Talk to any track day enthusiast, and you will quickly learn that the ultimate goal is to have as much fun as possible, and it’s not always about who flexes the fastest or most expensive track car. Undoubtedly, a track day can be costly, from entry fees to licenses, insurance, repairs, and fuel, and there is no logical way around it. Hence, it makes sense for anyone running on a budget to opt for an affordable track-capable car instead of a brand-new six-figure race car.
On the bright side, the used market is chock-full of lightweight, well-maintained, mechanically sound, and relatively easy to work on performance cars that can double as the perfect track car. Furthermore, most of these cars offer enough wiggle room should you opt to gradually modify your vehicle over time to become a more formidable race steed. If you’re in the market for an affordable track car, here’s a list of savvy models to consider.
10 Porsche Boxster 986
The Boxster 986 is a great track day car that can take a bit of pushing, although well-maintained examples are on the decline since the early first-generation models are mostly over 20 years old. Like most Porsches, the Boxster 986 works well will minimal mods, and there’s a wealth of knowledge on track prep, considering loads of Boxsters are racing in the U.S.
Boxsters make for good track cars since the mid-engine layout makes them fun to drive, offers good adjustability, and a low center of gravity due to the Boxer engine configuration. Models produced before 2000 feature a 2.5-liter flat-six, but you could opt for the more costly yet powerful 986 models with the 2.7-liter engine.
9 Nissan 350Z
The Z33 has proven itself a popular choice in motorsports due to the affordable pricing, ease of modification to suit the driver’s taste, and a 3.5-liter V6 good for 306hp and 268-lb-ft of torque. Although less desirable factors like the weight, and brakes on the base model, should not be overlooked, the Nissan 350Z is still an excellent car for fulfilling the need for speed and participating in HPDE events at best.
Immediate modifications could include shedding some weight off the car, undersealing the vehicle, fitting some track-spec tires for better handling, changing to race-oriented brake pads, and modding the suspension.
8 Mazda MX-5 Miata NB
The iconic MX-5 Miata might seem like a painfully obvious choice, but it’s arguably one of the best pocket-friendly track cars. The NB generation Miata is cheap to maintain, impressively reliable, and imminently tunable, not forgetting the unique chassis that makes it an absolute blast to drive around the track.
Some track-day upgrades include coilovers, quick ratio limited-slip differentials, lightweight wheels, larger front sway bars, cold-air intakes, coil packs, coolant reroute, ECU, and suspension bushings. The base NB models have been declining in price in the last few years, so it’s possible to opt for a well-maintained example without breaking the bank.
7 Mini Cooper S
The pint-sized R53 is not only cheap but also fun, fast, and still looks fresh to date. As tempting as the bargain-basement-priced Cooper before MY2004 could be, you are better off upping the budget and shell out for a well-maintained post-facelift R53.
Mini fitted the R53 with a 1.6-liter supercharged inline-four cylinder engine capable of 165hp and a top speed of 135mph. To track a Mini Cooper S Hardtop, you would want coilovers, handling mods, sticky tires, lightweight rims, and bigger brakes, not forgetting the usual service items and fluids.
6 Volkswagen Golf MK4 GTI
There are sharper and more exciting hot hatches to pick out there, but the MK4 Golf GTI is a capable, fast, and entertaining car that ticks almost every motoring hack box. The car has been labeled too average, too slow, and not a proper GTI, but the sweet spot is the post-2002 model fitted with the full-fat 180hp turbo inline-four.
The greatest challenge with Golf MK4 GTI models is handling, but it will keep you happy after upgrades like improved suspension, poly bushes throughout, bigger anti-roll bar in the back, race-spec brakes, and remapping.
5 Subaru Impreza WRX
If you want a properly, well-rounded car that genuinely does it all, you could hardly go wrong with the WRX. In addition to its impeccable all-weather capabilities, the compact, yet raw Impreza WRX boasts a surprisingly lightweight, decent chassis, twin vicious limited-slip differentials, and sports-oriented suspension suitable for track use.
The first-generation Impreza WRX houses a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, and a five-speed manual came standard. Although Subaru never sold the GC8 in North America, several models have made their way into the U.S. over the years, and it’s always possible to opt for the later models — which are still cheap, by the way.
4 Honda Civic Si
For the last two decades, the Honda Civic Si has enjoyed and maintained feverish popularity among track enthusiasts. Part of this attention stems from the virtually bottomless bin of aftermarket parts available and the chassis’ ability to accommodate numerous Honda swaps without a fuss.
In addition to the peppy VTEC engine options, the 1992-95 and 96 to 2000 Civic are arguably the best Civics for track days since they’re lightweight, agile, and deliver spirited drives.
3 BMW 3-Series E36 325i
Since the E30 is now considered a collector’s item, the E36 3-Series, especially the 325i sedan, steps up to become the next best affordable Bavarian track rat of choice. In addition to the attractive price tag, the 325i boasts a 189hp 2.5-liter inline-six BMW M50 engine.
The BMW E36 325i’s significant fun factor, raw character, light construction, reliability, and go-kart handling make it a worthwhile track car project. The 325i is still one of the most common cars in motorsports events, and you could get a well-maintained example for a mere fistful of dollars.
2 Mazda RX-8
The rotary engine shies away from any discussions on reliability, but its high-revving characteristics ensure that the RX-8 is one of the most formidable track day cars on a budget. The 1.3-liter RENESIS 13-B MSP Wankel engine doesn’t pick up mind-blowing power, but the RX-8 has excellent weight distribution, impeccable handling, and superior chassis.
Track prepping an RX-8 should include stripping off unnecessary weight, adding sway bars, bucket seats, coilovers, ignition coils, lighter wheels, brake pads, and improving the cooling system. The RX-8 models built after the 2008 mid-cycle refresh are more expensive, but you should definitely aim for the best, most-loved example you can find.
1 Toyota Celica GT-S
Critics are quick to dismiss the Celica GT-S for track days due to its FWD configuration. Nonetheless, the Celica GT-S is lightweight, handles excellent around corners, and has a firm suspension.
The high-revving yet user-friendly powerband makes it a magnificent choice for beginners and less so for experienced track drivers. The biggest challenge with the Celica GT-S could be the availability of a variant with the favorable 2ZZ engine. However, it’s still worth a punt, considering a well-maintained model can be picked up for next to nothing.
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