With 2023 coming to a close, it’s time to look ahead at what is to come. 2023 saw soaring car values, with both new and used cars hitting unreal prices. It can be easy to look at these prices, and conclude that there are no more good deals left on cheap sports cars. Despite this, a few have managed to slip beneath the radar of most buyers, and are still attainable with a modest budget. The cars selected for this list are, in my opinion, the best used “bang for your buck” enthusiast cars. To set a few rules for this list, all cars should be somewhat reliable, sporty-looking, and under $10,000 USD. Without further ado, let’s meet the best performance bargains for 2024.
5. Ford Mustang GT (SN95)
You can’t write an article about cheap sports cars without including a Mustang. The 4th generation or SN95 Mustang introduced the 4.6L V8, which isn’t exactly what the Mustang fans were used to, as the previous cars all came with 5.0L V8s. The styling is a bit questionable, making it one of the least desirable Mustangs ever made. So why is it on this list? These shortcomings make it one of the cheapest Mustangs you can buy. For about $8,000, you can have a RWD V8 sports car, that is reliable, and easy to make power from. While the stock performance figures aren’t exceptional, with just 215hp, and 285lb-ft, it makes peak torque in the low RPM ranges. This allows the car to accelerate and feel faster at lower speeds when cruising.
Where this car shines however, is the aftermarket. There are dozens of websites dedicated to supplying Mustang parts, and even a few for just the SN95. Stock replacement parts are plentiful, and aftermarket tuning parts are very affordable. For just a few grand, it is possible to push over 350hp from the 4.6, making an excellent sleeper. For owners wanting a cleaner look, there are tons of body kits and other cosmetic options available to truly make it your own.
The SN95 isn’t the only bargain Mustang you can buy. New Edge Mustangs are an updated version of the SN95, with sharper lines, and a more aggressive look. The 5th gen S197s are also a great bargain, however they are still a little on the pricey side, with good examples going for over $15,000. If you have the extra cash, it’s worth it, but if not the SN95 should do you just fine. Foxbody ‘Stangs from the 80s are also not bad vehicles, however they’re shooting up in price, and aren’t as refined as the later ones. Overall, its hard to go wrong with a Mustang, just make sure you get the V8.
4. Porsche 944
For those who have always dreamed of owning a classic Porsche, your time has come. The 944 is somewhat of an unusual car from Porsche, as the engine is located ahead of the driver, and its initial price tag was significantly lower than their previous cars. In the 80s, Porsche noticed a new market for “affordable” luxury cars, and filled the gap in their lineup with what we know as the 944. These cars captured the feeling of a Porsche, while being much more affordable than the 911. In order to cut costs, the 944 was fitted with a 4-cylinder engine, which, produces around 160-200hp. There is a Turbo variant, which puts out 220-250, however they are getting to be quite expensive in today’s market.
Despite lacking power, the non-turbo 944s are still an excellent performer. Rather than a traditional transmission unit being bolted to the back of the engine, the 944 has it relocated to the rear axle. This helps achieve a nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution. This, combined with a curb weight under 2800lbs, means the car is a handling beast. Whatever it lacks in a straight line, the 944 will more than make up for in the corners.
It’s a pretty thing, too. The flared fenders give it a smooth, wide stance, with styling cues all around to remind you that this is a real Porsche. They’re not impractical either. It’s got four seats, and the 4-cylinder engine will get over 20mpg with ease. Not exactly a Prius, but great numbers for a classic sports car.
The window for these 944s is closing quickly. While they are still affordable, values are going up rapidly. A good non-turbo 944 will cost a bit under $10,000, with Turbos reaching values well over $25,000.
3. Chevrolet Impala SS
The Impala has been an American icon since the late 50s, and in my opinion, the 90s SS is the Impala’s greatest form. This generation was produced for just 3 years, beginning in 1994, and finishing in 1996. Power comes from a Corvette-sourced LT-1 5.7L V8, detuned to 280hp, and 330lb-ft. This is enough to propel its 4000lbs curb weight to 60mph in under 7 seconds, and reach a top speed north of 150mph.
This is a big car. In fact, its longer overall than a brand new F-150 single cab, and is just a few inches short of the crew cab version. It’s 6.5 feet wide, and will comfortably haul 5 fully grown adults. And just look at the thing. The proportions and dark color options make it look like a crime boss’ personal limousine, complete with lots of space in the trunk for any bodies you may have lying around. Sure, it may guzzle gas and handle like a pig, but there is no denying that this car has serious road presence.
The Corvette engine is reliable as the day is long, and is capable of producing huge power figures, for very little money. Pretty much any of the hundreds of Corvette engine mods should fit here, unlocking this car’s true potential. Unfortunately for manual lovers, the 4-speed automatic is the only transmission option, no surprise in a car of this type.
They’re affordable, too. A nice SS shouldn’t cost more than $8,000. The SS isn’t the only car built on this chassis with this engine either. The Buick Roadmaster wagon is essentially a wagon version of this car, complete with fake wood on the sides. Classy.
2. Nissan 300ZX (Z32)
In today’s used sports-car market, it is becoming harder and harder to find a good Japanese car for a good price. They aren’t all overvalued to the moon, however. The 300ZX is the perfect example of the increasingly-rare inexpensive Japanese performance car. While the Z31 is a cool, retro car, the true gem here is the second generation 300ZX, the Z32.
The naturally-aspirated V6 produces 222hp, and the twin-turbo version puts out over 300. This scoots it along quite quickly, hitting 60mph in under 6 seconds, and topping out at a limited 155mph. With the limiter removed, owners have been able to push the car above 170mph without extensive modifications. It can handle, too. The 300ZX pulled 0.87g around Car and Driver’s 300ft. skidpad, nearly keeping up with the Corvette of the same year.
While the engine is known for being complex and difficult to work on, it still has some tuning potential. The engine can handle quite a bit of extra power on stock internals. With a bit of time and money, the Z32 can keep up with modern sportscars, and dust the other cars of its time period.
They aren’t all that expensive, either. Naturally Aspirated models are usually under $10,000, but the twin-turbo ones will run you $15-20,000. That’s a small price to pay for a car that shares its headlights with the Lamborghini Diablo.
1. Chevrolet Corvette (C4)
The Corvette will always be America’s sports car, and the C4 is no exception. Chevy redesigned the Corvette from the ground up in 1984, helping form the Corvette we know today. Uniframe design, exotic suspension tuning, and a comfortable interior helped set the Corvette apart in the 80s, and it still shows now. The C4 went through quite a few changes in its 12 year production run, but apart from the crossfire injection 1984 models, you really can’t go wrong.
All years of the C4 came with Chevy’s iconic 5.7L pushrod V8, producing 230-330 depending on the year, skipping the previously-mentioned 1984 model, which put out just 205. All years of the C4 had a 4-speed automatic transmission available, but the true gems are the somewhat-rare manual models. The early C4s came with a very unique 4+3 overdrive transmission, dubbed the “Doug Nash”. This transmission has 4 gears, with 3 overdrives available in the top 3 gears. The 4+3 was replaced with a more conventional 6-speed in 1989.
The C4 is a surprisingly good daily-driver, too. They can achieve over 25mpg, and are almost completely bulletproof in terms of reliability. The later C4s are equipped with the LT-1, which you may remember from the Impala SS earlier in this article. These engines are by far the best value, as they provide 300hp for around $10,000. The L98s in the earlier cars are still a great buy for around $8,000. Special editions such as the Grand Sport or ZR-1 are usually over $30,000, so if you’re just looking for a nice car to cruise around in, stick with the base models.
These 5 cars are just my personal favorites, I could go on and on about other great vehicles. The Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen GTI can be excellent choices if you’re a fan of FWD, and cars such as the Subaru WRX, and Mitsubishi 3000GT are great AWD options. If you want a small convertible, its hard to go wrong with a Mazda Miata.
To conclude, sports cars don’t need to be expensive to be fun. Each car on this list is sure to bring a smile to the driver’s face every time they get in. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. A cheap sports car might just be the best investment you can make.