By on February 3, 2012


Dan writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve,

I’m a longtime TTAC reader and I was hoping you guys could give me a bit of advice about an upcoming car purchase. I recently graduated college, and with no debt to pay off and a fairly good income I’m looking to get myself a second car. My current car is a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis in incredible shape with around 130k miles on it, It currently has some minor powertrain and suspension mods as well. I have no plan on getting rid of this car, as it has quite a bit of useful life left in it and is extremely practical. I’d like to keep it as a winter car/possible project car, and the residual value of it (~3kish) is low enough that it doesn’t make sense to trade in. However, having wanted a sports car since I started driving, I’d like to go ahead and get one now that I’m in a position to do so.

My (possibly strange) requirements are as follows:
1. It must be fun and engaging to drive
2. It must be blue
3. It should be a convertible, preferably a 2 seater (I’m open to a fixed roof car as well, but would prefer a convertible)
4. Must be either a manual transmission or a dual clutch
5. I would prefer that it be a rear wheel drive vehicle
6. Fuel economy is a non-issue so long as it gets above 20 mpg highway
7. I don’t mind some maintainance, but I would like something thats fairly reliable and not TOO expensive to maintain (I don’t expect panther-like reliability but, for example, $1500 spark plug changes on a Boxster would be a bit much)

I can spend a max of $30-32k on it, but ideally I’d like to keep it ~$25k. I’ve looked at a new Miata, Mustang GT (Convertible is rather pricey), and the Genesis coupe (it’s not a convertible but I liked the looks and interior enough that I’d consider it). I’ve also given some thought to the following (newer, low mileage) used cars: Honda S2000 , Mazda Miata, Porsche boxster(mentioned above), BMW Z4, and a co-worker of mine also mentioned that I might consider a C5 corvette as well. I think they’re all great cars, and each has its own strong/weak points. The S2000 and the Miata are probably the most serious contenders, but I’m trying to keep my eyes open. I’m torn as to what I should get, and I’m also wondering if there’s any cars that I missed that are worth looking at.

Please let me know what you guys think, I’d love to hear back from you on this.

Sajeev answers:

Sir, I take offense to the notion that your Mercury Grand Marquis isn’t able to satisfy your latent sports car needs. You, my good man, need a proper tongue-lashing for such blasphemy.  Your disrespect of Panther Love, this website and the esteemed B&B will not go unpunished, that I promise you.

Of course I’m just kidding, but that’s really not the point.

There are only two cars that are ideal for your situation: a C5 Corvette droptop with non-stock tires (as run flat rubber is the work of the devil) or a Miata.  One of these covers the high performance spectrum unbelievably well (LS1-FTW) and the other is the stuff of “momentum car” legend. The question you must ask yourself: do you treat the gas pedal like a conventional light switch or a twisty-knob rheostat? Because each car demands a unique outlook on life.  You decide which one is right for you.

And finally, how dare you consider a droptop two seater when all you need is a $1000 Webasto moonroof retrofit on your MGM to solve this dilemma?

Steve answers:

I am lucky enough to have driven every ‘newer’ car mentioned on your list. The personalities certainly run the gamut and to be blunt, you won’t know until you drive them. Hey, worse problems can be had in this world.

My biased advice? None of them will offer even half the bang for the buck of a 1st gen Miata.

For less than $5000 you can get an exceptional sports car that can be customized and accessorized to utterly insane degrees. You name the sports car conversion you desire and chances are it’s already been done with a NA Miata.

Even in stock form these vehicles are absolute blasts to drive around town. I now enjoy a 95 model to such satisfying ends, that I haven’t even bothered putting an aftermarket stereo system in the thing. All it has is a gaping hole in the middle of the dash. But I don’t care. The tailpipe, pedals and steering wheel give me all the tuning I need.

So why blow $30k when a $5k does a better job of putting an ear to ear grin on your face?

Not only do the NA Miatas offer robustness, simplicity, and satisfy all of your remaining criteria. But they also have a lot of older owners who take good care of their vehicles and maintain them to a T.

Find a good one. Buy it. Keep it and drive the Panther when a road trip beckons. Good luck!

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to [email protected] , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
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60 Comments on “New or Used: What Offset Panther Love?...”

  • avatar

    This is simple.

    Set a hard budget. Drive everything you’re interested in that is under that budget. Buy whichever one you like the most. Done.

    In your situation I’d probably go for a Miata, but there is no right answer here – it will depend on your own preferences and roads. You may well find that a NA or NB gives you all the roadster fun you seek for well under your anticipated cost.

    I recommend you ignore the folks who will be turning up shortly to advise you to drive your Marquis for the next 20 years, live in a cardboard box, and bury all your money in a coffee can in the backyard. We get a lot of people who mistake “what car should I buy” questions for “please tell me how to arrange the minutiae of my finances” questions.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    RX-8, you can find a CPO unit with a manual trans for your budget. Rev the heck out of it and keep the engine on the boil and you’ll do just fine. Plus you’ll get a 100,000 mile warranty on the rotary and you’ll be able to carry 4 reasonably (not across country but you get my drift.) Someday you can say you’ve owned more than just piston driven autos too. (If fuel economy wasn’t a concern I’d be seriously looking at one.)

  • avatar

    C5 Corvette are under $20K for hardtop coupe but it’s 12 year old car. Solstice/Sky convertible for $10K on eBay and 5-6 year old car. Both examples will see 30+ mpgs on the highway and with durable drivetrains be inexpensive to repair down the road.

  • avatar

    Subaru BRZ or Scion FR-S (Or Toyota [GT]86 if you’re in not-america). 2650~2750lbs (depending on trim), 6MT, LSD standard, great seats, RWD, can seat 4 in a pinch, generally miata sized (much smaller than a Genesis coupe, almost identical to the S2000). It is a very attractive car with apparently faultless handling (if the 2 dozen reviews I’ve read on it are to be believed… I’m not joking. Literally everyone that has driven this car loved it.) Figure $23k~$27k new, depending on trim, of course.

    I was pretty set on a Miata or S2000, but the noisy roof-up conditions meant it would be very unpleasant any time the speeds went over 65mph for a decent amount of time. I’m sure that the drop top would be brilliant on summer days, but I’d be hard pressed to spend $25k on a car I’m only going to want to drive on nice days.

    • 0 avatar

      If he keeps his Panther, noise isolation at highway speeds and ability to seat four in a pinch are not important – so going with a convertible makes sense.

  • avatar

    In addition to all the Miata love consider…

    Honda S2000
    Nissan 370Z convertible
    Lexus IS C
    Lexus SC
    BMW M3 convertible
    BMW 325i convertible

    And, of course, the much lauded Chrysler Sebring.

    Oh, and don’t overlook that bastion of devil may care, mannish, road rolling rollerdome, the 90’s-era Suzuki Swift convertible.

  • avatar

    I had to comment on this because it is a subject close to my heart. In 2004 I bought my mid 40’s wife a 1999 Miata for our 20th wedding anniversary. She was grateful. Very grateful if you get my drift. She has since decided that we will always have a rag top in our garage. The car had 78K on the odometer and now has 127K, (I paid $8000 for it on E-Bay). We have replaced most of the wear parts, (brakes, timing belts, clutch, tires) and it is probably good to go another 40K. It gets driven 2-3 times a week and always puts a smile on your face. I agree with Steve’s comment but I would also point out that you might consider the NC version for the more modern conveniences. We will probably replace the Miata in 5 years when she retires. I am looking at the S2000 or an NC Miata with the retractable hard top. If you have the storage space the Miata is hard to beat and chicks love them. How could you go wrong?

  • avatar

    Not to mention that the miata looks sweet in any color blue – especially laguna.

  • avatar

    I think a Boxster is your best bet, although I have only driven a Miata once. Boxster is a very well balanced sports car. It is comfortable, if noisy, for highway trips, which cannot be said for S2000, and I wouldn’t think the Miata. 370/350 are brash, without panache. Mustang is just a completely different type of car, but if you like muscle car type power delivery, thats a good option.

  • avatar

    Yes, another Miata lover here. I picked up a showroom condition 1997 with 20k miles from the original owner at a great price. It was a great car in stock form. I took it to the Flyin’ Miata guys in Grand Junction to do their magic. It came back with a stage II turbo (250+ RWHP), race clutch, exhaust, lowered springs, aluminum radiator, Willwood brakes, etc. It was a blast to drive around town and embarrassed a few Viper drivers at the old Second Creek track. Keep it stock or go for broke — you can’t lose either way.

  • avatar
    Downtown Dan

    May I suggest the new Mini Cooper Roadster? About $26k will buy a base version stickshift, with all the power you really need. Not RWD, of course, but still looks like a really fun drive. As an added bonus, depreciation is low, fuel economy is pretty dang good, and you get free maintenance for three years.

    • 0 avatar

      or an almost new Cooper S convertible, nice 6-speed, easily fits 6 ft 2+, has the new engine, better “roof” than the roadster; tires: 16 oder 17 in, w/o runflat. Cons: $$$ (25k+?). Another idea: 2006+ SLK?

  • avatar

    I have a Miata, but really wished I’d cross-shopped a Vette. The Miata isn’t the most comfortable car for longer trips. It’s no GT. If you are not sensitive to gas prices, really consider the Vette.

    • 0 avatar

      I cross-shopped a Vette as well, and didn’t go that route due to the lack of a trunk. If you never go on long trips, it would be okay, and it certainly outperforms the Miata, but as a more flexible vehicle that can be used as a daily driver, the Vette falls down.

      • 0 avatar

        Lack of a trunk? Compared to what, a Grand Marquis?*

        *Disregard if you’re talking about a C4 or earlier

      • 0 avatar

        Correct – with my budget I was looking at C4s.

      • 0 avatar

        Hi Mark, I’m still loving my NA Miata. I had headroom issues but Mark showed me how a foamectomy improved everything about the seat, including headroom. Right away I found a perfectly sweet ’93 with hardtop, Konis and 15″ alloys for $4200. Thanks Mark!

        Steve has sage advice. Just think what you could do with the $20K you’d have left over.

      • 0 avatar

        Glad I could be of help, Mike. As Steve says, for $20,000 you can do a lot of things with a MX-5. I’d drop in a turbo, and upgrade the suspension and the sound system. Or I’d leave them stock and pimp my rover P5 – the Miata is just fine with no mods at all.

  • avatar

    I have a 2007 MX5. It’s great around town, but doing my 100-mile-a-day commute – well, it’s not all that advisable, but I’m about to turn 61, so that could be a reason. But driving home on Wednesday, Feb. 1st with the top down was a hoot and extremely enjoyable, so all is forgiven.

    Get a Corvette – I’m working on that idea for my next ride.

    Yeah, panthers stink (waiting to be keyboard smacked!) Just kidding, Sajeev! Really!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Get a 1996 or older and I know it will fit your budget. (For all who want to bitch about interiors forget it. Corvette interiors have always been cheap since about 1980 or so.) It’s the likely the highest HP you can buy for the least money.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah. I priced a new, basic ‘Vette and almost choked! If the ‘Vette is the major leagues, I’m in junior varsity!

        Trouble is, for what we want in our present circumstances, the MX5 is perfect. The granite gray color gives it a totally classier, less-toyish look, too.

        Besides, it took a ridiculously short amount of time to reach 105 mph one fine morning a couple of months ago!

  • avatar

    Z convertible, checks all the boxes, grab a lightly used (unmodified) one.

    There is a wide gap between a Miata and a ‘Vette, the Z or ‘Stang fits right in there. The Z comes in a beautiful “Daytona Blue”. I’m getting 24 mpg in my ’03 350Z coupe on the highway. The engine is same one in just about every Nissan/Infiniti out there so you’ll have no trouble with parts/service, pretty much all of it is easy to access.

    Downsides: loud-ish exhaust, a bit rough riding, very little storage space. Plus: comfortable seats, doesn’t feel cramped inside compared to my old Eclipse, torquey V6, direct handling, respectable mileage/range (400 miles per tank).

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    One consideration is what the OP can actually fit into. An NA or NB Miata just doesn’t work if you’re over 5’10” or so. Yeah, you can hollow out the cushions and bolt the seat to the floor for 15-20 minute track stints, but 3-4 hour drives? Nuh-uh.

    Moving up from there, FT86, NC Miata, and S2000 can all fit the taller folk up to 6’2″ or so. These won’t work if you’re appreciably wider than a competition swimmer, though, so you’re up into Genesis Coupe, Mustang, or Corvette territory.

    • 0 avatar

      Fit depends on your build. I am over 6′ and fit in my stock NB just fine, even for 9 hour I-95 grinds with the top up. You have to try on a car to know for sure.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. I am not a small person at 6′ / 220# of (obviously) solid, lean muscle, but I’ve had no issues fitting into NA, NB or NC Miatas, and I’ve spent comfortable hours in an S2000. I was particularly surprised at the amount of headroom I had in a new PRHT MX5.

        Only car my width has ever prevented me from being comfortable in was an RX-8 R3 where, shockingly, I fit better in the back seat. Egress was not easy.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Reviewing your criteria, I see that despite your criterion of not insane maintenance, someone recommends a Boxster.

    Beyond the obvious and unnecessary recommendation of a test drive (which may give you some idea that a few of the cars on the list are a little cramped if you’re over 6 feet tall (Miata, S2000), consider that all of these cars send a message to the folks around you in a way that more sedate cars (including Panthers) don’t. And those messages are very different. When you drive up in a Corvette, people think something different about you than when you drive up in a Miata. No value judgments intended by that comment, but just keep that in mind. When I owned a 1987 Mustang GT 5.0 hatchback, I used to call it my “redneck ride.” People noticed it and drew their own conclusions about me, since I lived in a milieu that tended towards European hardware . . . and not VWs either.

    So, I plead to having had a little “FTW” attitude at the time (I was just turning 40).

    8 years ago, when I went shopping for a toy like you, I had certain cars that were off the list from the beginning (such as Corvettes) mostly because I couldn’t deal with the local constabulary’s attitude about people who drive such cars. I ended up with a Z3 3.0, which has a lot more snap than a Miata, but is not as nimble. Also, I could fit in it (just barely), which I couldn’t with either the S2000 or the Miata (unless the top was down).

    • 0 avatar

      I have always thought of Corvette drivers as pretty chill. I have only once, ever, seen one pulled over by bacon. Most of the time they are driving at or slower than flow of traffic. I have always envisioned the stereotypical ‘Vette owner as someone laid back who loves the sound and the feel, and knows restraint. I guess it’s all about perspective?

      • 0 avatar

        I think it depends on the locale for what image a person portrays is based on their vehicular choice.

        Where I’m at, the perception of corvette drivers is not the best. But then again, BMW drivers don’t score very well either even though it is a very popular car in Seattle. New blood vs old blood. Seattle natives are much more reserved, while the hotshot newbies from wherever favor the bimmers. And especially across the lake in Bellevue and Kirkland everyone and their brother likes to broadcast to the world their several hundred dollar a month car lease or payment.

        Basically, if you care about other peoples perceptions, which most people do, you want to drive what other people drive and not deviate too far from the norm.

  • avatar

    I’m pleased with the 29 miles to the gallon I’ve got out of my 1996 Miata (purchased used in 1998) since September 2006. Maintenance is minimal, though I’ll be replacing the timing belt and water pump next week–and treating myself to a new radio (lost the volume control on the original) and a USB powerport in the dash (cigarette lighter socket supplies no power). Nice thing about a car this size: hand wash and wax takes no time at all.

  • avatar

    I have a bit of an off-the-wall suggestion for you.

    I am a few years older but in a similar situation – making enough money and with little enough debt that I would like to buy a fun car. A convertible seems like a great idea, I’d like something with a stick and rear wheel drive, etc. For years I’ve wanted a Mustang or a Corvette (and in fact the prices on C6s are shockingly low, you might be surprised by what you can get for $25K) but in evaluating my lifestyle and wants a bit more I realized that a Jeep Wrangler might actually be a better fit!

    4WD for winter shenanigans, ground clearance for rutted dirt roads leading to my favorite hiking spots, drop the top for nice days, and it’s RWD with a stick available (and the 2012 V6 is now 285 HP so it’s not a complete dog on the highway). Sure, it won’t have razor-sharp handling but I think I have more use for 4wd, a drop-top, and 4 seats than I do for 412 horsepower and low-profile tires.

    • 0 avatar

      I was about to post the same thing – Jeep Wrangler. It’s a drop top, and “sporty” in it’s own way. I would suggest one in the 2003-2004-ish range – they offered a pretty wild electric blue color in that timeframe.

      I’ve touched 19.5 MPG in my ’02 on the highway, and that’s with the 30″ tire package. People with the smaller tire packages have exceeded 20 MPG, although admittedly not by much. My ’06 Rubicon with 33″ tires will do mid 17’s on the highway at best.

      Upsides: Simple, robust construction. Great visibility with the top down. Easy to work on. Lots of mods available to customize it. Rarely get hassled by the cops since it isn’t fun to drive at hyper-legal speeds, but it is fun to drive at the speed limit or less.

  • avatar

    I’m overqualified to answer this question. My family has a CRX, a Miata, and a Corvette.

    You need a Miata. Get the nicest NB (1999-2005) you can find. The Corvette is like a two-seat Grand Marquis with more power. It’s a similar “flavor” – a relaxed American road eater – but with some intense notes.

    A Miata will feel totally different. It will change direction considerably faster than your Grand Marquis. It will not be a relaxed turnpike cruiser. It will instead be the car you average 55 on the back roads with, never exceeding 60.

    The S2000 would be the best of both worlds, Corvette pace with Miata agility, but the steering is at best an acquired taste. They are terrific cars, and the feedback through the seat and pedals might make up for it, but I have too many miles with manual steering and karts to tolerate electric steering.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had a modded CRX HF and a 2003 Miata (NB2). Both fun cars.

      A Miata is a terrible daily driver. But on the days you really get to enjoy it, there’s nothing like it. It’s just so simple. The best way to describe a Miata is “honest.” The fact that they’re very affordable and cheap to maintain makes them that much more enjoyable to me. I don’t sit around worrying about the costs when I’m abusing it. It’s a Miata. It’s a tank. The only thing that can kill a Miata is Chuck Norris, or a demigod.

      The power isn’t great on paper, but when driving one, I never found myself going “Dammit, I need a millions horsepowers!” The car is FUN all the time. It doesn’t require brutality to emphasize its natural character. It’s just as charming cruising down the freeway as it is slaughtering a mountain pass at night with the top down, or clipping the base of a cone at an autocross.

      • 0 avatar

        I have to disagree on the miata being a terrible daily driver. The one car I’ve owned that I miss the most is my 1999 Mazda Miata. It was my only car for far too short of a time and was the most reliable car I’ve owned, besting two Jettas (actually, those were less reliable than two RX-7s but thats another story) as well as a Honda Civic.

        I’m 5’10” and was 250lbs at the time, so I was a little wide for the car but was never downright uncomfortable.

        It all depends on what your commute to work is. If you spend a lot of time on the highway, then yes – the Miata spins nearly 4krpm at 80mph so a highway cruiser it isn’t. However, if you spend more time driving suburbia and back roads like I did, the Miata is the perfect daily driver. With the short gearing a peppy (but not powerful) engine, this was the most fun I’ve had while keeping speeds under 50mph. The “fast” cars I’ve had usually had to be brought to above-legal speeds before any entertainment value could be had. There wasn’t a day that I drove that Miata that I didn’t arrive at my destination with the biggest grin. Rain, shine, 110 degree heat or icy road conditions, it didn’t matter. That car was FUN.

        If I had to do it all again, I’d get a 1st gen Miata, preferably a 94-97 with the 1.8L or swap in a 1.8L to an earlier car. The NB is the better car, the NA is the better Miata.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Two wild cards:

    A Lotus Elise is the most exotic and exciting car you can buy in America, further removed from your average car’s isolating bubble than any Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Porsche. If you drive it and are addicted, nothing I say can talk you out of it. If you drive it and aren’t addicted, nothing I can say can talk you into it, even that it will have running costs more in line with a Corolla than a Porsche.

    A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 or 9 provides a spectacular experience, with driver feedback that’s in the Elise’s stadium if not on the same field, and traction backed up with a big hit of power. It will never run right and you will spend a fortune.

  • avatar

    It will come as no surprise that I think you should get a Miata as well. After years of owning a variety of British, Swedish, and German iron, it’s a pleasure to have a car that you can just get in and drive and have fun with. The Miata is also reasonably practical as well – it has a real trunk, unlike a Corvette, so you can pack for a trip (a week or two for one, a weekend easily for a couple) or run to the grocery store and get a week’s groceries (for one person, anyway).

    Can you make long trips? Sure – I’ve done several 1,000+ mile runs. It’s not the most comfortable car on the freeway, but on any other road it covers the miles comfortably and is great on the curves. I still remember an afternoon run on the northern Oregon coast with the top down with great fondness – absolute magic in motion.

    Steve’s suggestion of a first generation model (1990-97) is a sound one – it’s not surprising that he is happy with his, as the 1994-5 Miatas are often considered the sweet spot. They are dead reliable as well, so no reason to fear the age as long as you do some preventive maintenance on the few wear items like timing belts and rubber parts.

    I own a second generation car (1999-2005), and am very happy with it. Underneath it’s pretty much the same as the first generation, but some updates (glass rear window, more rigid body, fixed headlights) that make it heavier but more comfortable as a daily driver. Styling is a matter of taste, but I like the 2nd gen cars better in that regard. I use mine on a daily basis, even in the winter here in south-central Oregon where we get a fair bit of snow – with the right tires it’s fine in anything short of a foot of powder.

    I’ve driven my friend’s 3rd generation, and it’s much the same – folks will tell you they are not as sporty, but to the average guy like me in everyday driving you won’t see a difference. Depending on your body shape, a third gen may fit better than earlier cars – I for one don’t fit in my friends car with the top up, while I fit just fine in mine.

    With your budget, the best route might be to get a first or second generation car, and then spend some money on modifications – as others have pointed out, there is a huge aftermarket out there. With a turbo or supercharger, you can get reliable power for acceleration that rivals the other cars suggested here, and you still get the light, toss-able handling the Miata is famous for for well within your budget. They are easy cars to buy used as well, since most have led lives as pampered second cars that sit in a garage and only go out on weekends.

  • avatar

    Bumpy ii’s extremely valid concerns notwithstanding, If you decide you fit into a Miata, I’d recommend the first generation (NA) vintage 1994-1997. You get an engine with slightly more displacement (you’ll appreciate that), a front airbag and substantial bracing running the width of the car behind the seats (making the chassis more rigid and less flexy) that were left out of earlier NA versions due to Mazda’s desire to launch the car in 1989 at a specific price point. Extra bonus: If you like blue, the 94 and 95 editions can be had in a beautiful and fairly rare color Mazda called “Laguna Blue.” I purchased a 94 in Laguna Blue with the R-package and 35,000 miles five years ago. Have enjoyed every minute of the experience, even now as it is doing duty in a 70 mile round trip commute. Rock solid reliable and loads of fun to drive. I also run a hardtop to mitigate noise and security issues then in about 1 minute the top pops off on the weekends.
    To complete the circle, I am currently in quest of a fat panther with low miles for my wife, as she requires an auto trans.

  • avatar

    Long ago I was in your position, new grad, no debt, decent job. Also, new wife (still tolerating me today). For six years we drove a $1300 car (less than $5000 in today’s Bernanke-bux), but halfway through that six year period we bought our first house (20% down). Don’t want a house? Put the money in an IRA or 401K so you can be indolent or self-indulgent at 40-50. As a hardtop Boxster owner (Cayman), I recommend a Miata. Wonderful car and you can, as others have noted, pump it up like crazy. As in, how about a nice Mustang-engined one for relatively cheap money? The best British sports car ever made.

    • 0 avatar

      I MUST be getting old. All I can think about is the opportunity cost of spending that much money on a car at that age.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        @horseflesh thanks for giving me flashbacks to my college econ classes. Dr. Kohl is that you?

      • 0 avatar

        Opportunity cost assumes you’ll live long enough to have another opportunity. I’ve seen a number of friends who slaved away when they were young and put off fulfilling their dreams until they were older, only to die young despite being generally healthy. Pancreatic cancer respects no one’s age – just ask Steve Jobs or my friend Eric. Oh wait, you can’t ask, because they are dead.

        Better to have some fun now and some fun later than to place all your bets on the future. I refer to it as the “Bus Theory” – live your life so you will not be sorry if you are run over by a bus tomorrow.

        Not to mention you have a lot more fun with a stiffly-sprung two-seater when you are young than when you are old. It’s much easier to get in and out, especially with the top up, and you are not worn out at the end of the day’s drive.

  • avatar

    Ironically, I am in the same position as you. I was handed down a reliable sedan from the family that does daily driver duty well and will for many years. However, I have been dying for a sports car as well. My thoughts on this…. an na or nb miata (if you can fit or make yourself fit) is great fun at very reasonable prices. However, it is really is a weekend car if you are a bigger guy. An s2000 is nice and the engine is awesome, but I am seeing 5 year newer nc miatas and solstice cars for the same price. The NC is better if you want to take that special woman on a weekend away. There is also the mr2 spyder if you want a mid-engine miata. I drove a c6 vette and the power is amazing, but it one of those cars that is so good that you are doing illegal speeds well before you are the least bit scared. If you want a supercar, this is closest you will get on your budget reliability. If you want something cool as a vette alternative, $10k should get you a nice clean z32 300zx turbo. However, there will considerably more maintenance on that car than a newer, simpler vette.

  • avatar

    You just can’t go wrong with a Miata. Want a fun, honest-to-goodness handler that lets you snick through a sweet gearbox and play with drift angles at sane speeds while costing as much or less to maintain than an econobox? A Miata will do that. Want something that’s mainly a platform to hang expensive race parts onto? The world is your oyster – from turbochargers to track-ready brakes to high-end coilover suspensions, everything is readily available and relatively affordable. Hell, for your 25-30k you could call the guys over at Flyin’ Miata and get a turn-key LSx conversion (400+ hp with less than 200 lbs added to the car, a third of which hangs over the rear wheels), and spend the rest of your days chasing Sajeev off your driveway.

    My suggestion: skip the brand new Miata and go for an NB (1999-2005). It still looks relatively current, can be had all day long in excellent shape for well under $10k – Miata owners tend to be fanatical about babying their cars, with many being Sunday afternoon cars – and then see what moves you. Personally, I’m shooting for spring/shock/sways, body bracing and a turbo to about 230 hp.

    People say it’s not a great highway cruiser, but that depends on what you want from your car. Want to feel isolated and refreshed? Take the Panther. Want to feel the road and the open air? I’ve done over 600 miles in a day in my Miata just because I felt like driving it.

  • avatar

    My picks (excluding the Boxster): S2000 and Z4 3.0si or Z4M.

  • avatar

    I appreciate the argument to get a much, much cheaper Miata if you are really only focused on driving fun.

    However if you really have the budget and want something that shows… your budget is high enough to get into a pretty nice C6 Vette… 05-07 LS2 would be easy and you could probably sneak into a ’08 or ’09 LS3 that may well have some powertrain warranty left on it.

    The trunk is more than usable for a couple’s road trip luggage and daily errands, reliability is good, and you can pull damn near 30mpg on the highway while staying in the low 20’s for all but the heaviest feet. Very livable car for longer trips, as well. On top of all that the insurance is reasonable.

    It’s an excellent choice if you can see yourself in a Vette.

  • avatar

    The correct answer is a 1998 – 2002 Chevrolet Camaro Z-28 convertible with the 6-speed. Or you could get t-tops for an all year car, and ditch the Mercury. If you want something newer and more precise then a Miata NC. They are going for really low money. Make sure you fit in it, I actually, based on ownership, found the NC to have less headroom than the NA.

    Don’t listen to these old curmudgeons talking about buying a house. Prices are low now, but until people have jobs that is not going to change. Technology and lower cost offshore workers have made a lot of people redundant, and those redundant people are not going to be propping up the real estate market.

    Plus, if you rush into real estate you could end up doing something stupid like buying a townhouse or condo, instead of a real house, and paying in throw-away association fees what you could have gotten a nice sports car for.

    That said, if you do want to buy a (real) house soon do that before getting the car, so that the car does not limit your down payment ability, or limit you by increasing your debt-to-income ratio.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the F-Body. I picked up a low mileage 2001 WS-6 convertible 6-speed for not too much. Good power, toss-able, great exhaust, lots of fun. OK, I know most of you guys don’t go for “mullet-mobiles”, but they damn sure are fun ……. can you say bang for the buck???

  • avatar

    Not much love here for the Pontiac Solstice, but they can be acquired reasonably (15-20k) and you’ll know pretty quickly if it is the sports car for you.

    • 0 avatar

      My bother-in-law has a Solstice, and it is great fun. The big limitation is how little trunk space there is with the top down – it’s hard to pack much for even an overnight trip.

      • 0 avatar

        Indeed. As we solstice fans like to say, our three main reasons for buying the car are:

        1) The financial solvency of the manufacturer
        2) The generous trunk space
        3) The easy to use convertible top

        It is a quirky car, but the main moving parts aren’t fussy and that is what counts long term.

  • avatar

    I like both of Sajeev’s suggestions — so buy a Miata and stuff a Corvette motor in it. There’s a couple of companies that offer v8 conversion kits, or will even do the whole job for you.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    First gen Miata, Solstice/Sky, or a Corvette. Or a late F-body, a Mustang, etc. You need to go out and test drive until you know what you like.

  • avatar

    Both the Miata and the ‘Vette are great suggestions – decide whether you think “Less is more” or “More is More” and choose accordingly.

    For a really off the wall suggestion, how about a vintage MG, Triumph, or Alpha? It’s may not be quite as insane as it sounds since you’ve got a reliable, practical daily driver in the Mercury Grand Marquis.

    Although none of these will be nearly as reliable as a new car, a well sorted example will likely be more reliable than it was new, as most of the weak spots have been addressed by now. Repairs will also be cheap compared to any modern car – no Boxster IMS bearing failures here!

    They are also cheap to buy, so you could avoid going into debt – and when you are done with it, you could sell it for more or less the same price you paid.

    If you do decide to go this route, the key is to educate yourself up front and buy the very best example you can find.

  • avatar

    I think the previous 48 comments make a pretty convincing argument for the miata, so I won’t expand. Let me add my two cents…

    Miatas are awesome and so is modifying on to your taste. The only downside is you’ll never get your money back (turboing or dropping in a v8 can easily cost as much or more than the car). If this concerns you, you might search for a mazdaspeed miata with the factory turbo. It’s only modestly fast (low pressure turbo), but Flyin’ Miata makes a kit to increase the boost. Then if and when you want to sell it you’ll get back what it’s really worth. It probably goes without saying that you could instead buy an existing modded na/nb instead, but from my experience that’s a little harder. Or if you really have $25k to toss around maybe you don’t give a shit.

    PS- As someone who daily drives a cherry, low mile gen 1 Avalon, I totally relate. That’s why I bought an ’95 miata last year.

  • avatar

    You can drive a Miata anytime, anywhere, any time of year, and in just about any conditions.

    I did it when I had my 1990. Get one with a limited-slip diff, keep good tires on it and the well-balanced handling will take you through snowstorms. Just don’t drive into any drifts or it might get high-centered;)

    The biggest hazard I faced when driving the Miata in winter weather is one particular dumbass who slid into it. In a front-drive Honda Civic.

    It’s not a Panther on the highways but it’s far from a penalty box. It gets a steady 26-28 mpg in mixed suburban commute driving. It’s dead reliable and super-simple to maintain. And with the top down it’s phenomenal. I want another one.

  • avatar

    You’ve named a lot of great cars that have a lot more pluses and relatively few minuses, albeit in slightly different categories. On the upper end of your budget you can get into a good mileage c6 all day long and own a car that will THRASH almost anything on the road. The corvette also has more legitimate thumper bonafides than anything on the list. The Porsche and BMW certainly have more snob appeal and might be considered more refined by some, but those people generally haven’t driven a c6 and ultimately make their buying decisions based on what other people will think first and actual performance second. I couldn’t justify spending that kind of ching on a new miata when you can, as has been mentioned, pick up a nice used example for a sixth of your budget and bring it up to and beyond spec for 10k all in. That might be the best way to have your cake and eat it too; get a into a wicked fun car with some tuner cred and all the performance you need on the street and bank the rest. All that said, if it’s me in your shoes I’m buying the first good mileage, good price, good condition c6 that I come across.

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