wouldn't bother too much with the 6-cylinder versions, as the only real advantage of owning one is the V12. That engine is sublime, it sounds fantastic and it makes a lot of power, over 300 horses. You can also pick a convertible version too, but at its age, the coupe is the better option. On the other hand, the Jag was originally designed with a manual gearbox as an option, so even you find one with an automatic, it can easily be replaced with a manual.
The mk2 Golf GTI
Few cars get as legendary as the Golf GTI. It really is one of the most recognisable hot hatches out there, and also one of the cheapest. Examples in good shape are less than 5.000€, which makes it an absolute bargain. It is known for its playful chassis and great reliability, so if you are planning to keep one of these, this has to be in your shortlist.
I chose the mk2 instead of the mk1 because it is cheaper and slightly more powerful. It is a true cracker, and you simply cannot go wrong with the Golf GTI. These cars have also become classics, so their value is most likely to only go up, so for long term, not buying them is definitely a no-brainer.
Thanks for reading!!