Home Cars Thrills Without Bills: These Fast Muscle Cars Won’t Break The Budget

Thrills Without Bills: These Fast Muscle Cars Won’t Break The Budget

Vukasin Herbez February 8, 2024

In the auto world, performance is costly and the fastest cars are nearly always the most expensive. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Indeed, some bargains still exist in the performance car segment. Vehicles that are affordable to obtain but still powerful enough to make you smile. Also, it is cheap to run, which is an essential aspect.

That’s why we compiled a list of inexpensive but still exciting cars that you can maintain yourself, drive until the wheels fall off, and are easy to modify. These genuine 150 mph+ beasts are lifetime deals because they are so reasonable money. They’re also perfect starter cars that will reward you with considerable performance, tuning potential, and tire-burning muscle. Check out our list of affordable muscle cars that are easy to maintain right here.

Photo Credit: Nissan

Infiniti G35 Coupe

The best-looking Infiniti Coupe is the 2003-07 G35 Coupe. It’s a well-composed and engineered two-door model based on the G35 sedan architecture. With a 3.5-liter V6 engine under the hood and 280 horsepower on tap, the G35 Coupe was a more mature and more luxurious version of Nissan’s 350Z, which isn’t bad by any means (via Infiniti).

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That means the G35 possessed the exact sharp handling, excellent driving dynamics, and good performance usually available only in a more upscale package. The 0 to 60 mph sprint took just below six seconds and its top speed was close to 160 mph. Decent examples with full-service history and excellent equipment can be found for around $10,000 and maintenance usually remains inexpensive.

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Ford Falcon Sprint

The Falcon was introduced in 1960 as Ford’s first compact model and was an instant bestseller. It had a modern-looking body and an excellent selection of economic six-cylinder engines. The Falcon was cheap yet a high-quality product that appealed to many customers. Very soon, Ford introduced more powerful versions. With a V8 engine and a convertible body style, the Falcon became even more popular and exciting. However, in 1964, with the introduction of the Mustang, the Falcon’s appeal started fading (via Hemmings).

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The main reason was that the Mustang and Falcon shared the same platform and most engines. So people turned to the better-looking Mustang. The Mustang became one of the world’s most popular classic cars. The Falcon was left forgotten and its production ceased in 1970. Today, the Mustang is expensive but good Falcons can be found for half the price. You can get the 260 and 289 engines with decent power and performance. Parts are cheap and the Falcon is the ideal canvas for modifications since everything from the Mustang can be bolted onto the Falcon. Ford made over two million Falcons in various versions and body styles. You should be able to find one in decent condition for an affordable price to this day.

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Chevrolet Camaro Z/28

The third-generation F-Body was GM’s favorite muscle car offering from the early ’90s up until 2003 when the Camaro and its twin brother the Pontiac Firebird were discontinued. The Z28 Camaro was introduced in 1996 and featured a powerful 5.7-liter V8 with 325 horsepower. This was enough to launch it from 0 to 60 mph in just over five seconds and propel it to a 160 mph top speed (via AutoBlog).

Photo Credit: GM

The third-generation Camaro was a relatively simple car. It remains easy to maintain and work on and features a live rear axle, a strong gearbox, and a rugged chassis. This was the perfect modern muscle car because it was tough and reasonably fast. It also had an extensive aftermarket offering of spare parts and speed-boosting components. In contrast to other more sophisticated vehicles on this list, this Z28 is a red-blooded American performance machine that you can get for around $10,000. Of course, it’s always a good idea to look for stock examples that haven’t been modified.

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Kia Stinger GT

One of the biggest surprises in recent years is the Kia Stinger and enthusiasts are already crazy about it. You may be wondering how it’s even possible that a boring brand like Kia could generate such hype. But the Korean brand has introduced a genuinely good-looking, fast, powerful, and affordable sports sedan. Kia has made the perfect affordable BMW clone since BMW itself has moved on to more luxurious, heavier, and much more expensive models (via Auto Express).

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The Stinger has rear-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive, which is new for Kia’s non-SUV models. Under the hood, there are two available engines. The turbocharged four cylinders deliver 255 hp and the twin-turbo V6 features 365 hp. In terms of price and maintenance, this Kia checks all the boxes for automotive consumers.

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Jaguar XJR

If you love the Jaguar XJR’s style and looks, you’ll be pleased to know that you can pick up one of these beautiful yet problematic machines for under $10,000. Introduced in 1998 and discontinued in 2002, this generation of the XJR featured a supercharged version of their venerable 4.0-liter V8 engine. The rear-wheel-drive was powered through an automatic transmission and delivered 375 hp (via Hagerty).

Photo Credit: Top Speed

The sleek, sexy XJR could accelerate to 60 mph in only five seconds and its top speed was electronically limited to 155 mph. If you removed the limiter, you could reach almost 170 mph. Despite the looks, luxury appointments, and sheer power of the 4.0-liter V8, the XJR was problematic and not the most reliable car in the world. Maintenance might be above the average car on this list, so keep that in mind before looking for this gorgeous sedan.

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Chevrolet Corvette C5

The fifth generation of Chevrolet’s sports car, the Corvette, was introduced in 1996 and stayed on the market until 2005. It sold in big numbers and became a popular choice among sports car fans worldwide. The layout of this Corvette is very competent. There’s a 350 hp 5.7-liter V8 in the front, gearbox, and transaxle system, which gives the C5 perfect weight distribution for sharp handling. All of that is paired with a lightweight and aerodynamically efficient body (via Motor Trend).

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The C5 was capable of hitting 60 mph in just under five seconds and reaching 175 mph. Also, it’s good to know that the maintenance costs are lower than that of similar imported sports cars. So if you’re looking for a fast and cheap-to-maintain vehicle, this is the perfect choice. Prices for decent examples start around $10,000, but they can go higher depending on condition and version. In any case, for ten grand, you should be able to find a decent Corvette C5 in coupe or convertible form.

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Pontiac GTO

The last generation of the Pontiac GTO was one of the most prominent examples of a misunderstood car. The Holden-built and LS-powered GTO was a proper muscle car that featured a powerful engine, sleek design, modern suspension, and brutal performance (via Car and Driver).

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Despite boasting 350 and 400-hp engines and excellent performance, it never reached the sales numbers or success Pontiac hoped for. The 2004 to 2006 GTO could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds and reach 175 mph, which is quite fast for a muscle car.

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BMW 540i E39

The E39 generation of BMW’s 5-Series was on the market from 1995 to 2003 and is still widely regarded as one of the best performance sedans ever made. The most respected model is the sublime M5 with a 4.9-liter V8 engine and 400 hp but there’s more to the E39 5-Series than just the M5. Next in line is the almost as good and fast 540i sedan (via Wheels).

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Looking almost identical and featuring a 4.4-liter V8 engine, the 540i delivered 291 hp and quick 0 to 60 mph times of around six seconds. The top speed was electronically limited to 155 mph so this was a fast sedan for its day. While the prices of M5 are slowly going through the roof, the price for a 540i is still surprisingly low.

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Dodge Neon SRT-4

We never considered the Neon SRT-4 to be a high-speed car but the little Neon can top 153 mph driven flat out. Introduced in 2003, the Neon SRT4 was one of the best and cheapest performance cars in America at the time (via Auto Blog).

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The compact, inexpensive, and bland Neon was turned into a pocket rocket with a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 230 hp, which propelled Neon from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds with a top speed high enough to get featured on this list.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang GT

The world was stunned when Ford introduced the fifth generation of Mustang in late 2004 as a 2005 model. The retro-futuristic design was perfect for the times. It captured the essence of the legendary first generation and presented a sporty, modern shape even 18 years after the unveiling (via KBB).

Photo Credit: Ford

The new Mustang featured a lot of new technology but a somewhat old platform with a live rear axle. Nonetheless, buyers went crazy for the car. During its 10-year market life, Ford introduced numerous unique versions and compelling Shelby models. But the sweet spot in the range was always the regular GT model. With a 4.6-liter 300 hp V8 engine at first and a 5.0-liter 425hp V8 engine from 2011 to 2014, the GT was a competent car with excellent road manners.

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Audi S4 B6

The Audi S4 was considered a special car in the compact performance sedan class. Not only did it feature powerful engines and elegant styling, but it also had the famous Quattro all-wheel drive system as standard. Introduced in 2003 and sold through 2005, the B6 generation of the S4 was a highly praised and accomplished car (via Car Throttle).

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Under the hood was the 4.2-liter V8 with 340 horsepower, which sounded great and revved up to 7,000 rpm. The performance was equally impressive, with the 0 to 60 mph sprint taking just five seconds. Its top speed was electronically limited to 155 mph.

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Porsche Boxster

The Boxster’s power comes from 2.5, 2.7, and 3.2-liter flat-six engines mounted centrally just behind the passengers. This ensured perfect road holding and weight distribution. When it was launched, car magazines praised the Boxster for its handling and precise steering. Those qualities still stand true today (via Porsche).

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With the power output ranging from 204 to 260 hp, 0 to 60 mph times of less than seven seconds, and a top speed of 160 mph, the Boxster is capable. It has two trunks, one in the back and one in the front. This roadster is practical, too. Who needs an expensive 911 when you can have a first-generation Boxster that drives just as nicely and has the same driving feel for less than $15,000 in pristine condition?

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Chrysler 300C SRT-8

A competitor to the BMW M5 or Mercedes E-Class AMG, the SRT-8 was the performance version of the 300C sedan. Equipped with a 6.1-liter V8 Hemi engine pumping out 425 hp and a glorious soundtrack through twin tailpipes, the SRT-8 was a fast and capable sedan. The 0 to 60 mph sprint took around 4.9 seconds and the top speed was over 170 mph (via Car and Driver).

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Unfortunately for Chrysler, the recession that shocked the car industry in 2010 killed the SRT-8 and many other performance models. Still, for car enthusiasts looking for good deals, the SRT-8 can fortunately be had for around $10,000 today, which is a steal. You’ll get a classic American muscle sedan with all the modern luxury features in addition to timeless styling. A legendary Hemi V8 and 425 galloping horses will be at your disposal.

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Nissan 350Z

Although the Z350 is a somewhat outdated sports car, it’s still fast enough and cool-looking. It helps that its base price was relatively high when the vehicle was new. Available as a coupe or a roadster, the Nissan Z is a sports car legend in an affordable package. The handsome front-engine-rear-wheel drive car has a potent V6 engine and limited slip differential as standard equipment (via Nissan USA).

Photo Credit: Nissan

This feature makes it safe to drive hard and also makes it a favorite drift car. There are plenty to choose from with average prices in the $10,000 to $15,000 range. Let’s also remember the enormous aftermarket support for this model. This means that you can easily tune and customize your 350 Z in any way you want.

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Mercedes E55 AMG

In 1998, AMG released its ultimate version of the standard E-Class in the form of the E55 AMG. From the outside, the E55 AMG looked like any other E-Class with only minimal changes. But underneath the body, a 5.4-liter supercharged beast was waiting to be released (via Car and Driver).

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With 349 hp and 391 lb.-ft of torque, the E55 AMG could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds. This was late ’90s Porsche Turbo territory. AMG built over 12,000 examples, which makes them relatively plentiful today. You can pick up a decent example for around $15,000 today, which is a steal.

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Volkswagen Golf R

The R is the top-of-the-line Golf with a powerful four-cylinder turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, and brutal performance for a hatchback. The R version derivates the mighty R32 Golfs from the early 2000s, featuring those 3.2-liter naturally-aspirated V6 engines (via AutoCar).

Photo Credit: Nissan

However, the latest versions feature a smaller, more powerful 2.0-liter turbo four delivering over 300 hp. As you can expect, the performance is quite brutal for a family compact. To get from 0 to 60 mph takes 4.5 seconds and this car can top 155 mph, which is fantastic. Also, it’s a Volkswagen so it isn’t expensive to buy or maintain today.

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Subaru Impreza STI

Another street racing and rally legend is the famous Subaru WRX STI. Subaru has been one of the most potent four-cylinder cars for decades. The latest generation of WRX STI doesn’t disappoint. Under the hood is a flat-four engine with 2.5 liters of displacement in addition to a turbocharger (via Subaru).

Photo Credit: Subaru

This combo delivers 305 hp to all four wheels via a six-speed manual. It’s a valid driver’s car with a proper manual gearbox, excellent road holding, and enough power to make it fly. The performance numbers are respectable too. It goes from 0 to 60 in just 5.1 seconds and has a top speed of 160 mph. Since this is a four-door car, it is also reasonably practical because it can seat five people and has a good-sized trunk.

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Cadillac ATS-V

Introduced in 2016, the newest American muscle four-door car is the compact but immensely powerful Cadillac ATS-V. With this model, Cadillac attacked the likes of Mercedes C Class and BMW 3 Series. It was a modern executive sedan with recognizable styling and brutal power. Under the hood is a twin-turbo 3.6-liter V6 engine with 464 hp and 445 lb.-ft of torque. That was enough to launch the ATS-V from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds with a top speed of an astonishing 189 mph (via Cadillac).

Photo Credit: Cnet

Although the ATS-V doesn’t have a V8, it’s still a proper muscle car and precision driver’s machine also available in two-door form. The sad news for Cadillac’s enthusiasts is that despite stellar reviews from specialized press and fans, the company killed it. This also means you can now get an excellent deal for an ATS-V and pay way less than the MSRP.

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Ford Mustang 5.0 GT HO

The rise in power of domestic cars during the ’80s brought the first actual performance to the Mustang range in almost 20 years. The Fox-body Mustang grew more and more potent with each model year, starting with 175 hp in the 1983 model. By the late ’80s, the venerable 5.0-liter V8 engine was pumping out 225 hp and 300 lb.-ft of torque, translating to reasonably competent 0 to 60 mph times (via Motor Trend).

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This car market is returning to its roots with a robust V8 engine and exciting performance. Also, the late ’80s Fox-body GT was trendy, so they are plentiful today, making them an excellent choice for entry-level collectors. On the other hand, the aftermarket for these cars is enormous, so you can custom modify and make your Fox-body Mustang GT even faster.

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Chevrolet Corvette C4

Introduced in 1984, the C4 Corvette is a true ’80s classic. Its wedge-shaped bodies, pop-up headlights, rear hatch, and bright colors make this generation a true pop culture icon. However, there’s much more about this car than just stereotypes. The Corvette C4 was the car that singlehandedly saved the Corvette from its demise caused by the recession and lack of popularity. During the last few years, the C3 generation was a joke with its warmed-up ’60s styling and big engines with less than 200 horsepower (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: GM

However, in 1984, everything changed with the arrival of the C4. The car was redone from the ground up, with a new chassis, new engines, design, and digital dash in the interior. Over the years, Chevrolet managed to turn it into a world-class sports car with performance and road holding that could rival European exotics that were far more expensive. The chassis of C4 is so good that it was used until the C7 generation. The 5.7-liter V8 returned 245 horsepower and the new Corvette featured specially designed suspension and drivetrain components. It’s cheap, fast, and can be modified to be a supercar killer today.

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Toyota GT86

The GT 86 and its twin brother the Subaru BRZ were new in 2012. They immediately drew the attention of performance car fans for their raw driving dynamics, low weight, uncompromised handling, and lively performance. The GT 86/BRZ technical layout is essential with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder boxer engine that sends power to the rear wheels over a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox (via Toyota).

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With 200 horsepower on tap, the GT 86 sounds less powerful than some competitors. But if you consider that it weighs just 1200 kilograms (2,700 pounds), it’s more than enough for a spirited driving experience and massive drifts thanks to skinny rear tires. It’s relatively affordable today but we would wait a few years to pick up a perfect example for a fraction of the price.

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Dodge Charger SRT8 LX

Even though the Charger went away in the late ’80s and Chrysler retired the nameplate, the legend of the glorious muscle car model never really disappeared. During the 1990s rise of the pickup trucks and the SUV market, Dodge presented several concepts that kept the fire burning. Muscle car fans remained hopeful that their favorite car would be reincarnated. It finally was in 2005 with a thumping V8 under the hood and rear-wheel drive. But it was also in four-door guise, which raised a few eyebrows. The new Charger was an actual American four-door with rear-wheel drive (AWD was optional) and a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine as the top engine choice.

Photo Credit: Dodge

It also had an aggressive muscular design that reminded the buyers of Charger’s heritage (via Auto Blog). Immediately, it was a fantastic success because it combined modern technology with retro styling and Hemi power in a great package. It wasn’t what muscle car fans asked for but it was the proper performance car they needed. The engine choices started with a 3.6-liter V6 and buyers could get the newly introduced 350-hp 5.7-liter Hemi. However, Dodge remembered the burning muscle car market. Soon after introducing the regular model, the Charger SRT-8 was released. Under the hood was a 6.1-liter Hemi with 425 hp and fantastic performance. It provided a link to the Hemi Chargers of the past.

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