By on January 23, 2014
Photo courtesy of Craigslist.org

Photo courtesy of Craigslist.org

The decision is in, and my long awaited overseas assignment has been postponed for another year. I still have a move in my future, however, but it won’t be outside the border it will be the heartland – Leavenworth, KS. After looking at the alternatives, I’ve decided that this is the best opportunity I was presented with. It’s a chance to work with some folks I might not have otherwise worked with and, while I am there, maybe I’ll even learn a few things. The added bonus is that the move gets me out of the rust belt and back into a place where old cars are a lot more common.

Since the 300M went to a new home a little less than a year ago I’ve had an empty place in my heart to match the one in my driveway. The family mini-van and my Pontiac Torrent are both wonderful, competent daily drivers, but they aren’t really what I think of as “fun.” There’s never a hint of drama with either of them, they just do their jobs every day without complaint and, while I admire and rely upon their stolidity, I miss having something to play with. The time has come to rectify that.

Photo courtesy of Craigslist.org

Photo courtesy of Craigslist.org

With an eye towards understanding the local used car market, I’ve already spent a little time perusing the Kansas City Craigslist and I’ve found some things that I have liked. Some of the usual suspects have flitted through my brain, if you’ve ever read anything I have written you know I have an unhealthy obsession with Turbo Dodges and the mid-80’s Nissans, but I’m open to all suggestions within reasons and I thought we might have some fun discussing the alternatives. My ground rules are thus:

Given the short-term nature of my assignment, I’m not willing to drop a whole lot of cash so I’m going to set a limit of $4K for the initial purchase and that’s already on the high side so my mantra is “cheaper is better.”

Projects are OK, but even though I’m not against solving a few mechanical gremlins, I won’t be swapping out entire engines, getting involved in a “frame-up” anything or ending up in a car that needs major body work.

I’d prefer something from the 80s or 90s, but would consider a smaller car, say some kind of Japanese or British classic from the 60s or 70s, but no old luxury barges. The point is that I want something small and sporty, not big and heavy.

I would like something with a manual transmission, I’ve really missed those over the past few years, but I have no real preference for which set of wheels get driven. Front and rear wheel drive cars are both on the table.

That’s it. I know there is a lot of experience on this site so I am interested in your suggestions and expect a healthy debate about the various merits of some fun old cars. Because I won’t move until summer, I’m not ready to purchase this minute and don’t need to be hooked up with a specific seller so please, for the love of God, don’t call anyone up and bother them. Besides, most of the time, thinking about what I could buy proves to be more fun than actually buying it. Let’s prolong that feeling as long as possible. What would you get if you were in my position?

Photo courtesy of Craigslist.org

Photo courtesy of Craigslist.org

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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248 Comments on “Thinking About An Older, Sporty Car: What Do You Suggest?...”


  • avatar

    2006 300c SRT8.

  • avatar
    twotone

    The answer is always — Miata!

    • 0 avatar
      Acd

      My first thought as well. The best affordable British or Italian convertible ever built. They’re cheap, lots of fun to drive, generally reliable and a good supply of parts to keep it stock or upgrade it to your hearts desire.

      Or how about an early 96/97 4 cylinder BMW Z3? Some of those are in the budget and they’re also pretty straight forward reliable little cars (especially if you’re not relying on it for everyday use). Parts are available and tend be quite reasonable for a BMW. On a warm sunny day with the top down you’ll be less likely to notice the missing two cylinders.

      If you’re going to do something now is the time to buy, especially a convertible. This time next month people will have tax refund cash burning a hole in their wallets and prices will go up and once the snow melts convertible prices also tend to increase.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      At a $4k budget, there truly is no better answer. You’ll find some nice ones (barely) at this price point, they’ll be simple and cheap to keep running, excellent for DIY (both because of availability/price of parts and available info on how to fix them), and they have an owner base that largely takes care of their cars and doesn’t run them hard (although I read that that’s been changing in parts of the US as the drift kids start flocking to them). In your part of NY, many will be stored in the winter, making rust nearly a non-issue and you can do everything from suspension to standalone fuel to turbo. Or keep it stock and be amazed by how much fun <140 hp can be. Seriously: even if you think you'd never in a million years want one, use this as an excuse to try one, preferably on a nice day.

      Bonus: NAs (1990-1997) have hit a price floor and may even be increasing, so when you go to sell it in a year or two, chances are good that you'll get much of your money back.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      +1

      I drove an NA Miata for 15 years. Great car. Only replaced it (with an NC Miata) because I wrecked it. And since you have other cars for family driving or other driving that may not be appropriate for a Miata (like a freeway in rush hour), you’re prefectly set for one.

      And I’m 6’2″ so don’t believe people who tell you tall guys can’t fit into them.

      • 0 avatar
        TheEyeballKid

        You must be all leg. Those of us with long torsos are not so lucky – I’m 5’11 and wanted a first gen Miata but couldn’t see through the windshield without hunching over.

      • 0 avatar
        gottacook

        In the mid-’90s a sibling owned a first-gen Miata that I drove for an hour. Could barely fit into it, and I’m 6’1.5″ (or was then, at any rate) and have long legs.

        These days my fantasy sporty car would be a late-’90s Saab 900 convertible with a stick shift. Have not done any preliminary research (e.g., did the V6 offer a stick?) but will someday.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Unless the answer is 914!

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      “The answer is always — Miata!”

      Done

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      There are so many NA Miatas available for $3-4,000. Perfect choice.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    LX 5.0 notchback.

  • avatar
    Slainte72

    Japanese or British classic from the 60s or 70s = Miata

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Miatas are a dime a dozen, nice though they are.

      You can get a very nice Triumph Spitfire for that money. Some big advantages depending on where you are – classic car registration (no inspection in my state), classic car insurance (*$80*/yr for mine). While not something I would daily drive or want to put big miles on, used as a sunny day toy mine has been VERY reliable over the nearly 20 years I have owned it. And it is the easiest car ever made to work on. Open the hood, have a seat on a front tire and have at it. Slow, but they feel fast.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    2nd or 3rd gen Honda Prelude (1983-1987, 1988-1991). A Poor man’s NSX. Straight forward and robust fwd Honda mechanicals, and perhaps the most amazing views of the road to be had at almost any price. I’m totally biased because I lusted after these things in highschool and still have plans to own one at some point in my life.

    Also, is a motorcycle under consideration? $4k will buy a whole lot of fun on 2 wheels. Not sure where your wife stands on that, what with having children and all.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the ’88-91 Prelude. Still looks very good in my opinion.

      • 0 avatar
        Avatar77

        I love the 88-91 Prelude, but good luck finding one that hasnt been riced out or beat to hell.

        • 0 avatar

          Sadly, too true…

        • 0 avatar
          JMII

          Yep I had an ’89 Si, best handling car I have ever owned. Awesome dash layout and fantastic seats. Weak torque being its only downside. Also the brakes weren’t great, but maybe that because I was always driving it… ummm aggressively.

          • 0 avatar
            Drewlssix

            Being in the Midwest I regret not buying a recently relocated Californians si when he brought it to the shop. It was rust free with perfect black interior with just oxidized paint and worn suspension counting against it. Here rust free Hondas are gold but I let it slide and found it a month later in the u-pull-it. Not a Honda lover but that is one sweet car. My vote though is the 2nd gen mx6. V6 leather stick in a good looking if nearly invisible shell. Aftermarket may be lacking and power is like most Mazdas less that stunning but with a good exhaust that motors noise is the next best thing to a classic Italian supercar. Or shrink everything 40% with an mx3.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had plenty of bikes, but with little kids at home I know I won’t ride it the way I used to. Also, roads in that part of the world are way faster than I like to go. I prefer much tighter technical roads where 50 mph is really hauling ass.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        “I’ve had plenty of bikes, but with little kids at home I know I won’t ride it the way I used to. Also, roads in that part of the world are way faster than I like to go. I prefer much tighter technical roads where 50 mph is really hauling ass.”

        Bingo Jimbo ! .

        I always enjoy beating the pants off the squids who have more $ into their technicolor riding suits than I have in my Moto and gear =8-).

        Maybe a combination rig ? SWMBO , your kids and dog (if you have one) will all love it .

        -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      prabal34

      Agreed. I have a 5th Gen Prelude and have driven 4th gens. Get a VTEC 4th Gen or any 5th Gen as all of them are VTEC. Just about any VTEC (or cammed equivalent) Honda/Acura can be made into a very affordable (easily repairable/reliable) and fun car. Start with some adjustable suspension mods (to dial it in for your taste) and an exhaust.

      Nice (not gaudy) set of light wheels and some sticky tires and you are good to go. Adding a lightened flywheel and clutch, headers, intake, and some mild tuning really opens the engine up. For me, it’s a blast flicking through the gears when equipped with a short throw shift kit.

      All very affordable for a sports car. Stay away from automatics. Garbage. Oh and be wary of the Prelude Curse (look it up on urban dictionary). It’s real. Most of us are used to it by now. :P

  • avatar

    Seems like Kansas is the wrong place for a sports car–flat, with a dearth of twisties. I’m almost tempted to joke and say, “panther!”

    On the other hand, you may be as little as 3 hours from the Ozarks. Anyway, I’d say Miata, Integra, or CRX. Or maybe something like an MR2. I’m thinking that for that price, and that distance to fun driving, you want something that’s likely to be as reliable as possible.

    I can’t help thinking you’ll be relieved to get out of Buffalo. Anyway, whatever you get, enjoy the hell out of it.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Acura Integra. You’ll want a DC2 (Type-R?) GSR, but I’m not sure you can find one that isn’t abused to death at that price. If you don’t mind a sketchy modified car, there are probably some Civics out there with enough Interga parts in them to make them worth a try. Mr2′s aren’t too bad either. More ‘sportscar’, less ‘streetracer’.

    • 0 avatar
      calgarytek

      Tough to find a bone stock Civic hatch from 1996-2000, but they’re out there. If the car is miled out and the body is good, the mechanicals don’t matter. Find a shell and start putting things into it.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    3rd gen Honda Prelude si or 2nd gen eclipse gst…that is if you can find them stock.

  • avatar
    jd418197

    2003 Acura CL-S, with the 6sp MT. It’s no sports car, but neither are most of the suggestions above.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      A 2003 CL S-Type six-speed – very rare, and even at 10 years old probably not a $4,000 car, I had one as my very last Acura before leaving them, I liked it, but then I always prefer manual shift cars. The cable-linked six-speed is not as sporty as it sounds, but at least it couldn’t be recalled to rebuild the autobox transmission that TL’s and other CL’s needed.

      • 0 avatar
        honda_magna85

        A friend of mine (who is a Honda mechanic at a dealership) had a black on black CL type S 6MT. It was actually quicker than his S2000, and the CL served as his daily driver for 3 or 4 years. If you can find one, definately a nice car.

      • 0 avatar
        jd418197

        I had a white 2001 with the auto (no MT that year). It was a cool car, but the AT was a disaster. It would slip to 2nd at waaay to high speeds. Acura replaced it free under warranty which was awesome, but I haven’t missed it since I got the ’03 MT. But the more I read the more I think the Miata suggestions might be the answer to the article’s question. And I hate to say that.

    • 0 avatar
      Drewlssix

      Well he did say “sporty car” and as pretty and slick as the Luxo accords are they are just not overtly sporty to drive. I feel the same way about the Celica in the first pic along with most of the “sporty” coupes and hatches out there. A few though do transcend their often pedestrian floor pans to become something that is a joy to drive.

      • 0 avatar
        jd418197

        Yeah, it’s no “sports car.” But it’s no dog either; 260hp (torque-steer or not) gets it done pretty well. With 4 new tires I LOVE the driving feel of the Ac coupe.

    • 0 avatar
      suspekt

      The best car I have ever owned!!! Put 150,000 miles on 2 of them.
      Will buy another.

      Note:
      - Acura RL pistons + MDX crankshaft = 3.6L Monster
      - CT Headers
      - 2009 TL Intake Manifold

      = Best sounding V6/inline 6 of all time.

      Period

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Kansas eh? Wide open flat spaces in the heartland, I think Japanese sports car isn’t in the cards. I have an acronym and four words for you: RWD Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    All of these suggestions are chasing after “MUSTANG”. Some of these suggested cars aren’t even considered sporty. They are just small and quirky. Mustangs have from the beginning been the sporty car. They come in a higher percentage of manual transmission than most. They are produced in high enough numbers that they are always available for sale in every market. You can go 4, 6, or 8 cylinders depending upon on your need for speed (or your need for economy). Parts are readily available. All shops can work on one. Entire industries are created for aftermarket parts, upgrades, and extensive personalization if desired.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I’d argue an Integra/Prelude/miata are a whole lot sportier driving than a v6 mustang (pre 2011 3.7), if not as fast in a straight line. I took a ride in a friend’s 1995 teal coupe with the 3.8 and an automatic, jesus what a truly terrible automobile. He wasn’t much of a car guy.

      Random story: I told him it needed ball joints just from riding as a passenger to lunch one day, he didn’t think much of it. A week later he was driving to work and his steering knuckle popped off together with the wheel when the ball joint finally gave up the ghost.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Not such a random story ~

        I tell folks all the time they need ball joints as I hear & _feel) them clicking away under my feet now that I temporarily cannot drive and bum rides everywhere .

        No one listens and they all know better ~ I’ve been making a good living fixing up junked vehicles with *exactly* this sort of failure for nearly 50 years .

        Any time a Mechanic who doesn’t want to work on your vehicle says ” get this fixed now ” you’re a fool to ignore him .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          This is why an annual safety inspection is not such a bad thing.

          Even though I don’t HAVE to have my classic cars inspected in Maine, I still do, just to get a different pair of eyes on them.

  • avatar

    I vote for the Prelude or maybe even an 82-86 Toyota Supra. But given your interest in old turbo Mopars, why not a mid-80s Daytona or Laser? Or one of the original DCM triplets, the Eclipse/Talon/Laser?

    • 0 avatar
      brianyates

      for that money, try looking for a west coast driven and owned 1969 MGBGT

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        You must never have owned one ~ the MKII MGB’s are O.K, but , those early ones sans glove box , having only the ” Abingdon Pillow ” on the dashboard , are not only FUGLY but no good as drivers with no place to even keep the reggie and ins. papers much less the spare fuses , fuel filter , maps and so on .

        Yes , I am biased because I loved my ’67 MKI MGB GT but it wasn’t really a good handler no matter how much I worked on and tweaked it ~ MGB’s are fun _Sports_Cars_ but most of the B and B here (especially Thomas I imagine) want more race oriented cars like Miatas with puffers , a good choice but I’m 6′ even the the windshield header was smack in the middle of my eyesight due to my upper body height so choose carefully , I had to pass on a fully kitted out track Miata for free because of this .

        I can’t wait to see what you decide on Thomas .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          snakebit

          Nate,
          You give up a glovey on the MK II, but you gain a nice full synchro gearbox, and there was a accessory console offered that modern day owners might find on eBay still. I, too, owned a ’67 MGB GT, a sweet car, and I thought it handled fine, but then I’m not Parnelli Jones. You’re correct on the windshield, R&T said one of their writers was issued a citation for not being able to see a traffic signal light in a roadster, that problem went away with the taller glass area on the GT.

        • 0 avatar

          I guess in my fantasy, Nate, I see myself in some kind of racer, but reality will step in at some point and I will probably end up with something more pedestrian than anyone might have thought. Sure, I’d like a racer, but where am I going to run it? I think I’d prefer something that straddles the border between cool and just a little silly.

          There’s enough money on the table that I could find some interesting stuff and the truth is, I’m into “interesting.”. How much fun would it be to find something really unusual like a GSI Storm or a V6 MX3? You don’t see those everyday anymore and that’s the mind of thing that will put a smile on my face.

          • 0 avatar
            Syke

            If you find a V-6 MX3, GRAB IT!!!!!! Probably the neatest little car ever brought to the states.

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            Well ;

            Being as I grew up during the golden days of LBC’s , I actually know what a ‘ Sports Car ‘ is , it’s _NOT_ a race car like most of the things mentioned here .

            Maybe that’s why I soured on my MGB GT ~ I know Professional Racers and they all leave me in the dust so anything I cannot drive as fast as it’ll go , goes out the door pretty quickly .

            ” Sporting ” is very different from racing .

            I drove the Datsun 200SX and thought it was a fun Sports Car , they’re cheap and everywhere here in Los Angeles , we have more cars than Detroit ever did .

            -Nate

    • 0 avatar

      You hit a whole bunch of the ones on my short list, especially the Supra, but it would have to be just the right car. The last time I had one in my sights, I ended up with a 200sx turbo and I think I made the right choice.

  • avatar
    djsyndrome

    If you can find one, Nissan 2000 NX. Same engine as the Sentra SE-R in a slightly less obnoxious body.

    Go for the NX1600′s LCD gauge swap too, if you’re feeling salty.

    • 0 avatar

      Great idea. IIRC, T-tops were a weak-spot (aren’t they always?)

      Like with anything from the B13 era, finding an unmolested/unrusted example would be a challenge, and most (all?) suffered from the 5th gear popout issues.

      Maybe a G20t? (93-96) or (1999+)? Great DD and super-handler with some refinement.

    • 0 avatar
      greaseyknight

      Um, I think its the other way around. The SE-R is great looking and the NX’s are awful.

      For 4k he should be able to find a pretty nice SE-R, even if it has the 5th gear pop out that can be fixed, or just drive it around in 4th as 5th isn’t that much of an overdrive.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    When I first read that you would start a new job in Leavenworth, I thought, “Oh good, Thomas is going to write for that new publication,
    INCARceration Nation, the magazine for guys driving nowhere anytime soon.

    More to the point, let me second the nomination of a first generation Mazda Miata. Can’t haul kids around for soccer practice, but could take wifey to a nice dinner once in a while in it. I owned a ’92 special edition(in the hobby it was called a black and tan model-tan leather, tan top, black bod), all of the fun perks of a British roadster plus all of the reliability perks of a Japanese car, even a passable daily driver in light snow.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    1990-1997 Mazda Miata NA. Great fun, easy to work on, plenty of used parts on the internet. Look for low mileage, clean body and if possable with the hard top. In the NYC area prices for a clean low mileage range from $3,000.00 to $5,000.00. Worth every penny. I brought a 1991 Miata last year SE series for $4,800.00 with 70,000 miles and a hard top. Have fun.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Yes, miata. First gen, year is irrelevant and check for rusty rockers in front of the rear wheel well.

  • avatar
    lithium

    Mitsubishi Starion or Chrysler Conquest TSi. These are a blast to drive, more competent than their smaller DSM cousins and surprisingly comfortable to drive. You will also have a bunch of people stopping to ask “what kind of car is that?”

  • avatar
    thunderjet

    I want to say 300ZX (I’ve always loved those cars) but I’m not sure how many are left that haven’t been “hot rodded” to death.

  • avatar
    Dawnrazor

    My first choice would be a nicely-kept (and original) ’88 or ’89 MR2 with the 140hp supercharged engine, but that might be more difficult to find than turtle fur. (I think the ’89 MY is the one to get because that one has a rear anti-roll bar). Regardless of MY or engine choice however, the 1st gen. MR2 was simply one of the best sports cars of the 80s, and its performance is still respectable in 2014.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      +1 Love those MR-2s!

    • 0 avatar
      Drewlssix

      The fiero rarely gets it’s dues when the likes of the mr2 comes up but it is a genuinely good car with tons of potential. The chassis unlike most domestics of the time was rock solid, both rigid and strong the suspension is technically better than the mr2. Especially the 88 (the 88 rear is easily swappable for an early car) though the me is smaller and more tossable. The hardest thing is finding one with a nice interior.

  • avatar
    Swedish

    1992-1995 Volvo 940 Turbo, the engines are stout iron block, handling is great and steering feedback is excellent. Turbo boost can easily be increased for more power and add a set of IPD anti-sway bars to reduce body roll. The brakes are powerful 4 wheel discs with ABS.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Miata. Honda S2000 – the super Miata. Porsche 996 or Boxter if you budget for the IMS bearing and want to go 175 mph or better . In the flatness of Kansas, a Camaro or Corvette might do.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    HURR DURR you said $4k, so how’s about a 2010 WRX HURRRDURRR.

    I’ll come up with a couple rec’s later today.

  • avatar

    Tom,

    When it warms up, come drive my Miata

  • avatar
    smartascii

    I don’t imagine a 240SX of any vintage qualifies unless it’s in terrible shape, and almost all of them that DO remain have been modded and abused, but a non-turbo 300ZX from the 90-96 era is a fun car to drive and should be easy enough to find at your target price. It’s a “sporty” car and not a “sports” car, but depending on what you like, it’s a good option.

    For a conversation starter, a Mazda MX-3 was available with the smallest production V6 ever sold on these shores (1.8L), although it would probably break every time you started it, and there are probably no parts anywhere.

    For my money, though, a non-turbo 91-96 MR2 *feels* better than just about anything else I’ve ever driven. Well, except for the turbo ones, but I don’t think there’s much chance of finding one that works in your price range. It has the added benefit of having the same engine used in the Camry of that era, but pushing several hundred fewer pounds, which makes them both extrememly reliable and easy to find parts for.

    • 0 avatar

      I dunno. I helped a friend buy a 91 MR-2 Turbo. Had about 150k and some issues.

      -Exhaust leak (EGR plate on IM, fixed with JB-weld)
      -Vacuum leaks (replaced all top side hoses, fixed)
      -”dead man switch” throttle – owner didn’t know what was wrong. TPS sensor was installed wrong
      -scratched second gear
      -Terrible paint
      -Front brakes shot.

      $2500. Put brakes and the aforementioned fixes on, ran fine. still scratched second if you rushed it, needed synchros. But ran fine, was fast as shit too.

      TOTAL BEAR to work on.

  • avatar
    Demon_Something

    Seconding the Miata and Integra. The Teg’ is a blast as my daily driver, and it’s tough to knock a Miata.

    Speaking from my Craigslist perusals in NC, a regular GS can be had for under 4K. GSRs…maybe not so much.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    $4K and no budget for repairs? Get a motorcycle instead!

  • avatar

    Mr2
    Daytona turbo
    Shelby lancer
    CSX
    Dodge rampage
    1st gen eclipse gsx
    Neon acr
    Lebanon turbo convertible
    Saab turbo convertible
    Escort gt
    SeR
    V8 conversion ranger
    v8 conversion S10
    Dakota V8 reg cab
    Turbo manual Volvo 850

    • 0 avatar

      An ACR Neon is really not all that special at this vintage. So okay it had Koni. Are they still useable in 2014? If I wanted to re-live my mis-spent youth, I would’ve gotten one which was re-painted first of all, and then thought about throwing shocks on it and removing fog lights. Also, people were quetching how Integras were riced-out above. I don’t think surviving ACRs fared any better.

  • avatar

    Subaru svx
    Starion/conquest
    Mazda rotary

  • avatar
    mor2bz

    How tall are you and how good is your back?

    • 0 avatar

      Somewhere around 6’1″ and my back is fine – it’s my huge gut that’s a problem.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        That is -not- a problem , it’s the signs of a life well lived guess how I know ? .

        My gut fit into my Son’s 1st. gen Miata just fine , the problem was the header ~ I’m 6′ but I have 34″ legs , all my height is in my trunk so go TRY everything you even like the looks of .

        Drop $5 ~ $10 of gas into each one and drive them until one tells you ‘ me ‘ .

        -Nate

  • avatar

    Some non-Miata, non-Mustang suggestions:

    - 3 dr Saab 900 turbo 5spd (either generation)…perhaps a 9-3 Viggen if you’re brave.
    - If you can find one, a Saab 99 turbo…I’m thinking something orange or burgundy with the “Inca” alloys
    - BMW E30/4/6, I6/5spd (How much do good E34 M5s run in your area?)
    - Volkswagen Corrado
    - Subaru XT6
    - Mercedes 190E 2.3-16
    - Mazda RX7 or RX8, if your budget allows
    - If you’re tending to an older vehicle, a clean ’70-’77 German-built Mercury Capri

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Ohhhh the Volkswagen Corrado, everyone always forgets that one, good choice.

    • 0 avatar
      doublechili

      “perhaps a 9-3 Viggen if you’re brave.”

      The Saab Viggen has such a reputation. I owned one for a couple of years and really enjoyed the car. Yeah, there was torque steer, but if you know it’s there you just account for it (never take your grip on the wheel for granted!). No stop light races, but accelerating at speed the thing was awesome. And you could fit furniture in the back.

      • 0 avatar

        As a Saab aficionado, I’ve always been intrigued by the Viggen. For Kreutzer’s purposes, it offers a strong turbo engine, mild tossability, and a hint of practicality as well. It also comes with optional orange leather interior, so that’s clearly a plus.

        I recently found a clean, low-mileage 1987 Subaru XT for sale in the Calgary, AB area for $6,995…I’m sure they can be had for less. Such odd cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Drewlssix

        Turbo SAABs are supposed to be among the kings of the roll race. I remember something like they had the best 30-60 time when new. I almost wiped out a 9-3 getting on it after replacing the fuel pump the torque steer is no joke but easily managed compared to other cars.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    For $4K

    The praised Miata above.

    You might be able to find an RX-7 from the late 70′s early 80′s.

    Fiero – but no way you’ll get an ’88 GT with the V6 if it has any shred of life in it – you’re going Iron Duke under the hood.

    The only problem with anything like an AE-86 Corolla, or a Honda Prelude, is they have probably been hacked, modded, hacked some more, springs cut, goofy spoiler attached by epoxy, fog lamps bolted to the hood, home made 15% window tint, including the windshield, and a used coffee can as the muffler.

    Maybe an ’80s Mustang LX with the 5.0 (that would be an awesome stealth mobile – looks like the secretary version). MAYBE a Camaro with the 3.8L V6 and a manual – but again, likely a project (as the Mustang would also likely be a project)

    You could find a Ford Probe for $4K with ease – but many are dogged out by this point.

    Finding a 15 to 20 year old, budget oriented sporty car, that hasn’t been ragged out is quite the challenge.

    • 0 avatar
      MPAVictoria

      Bah I missed your mention of the Probe. I thought I was the first to think of it!

    • 0 avatar

      An Ae86 Corolla actually showed up on the KC Craigslist last week for about $1500. Totally stock and unmolested. I was shocked. Probes are another car I didn’t think about but would hapilly look at and I see just enough Fieros popping up to be just a little bit interested…

      • 0 avatar
        360joules

        NA Miata with some light primer or even wrinkles but solid frame. A Saturn SC2 because even though tractor simple can be lowered and modded cheap but still be a little fun. Last gen Probe (all gens) has some fun, no respect & cheap to insure. Some suspension bits are fragile, water leaks in back are common, mostly pleasant but feels like a plow FWD if your corner entry speed too high.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I am currently driving my third MarkVIII. No manual, although there are several online with re-engineered cars with clutches. $2500 for a decent car, $1000 to clear up all kinks (blend door, swap to steel springs if wanted, suspension bushings, brake upgrade, headlights) and voila! A two door daily driver that is wrenchable by most, isn’t irreplacable, with very decent handling and economy. With a 140 mph safe top speed. You won’t be seeing yourself everywhere and all gearheads will ask about it. LVC couldn’t be more helpful for parts and repair advice. But, I’m the fool who thought he could keep a Catera/Omega on the road, too, so my advice is suspect. At least you’ll have a new market experience. Good luck.

    • 0 avatar

      The Mark VIII is such a cool car, but I want small and fun not a cool cruiser. I learned a lesson with my 300, cars like that are their own kind of awesome but I don’t want antyhing nearly that nice – I’d just spend all my time polishing the fenders and admiring it.

      • 0 avatar
        snakebit

        As cool-looking as the Mark VIII is, the Ford replacement parts situation for them is horrible. I used to have a dealer as one of my clients, and one of their really excellent techs drove one for his DD. I know you really aren’t considering one,but for those who are, expect a few glitches obtaining new parts. As was already mentioned some of the air suspension stuff literally is made of unobtainium, and I’m hoping that if there’s a Mark VIII user group, they know of a fix using conventional springs and such.The stock suspension replacement parts situation is sad, as the automatic ride height lowering function at freeway speeds was one of the niftiest features of this car. I also had a little trouble getting a new grille, header panel, and headlights for a good friend whose wife was hit at an intersection and insisted on keeping the Mark and repairing it, despite also owning a late model Jaguar XK8. Luckily, one of my former contacts at the dealer found one last set of parts somewhere at another dealer listed on the national dealer parts inventory report.

  • avatar

    Let me also suggest a Mazda RX7 – either 1st or 2ns generation cars are going for less than $4K, if you’re careful.

  • avatar
    honda_lawn_art

    Integra or MB E-Class maybe.

  • avatar
    Atomicblue

    If you’re less than 6 ft tall and under 250 lbs, you’ve described a Miata. My daily driver for 6 years was a black and tan ’93. I bought it in 2006 for $3000 with 68k miles; all it needed was a new top. I pick up a new top with a glass window and installed it myself. I sold the car in 2012 for $2500 with 125k miles. Great car, it never failed to put a smile on my face when I drove it.

  • avatar
    MPAVictoria

    How about going for something completely different, a 1993-97 Ford Probe GT. These have great handling and pretty good pickup when combined with the 5 speed stick. Plus I think they have aged rather well appearance wise.

  • avatar
    AlfaRomasochist

    +1 on the Probe GT / FWD Mercury Cougar idea but also consider:

    Nissan NX2000. Basically an original SE-R in a goofy looking Japanese egg-shape. And available with T-Tops!
    Mazda MX3. Same kind of idea, ideally with the tiny 1.8L V6 for extra goofiness.
    2001-2003 Mazda Protege ES 5 speed. I replaced mine with an E36 M3 sedan but I think the dowdy little Protege was actually more fun.

    • 0 avatar
      AlfaRomasochist

      Oh, and as an Alfa nut I have to throw an ’82-’89 Spider into the mix. Should be available within your budget, they’re reasonably reliable, and not quite as belly-button ubiquitous as the Miata.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      If you go with a FWD Cougar do not get one with a sunroof/moonroof. It is a given that the mechanism that opens/closes WILL break and become hopelessly impossible to repair.

    • 0 avatar

      How sporty is that Cougar? My neighbour has one and beside being a rather sad looking example (for some reason stock alloys leak air and she already replaced one wheel with a very similar, but nonetheless different-looking modern equivalent), it does not look sporty much. It’s far too long for one thing.

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        Sounds like corrosion on the stock wheels if all are leaking. If it persists she can try having the wheels cleaned up and if they aren’t pitted she can have bead sealer or paint applied to try and prevent the wheels from corroding for awhile. If the rims are pitted then its best to replace them or have them professionally repaired.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        My uncle had one of those, V6 with a manual. He bought it new and loved it, until someone t-boned him, destroying the car. My grandfather also had a V6 model, with an automatic. Also bought new. He enjoyed it greatly until he got too old to get in and out of such a small car.

    • 0 avatar
      360joules

      I forgot that gen of cougar. Enough torque steer to be fun. Former neighbor found it reliable.

  • avatar
    honda_magna85

    You’ll find something thats fits your criteria once you get out there. I’m likewise in the lake effect rust belt of upstate NY. When we go out to visit family in Indiana, I’m just amazed at how many 20+ year old cars are still daily driven.

    And even in the rust belt, its not hard to find something. There is a 70+ year old woman in my neighborhood that drives a mint condition Mitsubishi Starion turbo. Its a slushbox, but its white on white and still looks great.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Didn’t Mazda make something like the MX3 that was a small, B-segment sixed coupe with a small displacement V6 (like 2.5L). I know they made it, can’t remember what it was called.

  • avatar
    George B

    Thomas, I spent 5 years nearby at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Kansas doesn’t use much if any road salt, but older cars can and do get rust up there. It’s cold enough that you probably want a car with a roof and having normal ground clearance lets you explore rural roads. General Motors and Ford both build cars in the Kansas City area so their brands will be overrepresented in available used cars. A good Ford Focus ST or SVT with a manual might have escaped the abuse that “Fast and Furious” type Japanese brand cars typically experience.

    • 0 avatar

      Good advice. Thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        otaku

        If the Ford Probe/Mazda MX-6 or Focus doesn’t pan out, you might want to also consider a ’98 thru ’02 Ford Escort ZX2. Same 2.0L Zetec engine as the Focus with a slightly better power-to weight ratio, swoopy body style that still offers a decent sized back seat and trunk, Mazda 323-derived chassis and I’m pretty sure you should be able to find some examples in fair condition for less than $4k.

  • avatar
    Ion

    I’ve thought about the turbo K-cars myself. mostly because as NY state inspector I know pre OBD cars no longer have to run the dyno so you’d be able to get away with cut-offs and straight pipes.

    I’ve known a few people with Del Sols and CRXs their not fast but they are fun. Otherwise I’m going to back the 5.0 LX suggestions. They’re cheap, easy to work on, and the aftermarket is huge.

  • avatar
    Mark_Miata

    I think it depends to some extent on what you want another car for. If you want something sporty to drive, it’s hard to go wrong with a Miata. I took a quick look at the Kansas City Craigslist, and there were eight first-gen Miatas for sale for $4,000 or less, several with hardtops.

    With the hardtop you can drive it year-round – I do here in the mountains of Southern Oregon. In fact, this winter has been so mild that I have yet to put the hardtop on – drove with the top down to lunch today, in fact.

    On the other hand, if you want something to work on, then a 1970s British roadster would work well. While earlier MGBs and TRs have gone up in price to the point that it’s hard to find a decent drivable one under $4,000, you can get a very nice daily driver MG Midget, rubber bumper MGB, Triumph Spitfire, or TR-7 in that price range.

    In fact, a TR-7 convertible (or a TR-8, for that matter) is probably one of the best value propositions out there in older British cars – these days the reliability problems have been sorted, the convertibles are all late production so they have the five-speed transmission, and if you can find one with an engine in decent shape, they can be surprisingly comfortable and reliable cars. There is a reason that Triumph sold more TR-7s than any other TR. It was a sound design let down by poor execution.

    It seems that folks who want to drive a convertible sports car, like me, have moved on to Miatas, and that is keeping the price of Midgets, TR-7s and Spitfires down. I’ll be selling my Spitfire soon, for example, since my Miata does what it does and is a better daily driver. I still want something to wrench on, though, so that’s why I have Rover P-5 project car to keep me busy.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Turbo 3dr Saab 900 or 9-3. Extra points for an Aero or Viggen score.
    Geo Storm GSi / Isuzu Impulse XS, kick Craigslist hard and you may find a good one for peanuts. You won’t regret it.
    Toyota Celica Altrac.
    3rd Gen F-Body. I lean more toward a Firebird / T/A or a Formula. Don’t be scared and grow that mullet.
    C4 Corvette
    Above mentioned Miata
    Maybe a 3V 4.6 Mustang. Or a Terminator one.
    Pontiac GTO, the Strayan one.
    V6 Ford Probe.

    Some of the options I’d consider for myself. For $4K, and stretching a bit, I could get a VT SS, maybe even LS1.

    • 0 avatar

      I would totally rock a Storm GSI but haven’t seen one for years and years. I’m little dubious about the F bodies, I’m not anti mullet, I just think there might be other cars around I would enjoy more.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        Oh Thomas, as I said, if you can get a good one go for it. The GSi is the one with the DOHC engine.

        The 1.8 (92+) has more torque, but the 1.6 (-91) can rev all the way up to 7800 RPM. I strongly recommend revving that little bugger all the way up there. Plenty of smiles.

        You must remember the Geminis and PA Neros from Japan…

    • 0 avatar
      Justice_Gustine

      +1 on the Firebird. I drove a ’95 V6 5 speed for a couple years before giving it to one of the offspring. T-tops, no decals, Corvette rims. It was a fun ride, I’ll always remember it for the return to RWD feel it gave me.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      Good choices, but I would NOT recommend a Probe unless you have an emotional attachment to it, since parts availability is said to be poor. I have heard horror stories of Probes getting scrapped because the owner couldn’t find a fuel filter neck. At least with a Mustang, F-Body, Miata, etc. you have a huge selection of aftermarket parts.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Are there early S-197 4.6 cars for 4k or less in good shape? Every time I look around they go for well north of the 4k budget target.

      Not a bad choice at all if its true, decent power and a good chassis with plenty of stuff to make it handle better. The only real issue with the early 3v 4.6 is the two piece plug issue which can be frustrating if the plug separates and falls into the cylinder.

      The method of removal is fairly tedious since it involves slightly loosening the plugs and letting a penetrating oil/solvent get past the threads and soak a bit to hopefully loosen things up then slowly extract them.

  • avatar
    kojoteblau

    Absolutely loved my first Gen DSM Plymouth Laser. Piece of crap, smoked, door handles broke off… But loved driving it. Never owned the second Gen, but plenty of drive time with an eagle talon with the turbo. Even more fun, thought it was hard to see around the ass of it.

  • avatar
    raincoaster

    The first car that I actually bought with my own money was an 88 Mazda MX6 GT. Good handling, and also had select-able settings for suspension. You could hear and feel the turbo kick in, was always fun to drive.
    Maybe a Lexus SC400?

  • avatar
    carslut

    +1 for the Miata

    How about an E30?

  • avatar
    7402

    The Mazda Miata and Fox-body Mustang are, as evidenced above, the obvious choices. But . . .

    BMW E30, E34, and even E39 can be found under $4k with manual transmissions–they will need some love at that price, but certainly possible.

  • avatar
    davew833

    I’ve had 2nd gen (’83-’87) and 3rd gen (’88-’91) Preludes and I’d suggest a 2nd gen Si over a 3rd gen. Many of the ’90 and ’91 Preludes have the B21A1 engine which is sort of a dog as far as Honda engines go and has little aftermarket support. Most burn oil after 100k miles. The A/C systems on the 2nd gen AND 3rd gen Preludes are enough to make you want to tear your hair out. It’s getting pretty hard to find one that isn’t rusted out, too, especially around the rear wheel wells. Interestingly, I’ve purchased two ’89 Accords in the past month with practically no rust, but the Preludes of the same era are much more rust-prone.

    I doubt you will find a “daily driver” 190e 2.3-16 for under $4k.

  • avatar
    sproc

    Maybe a little hard to find one that hasn’t been riced to death, but I’d be looking for an 02-04 Acura RSX Type-S. Fun to drive, great hatch utility for its size, 6MT only, and easy to wrench on most anything yourself.

    Worth a slight budget stretch because you’re gonna sell it for pretty much what you pay for it.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    With $4000, you put yourself square in the market for a very nice Z31 300zx turbo, 1st & 2nd gen Rx7′s, Miata, and 240sx.

    If you can make some concessions, you can find something more fun but really stupid, like an ex-drift car 240sx, V8-swapped Rx7, or ragged-out turbo 90′s DSM.

  • avatar
    The Heisenberg Cartel

    An e36 or one of the larger engined Mercedes 190e models!

  • avatar
    Schultz

    I see a lot of the same suggestions for the me-too-club…Miata, Honda, Acura. While the Miata is definitly fun out of the box, I don’t see a project here. Your request has Datsun 280ZX written all over it.

    • 0 avatar

      Those are coming up with some surprising regularity in my searches and I like what I see…

      • 0 avatar
        davidziff

        Maybe I’m getting old and fussy but does safety have any place in deciding what car you drive. I assume you have a family and wonder why you wouldn’t be considering the risks involved in driving a $4000 car.I know that many folks have zero concern about state of the art safety technology but I have to admit that I just don’t understand that frame of mind when you have people depending on you. Please enlighten me.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s a legitimate question. I already have two modern, solid daily drivers that will be our every day cars. What I want is something zippy (and by that I mean more “fun” than super powerful) that I can take back and forth to work once in a while. Work will probably be less than 8 miles away and not have any freeways or speeds higher than about 45 mph. On snowy or icy days, I can take the four wheel drive. That means the risk, as I see it, is fairly limited.

          Beyond that, the cars I am talking about are all fairly modern and have pretty good designs as they relate to safety. These are not cars out of the ’50s and ’60s when safety technology and crash testing was in its infancy. They may not be modern, but they should be able to take a modest hit. The way I see it, a lot of what happens in an accident is pure chance – an inch one way or another can defeat even the most modern cars. Nothing on the road is ever going to be 100% safe, but I’m going to mitigate the danger as much as I can.

        • 0 avatar
          Schultz

          I’ll second that sentiment but…I had a new-ish car with airbags, ABS, skid control, etc., until I was rear-ended thereby totaling said “state of the art safety technology.” I’m a huge fan of safty tech but there are many chinks in the armor. Do you feel safe in a five star Civic? Five stars means that if you get in one of two types of accidents with another compact car like a Civic that it would be reasonable to predict that you would, in the very least, not be dead. Now crash your “safe, five star” Civic into a Ford Excursion and there won’t be anything left of you to investigate. Would you feel safe in a 2014 convertable? Please. Safe equals staying in bed. This fellow doesn’t want a motorcycle!

          • 0 avatar
            Drewlssix

            Actually your car being totaled has nothing to do with it being safe or not. Or more accurately your car being totaled is part of what makes it safer than an old barge. In a crash the car is sacrificial. If they made a given car tougher the result will tend to be more energy transferred to your body resulting in more injury. That said yes modern safety ratings are about as meaningful as modern mpg ratings. They may offer usefull data but they are made up of few data points and may not reflect your results.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        I have a supercharger kit left over from my 90 Miata that would be an easy project. It will make it less slow but the sound alone made it all worthwhile.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I have a Golden Rule of sorts with used sports cars, NO TUNERS, and NO YOUNGER OWNERS, otherwise I’d suggest a turbo Volvo with a redblock, not sporty to look at but pretty sporty to drive, and you’ll have some cash left to fix any goofy business on it.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    Kansas, that means domestic. Allow me to blow your mind:

    Contour SVT.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Oh, I like the Contour SVT idea.

      Or, if you’re looking for a mechanical challenge – show everyone you’re not afraid to keep a Cadillac Catera running.

      For me, I think a Toyota MR2 would be on my wish list. But then I already have a Miata.

      • 0 avatar
        Drewlssix

        Almost scored a free first version catty at the same time there was a wrecked 04 GTO on Craig’s list for $900. The motor and harness were gone but I figured after a total suspension swap along with some interior parts I knew where to source a 6 liter from for a few hundred. Think a 300hp catty with yellow/grey leather and a six speed would entertain?

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    ’87 or ’88 Celica fastback, Supra or MR2. All are great to look at, but bonus points for manual trans, turbo or SC. I did drive all of them, but settled on the MR2.

  • avatar
    tedward

    You just perfectly described an E30 or 36 3 series or an E39 5-series. 4k leaves you well within budget for something that will run well but with higher miles. If you don’t want to be “that guy” then how about a VW sciroco or corrado. The Corrado in particular might be tougher to find decently owned actually.

    A lot of the interesting stuff that I could name to compete fails the reasonable cost criteria.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    if, and that’s a big IF, you can find one…Dodge spirit r/t turbo. I’m sure you know all about it, but allpar goes into why it’s the one for you.

    http://www.allpar.com/model/spiritrt.html

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      I second this. Sporty sedan with some decent power. They do ride a bit stiff though. Other than the belt issues it is a pretty stout motor, the block especially. Fairly easy to work on as well.

  • avatar
    brianyates

    Actually Nate I owned two of them, never had any problem other than having to replace the condenser twice,good old Lucas products.Not sure where you’re at re. the glove box though.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    ’90ish BMW 325i E 30s..or anything small,must have stick and RWD. A Ford Ranger 2wd. Either turbo the 4 banger, or drop in an Explorer V8. Lower it. The 325i is very common and mechanically, they aren’t too bad to wrench on. The easy to wrench on doesnt apply much past 93.

  • avatar
    ajla

    SHO SHO SHO SHO SHO SHO SHO SHO

    SHO

    SHO

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      I want the motor as a coffee table. As for a car, he’ll love it until he has to change the spark plugs. I assume you are talking first gen as they are the only ones worth a damn.

  • avatar
    kuponoodles

    philosoraptor asks: If Japanese cars that are modified are ricer, are modded American cars, burgers? German cars krauters? Anyways, Tom, get something weird that no one wants.. Contour SVT, Mazdaspeed Protege, subaru forrester xt, Jetta VR6, Porsche 944, V70r

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I saw an Isuzu Impulse for sale down at the we finance E1 and up joint near Fort Knox the other day. What about a CRX? I saw an unmolested one not too long ago in your price range though it was the HF or whatever model was set up for gas mileage.

    You know what might work for you…an 87-88 Thunderbird Turbo with a stick. 2 doors, comfortable, sporty, and a good return on your project/mod dollars as well as being easy to wrench on.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I’d forgot about the Turbobird Chickencoupe. And I owned one. Basically an SVO, except heavier and more comfortable. Still a Fox, but offered an automatic (don’t) and came with ABS (oh well). But still can take the same engine mods and up to 20 psi boost (pushing it) on premium.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Given your budget and desire for modest maintenance needs, you’re going to end up choosing from whatever is actually available. Just plow through Craigslist once a week or so, check out whatever catches your eye, and if you like driving it, then buy it.

  • avatar
    The Dark One

    I vote for a soft top 90′s Geo Tracker/Suzuki Sidekick. Tough little car that really only needs new plugs and wires every 30k miles or so. I had a Jeep Wrangler, and it was nowhere near as fun as a daily driver as the Tracker/Sidekick twins are. Easy to park, zip into tight places both on and off road, plenty of room to haul bulky items with the back seat folded away. (or top down for taller boxes) And with a 5 speed it feels like you’re going faster than you really are.

    • 0 avatar

      I used to rent the little Trackers when our ship would pull into Honolulu. They were nice little rigs for running around town with the top off.

      One other vehicle I see poppingup on the KC Craigslist is the old Nissan “Hardbody” pickups. If I could find a 4 wheel drive in good shape, I might jump on one of those too. It would be fun to drive, buzzy and light and still haul my stuff to the dump.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Sporty is great– too bad you’re moving 200 miles away from the nearest curve.

    That’s a slight exaggeration. Eastern Kansas has a rolling topography that approaches scenic, but most corners are of the right-angle variety. Another reason most of your new neighbors will have long ago thrown in the towel and bought a pickup.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Lots of great choices. Let me throw in an oddball – the 3000GT/Stealth. A plastic pig for sure, but it definitely has personality.

  • avatar
    KennethofGA

    Ok I’ll “me too” the fwd Cougar, Mark VIII, Escort ZX2 (that was a fun little car), fox body Stang, and throw in an oddball the late sixties Corvair. Not a “sporty” car but a very interesting little car that feels faster than it is and doesn’t look like a bath tub.

  • avatar
    22_RE_Speedwagon

    Renault. Fuego. Turbo.

    • 0 avatar
      luvmyv8

      If you can find one!

      I have never, even seen one in person.

      • 0 avatar
        cognoscenti

        My best friend drove one in high school. It had the (now humorous in retrospect) huge “Turbo” decal down the rocker – looked identical to this: smog-era.com/images/renault%20fuego%201982.jpg. We used to drive around endlessly in that thing.

        I do NOT recommend that car, or any Renault of that era. Totally unreliable, and I know from personal experience!

      • 0 avatar
        22_RE_Speedwagon

        7 months too late!

        http://bringatrailer.com/2013/06/28/1984-renault-fuego-turbo/

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    Crown Victoria. Keeping one of these in line around a curve while trying to sit up straight on the bench seat is more fun than simply driving a sports car around a curve.

  • avatar
    bud777

    I think the 89-91 Preludes are an excellent choice, but also consider the 300ZX. There are several for sale in Portland for under $4K.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I am going to second/third/fourth the Ford Probe GT–or especially the Mazda MX-6 (the second gen car). I had a 1995 MX-6 LS (six-cylinder) and it was easily the best car I ever owned. Just stay away from the automatics (and prepare to buy a new A/C compressor if that’s important to you).

  • avatar
    Grumpy

    How about a Fiero? $4,000 will likely buy you the nicest one in kansas, parts are cheap and available and you will fit–if just barely. They all handle badly, but the 88′s were best, with the little V6 and 5 speed. Nice throaty exhaust sound, strongarm steering with decent brakes. Lots of good on line help with just about any issue, and they are a putterer’s dream with lots of easy fixes to make them better. Should never be driven in snow or even heavy rain. Surprisingly robust in a crash due to their structure. Not fast, but feel fast. Popular to swap in a GM supercharged 3.8 or even aluminum V8′s, although most good swaps are likely over your budget.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    ’88 Nissan 200SX SE-V6 – if you can find one.

    • 0 avatar

      You are preaching to the choir my friend. I’ve been running nationwide Craigslist searchs for them via http://www.autotempest.com for the last couple of weeks just to test my resolve.

      Even though the V6 is probably better in every way, the 4 cylinder Turbo has a special place in my heart as the most soulful little car I’ve ever owned.

  • avatar
    zaxxon25

    Something not mentioned above is the Chrysler Sebring Coupe, 01-04 would put you in the $3-$4K range. As American as the heartland … built at the Mistu plant in Normal, IL. Was available with a 5-speed, I had an ’03 for 110K and it was the most bulletproof vehicle I’ve ever owned (brakes, tires, fluids, go!). Plus Chrysler heritage makes it less likely it’s been beaten or riced. While not the sportiest vehicle on the list with the V6 it had some get-up to it and was a competent handler and cruiser.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Man I hated those along with anything mitsu, it seemed like the lugs and studs were designed to self destruct just be looking them. Wheels had to be perfectly aligned, studs and lugs debris free and still being run up by hand could cause a lug to seize.

      I had a service manager bitch me out about over tightening a set on a wheel. I should have taken his head off with my torque wrench.

      Honda, now there is a company that knows how to do lugs and studs.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    Is it still possible to find a late 80′s Daytona Turbo? I had a Shadow Turbo just like yours, Thomas – but I always wanted the Daytona. imganuncios.mitula.net/1989_dodge_daytona_shelby_z_in_hillsboro_or_99409188538372917.jpg

    • 0 avatar

      Yes. All things considered they are pretty easy to find if I do a nationwide search. The Shadows, however, seem to be much harder to find.

      The thing is, I think that the Turbo Dodges, especially the Shelby Chargers and the Daytonas, hit the bottom of the market a while ago and are already going back up in price. The photo I posted in the article is actually a local Craigslist ad for a car that needs the engine put back into it. If I had a place for it now, it would already be in my garage.

  • avatar
    Lythandra

    I daily a 2003 VW GTI 1.8T. Its been a good car and its definitely fun. Mine has 130k miles and still pulls great and gets 23 city (while acting a bit stupid), 30 interstate.

    The VW community is very large on the web and for anything that can go wrong there are great youtube videos on how to fix it.

    Fine one that is lightly modded and make sure it has been chipped. You can find ones my cars age for $4k nowadays.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Some people here have some pie in the sky ideas for what $4k will get you. You won’t get a 90s 300ZX, that’s for sure.

    Has no one suggested that quirky coupe everyone forgets, the SVX? It’s interesting enough, has AWD, is Japanese, and practical-y. I’m sure it’s no less fun to drive than some Contour SVO or an SHO Taurus. And it’s cooler than a FWD Cougar >.< (really?!) And you can wrench on it. And COOL WINDOWS.

    • 0 avatar

      Does 4k get a first gen Audi TT? Or any BMW Z? Having not grown up with these special Japanese edition they just look weird or plain ugly to me. ANd though I don’t worry what others think, a 40+ yr old guy getting out of something Euro or American looks “better”(don’t know if that’s the right word)than getting into or out of a Paseo or something.

      If it had to be Japanese, I’d go with something from Mazda. Did you guys get the MX3? Or the Mitsubishi that became an Eagle (I’m guessing). Those were always considered fun to drive. Is some sort of Evo possible with 4k?

      BTW, what car is that in the first pic? Terrible.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        The first pic is a late 90s Toyota Celica. They are well-regarded here in the US, even though they’re FWD.

        4k will not get you a TT or a Z unfortunately.

        We had the MX3, they’re hard to find and usually pretty wrecked. We had the Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon, but those are TERRIBLE. Unreliable and beat up at this stage (well, always unreliable).

        You won’t find an Evo either that isn’t a complete basket case for $4k. The Evo isn’t easy to find either, more just the regular Lancers that kids with no money drive (and add bolt-on plastic parts), when they wanna look like they have an Evo.

        • 0 avatar

          Thanks for the info! I seem to remember now a Top Gear were they put one (or was it a Supra?) againt an Escort Cosworth. Even JC had nice things to say about them, so that says something (what exactly I don’t know ;)).

          I mentioned the Eclipse (thank again for you aid to my faltering memory!) because they at least “look” more “dignified” than some of the other Japanese.

          Shame about Evo, TT and Z. Guess Miata it is then.

          Or, like some other commenter said above, the Alfa Spyder!

          • 0 avatar
            epsilonkore

            Crazy thing is, the U.S. got the watered down 94-99 Celica shown above, while the Celica GT-Four version was available to the rest of the world, complete with AWD and a powerful turbo that made it one of the best Celicas of all time. In the states we had the Supra and Toyota felt the GT-Four would hurt its sales. The Corolla engined ST variant the U.S. got ended up hurting Celica instead. Believe me, I owned one…reliable and “peppy”, but never fast or razor accurate like the Integra GSR/TypeR/Prelude Si of its time, or the final 7th generation Celica GT-S was in 2000 after the last Supra was shipped to the States. Too bad we cant recommend a GT-Four for Thomas stateside, so I am going to go with suggesting an Integra GSR/TypeR or the frumpier but still fun RSX Type S.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        I grew up with them and I agree with everything you said.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      I see quite a few 90s 300ZX’s in my area for that price. Even a ’93 convertible for $3,500. 170,000 miles and the interior needs some work, but if you’re looking for a project…

  • avatar
    abqhudson

    1989 BMW 325i. Lots of fun.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Nobody has mentioned the M30 either, I don’t think. Small, interesting, tossable, coupe or convertible, small engine, RWD, very Japanese.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Oh and RELIABLE engine from the 300ZX also.

      And look.

      http://www.cars.com/go/search/detail.jsp?tracktype=usedcc&csDlId=&csDgId=&listingId=114049003&listingRecNum=4&criteria=feedSegId%3D28705%26rpp%3D50%26isDealerGrouping%3Dfalse%26sf2Nm%3Dmiles%26sf1Nm%3Dprice%26sf2Dir%3DASC%26stkTypId%3D28881%26PMmt%3D1-1-0%26rn%3D0%26zc%3D47025%26rd%3D100000%26crSrtFlds%3DstkTypId-feedSegId-mkId-mdId%26mdId%3D21416%26stkTyp%3DU%26mkId%3D20019%26sf1Dir%3DDESC&aff=national&listType=1

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      I don’t know about small or tossable, but yeah it’s basically an ’80s Z in a different body shell.

  • avatar
    gessvt

    1994-95 Saab 9000 Aero
    1990-93 Saab 900 SPG
    1984-85 Celica GT-S
    Suzuki Swift GTi
    GLH (I know, thanks Capt. Obvious)
    Dodge Colt Turbo
    1994-96 Probe GT/MX-6

  • avatar
    mhickman73

    Granted, I’m a Saab guy…

    A 1993-1997 Saab 9000 aero is an unbelievable car. 225hp, 258 ft lb torque, 0-60 6.9 sec, 30mgpg hwy. In 1993! Just make sure it doesn’t have TCS issues. One at this price will have miles. Best bang for your buck is probably a 9-5 aero. Their values have sunk to nothing and are great cars…and reliable if you check a few things.

    I saw one other post, but Ford Contour SVT. I remember Peter Egan from R&T had one and raved over it.

    Of course if a Starion/Conquest showed up in decent condition for $4k, I’d be all over it.

    • 0 avatar
      gessvt

      Must be on the same wave length. I also owned a Contour SVT, and it was to this day my favorite car, but I look for them periodically and they are mostly on their 3rd or 4th owner, usually beat to death. If anything, look for the 1998. Ford’s decontenting/cheaper supplier search went into full effect in 1999. Material quality suffered. The 1998 wheels were also costlier and nicer than the 1999 up versions. It is worth mentioning the Focus SVT 17″ wheels bolt right up and look pretty spiffy on a CSVT.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Porsche 924. Preferably the 2.5.

    Yes, yes, I know. Porsche owner here (old 911), but I know a little about the problem-areas that come with the front-engined Porker. Check for rust, the electronics, clutch, etc. You know the drill.

    A quick check online turned up a dozen 924s for sale within 100 miles of my zip in the $4-$5k range. A little negotiation and you’re right where you want to be price-wise.

    Stock from, still a very sporty, nice handling car. With some after-market parts and performance tires, a decent track day car.

  • avatar
    pb35

    Just using this as an example, not suggesting you buy it but I just saw an ’89 Daytona CS on Minneapolis Craigslist (via jalop) with 18k mi. and a 5-spd for $9950. It looks pretty clean and made me think of you as not many people share my affinity for Mopars of this vintage.

    My dad was a Chrysler salesman in the 80s and we had our share of Lasers, Charger/Turismo 2.2s, Mitsu Challengers and Conquests.

    Edit: I just realized that $9950 is more than $4k. I even ran it through my head first. Damn new math.

    • 0 avatar

      For the a little less money there was a one-owner 87 Shelby Charger in the KC Craiglsist with obscenely low mileage not too long ago. Someone snapped it right up. My problem with cars like that is that I will end up as a curorator of a museum piece and never actually drive it for fear of damaging it. I’ve only got a year to play around so I actually want something I’ll use.

  • avatar
    ChiefPontiaxe

    You should do what I did and get a late 80′s Chrysler Conquest/Mitsubishi Starion. 80′s Japanese goodness coupled with Turbo, RWD and IRS = a great recipe for fun. The “TURBO” emblazoned automatic seat belts are worth it alone.
    The support forum http://www.starquestclub.com is great, and most members seem to have a parts car, so there isn’t a shortage of parts. You can find nice ones all day long for under $4000.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    First gen Lexus IS300. 2JZ engine, lots of aftermarket support, fanboy friends to make. will always be worth a couple grand resale even beat to hell.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    If you decide on a Miata, it might be worth a phone call or e-mail to Motorsport Ranch in Cresson, Texas 76035. A bit far of field for you, but a few weeks ago there were about a dozen Miatas listed for sale in the Cresson zip code, and Cresson is a tiny place. Also, not much rust here in north Texas.

  • avatar
    suspekt

    - 4th Gen Prelude SR-V (Si in USA)
    –> great car. fantastic ergonomics

    - 4th gen Camaro Z28 6 speed manual

    - 1990-1993 Mustang LX Notchback

    - 1990-1992 Nissan 240SX

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    ’71 Plymouth Duster with a 340 4bbl and 4-speed with a Hurst shifter. A true, poor man’s muscle car. You’ll then experience what your grandfather wanted, that your grandmother didn’t let him buy.

  • avatar
    aerojammin

    I started to think about what I would do if I was in your situation with a similar budget. While doing that, I realized that resale may be particularly important as you may want to be able to sell this car quickly when the time comes to make your trip abroad. Consequently, I would stay away from some of the more “interesting” 80s cars unless you are sure you will be able to unload it quickly (while retaining some value). My top 3 would be

    1: 2nd Gen MR2 – This may be tough to find in your budget, but they are out there and I’ve always wanted one. Most likely your budget would yield a ’91-93 NA model like this http://www.autotrader.com/cars-for-sale/vehicledetails.xhtml?zip=66048&endYear=2015&modelCode1=MR2&sortBy=distanceASC&showcaseOwnerId=72816&startYear=1991&makeCode1=TOYOTA&searchRadius=0&maxPrice=5000&mmt=%5BTOYOTA%5BMR2%5B%5D%5D%5B%5D%5D&listingId=358562541&Log=0

    2: E36 BMW 318ti – Another 90s dream car of mine. This example may not be ideal (body issues), but regular (not M-line/M-tech or whatever) 318ti’s should be in range. Lots of modification potential (by using normal 3 series parts and these cars have a pretty good following. http://www.autotrader.com/cars-for-sale/vehicledetails.xhtml?zip=66048&endYear=2015&modelCode1=318TI&showcaseOwnerId=67950293&startYear=1981&makeCode1=BMW&searchRadius=500&showcaseListingId=0&mmt=%5BBMW%5B318TI%5B%5D%5D%5B%5D%5D&listingId=356265793&Log=0

    3: Omni GLH – Forget the budget! Just like HGTV here is the obligatory out of budget pick. Maybe it’ll still be around in Summer or one like it that’ll be a bit cheaper.

    http://atlanta.craigslist.org/nat/cto/4253336797.html

    Happy Hunting

    • 0 avatar

      Those are some very toughtful choices – thanks. I’m not opposed to going a little over budget, but one thing I don’t want is something so nice that I would never really drive it. $6K is in the ball park if the car doesn’t need anything, so the HGTV option isn’t really a bad one. The one thing about the GLHS is that it is a pretty well regarded little car that will probably go up in price.

      The Mr2 is right there, like the GLHS it has its fans and finding a buyer probably won’t be an issue. I’d be selling it in the spring so there will be people around with tax returns in their pockets and summer coming on. I would have a hard time, however, with the BMW. I’m not sure I’m a BMW kind of guy.

      Most of the cars I would consider are either at the bottom of the market are right there close to it. The trick, I think, will be getting something clean and then keeping it that way.

  • avatar
    Idemmu

    I would search for an SVT contour, a Saab 9-5 aero, a Saab 9000 Aero, First Gen Honda Prelude (or any honda Prelude), Dodge Neon SRT4, Mitsubishi 3000gt, Heck, I’d even look for a nissan maxima with a stick shift. the stick transforms that car into a beast. In fact, you will probably get the stick maxima the cheapest off this list. i think they started in 1996 with the stick shift.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    BMW e30 325es – great long-legged road cruiser (important in Kansas), very nice handling, excellent MPG, useful backseat and trunk, good parts support and easy to work on. Older mainstream European brands tend to have the best parts support vs. Japanese and Americans with a few exceptions such as Corvettes and Mustangs. Japanese cars of the 90s and earlier also tend to have the structural integrity of a wet cardboard box even if they aren’t rusted, since they were never very strong to begin with, so for family safety I would avoid.

  • avatar
    daiheadjai

    You should be able to find a 6-speed 7th gen Celica GT-S (i.e. the one after the mini-Supra in your picture).
    If possible, find a 2000-2001 model (or get a later model and swap the ECU), as those earlier ones redlined at 7800rpm, but were known to hit the rev-limiter at 8100rpm or so.
    The engine (2zz-ge) is tuned by Yamaha, so expect motorcycle-like sounds once you pass the 6000rpm threshold to engage lift (VTEC-yota).

    They are still relatively plentiful, cheap to run and own, decently equipped, and were considered better than the excellent Acura Integra GS-R, and not too far off from the chop-shop-bait Integra Type R.

    Light-weight, better looks than the contemporary RSX, and a great driver (along with practicality from the hatch and split folding rear seats).

    Or, go RSX-S, for a more premium, grown-up flavour of what you would get from the Celica.

  • avatar
    gmrn

    From personal experience, I would avoid the Subbie SVX. Interesting? Yes. And a really nice flat-6 sound. But between fried transmissions, warped rotors, and wheel bearings, it’s just not worth it.

    Also from personal experience, if you can find one that isn’t too rusty: Corolla FX-16 GTS. Non-GTS if you want a sleeper. Skip the automatic as it saps to much of the available power. @4700 on the tach when the long-runner butterflies opened on the intake, Mr. Hyde arrived. Decent brakes, good handling, and some ~very~ comfy seats.

  • avatar
    SeriousInternetBusiness

    Not yet suggested, and more modern than most mentioned above:

    2003 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

    -6 Speed Manual
    -175HP/180TQ
    -2600lbs
    -Limited Slip Diff

    Owned it, beat it, loved it.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    I think I found the perfect car for you:

    http://www.flemingsultimategarage.com/1985-pontiac-fiero-se-coupe-c-2048.htm

    It looks perfect and has a 3.8 V6 in it with a 5sp manual.

  • avatar
    lOmnivore Sobriquet

    Golf Gti anyone ?
    I suppose that for the price you can find a fairly recent one.
    (euh, “Rabbit Gti” ??)

    I for one would rush for : Citroën SM.
    Just googled “..usa for sale” and found at least one available for 18000$, somewhere on your continent…

    On these American export type, and unless it’s one of the last models simply refrain from using the AC, as it knocks the engine hard when it plugs in. That’s all.

    You’ll get massive satisfaction from a truely 2-doors ‘sportsman’ car, a wonderfull 5-gear box plugged to a Maserati V6, originally a V8 truncated for improved solidity, a precision power-steering system that is still a world leader, most excellent road behaviour at any speed and under any kind of driving, zero default easthetics all round, and good taste both inside and out, astonishing performances when driving it hard, an astonishing limousine ride when driving it soft : a fast cruiser by design.
    Also very light to handle in the tiniest streets, and extremely safe dynamically : you could blow a tyre at high speed and barely notice it, save for the sound. In fact you could even drive on three wheels (!!), and rough roads or even fields are not a problem – at all -, just select any of the 4 hight-positions of your choice and keep on driving.

    The pleasure to drive a SM is legendary.

    A car you and familly will remember fondly. In short : nerve, speed, glamour and comfort.

    Its price is going up.

    And if you can get the original headlights ramp in place of the US 70′s-law special one, then you’re a rich man.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s funny, I also googled Citroen last night and found the one you are talking about. I have always admired the SM and would love to know what they are like to drive, but unless I end up in France, I doubt I will ever get the chance.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    How about a near flawless 1995 Probe GT 5 speed, 71K, spent its life in a heated garage and never saw salt? A vette will be taking its place and it needs a loving home….and in Levenworth KS, the discreet Melissa Etheridge window sticker will be a bonus!

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    It sounds like you are interested in half the cars I have ever owned.

    A 1984 Chrysler Laser turbo with a 4-speed was the second car I purchased, and the only car I ever bought new. It was fine for its time, but I am not sure that 142 horsepower would keep you entertained now a days, and it was not ultra-reliable. I probably sold it for about $2500 in 1991 when I got my….

    1989 Toyota Supra [Mk III] turbo, with removable roof panel and manual trans. I loved this car, which felt quite fast, though perhaps not by current standards, and was ultra reliable. It was fun to take the roof panel off, and gaze at the stars at night [during the day, the sun just got in my eyes, so I had to wear a cap] I would recommend this car for you. I sold mine for about $4000 back in 2001 when I got my….

    2000 Audi TT Quattro with a five speed. Rock solid, and good in all weather, which the Supra was not. I sold that for about $6500 in 2011 when I got my current 2008 A5, so maybe you can get one close to your budget currently. After driving the TT for a few weeks, I drove the Supra one last time before I sold it, and it felt like a truck by comparison, so everything is relative.

    Good luck in your search.

  • avatar
    oifish

    I know Indianapolis is a long distance away but here is a decent looking, non-riced out, 98 Prelude for sale: http://indianapolis.craigslist.org/cto/4300090766.html


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