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30 Inexpensive Cars Ideal For Becoming Racing Machines

Vukasin HerbezApril 4, 2019

As you probably know, proper, scratch-built race cars are terribly expensive and rare. Motorsports, in general, is a pricey sport. Also, if you want to compete at the top level, you need world-class sponsors and a whole lot of luck. But for the racing enthusiasts out there, here’s a solution: Turn an ordinary, affordable car into a racing machine to go out and have fun on weekends.

Here you will find 20 inexpensive cars you can buy and transform into the race car of your dreams. Of course, don’t expect to win a championship from the start. But if you choose wisely, modify it right and practice driving, you could become an amateur star or even catch the eye of a professional racing team. So, keep reading for some insights and inspiration for dominating the race track.

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30. Honda Civic Si

Civics are the favorite racer tuning cars but underneath all this negative publicity hides the basis of a serious road racing machine. Its light construction, durable mechanics, rev-happy engine, and decent power makes the Civic Si a good proposition for starters.

Honda Civic SI via Motor Junkie
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Look for early 2000 models and start planning the modifications. You’ll also want to add a functional spoiler, bigger brakes, and more power too.

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29. Toyota MR2

Back in 1984, Toyota shocked the automotive world by presenting the MR2. It was a small mid-engine sports car that delivered great performance and superb road holding at an affordable price. It featured the choice of a 1.5-liter or 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine they mounted centrally behind the driver between the cabin and rear axle.

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That’s what gave this little car its fantastic handling. But you should avoid the Turbo version and find a coupe since those cars have more torsional rigidity. And that is crucial if you want to go fast on the racetrack.

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28. Subaru Impreza WRX

Under the hood of the Impreza is a flat-four engine with 2.5-liters of displacement and a turbocharger. And that combo can deliver 305 HP to all four of the wheels via a six-speed manual. It’s a true driver’s car with a proper manual gearbox, great road holding, and enough power to make this car fly.

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In the racing world, the Subaru is a highly-praised rally champion. In fact, you can make one yourself with any used Impreza with a few days in your garage and the right parts from the catalog. Best of all, those Subaru models come with a signature intelligent all-wheel-drive system for gunning down the muddy forest path at high speeds.

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27. Volkswagen Golf GTI

This original hot hatch is a logical choice because the Golf GTI is an inexpensive, fast and durable car ready for track modifications. And if you are looking for the best deal, look for the Mk5 generation with the 2.0-liter turbo engine.

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It comes with all the modern suspension, braking, and stability systems necessary to go fast. However, for the purest racing experience, the Mk1 to Mk3 models provide the affordable yet fantastic thrills of racing in a vintage car.

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26. Honda S2000

This model is the true driver’s car with all the important features like lightweight construction and ideal weight distribution. Also, it has a powerful, rev-happy engine and razor-sharp handling, all in an elegant open-top package.

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Under the hood is a 2.0 or 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with 240 HP, which is the main selling point of the car. Although the S2000 is already a racing car for the street, you can strip it of some unnecessary weight to make it even faster. Also, add a roll cage, bigger brakes, and an oil cooler and you are ready to hit the track.

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25. Porsche 911 – 996 Generation

When the 996 generation of 911 debuted in 1998, Porsche purists were shocked. Their beloved car lost one of its defining characteristics: air cooling. The reason was simple. Air cooling could no longer cope with the rising power of the engines and the demanding engineering of Porsche cars.

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This makes the 996 models less desirable than other generations. And that translates to low prices on the used car market. That’s perfect because you can now race a proper 911 on a budget.

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24. Ford Fiesta

Although this is an ordinary economy car, it still drives nicely. So, it could make the perfect platform for a beginner’s race car. Of course, you will need to invest in some upgrades including engine modifications, a roll cage, and suspension mods.

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But all of that shouldn’t be too expensive or demanding. Interestingly, many racing schools use those track-prepared Fiestas all over the country. And that shows the potential of this little economy Ford.

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23. Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S

Toyota unveiled the GT 86 and its twin brothers, the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S in 2012. Immediately, they drew attention from those performance car guys for their raw driving dynamics. Better still, they came with a low weight, and uncompromising handling.

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In fact, the GT 86/BRZ technical layout is basic with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine. It sends all its power to the rear wheels over a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox. Although those weren’t expensive cars when new, they are now even more affordable. And that is what makes them even more interesting to racing amateurs.

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22. Nissan 350Z

Available as a coupe or a roadster, the Nissan 350Z is a sports car legend in an affordable package. The handsome front-engine rear-wheel-drive car has a potent V6 engine and a limited-slip differential as standard equipment. This feature makes it safe to drive fast, and also, it makes it a favorite drift car.

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Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 delivering 300 HP for a respectable performance. So, right out of the box, you have a great platform for your race car build. Also, the aftermarket is huge for those Nissans, so you will not have problems finding what you need.

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21. BMW 3-Series E36

The classic E30 3-Series are now highly-prized collector cars and nobody wants to race them anymore. So, the logical step is the go-to E36 3-Series model, which they produced from 1991 to 1998.

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The E36 has a wider range of six-cylinder engines and better technology. Better yet, it is inexpensive and plentiful, too. Also, you can transform it into a circuit racer or drift car with ease.

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20. BMW 3-Series E46

The E46 is the successor to the E36 that BMW produced from 1998 to 2005. And, it is one of the best modern BMWs they ever built. It has a better suspension, more power, and is capable of enduring the torturous race conditions.

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The prices are a bit higher than the E36, but you will get a much more competent machine for similar cash. Of course, the E46 is a bit heavier, so if you go really fast, you should work on weight reduction, as well.

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19. Mazda Miata

This one is obvious because small roadsters are among a race car enthusiast’s favorite type of car. And what is better than a classic Miata? The secret of the Miata is simplicity, lower weight, and perfect balance.

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But if you are looking for the most affordable example, the first-generation Miata can provide many memorable moments for just a few thousand dollars. And don’t forget, there are so many aftermarket options that can transform your little Miata into a sports car killing machine.

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18. Dodge Neon

You can pick a Dodge Neon up at rock-bottom prices since nobody cares about those late ’90s Neons. However, this little economy car is the perfect basis for a budget race car. The Dodge Neon has a competent chassis and is easy to work on.

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Also, you can add a Neon SRT4 engine and lower it to create a competent road racing or autocross machine. The Neon is the perfect way to enter the fabulous world of motorsports, even with a limited budget.

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17. Ford Mustang GT 5.0 HO

The Fox-body Mustang is a driving enthusiast’s dream. It is affordable, reliable, easy to work with, and has huge aftermarket support.

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If you want to turn your Mustang into a drift machine, road racer, or drag racer, you can find all the parts you need in just a few minutes. The only limit is your imagination and budget. Even in stock form, the 5.0-liter V8 offers plenty of power, torque, and dynamic driving.

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16. Acura Integra

The Integra Type R gets all the headlines, but you won’t find it with a low price tag. However, the base Integra has the same ingredients and can be yours for a fraction of the price. This means you can transform the Acura Integra into a serious road racing car.

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Finally, you can show those rear-wheel-drive guys what a properly sorted front-wheel-drive car can do, if you drive it right.

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15. Ford Focus SVT

Popular in the early 2000s, the Focus SVT was one of the best affordable hot hatches you could buy. Today, it is a bit forgotten, but it can still offer plenty of excitement for few bucks. Also, you can tune the 2.0-liter straight-four engine that produces 170 HP to pump out more than 200 HP.

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But the suspension and brakes need just a little more work to handle all that power. Make the car lose some weight and you will get the perfect autocross car for your weekends.

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14. Nissan 240 SX

This one is also quite obvious. The Nissan 240 SX is the definitive drift car and surprisingly, they are still inexpensive and obtainable. It has a great rear-wheel-drive platform and enormous aftermarket support.

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You can turn your stock 240 SX into a tire-melting drift machine in just a few days. However, you may want to swap the stock engine with something even more powerful.

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13. Porsche Boxster

It’s been over 20 years since Porsche introduced this roadster. So, it is safe to say that the Boxster revolutionized the concept of the open-top fun car. Fortunately, it is finally affordable enough to be the basis for a race car. But the biggest advantage of the Boxster is its layout. While most other cars have a front engine and rear-wheel drive construction, the Boxster has a mid-mounted flat-six engine.

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Also, it has perfect balance, two trunks, and sublime handling. Since the base 2.5-liter delivers a healthy 200 HP, it makes even the most affordable Boxsters agile and fast. And they are especially exciting to drive when they come with a six-speed manual transmission. Imagine all of that with racecar modifications on the track.

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12. Toyota Celica

If you don’t want an MR2 or S2000, there is another forgotten Japanese ’90s icon you could turn into a good race car: the Toyota Celica T180. Although most Celicas come with front-wheel-drive, search for an all-wheel-drive version.

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It could be perfect for turning into a rally beast. The aftermarket support is not that big. But you can still find a varied selection of parts and components. And the good news is, the prices are affordable.

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11. Chevrolet Corvette C5

The fifth generation of Chevrolet sports car, they presented the Corvette in 1996. It stayed on the market until 2005, selling in big numbers. Soon, it became the popular choice of sports car fans all over the world. In fact, the layout of this car is competent. You get a 350 HP 5.7-liter V8 in the front, as well as a gearbox and rear suspension that form the transaxle system.

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All that gives the C5 the perfect weight distribution for sharp handling. And best of all, they topped it off with a lightweight, aerodynamically efficient body. Right now, the C5 prices are low. So, with just a few modifications, you can have an extremely fast, competent track or drag car.

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10. Infinity G35 Coupe

Arguably the best-looking Infinity coupe up to date is the 2003 to 2007 G35 Coupe which was a very composed and well-engineered two-door model based on the G35 sedan’s architecture. With a 3.5-liter V6 engine under the hood and 280 hp on tap, the G35 Coupe was a more mature and more luxurious version of Nissan`s 350Z which is not a bad thing.

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This means that G35 possessed the same sharp handling, great driving dynamics, and good performance only in a more upscale package. The 0 to 60 mph took just below 6 seconds and its top speed was close to 160 mph. Decent examples with full-service history and nice equipment could be had for less than $10,000 and maintenance shouldn`t be a problem.

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9. Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

The third-generation F-Body was GM`s favorite muscle car offering from the early ’90s to 2003 when Camaro and its twin brother Pontiac Firebird were discontinued. The Z28 Camaro was introduced in 1996 and it featured a powerful 5.7-liter V8 with 325 hp which was enough to launch it just from 0 to 60 mph in just over 5 seconds and propelled it to 160 mph top speed.

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The third-generation Camaro was a fairly simple car, easy to maintain and work on and it featured a live rear axle, strong gearbox, and tough chassis. This was the perfect modern muscle car. Tough, durable, and reasonably fast with a big aftermarket offering of spare parts and go-fast components. In contrast to other more sophisticated cars on this list, this Z28 is a red-blooded American performance machine that you can get for under $10,000. Of course, always look for stock examples that haven’t been modified.

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8. Jaguar XJR

If you are, like us, a sucker for everlasting Jaguar XJR`s style and looks, you will be pleased to know that you can pick one of those beautiful but problematic machines for under $10,000. Introduced in 1998 and discontinued in 2002, this generation of Jaguar XJR featured a supercharged version of their venerable 4.0-liter V8 engine, powering rear wheels through an automatic transmission and delivering 375 hp.

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The sleek and sexy Jaguar XJR could accelerate to 60 mph in just 5 seconds and top speed was electronically limited to 155 mph. Of course, if you remove the limiter, you could reach almost 170 mph. Despite the looks, luxury appointments, driving dynamics, and sheer power of a blown 4.0-liter V8, the XJR was problematic and not the most reliable car in the world. Maintenance could be expensive so keep that in mind before you go looking for this gorgeous sedan.

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7. Pontiac GTO

The last generation of Pontiac GTO was one of the biggest examples of a misunderstood car. The Holden-built and LS-powered GTO was a proper muscle car, with a powerful engine, sleek design, modern suspension, and brutal performance.

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Unfortunately, it never reached the sales numbers or success that Pontiac hoped for despite the qualities, 350 and 400 hp engines, and great performance. The 2004 to 2006 GTO could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds and reach 175 mph which is fast for a muscle car.

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6. Audi S4 B6

Audi S4 was always considered a pretty special car in the compact performance sedan class. Not only it featured powerful engines and elegant styling but because it had the famous Quattro all-wheel-drive system as standard. Introduced in 2003 and sold through 2005, the B6 generation of the S4 was highly praised and quite an accomplished car.

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Under the hood was the 4.2-liter V8 with 340 HP which sounded great and revved up to 7000 rpm. The performance was equally impressive with 0 to 60 mph in just 5 seconds and its top speed was electronically limited to 155 mph.

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5. Chevrolet Corvette C4 ZR1

The C4 ZR1 is no ordinary Corvette. When Chevrolet introduced it in 1989, it was the fastest Corvette they ever built. Under the hood, there was the LT4, a Lotus-engineered V8 engine with 375 HP and later 400 HP, quad-cam heads, and 32 valves. The engine was an engineering marvel and performed exceptionally well.

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It came with a beefed-up suspension, gearbox, and pair of extra-wide rear tires. The 1989 Corvette ZR1 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and top 180 mph. And that is what made it one of the fastest cars of the era.

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4. Nissan Sentra SE-R

The Sentra SE-R was one of the most surprising economy cars from the early 2000s. It featured a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission. The engine delivered 175 HP to the front wheels. From the outside, the Sentra looked as ordinary as any other economy compact. But when the driver pressed the gas, this little sedan could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds, embarrassing many pricier cars.

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Since it was affordable when new, it’s inexpensive now. Be sure to look for cars in the 2004 to 2006 model years. Even new, the Nissan Sentra didn’t get much attention on the streets since it looked like other economy sedans. However, today, many people are amazed by its performance.

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3. Mazdaspeed6

If you think behind this funny name is an ordinary Mazda 6 family sedan from 10 years ago, think again. Emerging in 2006, the Mazdaspeed6 is an affordable performance car they disguised as an economy family four-door. However, Mazda designed this car to be the perfect driver’s machine in sheep’s clothing. Under the hood is a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 270 HP.

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The motor sends its power to all four wheels over an intelligent AWD system and six-speed manual transmission. Mazda cleverly hid the Mazdaspeed6’s advanced hardware under their regular body style. The only difference is the grille and a few subtle modifications. That means even the most experienced car aficionados have trouble telling the regular Mazda 6 from the crazy Mazdaspeed6.

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2. Nissan 300 ZX

One of the best cars in a long line of Z-named Nissan sports coupes was the 300 ZX. Nissan introduced it in 1990 and discontinued it in 1996. Car enthusiasts respect this model since the 300 ZX was a proper sports coupe. It came with the technology and performance that could rival much more expensive, exclusive cars. The twin-turbo V6 engine pumped out 300 HP. In fact, the ZX could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds, topping 150 mph.

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Those results are still viable today. Although maintenance costs can be higher than its competitors, the Nissan 300 ZX is a great choice. Not only is this car fast, but it also provides decent comfort and equipment. Not only that, it offers great tuning potential for the turbo V6. The aftermarket components are plentiful for this model. So, if you want your 300 ZX to be even faster and quicker, you can do it quite easily. The prices for this model are currently at around $10,000 for decent models with full-service history and no accidents. You can find them for less money, but it is possible they will not be as good. Since the 90’s Japanese cars are slowly becoming more desirable, you should hurry up, because the Nissan 300 ZX could soon go out of your price range.

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1. 1999 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

The horsepower wars were raging in Detroit as the ’90s came to an end. One of the biggest winners was the 1999 Firebird Trans Am. With a new restyle, updated options, and an upgraded 5.7-liter engine, this was the model to beat in 1999.

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The power output was a whopping 305 HP. They also equipped it with a six-speed manual transmission. That made the Trans Am one of the fastest American production cars at that time. These are the top 30 affordable cars that could be turned into awesome racing machines. Have you chosen your favorite yet? Imagine spending your weekends flying around the track. It’s possible with one of these road machines.

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