By on July 30, 2012

The Lord Needs No Restraint


Gentlemen, there’s some automotive/emotional baggage that I need a resolution for.

I’m finally in a position to replace a Celica with something that will possibly see an HPDE, and the occasional autocross. I have $9000 to spend. Although the Celi drove beautifully, it wasn’t a viscerally thrilling car and I’d like to learn the dynamics of a rwd platform.

It will mostly serve as a weekend car/alternative to my DD pickup.

Fuel economy and number of doors I’m not concerned with. It just needs to have a comfortable cabin, shift/handle well, and make me want to take it out for a drive with no destination, like the Celica did.

When I presented this conundrum to my friend, he threw me a curve ball in the form of offering me his 2005, very low mile Dodge SRT4 for WELL under my budget ceiling and it’s market value. Not the rwd sports/sporty car I had in mind, but fun in its own right with plenly of capital left over to push it into high HP territory. The car is factory stock, with a clean service history (friend is a Chrysler technician).

What are your thoughts, biased or otherwise? Should I reconsider one of the popular choices? Hold out for greatness? or pounce on a wicked deal(that will be around for a while)?


Steve Says:

I would pounce on this deal.


Well, in my case it’s because I could nearly double my investment by financing it out to someone who is a little less picky. SRT4’s and other affordable sports sedans of the mid-2000’s go for utterly insane amounts of money. We’re talking enough proceeds to buy a new mid-level compact sedan with cash left over for your first year’s worth of insurance.

Your case is different since you’re trading $9,000 worth of savings for a long-term divestment. You buy. You keep. You lose money. But gain a bit of fun and freedom in the end.

To figure out if this is the right decision for you I would do three things.

1) Drive the vehicle for an hour or two.

Offer to fill the SRT up with a full tank of gas, let your friend in on the dilemma, and just spend a couple of hours driving it in different environments. Figure out if this vehicle is a good fit for you.

2) Visit a few enthusiast sites.

One of the reasons why I decided to keep my little 1st gen Insight, and sell everything else, is because I found a community that was agreeable to my interests. The folks at VWVortex are far different from the Insightcentral crowd, who in turn are more hands on than the Planet Lexus community.

Are you the type that can get into this type of car over the long run? A few evenings reading about the car in question can make you far more aware of the long-term ownership experience than a simple test drive.

3) Will you invest?

No one wants to invest in a Chevy Aveo. They want the car to run, hopefully, and nothing more.

A performance machine goes by a far different set of financial criteria.

Tires? Preventive maintenance? Premium parts?

All this and the inherent defects of the vehicle will go hand in hand with the ownership experience.

The true question you have to answer is, “Am I willing to invest thousands of dollars to keep this car in tip top shape as the years go by?”

That’s the question only you can answer. I wish you luck in whatever you decide.

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35 Comments on “New Or Used? : The Passion Of The Chrysler...”

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    Well, you really can’t beat a first or second generation Miata as a fun second car to learn about RWD driving. Also a great car for the occasional autocross.

    With a turbo and suspension upgrades it can be turned into a very serious track toy for half the cost of any car that could deliver comparable performance.

    • 0 avatar

      One of my good friends was recently diagnosed with cancer, and I had some time this summer to drive from Southern Oregon to Northern Arizona to see him (by way of the Bay Area to see my sister’s family). I’m in the middle of that 2,200 mile round trip right now, and after crossing the Sierra Nevada range over the Sonora Pass (9,624 feet) on California Route 108, I can honestly say there is no other car I would have rather made the trip in than my 2nd gen Miata.

      I still get a smile on my face every time I drive it – it is the perfect 2nd car (or first car – I drive it all the time). I also don’t have to worry about it – the only thing I did before setting out on this trip was to check the oil level.

      I’m sure an SRT-4 is a fun car, but is it the car you want? Second cars should be about dreams, and if you dream about RWD, you should go with your passion and not settle for what drops in your lap.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, “Mark_Miata” is right. Go with your passion. The Miata is very cool. Its everything a late sixties British sports car was. Without the agravations.

        My choice?…A Mustang. But go with your dreams.

      • 0 avatar

        I lived in Sonora for two years and during most of that time I drove a 1st gen Miata up and down 108. However, I was blessed with the best route to work a man could have. I jumped off of 108 to O’Byrnes Ferry Road as it wound around Lake Tulloch. What a blast it was to rip through the curves EVERY DAY on the way to work. If you get the chance, I highly recommend it.
        If you come back down the hill, take 49 to 4 South, jump on OBFR at Copperopolis. Hopefully avoid any RVs or trailers.
        So I vote Miata also.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree, and I am sorry to hear of your friend’s diagnosis.

        Be cheerful while you are alive.

      • 0 avatar

        Having owned a half-dozen old British cars, I agree that the Miata is the Platonic ideal of the English roadster.

        Great suggestion for a follow-up drive over the Sonora Pass – my sister’s family lives in Walnut Creek and does a summer trip to Mammoth Lakes every year. We’ll join them next year – I’ll make sure to make the drive you suggest.

        My friend’s prognosis is very good – the cancer was caught early, and since he has good medical coverage he has has excellent care. Didn’t help that he had to have his appendix out a month after the cancer diagnosis, but he is doing great. We’re going to do some hiking and biking – he assures me he’ll be around for a long time yet.

  • avatar

    Wish the OP had included his budget. My first thought reading the post (before he got to the Neon) was a C5 Z06.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Not his fault, I edited the original letter due to the length.

      The budget is $9000.

    • 0 avatar

      Okay Z06 is probably out then.

      For the 9K I would also lean towards a Miata. Easy on tires at the HPDE and autocross events and enough power to have some fun. Fairly reliable and a top shelf motorsports program with Mazdaspeed Motorsports.

  • avatar

    For a budget of 9K, you’re really in good stead to buy pretty much any first generation Miata(up to 1997)(1998 was the start of the newer body), assuming that you’re serious about keeping your DD. The Miata is a super autocross car, but you need to do your homework if you do narrow your search down to it. It came in several configurations: bare bones cloth seats and manual windows, commemorative editions with leather, AC, BBS alloys, and something separately called the R Package which was outfitted with Bilstein shocks, front and rear spoilers, and a Torsen limited-slip differential and seven spoke alloys. Depending on condition and year, you could end up with spending less.

    If you don’t want a two-seater, another choice in that range is a 10 year old BMW 328Ci coupe, and there is plenty of hp and suspension upgrades for that, as well.

  • avatar

    I’m no expert on autocross but maybe a first gen Audi S4 would fit the bill.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a friend who currently drives a S4, he pronounced it to be not so exciting to drive. He bought it to replace a M3, because baby seats won’t fit in the back seat. He misses the M3 terribly. And that’s the current gen S4. My understanding is the old S4 is even more front heavy, thus not so great to drive. Plus he wants an RWD.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I’d take the SRT4. Do what Steve told you and find out if it’s right for you.

    Actually I have a similar “dilemma”, but the retractable headlamps of the 92 Celica are winning over both Neon and Saab. Budget is infinitely more modest.

    I always remember the reaction of small kids in the traffic (always smiling/awed) to my Impulse lamp covers when they flipped up and down… a Celica would be great fun for my son.

    Can you get a GTO for that money?

  • avatar

    Late 90’s Lexus GS. Either with a 2JZ or 2UZ, you can’t lose.

  • avatar

    Could find a decent E36 M3 for $9k, albeit with little left for maintenance. A 328i or 328is would leave money for maintenance. Or as others have mentioned, a Miata.

  • avatar

    Whatever you buy don’t blow the full $9k on it, split half of that for the car and half for maintenance.

    • 0 avatar

      Thats the ticket. I am in a similar process to this guy. But my budget is closer to 6k. So I am looking at NA Miata preferably with the 1.8 later models. Most likely spend around $3500-4000 and save the rest for repair and maintenance.
      I don’t know what it is about 2nd cars, but it seems the intermittent use makes them more likely for the need to be repaired. As opposed to using it as a DD. So keep some extra if you plan to not use all the time. So when you want to go drive it and something gives up you can fix it and get it back on the road asap.
      There is nothing worse than having a fun second car you can’t afford to repair.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, very wise. You should always build at least a grand in maint into your budget.

  • avatar
    V-Strom rider

    One word – Mustang.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Go for it, and don’t forget to use the intimidation factor on the track.

    After all, every racer knows the Mopar guys are just plain nuts.

  • avatar

    Jesus was a Carpenter. He worked with his hands. He crafted. He re-used materials.

    Young grasshoppers, practice what you publicize … what would Jesus drive? Jesus would likely drive a vehicle like this:

  • avatar

    A late NA miata with a Torsen is a fine platform to go to the limit with. But spend some $ on instruction and opening up its breathing. One thing miata lacks is the power(unless it’s wet) to break loose the rear end in turns, so you are deprived one category of terror. Two other tips include improving the power to weight by laying off the pizza or even breaking your budget on a S2000.

  • avatar

    1. Buy the SRT-4. Keep it a few months and sell it for a profit just like Mr. Lang suggests (you have to keep it for a while or else your friend will think that your only motive was profit). Now you have more than $9000 to work with.
    2. Buy an S2000. In my opinion (and in keeping with Jack Baruth’s recent writeup) this is the G.O.A.T. small convertible. Better than the Miata.

    • 0 avatar

      Only if you enjoy reving the heck out of it – though by your username it seems you would have no problem with that. The problem with the S2000 (and I’ve driven them) is that you have to flog them to within an inch of their life to get any return – if you relax they are unpleasant to live with. While a Miata may not be as extreme at the hard edge, they are much easier to live with on a daily basis (and they have a much more extensive aftermarket).

  • avatar

    1st gen Infiniti G or Nissan 350z. Mazda RX7 or Miata and Honda S2000. I’ve always thought of these Japanese models as a great performance value.

    • 0 avatar

      G and 350 are more GT cars, and too heavy to toss around on track.

      The RX-8 would be a good choice and is inexpensive due to it’s image as an unreliable maintenance hog. As long as you find a well-maintained example and keep up with the basic stuff though, it should serve you well, and is very rewarding to drive at the limit. Their motors do better when flogged than just put-putting around town as well, if thi is just going to be a track toy.

      FD RX-7s have the late-90s JDM supter-tuner tax associated with them, and it’s nigh impossible to find an unmolested example. An FC might be more doable, but they’re getting pretty long in tooth at this point, and the turbo is just as unreliable in the FC as the FD.

  • avatar

    Less obvious but worthy choice: Late 4th generation V8/6spd Camaro or Firebird (think 2000-2003ish). They’ll squeak and rattle, but they were surprisingly fine track-day cars in their day, and the array of mods available will blow your mind.

  • avatar

    The SRT-4 is a fine car, and very similar to a modern Mazdaspeed 3. It’s got a surgical suspension and is very fun to drive fast, and the turbo torque is addictive. A friend of mine had one, I think an 03, when we were in college several years back that he let me try driving, I was a big fan. If you can get over the fact that it’s FWD, it’s a fine car in this price range.

    OTOH, Miata, as many have mentioned. You can probably find one with a rollbar already installed for your budget. Or try to find a 94+, then get a rollbar, some shocks and sport springs, racing beat sways, sticky tires, and maybe intake/exhaust mods unless you see a turbo ni your future. It’ll be an awesome car for the budget.

    E36 328is is a great option too. It’s 90% of what the M3 was, gets the rear torsen diff, but doesn’t have to deal with VANOS issues. You could conceivably pick one up for $5-6k in good condition. Any M3 approaching $9k is asking for trouble though from my search when I was in your position.

    On the high end of your budget, you can find an S2000 if you look hard enough. I got a 90k AP1 for $10k earlier this year. If you can deal with 6 digit mileage, you can probably find one in your price range. Like the miata though, you’ll need a rollbar to do HPDEs, which is a $700 expense assuming you do the install yourself.

  • avatar

    I’ll echo the Mustang sentiments, but more specifically: find the nicest 1986-93 5.0 coupe that $3000 will buy, and spend the remainder on chassis stiffening and suspension improvements to prepare it for HPDE. Look up Maximum Motorsports, Kenny Brown or Griggs Racing.

  • avatar

    I only have two problems with suggesting the S2000. One, I hated the Star Wars digital instrumentation, and my significant other hated riding with me, too stiff-riding, they said. Otherwise,a rear-drive Honda with 240 hp from a non-turbo four cylinder, a six-speed, gobs of legroom, all controls including radio tuner with fingertip controls, a shifter basically a big toggle switch. The worst car when snow is on the road, but when it’s dry, the car was WICKED, AWESOME, OUTSTANDING.
    If it fits your budget, it’s a great alternative to the 128 hp Miata version one.

  • avatar

    Therte is 90K mile Saturn Sky on eBay for $12K. You might be able to find others but it’d have two 170+ HP and rear drive. End of summer is best to buy convertible and if you found one at $10K most of the depreciation is already done.

    With a ~$4K turbo you could have 350-400 horsepower without opening the engine and 40 mpg when cruising at the speed limit. Because so few were sold the Sky is always a head turner.

    • 0 avatar
      David Sklover

      “With a ~$4K turbo you could have 350-400 horsepower without opening the engine…”.

      lemme help ya: with a ~$4K turbo you could have 350-400 horsepower for about an hour before blowing the 170hp engine and having zero horsepower. Or alternately, you could have 300 horsepower for a while, and then your transmission and/or differential would be toast.

      any 4 wheel track toy on a $9k budget probably needs to low hp, ala miata. or if adventurous and very helpful to be mechanically inclined, then 98-up F body with LS1 & 6 speed can be tons o fun. that platform always used to win the ‘best bang for the money’ polls.

      vroom vrooom (shiny side up)

  • avatar

    Like Steve says, the only way you’re going to know is if you spend some quality time driving the car. It is probably the quickest track car you’re gonna find for your price, but is it the most fun on both the street and track? Miatas, BMWs, and Mustangs are all good times in a variety of situations, whether its on course, tearing up a back road, or just cruising. The SRT4 tends to be a bit more narrow focused in it’s mission. But the only way to know is to check it out.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Some weird comments here. Steve is right. At the price you are talking about, just about any “performance machinery” you buy (Mustang, Miata, S2000) is already on its second owner. When you’re buying a car that old, you’re buying how it was driven and how it was maintained. Any cheap first-owner car, with maintenance records has a big leg up on the others, especially in a performance car.

    The question, which Steve also addressed, is whether you like this car, which can only be discovered by spending sometime with it. Like all performance cars, it has a distinct personality — that’s one reason people like performance cars — but you may or may not like that personality. This car is about as far from, say, an S2000 as you can get. This car’s engine is q torque monster; the S2000 has to have the piss revved out of it to make it go.

    This car also has 4 very nice seats; the others don’t. Does that matter to you?

    Finally, consider operating costs: insurance, fuel, maintenance.

  • avatar

    If you like your Celica, you might want to consider an MR2 Spyder. Great track and weekend car, like a Celica with RWD.

    The SRT4 is a cool car and very fast, but I could never get past the Neon roots of it. That being said, its cheap and very fast, and for a track rat its probably a great choice. I wouldnt want to take advantage of your friends deal though, it would be wrong to buy it and sell for a profit. If you decide to get it, you should keep it.

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