By on January 18, 2013

I’ve recently decided I need a second car, even though I am, in fact, only one person.  Car guys get it: different cars serve different purposes, and the second car will be a weekend toy.  My girlfriend isn’t as sympathetic despite possessing 26 pairs of shoes, each of which look exactly the same to the naked eye.

The budget for my new car is ample by car guy standards, or roughly equivalent to six Ford Contour SVTs.  That’s a standard unit of measure for car guys, unless you have less than a Contour SVT’s worth, in which case you just say you have enough for one Merkur XR4Ti.

At today’s going rate of about $4,000 for a decent Contour SVT, I have around $24,000 to spend on my next car.  While most people would suggest I stretch my budget a little and visit my local Scion dealer to buy an FR-S, I’ve decided I want something slightly more interesting.  Not that the FR-S isn’t interesting.  Please don’t send angry e-mails.

There’s no need for an SUV, as I already have one of those.  It gets 12 miles per gallon and has full-time four-wheel drive – perfect for tackling rough Atlanta winters that primarily consist of drizzle and complaints from transplanted Floridians.  I also don’t want a family car.  Partly because I don’t have a family, but mostly because I don’t want my girlfriend to get any ideas.  Or extra room to transport shoes.

Basically, I want something sporty.

I’m leaning towards an E30 BMW M3, although buying one means you have to deal with the kind of person who’s selling one.  In other words, no single E30 M3 has ever been greater than the one they’re selling, they’re doing you a favor by even listing it on AutoTrader, and they’re sure everything works except the turn signals, which they’ve never used.

There’s also the Acura NSX, except there are two caveats.  One, I’m not Asian, so cruising around would make me feel like Larry Bird on the ‘79 Celtics.  Two, every single NSX in existence has been heavily modified.  That alone wouldn’t stop me except that most NSX owners are of the opinion that modding an NSX is like redoing your kitchen, meaning every “upgrade” is worth what they paid and then some.  This analogy is taken way too far by some NSX owners who make spoilers out of actual kitchen tables.  IKEA is cheaper than Wings West, yo.

I could get a first-generation Cadillac CTS-V, except I already had a first-generation Cadillac CTS-V, and driving it felt sort of like vacationing in Croatia: it’s good, but they still have a lot of work to do.  They completed that work for the second-generation CTS-V, by the way – but to the great relief of Atlanta-area parents, and to the detriment of its gas station owners, I can’t afford one.

There are many tasty late-model German sedans in my price range, like an E39 M5, a supercharged E55 AMG, or a B6 Audi S4.  Unfortunately, there’s only a two-week period each year where any of those are actually running, and it’s usually when I show up for the test drive.  I wouldn’t mind an SLK55, but all my friends say it would make me look like a woman.  When I remind them it’s the 355-horspower AMG model, they revise their assessment from “woman” to “butch lesbian.”

Of course, I could go the obvious route: I could get a Corvette.  But I’m not qualified for that, since I haven’t been to dental school.  I don’t have enough tattoos for an early Viper.  And I’m not suitable for Mustang ownership because I don’t grunt enough during televised football games.  It’s the opposite problem with the Mini Cooper, which is possibly the only thing on earth I’m too manly for.  And I sleep with stuffed animals.

So I’m stuck, and I welcome any suggestions that could help resolve my dilemma.  Maybe the FR-S doesn’t sound so bad after all.  Or maybe I’ll take my six Ford Contour SVT budget and buy … six Ford Contour SVTs.  Hell, I might even have enough left over for a Merkur XR4Ti.

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161 Comments on “Choosing A Second Car...”


  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    Interesting bit, however I did not get the part about not being Asian. That one went over my head you know being from Florida and all. Ok truthfully I am from FL by way of NC four years ago but you get the idea. Anyway may I suggest a late model 06-07 Z4M. Get yourself a four year 100k mile warranty and you are good to go. Ave price is about 24k. U might even be able to find a convertible one, you know to cover you for when you get all that snow that I complain about..lol..good luck dude.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Easy answer: FR-S, Miata, or S2000

    Make your weekend car feel like a weekend with something small, light, and potentially roofless. A stuffy, used sports sedan doesn’t sound like much of a weekend. That is a daily driver.

    • 0 avatar
      Micah

      +1 on the Miata.

      I had a Mustang GT, Corvette, and my wife has a BMW… I enjoy the Miata much more than the others. It’s the perfect fun car that’s a true sports car.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      Miata, or other convertible.
      I bought a Miata last year as the Second Car, but love it so much that it has become First Car. Really can’t beat top-down driving.

    • 0 avatar
      tatracitroensaab

      Yeah get an S2000 or a Miata. They’re fun, relatively reliable, and inexpensive. Actually, why don’t you go for less practical? Get an old British roadster/Italian convertible. Or if you really wanted to go on the more batshit end of whackiness, get some funky old European sportscar and use the rest of the cash on maintenance. Idk how much does an old E type or Ferrari go for? So I guess that would be my advice, in order from most to least practical :P

      • 0 avatar
        Kendahl

        E-types are now collectible. That means the good ones go for three times Doug’s budget. Anything cheaper will be a basket case. While shopping for my retirement toy, I came across an ad for a coupe. The seller wanted $30k for a car with major rust damage and a completely trashed interior.

        I also found an ad for a Lotus Elan roadster for the same price. Although the car looked good, I kept thinking about a car club friend who had one. It spent so little time in running condition that we referred to him as a Lotus owner instead of a Lotus driver.

    • 0 avatar
      Idemmu

      I agree, Miata= perfect car. However, source a GTO (new kind) with a blown engine, swap in an Ls3, and you win..

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        While I love the GTO, what would be the point? There isn’t that much difference between the LS2 and the LS3, and for that matter, the LS1. Wouldn’t it be easier to just look for a 2005+ model and then spend a little on improving the LS2 it comes with? And from what I read even the LS1 is very tunable, and the 2004 GTO’s are even cheaper than the newer ones.

      • 0 avatar
        Idemmu

        mnm4ever makes a lot of sense. But yea, Gto FTW…

    • 0 avatar
      AJ

      My boss found a really nice ’09 Miata. The car is awesome… I want one too but I already have a weekend toy so my wife said hell no! :(

    • 0 avatar
      thesparrow

      S2000 is the same as an NSX – it is IMPOSSIBLE to find one that has not been modded into some hideous nightmare and/or raced to near burnout. And low mileage doesn’t matter – most of these beautiful cars were destroyed by their moron owners within several blocks of being driven off the lot. If I could go back in time in buy one brand new and care for it properly I would.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    If you actually want to go fast on public roads, I heard that Corvette is not an option. Sure it’s fast, but problem is, everyone knows that, especially law enforcement types. I’ve heard from Corvette owners that you better watch your speedometer carefully if you want to drive one (especially one in red), as it’s usually pronounced guilty of speeding without prejudice by police.

  • avatar
    graham

    Skip the E30 M3 unless you plan to store it in a bubble or track it. As a “Sunday driver” they just aren’t worth the premium buy-in and running costs over a E30 325is. Which leads me my recommendation…an E30 325is! Having owned both a E30 M3 and 325is, the “is” was more fun to drive around town (better torque) and with some suspension tweaks it will out-handle a stock M3. And no S14 maintenance costs to worry about. In what I’m assuming is your price range, you could get a needs-nothing 325is and enjoy driving it without any depreciation or massive maintenance costs to worry about.

    • 0 avatar
      skakillers

      With that budget a pretty serious number of modifications could be done to a 325is too!

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        For sheer driving fun ala an M3 without the costs, you want a ’91 318is. You can buy a minter for $6-8K, and since it has no timing belt and hydraulic valve adjusters it is cheaper to maintain and more reliable than the 325s, never mind an M3. I’ve had two – really good fun. What you lose in a straight line you more than make up in the corners.

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      If the price difference isn’t too big, why not a 330 instead of a 325?

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      You’re more likely to find that most E30 M3′s have been modified and/or raced and slalomed, and those that weren’t are $30K plus. They’re a sweet car, but they’ve turned in a highly collectible car, particularly the Evolution model. The last year imported was around 1990.

      I have an ’87 E30 325iS. It’s not an M3 clone, it’s a better highway car, they came with M3 sport seats and steering wheel, BBS 14″ wheels vs the M3′s 15″ BBS, a big metal sliding roof, but they’re not a sports car. Stay away from pre-1987 iS’s, they’re geared more for gas economy,
      and less for performance.

      Someone above said watch out for any NSX because they’re usually modified. My experience at Acura is that they don’t get modified often, but most drivers I know used them so little that the batteries were often dead. They’re a great deal of fun, and Atlanta is a good place for them year round. A nice one will eat up your purchasing budget, though.

      A Miata is only a girls’ car if that girl is Danica Patrick. There’s a reason Mazda sold more of them than the ubiquitous(sp) MGB and MGBGT. They’re great fun, they are so well thought out, Mazda put so much value in them.

      The Honda S2000, again, so well designed, a normally aspirated four cylinder with 240 hp!!!and a standard six-speed gearbox. Really nice leather is standard on the S2000, and available as part of really neat special editions on the Miata. Join MiataNet to learn more about those.

      The Saturn Sky Red Line and Pontiac Solstice for maybe less money

      If it must be a rear drive coupe, the 2004-2006 GTO and the 1999-2000 Mustang Cobra SVT, which come with the 4.6 DOHC V8 and IRS. If it must be a four door sedan, the Pontiac G8. My advice is to drive them all, then narrow your search and learn everything you can about the leading candidates.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Now is probably a pretty good time to buy real estate.

  • avatar
    jaje

    Contrary to what is said on the Internet there are many well maintained and unmodified NSXs out there – you just have to look for them.

    The e30 M3 is a great car but very rare and as noted you have to deal with the sellers. Maybe look into a 540i with 6 speed manual as you can find some great deals on them and they are fast and fun to drive. My recent daily driver was an ’89 Civic I bought unmolested (from S Cal to boot which I had shipped to me in KS. I spent some money to upgrade the brakes, suspension, wheels, tires, and did an engine/tranny swap to the venerable b16a2 (for cheap and easy – ~ $3k in upgrades) – 2k pounds the car weight and it had 170hp. I daily drove this car for 5 years with about 4-5 track events each year. Car is now sold to a good friend who is now daily driving it too. I got the BRZ to replace it.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Where I live in the Midwest there have been a great deal of original lightly modified (speed camera jammer) or factory NSX’s.

      Its the CRX’s that’re always modified, but they’re rubbish to start with.

      • 0 avatar
        jaje

        Calling a stock CRX rubbish makes me think you know nothing about sport compact cars b/c the CRX is the mack daddy in this category. In fact in that time period go ahead and name some cars that were as fun to drive, frugal, lightweight, nimble (did you know the EF version had front and rear double wishbone suspension setups?), reliable and reasonably priced as the CRX. Let’s see C&D 10 best awards (twice), COTY (yes), platform used to win more solo autox national tiles (yes), had its own one make racing series (yes), has one of the biggest aftermarkets (yes)… I can go on and on but this car stock was not even in the same ballpark as rubbish. It is only ruined when owners poorly modify and don’t maintain their cars. Honda also didn’t do any favors always keeping the good engines from the US market.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        “…the CRX is the mack daddy in this category.” Agreed, but let’s not forget the MR2. I’ve owned both and they were a kick to drive (like they were stolen), but the MR2 had unreal handling.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        I always wondered if MR2 translated well to French because it seems like it’d just come out something like “eh-merde”

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        . Let’s see C&D 10 best awards (twice), COTY (yes), platform used to win more solo autox national tiles (yes), had its own one make racing series (yes), has one of the biggest aftermarkets (yes)

        You want to know how much this matters when you’re driving on the road? Nothing, nothing at all.

        What matters on the road is resistance to rust and overall durability of a cars body, those are where the CRX falls short.
        They have fine engines, but thats it.

        As for C&D, well the Vega, Mustang 2, and the Citation made their “best car of the year” lists, and they’re well known rubbish.

      • 0 avatar
        psychoboy

        jaje, I hate to burst your CRX fanboy bubble, but the EF chassis did not have “front and rear double wishbone suspension setups”.

        The front did have upper and lower control arms; the uppers were A-arms and the lowers were lateral arms with radius rods.

        The rear, however, used a trailing arm with three lateral arms; the lower was little more than a strut mount, the upper produced the camber curve, and the front attempted to set the toe.

        While this arrangement is more responsive than the trailing axle found on the third generation Civic and CRX, it’s hardly a double wishbone.

        Since many people consider any version of dual control arm suspension to be wishbone, your limitation to the EF (fourth generation) chassis is also incorrect. The fifth and sixth gen civics, the CRX follow-up DelSol, the first generation CRV, and all of the Integras from 1990 until their demise use the same basic suspension design (tho they trade the forward facing radius rods for rearward facing boomerangs on bushings).

        If you actually want double “wishbone” suspension at all four corners from Honda for a modest price, you should be shopping for a third generation Prelude. There are still a few of these in good condition floating around, (they didn’t have quite the rust issues that CRXs had) but their motors leave a lot to be desired. However, with the budget listed above, swapping in the H22 motors from the later preludes is getting easier and cheaper every year.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I’ve driven a Merkur XR4Ti and all that I can say is, do not bother with one. They’re slow and not fun at all to drive, not to mention they have poor air re circulation so the turbo-charged engines tend to burst into flames.

      I’d suggest a turbo Volvo 240, but you made a point not to buy a family car. Perhaps an early Datsun Z-Car would be in your interest.

      I’d suggest a Miata but they are a bit girly I think, the recent face lifts don’t help.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    Derek,

    May I suggest an old Volve wagon. Wait, don’t you already have one for a project car? How’s that going?
    Also, I thought you lived in Toronto nor Atlanta. No?

  • avatar
    200k-min

    “…In other words, no single E30 M3 has ever been greater than the one they’re selling, they’re doing you a favor by even listing it on AutoTrader…”

    I’ve found this with a lot of private party sales. Lately I’ve been trying to pick up a 2008 or older TSX w/6speed. Owners of those things think they are cut from a solid block of gold. True Market Value from any number of sources is “wrong.” Also been getting the line “it’s Honda so it’ll run forever so it’s really not that expensive when you think about it.”

    A neighbor of mine has an unmodified NSX that I drool over the rare times it sees the light of day. Last I checked the newer models were well over your $24k price range. That was several years back though. A hooned up 1991 model really isn’t my cup of tea either. Keep it stock – they were gorgeous vehicles that way.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    $24,000 to buy a toy…..

    I’d go vintage. Screw how convenient newer cars is; nothing is more fun then getting behind the wheel of something from another time era, and more points to you if you’re too younger then the car itself.

    Of course, older car ownership usually requires a bit of DIY, which seems to be a bit lost on the younger generation. But they’re cheap and easy to keep running.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I recommend a Dodge Dart GT. Not the 2013 model, the 1965 model with the 273 V8. You haven’t felt that seat of the pants exhilaration until you’ve driven a 2900 lb. V8 with 700×13 tires and drum brakes!

    • 0 avatar
      imag

      I second that. Just hang out for a couple weeks on Bring a Trailer and buy what strikes your fancy.

      Oh, and if you could go ahead and keep the articles coming too, that would be great. Thanks.

  • avatar
    W.Minter

    Sorry, no 2nd car for you.
    You will spend a lot of time driving it instead of having time to write funny things. ;)
    If you disagree, I might suggest a Honda S2000.

    • 0 avatar
      bortlicenseplate

      +1 on both counts. This was one of the most amusing pieces I’ve read on TTAC. Kudos, Doug, and please keep ‘em coming.

      And yeah, I agree on the S2000 – make it a later model (and hence more likely unmolested) version and put the rest of the money toward whatever upgrades you want (supercharger? turbo?). It’s a proper 2nd car that needs relatively little attention, and it’s obviously big fun

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I think the obvious answer is six Contours and start your own spec racing series.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Your girlfriend knows what’s up, Doug. One car at a time. Why do you want to pay an insurance company twice? That said, I’d happily live vicariously through you if you purchased a 99 Boxster, and did the IMS retrofit. You’re looking at 13-15K and then two oil changes a year, 9 quarts of synthetic. That should get you up to 24K pretty quick. Shhhwwweeeeet!

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      I was thinking Boxster too. If you can spend enough to prevent it or eat the cost of the driveline committing seppuku then it is the best car… in the world.

  • avatar
    Waterview

    +1 to AMC_CJ

    Find a late 60′s or early 70′s ragtop. It will be a hoot to cruise (admittedly won’t perform like an M3) and you’ll be able to sell it three years from now for exactly what you paid for it. Will give you something to tinker on (if you like that sort of thing) and parts are easy to get.

    While the M3 would be a blast to drive, I think you’d get tired of having your wallet emptied on a regular basis.

    Good luck.

  • avatar
    tmkreutzer

    24K to spend on a play car? I’d go retro, I’d go small, I’d go turbo.

    I’d find something like a 1986 200SX Turbo, build it up, drop in a roll cage and spend the rest of my money on Mountain Dew, Van Halen cassette tapes and octaine boost.

    Seriously, why buy something off the shelf? Even if you have a shop do all the work, you would get to create your own vision and have something no one else has. Having something different that turns heads and makes people smile is always more fun than having a cookie cutter wannabe supercar.

  • avatar
    JSF22

    Go with a Corvette. They are a dime a dozen; fun to drive; very reliable; and you won’t have to get dressed when you go for coffee Saturday morning. Just put on your phony surgical scrubs.

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      This. I vote C4 Corvette, get a later one with a LT1 or LT4 and a six speed manual instead of the 4+3 and TPI 350. What you’ll pay for the Optispark when it fails will be offset by the trans not needing replacement as often. You’ll have more than enough money in your budget for the car and any mods to make it satisfactory.

      And when you get tired of Optispark crap, LS-X FTW!!

  • avatar
    west-coaster

    What about an Infiniti G37 Coupe?

    With a manual transmission and they’re a bunch of fun. Plus, luxury and comfort to make weekend road trips a breeze. And if the 300-ish horsepower isn’t enough, there’s all kinds of stuff you can easily do to tweak it.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Or a 2005/2006 Infiniti G35 sedan in good shape. They look like a Corolla from some angles, but drive more like a RWD pony car. Stealthy hooning possibilities! Bet lots of Nissan 350Z aftermarket parts and JDM “Skyline” badges bolt on too.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    I like the S2000 myself as a possible weekend car. Sadly I have 2 car loans to pay off, both for the wife, in 2 different countries.

    Also — thinking out of the box –, have you thought about a motorcycle?

    Cheap? Check
    Fast? Check
    Insurance cheap? Check
    Maintenance? Generally cheap except for tires.
    Girlfriend probably will not ask to borrow it either.

    If motorcycles are out, I’d say look for an AC1 s2000 that redlines at 9k. I think they are 10-15k’ish depending on condition.

  • avatar
    chrishs2000

    1) Honda S2000 – the epitome of a weekend vehicle. Cramped, loud, completely impractical, unforgiving of mediocre drivers who have more nerve than skill, but it will put a smile on your face nearly constantly. Infinitely reliable and easy to work on. Just fast enough to romp on and have a good time, not so fast that you can’t wring it out consistently (looking at you, Corvette). And only $12-$15k for a mint condition <60k miles 02-03 AP1 model – the last years with the 9000RPM redline, but many upgrades from the 00-01 models. I own an '03 GPW/Tan, an AP1 color combo that only had ~700 made. Parts are expensive for Honda standards, but cheap compared to its competitors.

    2) Mustang GT 5.0, 07-08ish Shelby GT, etc – Easy to fix, cheap to modify, lots of power.

    3) Porsche Boxster – See 1, but more refined. I wanted one badly but was drawn away because of the difficulty of even simple repairs.

    4) E39 M5 – The ultimate sleeper sedan. Be wary of the few but major issues that these cars have with a thorough PPI.

    5) E46 M3 – 8000RPM of I6 joy. No downsized turbo for the win. Reliable and fun.

    6) NSX – Yes, you can find many unmodified examples in the $25k range. They'll have "high" miles, but they also will run for 200k+ miles with decent maintenance. Please don't ruin it.

    7) B6 S4 – You called it. I wanted one, read about all the issues they have, called BS internet hype. I drove one and actually broke one of the timing chain tensioners on the test drive. Couldn't run away fast enough.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    With all these obvious pre-dispositions, I’m not sure I can help you.

    If it were me, I’d wait for a smoking deal on any of the above. Screw what other people think, get something that’ll make you and you alone happy on a deserted back road.

    Buying cars because of what other people think only leads to terminal trading. Steve Lang can fill you in on that.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Agreed. Good God, it sounds like Atlanta is ten times more image conscious than SoCal. We started the Asian car stereotypes, but have mostly gotten over it. Mostly, except for the white Camry, and you arent shopping in that category.

      With an unmolested E36 325i and being good at DYI, it was still a challenge keeping it running reliably in a hot climate. I would stick with US or Japanese.

  • avatar
    vvk

    You wish you could vacation in Croatia. What a lovely country!

    May I suggest a 911? 2001-2004 are very reliable, affordable and an absolute joy to drive. 996 don’t hold their value as well as 997 (or 993, of course) but they are in your price range. You will not regret it!

  • avatar
    WEGIV

    Ok, who got Jeremy Clarkson to write for TTAC? Seriously, I know you’re trying to be funny, but the “I wouldn’t want to own this car because all of its owners are [$stereotype]…” bit has been done to death, and it’s rarely funny when Clarkson does it either.
    Concerns about reliability (I definitely laughed at the “only a two-week period each year where any of those are actually running”) are certainly important, and difficulty dealing with potential sellers I can understand, but if you’re more concerned about the image the car you might purchase presents than it’s actual characteristics as…you know… a car, then IMHO, you’re doing it wrong.
    At $24K, you’re not buying a car to impress your friends or random passerby. Either it’s a good car, and it’s fun for you to drive and pushes the right buttons or it’s not.

    • 0 avatar
      AMC_CJ

      Why not want to fit into one of those stereotypes?

      They exist for a good reason. If you don’t mind looking like just another douche because you just love a certain type of car, then fine, more power to you (although, lets be honest, you’re probably one of those douches aren’t you?)

      My first new(er) car was a PT Cruiser. Great car, it was very comfortable, great on trips and all of the weekend-running around and traveling I did back in my college days. Two problems though; A). Young people are superficial and stupid, and could never understood why it was such a great car. B). I had a older car I use to take to car shows at the time, and there was always these old people at them with tricked out PT Cruisers. I mentioned I had one, they’d be like “Oh, you should join our club and put it in the car show!!!!” No, sorry folks, I have a real car here already…..

      Sold it to my dad (for other reasons) and got something better and more fitting.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “If you don’t mind looking like just another douche because you just love a certain type of car, then fine, more power to you (although, lets be honest, you’re probably one of those douches aren’t you?)”

        Backhanded compliments for the win! But really, I’d say a stereotype exists for just about every type of car. It’s your money, buy what you like.

        For the record, I’d look at:

        1.S2000
        2.E46 M3
        3.E86 M Coupe

        Oh and AMC_CJ…in your opinion, what would those choices say about me?

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    C32 AMG for around $10K.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    One thing I did leave out…A Saturn Skyy Redline. They are somewhat fast and they look good. Not to mention you would have save about of GM history.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      The Sky/Solstice 2.0 with an ECU like GMPP for 290 HP/340 trq or more with a custom tune would satisfy S2K handling with Corvette power in mind. Besides you’d have the only one in town as there weren’t many made.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      I’ve been on a road course in the first Gen S2K. I didn’t like the VTEC kicking the back end out coming out of a turn on the front straight at Nelson Ledges. Who needs gear ratios in a Solstice when you have smooth turbo torque? Check what is challenging AWD Evo’s in SCCA Solo ll BSP the last couple of years. Just a bunch of 50 year old geezers being very competitive in Sky/Solstice’s.

      • 0 avatar
        mbaruth

        I wrote the BSP article for SportsCar in 2010, so I’m pretty familiar with Alex Jones’ Solstice and Bob Buxbaum’s Sky. You’re talking about cars with thousands upon thousands of dollars in development. I doubt the author of this article wants to invest in a duplicate of Jones’ car.

        Who needs gear ratios? Ask Paul and Lynne Kozlak why they gave up on the GXP. Their double digit number of jackets would seem to give them a fair amount of credibility.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        Prepped and ready for delivery from Alex Jones:http://www.kappaperformance.com/forum/index.php?topic=9166.0

        Bob’s car has allot of time but not costs. But it could get expensive with any new platform getting sorted out.

        Kozlak were in stock classes but I refer to prepared one not need gears.

  • avatar
    racebeer

    Well, I’m going out on a limb here, but ……

    Why not an ’01 or ’02 Trans Am WS6 convertible with a 6-speed? You can pick up a nice low mileage example for about 20 large. With the extra 4 grand you can upgrade the wheel/tire package, put on subframe connectors (a must for a rag top…), add a strut tower brace, and put on a Magnaflow cat-back. Hey, you are in Atlanta, it’s usually warm, the drop top is nice, and you can play Burt Reynolds on the weekend. Seriously though, those cars are fun and relatively inexpensive to maintain. And, don’t forget the mullet.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Great read, and highly accurate. Yay on the play car…did so myself 5 years ago and its a welcome respite from the grinds of daily life.

    1) Older Carrera or Boxster.

    2) 9-3 Aero convertible. Stick to the turbo four & 6 speed. You should have plenty of money left over for mechanical issues, although mine’s been fine over the 5 years I’ve had it.

    3) Miata.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I had the same budget for a fun car last year. My requirements were it either had to be insanely fun to drive and/or it had to be poop-your-pants fast. It also had to be ok to leave outside year round (sorry most convertibles). I preferred something quite impractical – my daily driver is a Subaru Legacy GT wagon.
    My list included, in no particular order:
    E39 M5
    2004+ S2000 (w/ hard top – CR if possible)
    G8 GT
    BMW Z4 coupe
    Lotus Elise (long shot)
    Pontiac GTO
    Pontiac Solstice coupe
    FD RX7 with recent engine replacement or LS swap
    EVO IX
    E46 M3
    350z
    G37s coupe
    FR-S / BR-Z
    SLK32 AMG (2003)
    C5 Corvette Z06

    I ended up getting a 2006 GTO for less than $17k. But I’ll get up to my total budget by the time I finish upgrading the suspension.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      I just picked up a 2004 GTO to toy with. I put coilover suspension on and replaced the radius rod bushings. It’s AMG firm but true to GT fashion in comfort. Handling is more than enough for the street and occasional onramps.

      Next up are CTS-V brakes and $5000 twin turbo system good for a comfortable 700 horsepower and more torque to match it. Should satisfy the torque junky and should be quick enough to brag about hanging with the exotics and liter bikes.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Where can you get a twin turbo kit for $5k?? I haven’t seen even a single turbo setup for that price, and the twins were easily over $8k or more. Engine management, injectors, fuel pumps, etc, it all adds up.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        Here:http://www.uppcos.com/product_info.php?products_id=41

        They have an introductory offer for the 2004 GTO for $4699 shipped. Just add injectors, a pump, and a ecu tune. Check out the ls1gto.com forum for more details. Their Corvette systems are similar.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        That is a pretty impressive price, and I think that even includes injectors. Now to do engine management correctly still costs close to a grand, that is still a good price for the kit. Although I have never heard of that company and never heard of those turbos either, probably where the savings comes in. Nice option to keep in mind.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        I have HPTuners to tune with and a wideband oxygen sensor. Bought a DeatchWerks drop in fuel pump for $75(new $150+) from someone who didn’t have enough flow. I guess the automatic transmissioned GTO require more fuel. Another guy had a Stainless Works 3″ dual exhaust for $250(new ~$1,000).

        The costs $9K with 80K miles and will never see the drag strip but the $8K APS kit guys are running mid 10′s @ 135 mph. That faster than a ZR1 and about as fast as a Lingenfelter ZR1.

    • 0 avatar
      Alexdi

      Lovely list, I’d mirror most of these choices. Plus one: an MX5 with the LS swap. It’s hard to find a clean FD RX7 to work with.

      But I also concluded it’d make more sense to buy someone else’s completed project than to do it myself. The return on labor for something like this is less than minimum wage.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    Would like to start with a thank you for the morning laugh, I enjoyed the article/letter. Then I would like to suggest something completely different.
    By the list of cars you mentioned you must like driving. So get rid of the SUV and get a sporty 4 door sedan for daily driving. Can put a smile on your face every day; well as much as ATL traffic will allow, and you’ll probably save $100 a month on gas. Get a Jeep Wrangler as the weekend car. You get a convertible for the summer and 4wd in the winter and/or to play in the woods with. Cruising the back roads in one is quite enjoyable in a completely different way.
    I’ve had a few and I find that the slightly more beat up ones are a bit more fun because you won’t mind leaving it out in the rain with no top on, or getting mud inside of it, or rubbing a tree with it, ect.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    You have $24,000 to look for a toy? This is easy.
    Keep looking for that clean NSX, they are out there.
    Same with the last gen Supra.
    Older Ferraris like the 308 are out there at that price.
    Panteras.
    Lotus Elise, Esprit, or something like a Super7.
    Many Porsches out there.

    Or you could go another way and get something that is tastefully modified like a WRX or an Evo.

    I personally wouldn’t spend that kind of cash on a “sporty” car though. I can easily make “sporty” for under $10000 myself. If I had that kind of cash, I would spend it on a nice classic or resto-mod to cruise around in.

  • avatar
    fiasco

    $24k? I’d end up with a pile of XR4Ti’s….

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    S2000, Miata or BRZ. Those are the only choices I see. My personal favorite is the Miata but the other two are fun in their own different ways. I would drive all 3 and see what you like best. As an alternative there is 350Z/convertible but those are more of a GT car.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Such a hard question… But not really.

    Miata.

    You can spend as much or as little as you want and have the most fun car of them all. Yes,boxsters are a blast. s2000 are very cool. Bmw great. But for even $5000 you can have more fun in a Miata. They dont break. When they do you fix it yourself for $8.95. The top goes down. Insurance is dirt cheap. For a weekend car its a no-brainer. Seriously i wouldnt even waste my time considering or looking at anything else.

    no room for shoes either….

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Well Doug you’re at least keeping to the first rule of 2nd cars which is, the 2nd vehicle needs to be capable of something your primary vehicle isn’t.

    Unless you want to race your SUV. :)

  • avatar
    gessvt

    Oh, to find a lovingly maintained, low mileage SVT Contour. I’m fairly certain that they don’t exist in the Great Lakes area. Seemingly all of them are driven by the flat brimmed baseball cap set, with Pep Boys mods aplenty.

    My ’98 CSVT was the best daily driver I have ever owned; more rewarding and engaging to drive than my Saab 9-5 Aero and current Legacy GT 5-speed wagon.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    I am currently driving a car into the ground. I have about the same set aside for a new ride and I plan to hot rod a Crown Vic. Buy an old interceptor, drop a Coyote 5.0 w/6 speed trans, re-upholster / re-carpet the interior. Flat grey paint. All done by someone else’s wrench. I hardly have enough time for my own project car.

    Build your own car via a speed shop.

    Edit: you are one hilarious bastard.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “I plan to hot rod a Crown Vic. Buy an old interceptor, drop a Coyote 5.0 w/6 speed trans”

      They had one of these at Livonia Transmission as a test mule. I’m told it was awesome on the test track.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      Son’s (age 9 and 12) and I saw a Mercury Marauder 4dr equipped with a high output Mustang Cobra engine, headers, open flow dual exhaust sans cats, dual fuel pumps, remapped computer, manual transmission and tuned suspension while filling up at Costco Gas Nashville, TN. The owner (who lived in a different no-vehicle-inspection county than Nashville) was very proud of it, and popped the hood to show me the motor mods while I pumped gas. I told son’s to listen to the car as he drove away. The owner did not disappoint as he worked the trans through the parking lot and then really got into it after turning onto the access road around the shopping center.

      With the high revving race-like engine and exhaust sounds booming off the walls of the buildings I hear “Dad, that is cool!” from both sons which as a good thing to hear…

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    +1 to the S2000. I have one. Its my daily driver, has been for the past 4 years, and probably will be until I get something like an ELR for my commute. It now has 100K miles on it (put 60K of them on myself), ZERO repairs, only routine maintenance and wear items.

    Its an absolutely brilliant car: its civilized enough to be a daily driver (if your previous daily driver was a 150hp motorcycle, and your other candidate was an Elise).

    Its handling is razor sharp.

    The engine power is good, and intoxicating. Drive it at 3K RPM, it drives like a civic and gets close to 30 MPG highway. Drive it >6K RPM and, whoah…..

    And its dead-nuts reliable and cheap to maintain.

    Get a 2006 or newer. The handling is amazingly good, but as a result is the chassis really really likes to punish ham-footed throttle applications. Pre 2006, or 2006+ with the computer turned off, the car will actively try to kill you if you are stupid on the throttle in a turn.

    2006 added the stability control computer, which is more like a stability-control choke-chain applied to the driver (rather than the car): It doesn’t kick in until you’ve stepped out the back-end a good few inches already, and it whacks you back into line (assuming it can: its trivial to overwhelm it on wet surfaces) with all the subtlty requried to manhandle a pitbull.

    • 0 avatar
      chrishs2000

      AP1′s have traction control too, it’s the 3 pedals and the steering wheel :-p I’ve put 50k on my ’03 and have never had any issues with snap oversteer. And I drive the car like there’s a tsunami wave behind me. I understand the ’00-’01 model is a little more prone to snap oversteer before they changed the suspension for ’03, I’ve never driven one.

      But to the OP, if you think S2000, you can argue AP1 vs AP2 all day…have to try more than one to see what fits, there were a lot of changes throughout the production run that made very big differences in how it drives. Just drive one, and don’t be shy about beating the hell out of it when you do.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    You can go race karts for a few grand a year. A Margay Brava/Parilla Leopard will be a real shock to the system: 75 MPH with your rear an inch off the ground, 3g in fast corners, near-zero inertia, direct steering.

    Alternately, you can build a monster CRX or Miata for ten grand.

    The Miata upgrade path is clear: Flyin’ Miata turbo, Flyin’ Miata suspension and braces, Hard Dog rollbar, sticky tires.

    The CRX is more open: K-series, B-series, turbo-D-series, 140-hp N.A. D-series, light flywheel, many different gearbox setups, many different philosophies on springs and bars, Hardrace suspension arms, sticky tires.

  • avatar
    sastexan

    As a former Contour SVT owner and current FR-S owner (primary cars, both, although with the FR-S have a backup Camry and wife’s Odyssey), I can wholeheartedly say the OP is on the right track. There are plenty of fun weekend cars out there – Miata is the obvious choice for easy, inexpensive mods, drop top (perfect for 3 1/2 seasons in Hotlanta). S2000 the same.

    Search for cars on autotrader and just go drive a few to decide what you consider as “fun”. Engine screaming? Torque pulling you? Cushy ride to eat up the miles? Something easy to work on and modify?

    I’ll wholeheartedly support (and participate) in a Contour SVT racing series… Mine regularly thrashed 3 series (and smaller engined 5 series – at least E39) Bimmers among other supposedly faster and better handling cars at Summit Point.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I have never been one to worry much about what others think and have been big on something that would wax unsuspecting drivers of the faux fast crowd. The vintage cars won’t be sleepers but there are alternatives. If you want a two seater (or more) there are sleepers available.

    Think about a truck.The old American type of car only exists in a truck or a few newer expensive retros like the 300, camaro, mustang. If I had 24 grand to play with cars I would consider dropping a v8 into my S10. You can drop a 5.0 into a ranger and you can get Dakotas with a 360 already there. A few dollars more on headers, cold air intake etc and you could have an easy to drive screamer. If you go with an older model you can avoid the smog inspection here in Texas. Don’t know about other states. With the 4.3 my truck has you can have a hot rod even cheaper.

    I have owned sports cars and muscle cars in the past. I enjoy my S10 just as much and there is so much untapped potential that it’s a shame I’m retired and no longer have the money to play. Of course, my wife doesn’t want to ride in it so like everyone else I have a car she thinks is prettier that gets most of the mileage. When I see the truck, however, I see something that can get you there, take what you want with you, or haul a camper.

    Ok, your soap box now.

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      Magnum 5.9, Viper T56 or be gentle on an NV3500, first gen six lug Dakota RCSB with 17″ R/T wheels and summer tires. Lower it and upgrade the front sway bar.

      Instant R/T killer, which is why I’m planning to do just this now.

  • avatar

    I enjoy working on and improving a car almost as much as I do driving it. So it makes sense I advocate for the Alfa Romeo GTV6. Exclusive and collectible, but not too expensive to get into and keep running, especially if you’re not maintaining a concours trailer queen. Plenty of parts out there, and the guys have figured out lots of suitable alternatives to genuine Alfa bits. Solid community of people willing to help.

    Plus it’s salve for the soul, hearing that 2.5 liter Italian hemi dancing up to the redline. One of the most glorious sounds and feelings in the universe.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Champagne problems my friend! Great article, love the line about the shoes, my wife is the same way, but she appreciates my desire to have multiple cars. $24k is a very nice budget for a play car, if anything it is too much; it gives you way too many options which makes the decision even more difficult! My advice:

    NSX – There are unmolested examples to be found, I think you were exaggerating a bit. I also know tall guys who drive them and they are not cramped, actually pretty roomy inside. The problem is getting into them, but that would happen in any low-slung sports car like that. By far, for mid-20s this is the best exotic to buy, you will be the envy of every car guy. For that price they will be earlier models with higher mileage, and sure, I would prefer the later ones with the bigger engine (but not too new, those exposed headlights look like crap!), but any NSX is better than no NSX.

    S2000 – The best roadster to get at this price range. Reliable, low maintenance, and sublime to drive. Could be a bit small inside if you are tall though. Between this and a Z3/Z4, I would choose this.

    Porsche 911 (964) – If you dont want a Japanese car and you prefer European cars, then forget the BMW or Audi or Benz and get the real thing… a classic Porsche. Don’t bother with the newer watercooled ones, they are junk unless you can afford a 97 or newer, and you cant. Forget the Boxster for the same reason. Go with an older 911… the 964 happens to be my favorite, but I also like the older ones. $24k should buy you a basically perfect example. It will require more maintenance than the first 2 cars, but if you learn to work on it yourself it won’t be too bad… no worse than the other Euro cars you were considering and you will appreciate driving it much more.

    Classic American car – If I had $24k to spend on a 2nd car I would have a lot of trouble deciding between a newer car or a classic. Really, any classic will do, whatever you prefer. My personal preference is a resto-mod: Mustang, Camaro, Mopar, whatever, but with a modern drivetrain swapped in, updgraded suspension and brakes. Best thing is, whatever you buy will most likely never lose value, so you can just sell it if you get tired of it.

    Project car — Final suggestion… don’t blow your entire wad on one car. Buy something cheap and fun and then mod the hell out of it. Old jap cars, 80/90s Mustangs or Camaros, newish Hondas, a Miata, whatever. You can spend half your money and still have a ton of fun. Whatever fun car you buy will cost more than you think to maintain, especially if you want to go to track days and stuff. So don’t forget it takes money to have fun!

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Almost 50% savings over S2K if you want a 6-year old drop-top for a Sky/Solstice from 2006-2007 era as they can be had for under $10,000. Add almost $5K for the turbo version. I bought base 2.4l Sky with 13K miles and it already had a Hahn Racecraft turbo. It gets 41 mpg with the AC on at 60 mph and is tuned to about 350 horsepower and 400 trq. C5 drop-tops might be a bit more expensive if you have to have torque in your veins but with the Sky at least you don’t have C5 interior and also ran looks of a Corvette.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I know you like your Solstice but I call BS on your claim to 41mpg. Those cars are barely rated at 30mpg without a turbo kit added. If it was that easy then new cars today wouldn’t struggle so much to reach the magic 40mpg target.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        I have the Sky. It has a better designed interior and is also sold in Europe.

        I can see 45 mpg @ 60 mph in the summer and 37 mpg in the winter. It’ not uncommon to see 40 mpg range in a 2800+ lbs car with over 350 ft lbs of torque low in the rpm range. DDM makes a supercharger kit for this chassis, Kappa, that sees similar fuel efficiency and power but slightly lower.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I like the Sky better too personally, the Solstice nose is a bit odd looking IMO, and the Sky interior is nicer looking.

        But I can see 109mpg on the instant mileage display on my GTI, doesn’t mean I am getting that. I can also reset it on the highway cruising along at 60mph and then without stopping or accelerating over the next 20 miles it will show me an average in the high 30s… once again, doesn’t mean that is what my car is actually getting. As soon as I speed up, or get off the highway and drive to a gas station, it drops dramatically. Turbos are like that. So you may “see 45mpg” (downhill, with a tailwind, coasting down from 100mph, whatever) but I call BS on you averaging 45 (or even 41 or 37) mpg. And yes, it IS uncommon to see that kind of MPG on a car with 350 ft lbs of torque on a big turbo 4cyl, because to get that torque you need the turbo spooled up, it doesn’t happen by magic. And the engine alone without the turbo isn’t that efficient.

        There is some guy on here who pops up now and then claiming his Saab gets 40+mpg too. Everyone calls BS on it every time. It is literally impossible for a car that, stock and unmodified, gets 29mpg, to then get 41mpg by adding a big turbo, big injectors, and boosted to 16psi and uptuned to almost double the factory hp. Not one manufacturer can build a powerful car capable of 12-sec 1/4 mile times that can get out of the mid-20s hwy mpg. Honda cannot build a Civic Si that can hit 30mpg on the hwy, they can barely get a hybrid to hit your numbers. Very few of any cars sold today can hit a legitimate 40mpg without being hybrids, diesel, or seriously underpowered, under-engined cars. And you expect us to believe that all along GM has had this 2.4L Ecotec engine that was designed now almost a decade ago and is capable not only of making higher specific output than practically any engine manufactured today, but at the same time also handily beating them out for fuel economy as well?? And GM just like, dropped the ball on the engineering and went with the 2.0L turbo instead, right?

        Yeah it is probably all a big scam by the oil companies and the government to hide that technology from the public and instead force GM to keep selling the hybrid Malibu to an unsuspecting public. There it is, the real reason GM cancelled the Kappa platform, and why Saab went out of business! All it took was slapping a turbo on a big 4-cyl and we could have it all. I am amazing Mr. Hahn hasn’t been eliminated by the oil companies for revealing this amazing secret!

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I do believe Norm IS the guy with the magic Saab. Now he has a GTO that he seemingly is planning to turbo – he’ll probably be claiming 40mpg out of THAT one too.

        I will say, having been around and owned 9-5s that his mpg claims for the Saab are overblown, but not by as much as you might think. On a long, flat, highway only drive at a cruise-controlled 70mph, an an early 170hp lpt 9-5 really will get an honest 35mpg. My V6t 9-5 would get an 30 on a full tank of highway only gas. Has to be fill up, get on the highway, and go 500 miles though. But 41 as a routine average?? Not bloody likely. And a pumped up Solstice Turbo getting that is laughable.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        Tire pressures and alignment put the 2000 9-5 5-speed over 40 mpg @ 60 mph for the 50 miles of highway during my commute. A stage 3 ecu tune, exhaust, intake, and intercooler can push the 50 miles to a 44 mpg average. It drops to low 40′s in the summer with some offramp time. During Ohio’s winters I’m seeing 35-37 mpg with. 37 mpg round trip of 6 hours straight. With mid 40′s mpg on almost 19 gallons that some have filled the 18.5 gallon tank to pushes the relic into the 800 mile range. It would take most of the day to burn through a tank but trips Ohio to Philly are a breeze.

        It’s really nothing monumental just discipline. The turbo-4 has pressure sitting the throttle body so the engine doesn’t have to pump in in like a normally aspirated engine. I can see this on and open code through the info display that the pressure on the TB is higher than ambiebt. The theory turbine is a back pressure robbing power at cruise is a joke.

        We’ll see what the TT GTO does as with a WT 1.5″ cat-back could only muster around mpg misaligned suspension.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Thanks for clarifying @krhodes, if I had realized that Norm was the Saab guy I could have saved a lot of typing. I should have known, same outlandish claims, same ideas about how torque and tire pressure adds 10+ mpg to whatever the best the manufacturer can do was, etc. I will give him props for finding some bargain turbo kits, I am keeping them in mind for a future project car I’ve been considering. I bet he will have the first GTO in history to crack 40mpg while dusting ZR1s in the 1/4 mile.

        I just think about the billions in wasted R&D the manufacturers are blowing when all they have to do is stick a turbo on the cars and pump up the tires. :)

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        The real kicker that no pickup or hyrbrid can beat is the 23.5 mpg three times this summer pulling another 9-5(MA and GA)or GTO(MS) on a 500 lbs car dolly. Figures when your pulling twice the weight of the main car. It helps to have temps at 80F+ degrees.

        To make you feel better my 04 9-5 sees 38 mpg @ 60 mph. That’s a heavier wagon and auto trans. It runs with 335i’s and will spin the tires on a 3-2 shift on a wet surface…lots-o-torque flash/spike.

        My C5 could only muster 35 mpg and it was 2,900 lbs. So the heavier GTO will be a miracle to break 40 mpg with twin turbos. I can get 31.5 mpg in an 05 CTS-V with AC on. It”s got a few mods.

        Did I ever mention I spend half the year on a 70 mpg Suzuki? :)

  • avatar
    johnharris

    You didn’t say whether it was okay if the second car was going to consume a lot of time and money for maintenance. Factoring in your appetite for mechanical work would improve the algorithm. The care and feeding of an NSX isn’t bad compared to its performance peers, but there will still be some shattering expenses. And most of us don’t have the chops or patience for engine swaps into old cars.

    I’ve kept a second car for almost fifteen years now, against all rational fiscal logic. Just because I love cars, that’s why. There have been numerous deliberate pairings. My favorite was a Nissan Xterra (bought new) and a 1965 Austin Cooper S (blissfully trouble-free). I found excuses to go on hilariously fun country drives in that Mini. Later the pairing became SUV + Acura RSX-S. Currently it’s Ford Flex + New Mini (Mini Cooper and Macro Cooper). Very practical as suits my age and family but lacks the whimsy.

    The second car should inspire you to go driving for the fun of it.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    This guy is funny. He writes a little like Seanbaby. More by this guy.

  • avatar
    Onus

    Just don’t be like me and have 3 of the same car. Makes it kind of hard to figure out why you need them.

    Sure they all have different transmissions, 2 are manual, 1 automatic, different engines in all, two are rwd, one is 4 wheel drive.

    Still too much.

  • avatar
    FuzzyPlushroom

    I’d pick up an S2000 or a Miata that’s been well-kept and largely unmolested, then start a LeMons team with some of your buddies. That’d potentially solve the whole ‘disapproving girlfriend’ problem, too…

  • avatar
    gourami74

    Mitsubishi EVO or Subaru STI. Its what I did.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      Me too. Coming from an SVT Coutour myself (notice that Ford officially listed the car’s name with the SVT in front of Contour), I went with an Evo VIII and found the Mitsubishi to be a totally satisfying experience for one oriented toward sport.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Fun article, though I think you could narrow it down a bit. $24k for a second car leaves a huge amount of options, as you can see from the wide-ranging suggestions (both your own and the B&B).

    I’m a bit confused on why you have the SUV – it’s just you and your girlfriend, and you said you don’t want a family car. The only vehicle that better fits the description of family car than SUV is a minivan.

    I only bring that up because you could sell the SUV (assuming it is worth anything) and turn that into a sports sedan and focus on real sports cars for the toy car. Cars like the E39 M5 and E55 AMG are great, but as someone else said, they are really daily drivers.

    For the toy, S2000/Miata/Boxter/Z4/etc. I always liked the Z3 M coupe too. I would be afraid to risk something like an NSX or E30 M3 on public roads.

  • avatar
    CliffG

    Pft. Buy a motorcycle. Spend $4k on a 500cc to learn for a year (but put at least 10,000 miles on it), and then pick your poison. A litre bike if your girlfriend is under 105lbs., or you really don’t want her along anyway, or some Triumph or Bmw if she insists on tagging along. Heck, $24k will buy both if you buy used. Even the 500cc bike will smoke 95% of the cars out there anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      A 70 mpg otorcycle like my SV is definitely the most fun you can have on the street legally. No car can match it day in and day out.

    • 0 avatar
      ZekeToronto

      It’s been more than a decade since I swapped my last second car (an old roadster I had fun restoring) for a sportbike. Best decision I ever made. Bikes make eminent sense as a second vehicle/toy. They’re easier and cheaper to store, maintain and insure … and 110HP is awesome when it’s only got to pull 400lbs (plus pilot)!

  • avatar
    SimRacingDan

    You can find stock nsxs at nsxprime.com but I find the car way way overpriced for what you get.

    When it came time to buy my second car I went through the same sort of thing. I was buying new, so I figured if I was going porsche it’d be a boxster, which was bland when I drove it. The vette seems nice but I’d be kicking myself for not waiting a couple years for the C7 come out and then mature…

    When I test drove the Miata I was in love. I’d never really ridden in a convertible before, and I can tell you now I’m 100% roadster guy. It’s just so fun to throw around corners. You should definitely check one out. Plus the Miata has a great following of drivers clubs in lots of areas that go on fun drives. I’ve never belonged to a car club before but from what the other members tell me, they have, and most of them (porsche and vette in particular) are more about parking their car in a lot and admiring the paint than driving. Miata drivers are all zoom-zoom!

  • avatar
    7402

    Go classic.

    Your budget will buy a show quality vintage BMW 2002 tii–forget the E30 and go back to BMW’s roots. You could actually buy two very nice ’02s for that money.

    Classy, loads of fun, easy to work on, great on-line community . . . . I could keep typing but I’m going out for a drive.

  • avatar
    JGlanton

    I bought a ’69 Camaro about 7 years ago for $22K. Freshly built 454 with a nice cam, 4-speed, brand-new paint and interior. I later spent about $2K to upgrade the suspension and chassis and now it handles great. For my taste, that car looks better than anything on the road today and it’s a big, big joy to drive. 500 ft-lbs with a manual tranny is a hoot. I never even put in a stereo because I like listening to the motor so much. It’s stone reliable, too.

    You can get a lot of nice, fresh, muscle cars in this price range. You can also pay a whole lot more for a big $ resto-mod with an LS7 engine or a numbers-matching collectors car. But big power and torque is cheap with a big-block or oversized small block. And if you get bored with it, the upgrade possibilities are unlimited.

    P.S. My cop neighbor has an NSX. When he gets out of it with his bruises and scrapes from a day at work in the jungle, he definitely doesn’t fit your stereotype. Buy whatever gives you the most joy, puts the biggest grin on your face, and gives you something to yearn for and make plans for while you are at work. You won’t care what anyone else thinks if it’s so right for you.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    Here’s what I’d do: find a near-pristine NA or NB Miata, ideally with 6 speed and Torsen dif. This should cost around $10k, and at that point we’re probably talking about a low-mileage example that’s been washed more than driven. Then I’d visit Flyin’ Miata and/or 949 Racing. $2500 in suspension and chassis bracing and another $5000 or so for an excellent turbo setup. Now you’re good for about 250 whp in a car that’ll weigh under 2400 lbs and corner like an animal. Those prices will basically get you the best of the best; it can be done for less money. After that, you’ll have a car that’ll make Corvettes think twice at street-legal speeds, and – more importantly – will put a silly-ass grin on your face every time you even think about driving it. Unlike some other cars, maintenance will be dirt cheap. About the only things to go wrong are eventually having to replace the soft top or blowing the engine from overboosting. Fortunately it’s the same block as a Protege, Escort GT or Kia Sephia, and a running engine can be found for around $1,000. You can also use this as an excuse to add stronger rods and oil pump. Now you’re good to about 300 whp or more, if you find an NB with a 6 speed transmission.

    The girlfriend will think it’s cute, law enforcement and your insurance will assume you’re a hairdresser, gas mileage will be in the low 30s if you’re not in the throttle, the ride will be surprisingly comfortable due to the high-buck suspension, and it’ll feel even faster than it is, because that’s what Miatas do. Also: it’ll fit your I-sleep-with-stuffed-animals persona. Burn a George Michael CD for extra effect.

    If and when the girlfriend “accidentally” gets pregnant, sell all the go-fast goodies; they hold their value very well and get snapped up as soon as someone posts them for sale, and then sell the reneutered car for little loss, as it’ll be near the bottom of its depreciation curve.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      @JuniperBug, what a logical and well thought out response. You made me want a Miata out fitted like that.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      I like the idea, but that’s a lot of money to spend on an NA Miata. And I doubt you can see fuel economy in the mid-30s with a turbo setup when even stock Miatas have trouble getting there. My friend used his as a commuter for a while and couldn’t break 28mpg even with highway travel.

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez

      Buying and modifying a Miata would be a fun choice. This is kind of nit picky, but running a 250 hp turbo setup would definitely require a clutch upgrade, and would be silly without exhaust and brake improvements as well. Certainly within budget though. $5k for the turbo is realistically on the low end for a really solid system, especially considering you’d need a new ECU and tuning… and this is assuming you could do the work yourself. I think the biggest issue with this, which you alluded to, is resale. We all know the story. I think you’re underestimating the effort to switch out and sell the “go-fast” parts.

      So in the end you could spend ~20k for a super clean, low miles, really well sorted out NB which would resale for about $12-15k. I think the better proposition is finding someone who’s already done this work and letting them take the modification investment loss hit. Or, buy a mazdaspeed Miata, and keep the modifications minimal with a turbo and ECU upgrade.

      And sorry… even a stock NA or NB Miata won’t get 30 mpg, let alone a highly boosted one.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        Actually, $5,000 is an estimate including engine management and a clutch (FM kit w/o electronics (~$3000 + Megasquirt ~$1000 + clutch ~$400). You could probably sneak the exhaust parts into that budget as well, or close to it. I was assuming doing the labour yourself, as that’s usually seen as part of the fun of turbocharging a Miata. $2500 is a very healthy budget for Miata suspension, and brakes could fit into that as well. For a street car, a decent set of pads on a Sport-brake-equipped NB would be plenty, anyway. At stock power, I spent a season of light lapping on the smaller non-sport brakes and OEM-level pads, myself.

        Regarding fuel economy: most well-sorted turbo Miatas report *better* gas mileage than stock when driven similarly to a stock one, especially if the swap includes a taller rear end ratio. I haven’t done it myself, but my 30 MPG estimate comes from reading multiple experiences on miataturbo.net. My own, stock, ’99 Miata averages in the mid-high 20s in mixed driving, assuming I haven’t gone to the track. I don’t drive in a manner that’s conducive to fuel economy, either.

        I agree that buying someone else’s turbo would be far more economical, but then you don’t know exactly what you’re getting and whether the work was done properly. Plus: doing the work yourself should be fun!

        Modifying a car is never a money-winning proposition, but the Miata is a relatively reasonable one. I bet that the overall cost will still be considerably less than buying and maintaining something like an NSX, and you’ll have something more visceral with faster acceleration and more grip. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Acura – it all depends on individual preferences and what kind of ownership and driving experience you’re going for.

    • 0 avatar
      I_Like_Pie

      I have never, ever seen a NA or NB miata that gets more than 30 miles per gallon

      • 0 avatar
        Dingleberrypiez

        Juniper, these are all reasonable responses but I stand by my original post. I guess I didn’t understand that you were including a performance clutch and exhaust as part of a turbo package, and brakes as part of suspension. Many of us have played the turbo-charge my Miata game. My general point is that nice quality Miata isn’t as simple (or cheap) as “slap on a turbo and some new suspension,” which I’m sure you understand based on your reply.

        Based on the OP’s extensive analysis of car stereotypes and concern of other people’s perceptions, it’s my impression that a Miata wouldn’t be showy/impressive enough for him at the dollar investment level we’re talking about.

        I still call BS on 30 mpg. Similar to you, I’m basing this on personal and anecdotal evidence. I guess it could be achievable with a super tall sixth gear (highway cruising, obviously), but you didn’t mention this in your original comment.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        The Hahn Racecraft Stage 1 Sky Ecotec 2.4l turbo will hold 13-15 psi which about 300 at the wheels with free flowing exhaust. I was running 16:1 AF on a 90F degree day without a peep from the knock sensor. These Ecotec heads really are really efficient. With that power level Bill Hahn ran 12.8 @ 110 mph.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Solstice/Sky 2.4l for $10K and add $3,299 for a turbo system that can go 350 HP/400 trq.http://www.turbosystem.com/ProjectVehicles/New_Folder/SolsticeStage3pdf.htm

      Sprinkle in a few hundred for suspension stuff and your done.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I checked your link, yet another amazing deal on turbos. You cant get to 350hp for the $3200 sale price, but still that’s amazing power to get out of that engine for that price. Stage 2/3 sale prices aren’t listed, but retail prices are only $750/$1200 more than the base kit, so at worse case you are barely at $4500 for the top stage. I would probably just stick with the Stage 1 for better drivibility.

        Might be tempted to replace our MR2 with one of these… maybe. But I still don’t buy your earlier claim of 41mpg. :)

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Nissan Pulsar (in white of course)

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    If you’ve got $24K to blow, which would handily pay for the down payment on a nice house… but that’s just me ;).

    I’d suggest an SL500. No way you’d look like a woman in that, and you’d actually have a stylish vehicle instead of the (IMO rather pathetic) SLK-anything.

    Or maybe a pristine Supra. I’d go with the timeless-always-resaleable foldy-hardtop SL500 though.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    2009/10/11 Mazda RX8 R3.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    …I’m leaning towards an E30 BMW M3…

    Oh dude, you better have another $24K to support the endless repairs.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I’ve driven a Merkur XR4Ti and all that I can say is, do not bother with one. They’re slow and not fun at all to drive, not to mention they have poor air re circulation so the turbo-charged engines tend to burst into flames.

    I’d suggest a turbo Volvo 240, but you made a point not to buy a family car. Perhaps an early Datsun Z-Car would be in your interest.

    I’d suggest a Miata but they are a bit girly I think, the recent face lifts don’t help.

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    Consider a 2011 Crown Victoria… I just picked up one for $14K. Leather, V8, loaded and for the last month and a half law enforcement just waves at me regardless of how fast I have been going. I plan on upgrading the shocks and springs and replacing the soft sidewall Michelin LX4′s that were the stock tires choice, and it doesn’t have the finest sound system…

    $14K with 34k miles still under warranty. You’d have $10k to upgrade it!

  • avatar
    Augie the Argie

    Get a deal and buy a 2012 Abarth Cinquecento in Nero or spanking Rosso.

  • avatar
    DGA

    Motorcycle is your answer…

    My second vehicle can’t fit in most modern garages and its primary purpose is to transport my 3rd and 4th, two wheeled vehicles, to the race track. Besides the 3rd and 4th 2-wheeled vehicles, buying the bigger second 4-wheeled vehicle (to replace the previous second smaller 4-wheeled vehicle) was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

    Buuut, if a motorcycle does not suit your life outlook, my daily grind is a ’08 Legacy GT. You could get one for under 20K. There is tons of aftermarket for ‘em and you’ll not be confused by most public for anything other than a sensible 4-door sedan.

  • avatar
    kerilrus

    Had to read this since I am a two-car guy myself and hear similar comments form my girlfriend and just ppl in general who generally drive an appliance. I have an older Outback LLBean and a G35 Coupe 6MT and had about a 20k budget when I bought the G 3 years ago. It has been a trouble free car and a blast to rip through gears. So first though was about why you didnt have a G Coupe or 350Z/370Z on the list? Is there a stereotype for that in your book? I did like the idea of Miata/MX-5 and wanting to test drive one but I am 6’3″ and the G feels about as snug as i would want it to be.

  • avatar
    Mr. K

    940/960 V8 mod with associated suspension, brake, driveline, and engine upgrades.

    Here is a start:
    http://www.converse-engineering.com/
    http://www.v8volvos.com/
    http://www.jagsthatrun.com/Pages/Volvo_200_V-8.html

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    G8 GXP.

    6.2V8, 6 Speed manual, brembo brakes, windows that you can see out of…

    (I checked, there are a couple within the 24K range)

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Woah, where? I might just go buy one myself for that price.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        Ah, I spoke too soon. I just checked autotrader.com, and there are a few GXPs for sale at 24-25K, but none of them currently for sale are stickshifts. So if one wants an automatic there are a few available at that price, just autotrader it, but I am guessing one might need to dig a bit for a manual equipped model.

        Still, a great performance value if one finds the right one.

  • avatar
    Azuremen

    So you learned to drive stick I take it? Just get the M5 or the NSX and move out of a place that makes you so damn self conscious.

    As for the over-the-top stereotyping, it works for Clarkson because we are all use to his voice and delivery. You don’t have this benefit and thus it just comes across as trying to damn hard. I know you’ve come along way from pouring water on your A4′s brakes at the Dragon and explaining how you finally get why motorsports is a sport, but stahp it. Just stahp it.

  • avatar
    n_tesla

    BMW 328I with the Sport Package and a manual transmission, either sedan or coupe. Try to find one with some CPO warranty on it and leave it stock. Great fun to drive and it will start every weekend. When you decide to get a new toy there will be lots of potential buyers willing to pay good money for the privilege!

  • avatar
    ZekeToronto

    “When I remind them it’s the 355-horspower AMG model, they revise their assessment from ‘woman’ to ‘butch lesbian.’”

    I used to work with a guy who drove one. He always made sure to tell everyone it was the AMG version too. But it didn’t matter. In fact, I used to park next to it everyday … and then tick him off by thanking him for making my A3 look so manly :-)

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I like the idea of a roadster with a folding hard-top, like a Z4 or SLK. Otherwise, take a look at the Lincoln LS V8.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    How about an RX-8?

    We are talking about a toy car, so it doesn’t have to be reliable or fuel efficient. As an added bonus, it isn’t completely useless when it comes to carrying people or stuff. Better odds of fitting in it too!

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Miata is an excellent choice. This is a terrible time to be buying a used car. The only deals are in two seat sports cars. That means Miata or maybe a Z3 or S2000 You can drive the bejabbers out of it and have a lot of fun for cheap.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Given Doug’s budget, nothing can beat a slightly used Miata. It’s as much fun to drive as the legendary Lotus Elan and as reliable as a Corolla. To do better, he would have to spend more money than he can afford. The next step up would be a BRZ. (I don’t know why the FR-S gets all the attention when the BRZ offers more.)

  • avatar
    homer281

    I understand the intent was humorous, but none of the stereotypes are funny, just cliche. Let me guess you’re not a gay hairdresser so you can’t buy a Miata, oh boy, simplifying cars down to their stereotypical owners is so much fun. Go drive all the cars you listed, even the ones you wrote off, and buy the one that drives the best and won’t kill you with repairs.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Dude, its humor. When my wife sees an old upright grille Lincoln or Cadillac and calls it a “mob car” she doesn’t LITERALLY think that the driver is a goomba. Its a stereotype and its funny. Chill out.

      We may say that all Firebird/Camaro owners are mullet wearers but honestly the used ones are now all owned by teen boys with more testosterone than sense.

  • avatar
    rlpguy720

    One link to rule them all:

    http://www.mcoupebuyersguide.com/listings/

    A 99 or 00 Z3 M Coupe with the S52 engine should be right in your ballpark. They’re pretty rare so you wont see many around, if at all, and you get a lot of looks. Best of all it shares all of the running gear from the E36 M3 so parts aren’t hard to come by…and there is a pretty solid aftermarket performance part availability.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    You could have a lot of fun for 24k.

    03-04 Cobra with an upgraded blower and poly everything in the rear end
    S2000 and a bunch of extra money
    E46 M3, just make sure it’s not from the first two years
    WRX STI before they got ugly
    Jaguar XKR, worth it

    How about an Aston Martin DB7?

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    (2nd it) Supercharged ’03,’04 Cobra (Termi) Mustang. Around $20K with 60K miles avg. SVT DOHC 4.6, forged internals, 6 speed Tremec, 3.55s. Good for 450+ HP with compressor pulley and tune only.

  • avatar
    blanks

    Import a 25 year-old plus Peugeot 405 Mi16, Citroën CX 25 GTi Turbo, Alpine A110 or Lancia Delta Integrale or other Group A homologation specials, and spend the rest on maintenance …

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I dream of building a 405 Mi T16 “Grand Raid” tribute/clone and driving it around Colorado Springs like it was nothing… All the correct stickers, lexi windows, wild ass airdam/airfoil, etc. Just banging away at the gears with a snarly, poppy exhaust..

      youtube.com/watch?v=b20xuPuI6Ps

  • avatar
    blanks

    Maybe an early Audi RS4?

  • avatar
    Power6

    Hard to take you seriously, your reasons for counting out a car are so meaningless.

    If you want an NSX then buy one, who cares what nationality you are or what others think, life is too short for that BS.

    Or I guess that was supposed to be funny, sorry
    I didn’t get it! “What car should I buy” is the dumbest question ever, just take a look above you get a million zany answers from every angle.

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    Well since we are all about copying Clarkson – how bout an Ariel Atom. Otherwise man up and work it out with your girl so you can have two nice cars between the two of you..

    People that buy more cars then they need should have excess money. It doesn’t sound like you do..

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    There’s a number of clean ’11 Mustang GTs for around $20K with low miles. Spend the change on suspension, tune mods and you have a nice, relatively new toy with a V8 and warranty!

  • avatar
    Mekarooch

    If you are that hard up for suggestions just go on something like Cars.com and narrow your searches down until you get to something that looks good. I just put in near Atlanta coupes for <$24,000 and a '63 T-Bird showed up, along with G37's, MX-5's, and hundreds of other cars. That will give you more of an idea of what you might like than what we could tell you here. Take your time, inventory changes often. Test drive some, see what you could get used to. Have fun, that’s what the car if for isn’t it? Bookmark bringatrailer.com and check daily, they have interesting cars.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    When I think of sporty, I think of something that might make it to an autocross or the racetrack at some point,.

    Looking at this set of requirements, here is where I would go:

    Porsche
    993 911 in decent condition.
    Early 2000s Boxster S then get the IMS fix done.

    American
    -C5 corvette, Z06 if you want a track car
    -Mustang SVT cobra, look for a year that has the IRS if you want to track it. Add convertible if that’s your thing. Should fit in well in Georgia.

    BMW
    -M3, E46 in OK condition, E36 in great condition, with room for track mods
    -Clownshoe or Z4 M coupe/convertible

    Japanese
    -Newer S2000. Needs a proper rollbar to be tracked though.
    -Miata. The answer is always Miata. You could get a newish NC, or a Spec Miata prepped NA or NB
    -370Z and leave some cash on the top for cooling system and brake pad upgrades if tracking the car is on the table

  • avatar
    ccd1

    Wow! About 160 comments and only 2 votes for the RX-8! About $24,000 or less will get you a 2011 RX-8 R3 with low miles. This car would still be under warranty unlike most of the other cars mentioned here.


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