It's every young girl and boy's dream to buy their first car and for some its not just about buying their first car but buying a fast car as well. The only problem is for most people (especially millennials), fast cars are now far outside the reach of affordable. Gone away are the days where a Mustang GT with all the bells and whistles only cost 4,000 USD. Now, just a Ford Focus can cost up to 35,000 USD and unless you or your parents are wealthy you probably aren't getting that brand new Mazda MX5. So, to ease your pains, here are ten cars you can buy for under 3,000 USD used and still tune up into a fast fun car.
All prices are based on private sales on the east coast of the USA (Maine-Florida and all the states in between).
1998 Nissan 200SX
The 200SX was an interesting car. Boasting a whopping 115hp stock. If you were a mad man back in 1998, you would have opted for the more power models at 140hp. Amazing. The base models came with 1.6 L 4 cylinder motors while the beefier model boasted a 2.0 L 4 cylinder and before you make jokes remember that 2.0 L 4 cylinder motors are the most modded motor on the market. This car is highly customizable and though it may be the unholy spawn off spring of the beloved 240SX and a Sentra, it is still a reliable, fun car.
This car is priced at between 500 and 3,000 USD online.
1995-1999 Pontiac Firebird/Chevy Camaro
Talk about an American classic! The Pontiac Firebird is a legend and rightly so. Packing between 200 and 335hp in a chassis that weighed a smidge over 3,000 pounds made this car a rocket. Many people have tuned this car well above 400bhp on a budget and the car was a hell of a daily driver as well. Unfortunately, like many American auto companies at the end of the 90's, and beginning of the 2000's, Pontiac slowly suffocated and died. The last Firebird was produced in 2002 and the company was defunct by 2009. The upside was the value of early model Firebirds rose by a large margin. Strangely enough in recent years, the value of many 90's cars has dropped and the Firebird is no different.
You can nab one for between 700 and 3,000 USD depending on the seller.
Honda Civic Del Sol
The Del Sol was an interesting car. Hated by many and loved by just as many. This car took what we knew about civics in the 90's and added a spin that was both refreshing and fun. The little Del Sol only weighed about 2,200 pounds and had up to 160hp in the Si models. This car is a fan favorite amongst modders and has been so extensively modded and upgraded that its hard to find one in stock these days. With the proper car and work this car can easily have its horsepower doubled. Many gear heads resent this car, noting the old saying "There is no replacement for displacement," but with eight cylinder cars being only accessible by people with established careers (not millennials under 25), it's better for most first time car enthusiasts to get their feet wet with a peppy fun Del Sol, than to get themselves in heaps of debt with a brand new Challenger.
The Del Sol is at a low of between 600 and 2,100 USD for a decent lightly modified one.
Geo Metro 2D
Where to begin. This car... it's not pretty but I'm not here to talk about its various flaws. What I will do is tell you how this car is amazingly crafted. The love child of GM and Toyota, this car has all the ugly styling GM had to offer in the 90's coupled with all the reliability of a Toyota. However what is most impressive about this car is its unwillingness to die. Not only is this car still cheap, it just wont quit. Admittedly this car isn't the greatest but what makes this car good is its gentleness on newbies, first time modders, and enthusiasts. On a McDonald's budget you can turn this car into a pocket rocket. Instead of saving up a years worth of Starbucks checks to buy a Silvia or an R34, and then destroying it due to inexperience, one can simply buy a Metro and cut their teeth on its highly easy and forgiving motor. A Metro came stock with the highest (read lowest) horsepower on this list at 55hp. Whats really impressive is that some people have been able to get this little homunculus up to 200hp. Don't ask me how.
You can steal one of these for 300 to 1,000 USD. Up to 2,000 for a convertible. Yes... convertible.
The sorta legend that was the Ford Escort was one of Ford's greatest compact sport cars. Drawing on its prestigious name, the Ford Escort was reintroduced as a compact sport coupe in the 90's and unlike its predecessors wasn't as augmented and subsequently ended up fading away into obscurity, but before it did it proved that Ford could make an American tuner that was fun and good on gas. Unfortunately in the 90's, this car lacked any real speed at 130hp but made up for it in the weight department at only a little over 2,400 pounds. For anyone looking to buy one now the upside is that many were made and parts are relatively cheap. Also a quick tune, better tires and a little weight reduction and you have a car that could potentially run circles around a tuned up 350z.
The street value of one of these babies is between 550 and 2,800 USD.
The Acura Integra, much like the Civic, is a staple of all tuning and modding on a budget. This car is so solid there isn't much else that can be said about it. The car stock was a little peppy fun ride at around 160hp stock and 195hp in its top of the line models. The car was relatively easy to upgrade and its price was decent and like most Acura's, their parts can be bought at Honda prices. To this day you can find Integra's on the streets and on the track.
Price: 700-3,000 USD.
The underrated tuner known as the Celica first made its debut in America in the 70's. Since then it was a mainstay in reliability fused with sporty fun until 2005, when the Celica model was discontinued. Although there have been rumors that the Celica, Supra and the MR2 are making a comeback, it is highly improbable. Regardless, this little baby Supra came stock with 140hp and the AWD model came with 180hp. Unfortunately, the later models of this car (2000-2005) were not well received and Toyota, who was moving on to create more family cars, dropped their last sports cars in 2005. It would be over ten years before the brand saw another sports car.
Price: 500-2,500 USD.
There were many people who hated this car and for good reason. It was slow (115hp-165hp) and heavy (2800+ pounds). One thing that shined about this car however, was its relative cheapness and its good looks. It really had nothing going for it other than that and that may be why, after such a short production, they were discontinued and forgotten. However because of their "uniqueness" and "rarity" they are absolutely dirt cheap. If you can find one that hasn't been junked you barely have to spend a dime to get it. The car also had a wide long hood which made it desired by modders who preferred to swap the motor out with something beefier.
Price: 300-1,800 USD.
Like all the entries on this list, the Prelude wasn't really a contender on the sports car world until the late 90's and early 2000's. Unfortunately, this was also the end of the affordable sports car era. The Prelude however, was just such a solid car. Taking cues from its cousin the Integra, the Prelude was sporty, reliable and quick. At 200hp stock this car left a lot of room for added horsepower. Unfortunately, the car was heavy and though that isn't a big deal now, it was a fun killer in the 90's and early 2000's when carbon fibre and other weight reducing materials were expensive.
Price: 1000-3,000 USD.
Probably the most practical car on this list, the RSX is a reliable joy that mixes fun, reliability and a little early 2000's luxury into a nice, compact, sporty package. The RSX wasn't produced until 2003 and only was produced up until 2006 where it was discontinued with its frame going on to be used in the Civic Coupe, which in a way is its spiritual successor. The RSX base manual model came with a decent 155hp. The Type S however, had a cool 201hp. The car also touted the ever familiar and highly "moddable" K20 motor which since has become a fan favorite of many Honda/Acura enthusiasts.
These cars don't represent the best of the best but rather represent an under-appreciated group of cars that, thanks to economic upheavals, were phased out of production. Like all of us they have potential and have proven time and again that under the proper care can be amazing cars. For the everyday millennial these cars have been our hotels on long trips, our place of respite in tough times. They have been our freedom from hurtful exes and our blast of fun on late nights on empty roads. Some of us have even driven them across the country and back. They, like us, are a forgotten generation with amazing potential.
Either that or they were just terrible cars that are now cheap... You decide.