In 1983, Porsche presented the 944, which proved to be an important model for the brand. One of the main features of the new car was a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produced 170 HP at first. Although it is not an impressive number today, it was potent by mid-80’s standards. The 0 to 60 mph time was around 7.5 seconds. However, the value of this small car lies in its handling and precision driving. Every 944 has a gearbox on the rear axle or a transaxle layout. That means the 944 handles perfectly and has ideal weight distribution. And this little sports car could out-corner many expensive sports cars.
Even today, it can still hold its own in the hands of an experienced driver. Besides, the look is pure â80s nostalgia with its popup headlights and rear glass. The Porsche 944 was a forgotten gem among classic sports cars. But, recently, the interest in the 944 from the car community has picked up. In fact, some prices are going over $10,000 for the best examples. However, you can find driving-quality early models for around $3,000. Just act fast if you want this cool little coupe because the prices will go up soon.
One of the most interesting compact affordable cars is the legendary Honda CRX. Honda built it from 1983 to 1991. They based the CRX on the Civic, but with a lower, sportier body and only two seats. Since it was light, nimble, and had precise steering, the CRX was a true sports car. Even though it had front-wheel drive and only went up to 140 HP, the body was light. In fact, the whole car weighed just 1,800 pounds. However, it had a high revving four-cylinder engine. So even with just 140 HP in its most powerful version, drivers felt every one of those horsepower numbers when they pressed the gas pedal. Also, since the car was light, handling was exceptional, as well as economical with fuel consumption.
But the only downside was safety. Since it was so light, the car was fragile and dangerous in a crash since it wasn’t able to provide much protection for passengers. However, the CRX had a huge fan base. So despite being popular, it’s still affordable and plentiful. Today, drivers can find a decent CRX for around $3,000. Also, there’s an enormous selection of aftermarket parts for your CRX. Rumors are that the CRX can beat those exotic sports cars in the handling department. Its driving dynamics are legendary.
The resurgence of Japanese sports cars from the 1970s to the 1990s is one of the biggest news in the classic car world in recent years. Those forgotten models, some even with RHD-only configurations, are popular with U.S. enthusiasts who import them from Japan or Australia. So if you are looking for a genuine JDM example, you’re late since the prices are in the stratosphere and the choice of models is limited. However, there is an alternative in the form of the Mazda RX-7. In fact, this first generation of this compact Mazda sports car has all the right ingredients to become a cult classic. Even though it’s 40 years old, the RX-7 has rear-wheel drive and a specific design. Also, the RX-7 includes popup headlights and interesting technology.
Also, it’s affordable and plentiful, and it even had some racing success. They introduced the first generation in 1978, and it stayed on the market until 1985. And during that period, they made almost 500,000 RX-7s, selling most of them in America. Under the hood, you could get a 1.1 to 1.3-liter Wankel rotary engine, which was the RX-7’s most notable feature. The extremely compact and light engine produced 102 to 135 HP, which was more than enough for the lively performance of this little coupe. But this interesting feature can be the biggest problem of the RX-7 since Wankel engines are uncommon. So sourcing parts and servicing them could be a problem. If you are fit for the challenge of owning a classic Japanese Wankel sports car, you can find the RX-7 for as little as $2,000. Just be sure to check the engine for leaking oil as a sign of potential trouble.
Back in the mid-1980s, Toyota shocked the automotive world by introducing the MR2. It’s a small mid-engine sports car with great performance, superb road holding, and an affordable price. But people have always considered Toyota to be a manufacturer of boring, economy models without any interesting cars for enthusiasts. However, the MR2 changed all that since it was different from other Toyota models. And it appealed to all fans of spirited driving and dynamic handling. They presented the first-generation MR2 in 1984. It featured 1.5-liter and 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines mounted centrally behind the driver and between the cabin and rear axle. This gave this little car great handling.
But the version you should look for is the 1.6-liter supercharged model Toyota called the SC, which is short for “supercharger.” It delivers 145 HP and 140 lb-ft of torque. But even though those power output figures don’t sound like a lot, the MR2 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just seven seconds, which is respectable. Also, the prices for well-preserved MR2s are still affordable and the MR2 is tons of fun to drive. So, if you’re looking for a small and nimble sports car from Japan with sublime handling, this is the model to do it.
The story of the Fiero is one of the greatest “what if?” tales of the American car industry. This compact sports car caused a big sensation when they introduced it in the early ’80s. It was a bold move for Pontiac to introduce a compact, rear-wheel-drive car with the engine positioned in the center of the car. But the biggest feature is Pontiac paired it up with a five-speed manual transaxle gearbox. According to the standards of the day, this was the most advanced American production model. Because car customers were hyped by the appearance of the Fiero. And with its cool and modern design and advanced technology, the initial response was fantastic. For example, the 1983 sales figures were over 130,000 Fieros.
Unfortunately, Pontiac didn’t develop the Fiero. In addition, they assembled the early badly, the engine power was weak, and the interior was cramped. But GM responded by upgrading the car, so by the end of the ’80s, the Fiero was a solid sports car. In fact, it delivers 150 HP from its 2.8-liter V6 engine with improvements all around. But it was too late, so GM killed the Fiero after the 1988 model year. However, over the years, Fiero fans have been active in promoting their favorite car, although it seems like the general market has forgotten the model. However, this means you can own a late-model Fiero with updated equipment and decent performance for around $3,000.
Although this is not a performance car by any means, the Jeep Wrangler is loads of fun for just $3,000. Not only you can take the roof off and have a convertible, but you can also take the doors off and have a beach buggy. This means you can go off-roading, rock crawling, or even cross the desert. You can even embarrass every modern overpriced SUV model when it comes to going off the beaten path. With a 4.0-liter straight-six with 179 HP, you won’t be the fastest one on the road, but you will be the toughest and the most capable.
Also, Wranglers are a popular choice for modifications. In fact, there are a ton of aftermarket companies who produce almost anything for the Jeep. Best of all, the Wrangler is simple to maintain and easy to work on, so it is great for enthusiasts who like to get their hands dirty. But you want to look for the YJ generation Jeep produced from 1987 to 1995, and the choices are plentiful. So, for only $3,000, you’ll get a decent drive and equipment in solid mechanical condition. For a steal, you can buy the Wrangler and go climbing the mountains.
Back in the mid-1980s, turbocharging was the most popular way of upgrading engine power. And most Japanese manufacturers were active in that field. So one of the characteristic coupes was the Starion that Mitsubishi produced. They also sold it as the Chrysler Conquest, thanks to a cooperation agreement between these two companies. And with pop-up headlights and bulged fenders in the TSI version, the Starion was an example of classic 1980s styling. Under the hood, there are several four-cylinder engines, but you should look for the 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 155 HP. In stock form, the performance is not that great by today’s standards.
However, in 1986, the Starion was a decent performer. But today, due to the availability of modern turbocharging components, drivers can transform the Starion into a rapid machine. In fact, they can even double the original power with a few simple mods. Fortunately, the Starion is a forgotten model, so the prices are low. This car is a great choice for anybody looking for an obscure ’80s coupe with super performance potential.
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. It delivered 175 HP to the front wheels. But from the outside, the Sentra looked as ordinary as any other economy compact. However, when the driver pressed the gas, this little sedan could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds, embarrassing pricier cars at the stoplight. It was affordable when it was new, it’s still affordable now, but be sure to look for cars from the 2004 to 2006 model years. And because this is a front-wheel-drive car, it doesn’t have great handling compared to other cars on this list.
However, the Sentra SE-R still handles well and has decent brakes and steering. Also, the main selling point is that this is a relatively modern car. Because of that, you can get power windows, air conditioning, ABS brakes, and a leather-trimmed interior. Since consumers praised the Sentra SE-R when new, it is bound to be a classic soon. So purchasing one of these gems now could be a wise move for you.
You may think it is strange to put this utilitarian machine into a list that includes sports and performance cars. However, the Crown Vic deserves a place among others since it is one of the most durable cars the world has ever seen. And this tough car is also inexpensive and fun. As a matter of fact, the models from the ’90s and early 2000s were common as police cruisers and taxis. Amazingly, despite being 20 years old and surviving all kinds of torture, those cars are still on the road and running well. The Crown Victoria construction includes a ladder chassis, live rear axle, tough suspension, and heavy-duty components. They based it on midcentury technology, which is still effective and durable, even today.
The 4.6-liter modular V8 engine only pumps out 260 HP. But this is more than enough to give the big rear-wheel sedan decent acceleration and cruising speeds. So all in all, the Crown Vic is a handy tool capable of many things. It is no surprise law enforcement agencies and other people in need of a dependable ride choose it. And the good news is, if you want to own one of the last American ladder frame V8 sedans, the prices are low and these classic cars are plentiful.
You may think the first V6 Golf was the mighty, all-wheel drive, limited production Mk4 R32, but that’s not true. From 1992 to 1998, Volkswagen offered its famous VR6 engine in the Mk3 body shell. And this was the most powerful Golf you could buy at the time. Successful when they first introduced it, the VR6 was fast. It produced 170 HP, which was quite a lot for a front-wheel-drive hatchback. The performance was vivid, so even today, a well-maintained VR6 can hold its own against 20-year younger hot hatches. So if you are interested, you can find them at an affordable price.
However, the VR6 engine could be difficult to maintain. Your best bet is to look for cars with a full service history. Also, the tuning potential is not the best, so if you are looking for a car you want to modify inexpensively and easily, look for something else. However, if you want a good-looking, decently equipped hatchback with lots of power and stealthy looks, the VR6 is the perfect car for you.
Once famous as the best executive sports sedan in the world, the BMW 5-Series E39 they offered from 1995 to 2003 is now affordable. In fact, you can buy most models for $3,000 or less. Interestingly, this 5-Series still looks elegant and contemporary.
If you find the 540i equipped with a V8 engine, it will still provide you with plenty of driving excitement and performance. Of course, the maintenance could be a bit expensive, as for all used luxury cars.
You probably never thought you could own a proper Jaguar sedan for $3,000. But, if you search your local classified ads for a late ’80s Jaguar XJ40, you will find some great deals. Of course, you’ll still have to make a few compromises since for this price, you can’t expect a car in perfect condition.
However, you will be able to buy a decent, cool-looking Jaguar with a straight-six engine, automatic transmission, and leather interior. And if somebody sees you rolling in this Jag, they could think that you’re old money.
The year, 1993, marked the return of the Camaro and Z/28 model. Chevy placed it in a new body they mated with an improved and slightly modified F-Body platform. But they retained the live rear axle setup. However, the fourth-generation Camaro was a modern-looking, capable muscle car that came in two body styles, a coupe, and a convertible. The engine lineup consisted of V6 and V8 units. But in the Z/28 version, the Camaro got Chevrolet’s LT1 engine with 275 HP.
Even though it doesn’t sound like much today, for the early ’90s it was a good number. In fact, it translated to a lively performance. And they gave the Z/28 package updated brakes and a six-speed manual transmission. So, for $3,000 you probably won’t find a nice Z/28. However, you can find a decent V6 Camaro.
Do you need something for cruising your local streets with the top down while blasting some tunes, but don’t want to spend a fortune? Well, the Sebring Convertible could just be the car for you. They presented the first generation in 1996. And it featured a cool look with decent motorization in the form of a 2.7-liter V6 unit.
But in 2001, Chrysler put out a new model with more improvements and better technology. Today, some decent Sebrings are in the $3,000 range. So if you want an affordable, cool summertime cruiser, the Chrysler Sebring Convertible is the car for you.
Back in the ’90s, the Neon was one of the best compact cars America produced. However, the Dodge engineers realized that their chassis had the potential to be something more than just a grocery go-getter. They decided to offer a race-ready Neon they called the Neon ACR. Basically, it came with a twin-cam engine and four-wheel disc brakes.
Also, it had a different speedometer, a stiffer suspension, and radio delete. They derived the name from the American Club Racer. Soon, the Neon ACR was the favorite car of amateur racers on track weekends. Today, you can find lots of affordable ACR Neons. However, most car enthusiasts tend to invest in restoring this interesting piece of Mopar performance history.
One of the most unlikely driver’s cars you can get at a bargain price is the 1998 to 2005 BMW E46 3-Series Touring. If you’re unfamiliar with BMW model designations, this is the station wagon version of the old 3-Series from the late ’90s and early 2000s. The trick with this car is that the E46 chassis is one of the best in its class with 50:50 weight distribution and perfect handling.
Add to it a rev-happy six-cylinder engine with 230 HP and six-speed manual transmission and you get an immensely capable enthusiast wagon. It comes with decent space and great performance for just around $3,000. Importantly, the maintenance should also be much less expensive compared to those more modern BMWs.
The common opinion about the early ’90s Lexus is that they built those cars with special care. So they’re much more durable than their competitors as well as other Toyota products. For just $3,000, you have the chance to buy a nice example of the SC 300 Coupe.
Toyota equipped it with a plush interior and a 3.0-liter straight-six engine with 225 HP the ’90s. In fact, the Lexus SC 300 was a capable competitor to the Mercedes SL and Cadillac Eldorado. Even today, this Gran Turismo didn’t lose much of its appeal. Luckily, it is still a great cruiser for a small price.
Ford introduced the Mustang’s long-awaited fourth generation in late 1993 as a 1994 model. The new car was sleeker and more modern. Also, it was better built and more powerful thanks to the new 4.6-liter modular V8 that pumped 260 HP. Although that’s not a big number for today, it was more than enough by mid-1990s standards.
Since the Mustang GT was a popular, common car, you can find them today at low prices. Also, for $3,000 you will have plenty to choose from, too. Although the 260 HP engine provides decent performance, you will not beat any new 911s at those stoplight drag races. However, if you want a wallet-friendly muscle car, you can’t go wrong with the mid-’90s Mustang GT with a V8 engine.
They are forgotten now, but those early 2000s Buicks were very good machines. The V6 engine had decent power, interiors were filled with creature comforts, the quality was acceptable and maintenance was cheap.
Of course, the design wasn’t interesting and the performance wasn’t impressive unless you opt for the supercharged model. However, for $1000 (or a little more) bucks today, this is still a decent cruiser.
The early 1990s LS400 was the first Lexus model and car which made the company. Although it looked like a Mercedes S-Class, it had distinctive features, a V8 engine, good equipment, and was made to last.
For $1000 this could be a perfect daily cruiser with a leather interior and automatic gearbox.
Although it is not a capable 4×4 version but a regular 4×2 model, the Cherokee Laredo is still a very usable and capable family SUV. The maintenance shouldn’t be a problem since this was a very popular car.
If you are looking for a safe transportation device for your family on a budget, this is it.
Back in the early 2000s, the Jetta with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder was a good proposition as a compact family sedan. Today, 15 years later it is still dependable transport with all the important features. Sure, you will not get satellite navigation or autonomous driving system but you will get decent power, comfort, and good safety. All for $1000 to $3000.
These are the top 30 fun yet cheap cars for around $3,000. So if you don’t have a lot of money in your car budget, don’t worry. Buying one of these affordable, yet fun cars is the way to go. But to avoid headaches, be sure to check the maintenance and accident history first. That shouldn’t be difficult to do, so now it’s time to go car shopping before its prices are sky-high.