Buying an already fast car is one thing if you have the money, but it’s just another fast car. Some lucky automotive journalist already took it out to a track and recorded what it was capable of. When you roll up to the burger stand, people can quote your car stats back at you and then give you three or four options for a car that can do it better, and have you heard of this new one coming out that’s supposed to blow everyone away? It’s just not as fun.
Updated March 2022: Some cars beg for mods; others are perfect straight from the factory. In some cases, this perfection is from the precision engineers. For some, though, mods are just simply too costly or hard to do. We’ve updated this list with more cars that benefit from some mods and with cars that are perfect as they are.
But modding a car, taking a potentially fast car, and finding that potential through the additions and changes you make, that’s a pure gearhead. That is post-war kids taking pre-war cars, chopping them up, and putting big new V8s in them. The only way the tongue wagers down at the burger stand know what your car can do is to show them taillights at the local track. This is not a car; this is your car, one you busted knuckles on to find that hidden two-tenths in every margin left by the factory that you closed.
Not all cars are equal; some take to modding easier than others. Here’s a list of the most modifiable vehicles and some that aren’t worth the effort.
22 Not Worth It: Bugatti EB110
Bugatti is known for perfection. As such, you should never mess with perfection, and the EB110 is no exception. The EB110 has a quad-turbocharged V12 that produces just over 600 horsepower, and like all good sports cars of the 1990s, it comes with a six-speed manual transmission.
Additionally, with a 0-60 in 3.1 seconds and a top speed of 213 MPH, there really isn’t much in the way of producing more power, and any other mods are practically considered a crime. It’s not even worth it either, as any mods applied will take away from the classic Bugatti aesthetic.
21 Moddable: Toyota Supra MK4
Toyota’s Supra is a classic JDM model that spans decades. Some are better than others, and in the late 1990s, the MK4 took the Supra crown. Under the hood sits a twin-turbocharged inline-six that can produce 321 horsepower. Just like other good sports cars, the Supra comes with a six-speed manual transmission for the most fun possible.
Also, like other good JDM cars, the Toyota Supra MK4 is a perfect modification platform. The inline-six has unlimited potential for additional power, and numerous body kits allow owners to personalize the Supra to suit the broadest range of personalities.
20 Not Worth It: Toyota 2000GT
Toyota is an excellent platform for modifications, but not every model should be tampered with. In fact, the 2000GT should be prized, as these models are increasingly rare as the 60s slip further behind us. The 2000GT is often considered Toyota’s first genuine sports car, and with a legacy like that, it deserves to be left stock.
As classic as it could get, the Toyota Supra has a 2.0L inline-six that can make 150 horsepower which may not seem like much, but remember it’s a sports car from the 1960s, and for the time, that kind of power was unheard of amongst the JDM community!
19 Moddable: Honda Civic
Since its conception, the venerable Civic has been the flagship of the import hot rod scene in America and abroad. Like the old-school hot rods before it, it has all the hallmarks needed to be a tuner classic. First of all, there are millions of them. No one is clutching their pearls if you pull an ’89 Civic from the boneyard and start cutting into it, lowering it, and swapping engines. We’re not yet in a world where someone advertises their low mileage Civic with ‘matching numbers.’ Do what you like. Also, they’re lightweight and versatile.
Until the 21st century, even ‘hot’ factory Civics weren’t all that fast, but they could be. And aftermarket companies offering go-fast bits specifically for the Civic are almost as numerous as the Civic itself. This means that you can take your humble grocery getter and tune it to whatever kind of go-fast you like: dragstrip, autocross, or club racing. The Civic is your perfect blank slate.
18 Not Worth It: Porsche Boxster
The Boxster, if we all ignore the 924 as we should, maybe the last cheap Porsche to pick from. Even the once-derided 914 has been swept up in Porsche Madness, and prices have started to reach unattainable. So for someone wanting to get into tuning a car already with an eye towards speed to go even faster, it’s an attractive option. If you’re going to go that route, you’ll need a few things. Like a car lift.
The Boxster was meant to evoke the 550 Spyder. A pure mid-engine top-down sports car, the like of which Porsche made its name.
It was made to perform, but not as well as the 911; nothing can act as good as the 911 unless it’s also a 911. Bridging that gap is easy on paper but difficult in practice. For starters, there’s no hood. If you want to get to the engine, you have to go from underneath. In fact, doing anything on the Boxster essentially requires taking it apart. That’s going to make for long weekends.
17 Moddable: Ford Mustang
Take your pick. It’s hard to imagine now, but before Carrol Shelby and Steve McQueen made the Mustang the last word in cool, it was a ‘secretaries’ car, not a hot rod. Even with the hipo 289, it wasn’t a Chevelle or a Charger. Lightweight and enormous power combined with good looks (with a few dark years…) meant that it would quickly become the flagship pony car of choice. The engine bay accepts the V8 of your choice, and there’s more than enough room to add on whatever go-fast features your heart desires.
The boxy Foxbody Mustangs of the 80s and 90s have become the weapon of choice for bracket and grudge match quarter milers for decades. With over five decades of tuners and modifications under its belt, there is a sea of options and experience to build on to make your Mustang king of cool. A modded Mustang is so commonplace that if you square up against one, your first question better be, “What’s in it?”
16 Not Worth It: 4th Gen Camaro
The 4th generation Camaro was meant to class up the Camaro’s image and make it a proper sports car. The rear seats were an afterthought to make sure the car fits into a different insurance category, and its look was supposed to be leaner and meaner, but lean sometimes means sacrificing space one would need to work on the car. For the LT1 Camaro, that meant that a large engine was shoehorned into a small engine’s bay.
Jalopnik sites readers lamenting skinned knuckles and lost feeling in their fingers just trying to change the spark plugs. The consensus is that it’s a V8 engine in a V6 bay.
To be sure, modified 4th gen Camaros exist. Everyone has that friend or friend’s brother somewhere who bolted a supercharger on their Camaro and spent nights hunting for Corvette owners to embarrass. If they’re calling you to help install it, negotiate for more than just pizza and beer because it will be a rough weekend.
15 Moddable: Acura Integra
Acura is an exercise in label identity. It’s a badge created for Americans, so we don’t have to explain that our Honda is the fancy Honda. When they sell the cars elsewhere, they wear the Honda badge; in the US, they wear the Acura badge. For Acura, the Integra was the car for people who liked to drive. It started life affordable for what it was and was hugely popular, which means you can find them for relatively cheap. It’s a bit like finding a Civic, but the car has already made nods to going fast. Its popularity as a tuner car means that there are enough options out there for you to strip your Integra down to the bone and build it back up to a club racer that’s hard to beat. Since it was already made with performance in mind, just a little bit of tune makes the car that much more usable as a racer.
There were four generations of the Integra before the RSX replaced it. Still, since its lifespan doesn’t cover any drastic changes in CARB or other regulations, the car gets better with each new model, so the later the model, the more you have to work with.
14 Not Worth It: Jaguar XJ-S
It may not be your first or even tenth choice, but the suspiciously cheap Jaguar that pops up on Craiglist might tempt you with its 12-cylinder siren song. Like the mythological sirens, it wants to dash you against the rocks of disappointment and frustration. The problems start with the V12 engine. It’s a V12. Timing and tuning an engine with twelve cylinders to go through is a chore in and of itself. Despite that long wide engine bay, that V12 is taking up every inch of the valuable real estate. This is all before you get into finicky electrical systems and confusing layouts. While you can find a handful of suppliers for hop-up parts, if you look really hard, they are few and far between.
It’s difficult enough just to find regular replacement parts to keep your elegant British sports car running. Unless your shop is fully stocked and your time is unlimited, it’s best to avoid this mess.
13 Moddable: Subaru WRX
For years Americans had to look at the rally bread WRX and just dream. The flagship Impreza wasn’t imported to the United States. After video games featuring the turbocharged all-wheel-drive car and videos of the wild Colin McCrae flying through logging trails in the World Rally Championship became popular, Subaru eventually realized there was a market for the vehicle in the US. Tuners took to it immediately.
The turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder has proven potential. All a tuner had to do was to take off its training wheels and let it be the beast it was always meant to be, but it didn’t stop there.
IAG Performance has a WRX putting out a staggering 1,200 hp. All in a compact sedan or hatch body.
While the AIG sacrificed its daily drivability most mods that make the already fast WRX faster still leave a car with a full rear seat and cargo space allowing you to have a hot daily driver with few sacrifices.
12 Not Worth It: AMC Pacer
Again, maybe not your first choice. Not many gearheads are looking to be the fastest fishbowl at the burger stand. Maybe you’re a Wayne’s World fan and are looking to make your own MirthMobile or your looking at this cheap often ridiculed lightweight car of a misguided age and thinking this is the sleeper that will get the people talking at the next bracket race.
Like so many cars on the naughty list, though, it’s a victim of space. Originally intended for a rotary engine, it proved too much for the struggling AMC, and they went with engines they already had on the shelf. They didn’t change the engine bay design and so even the anemic engine it came with was a tight fit. Hopping up the AMC engine has few options and no place to put it, and the tight quarters make for limited choices in finding an engine to swap out. Even if you find one, now you have to change just about everything else on the car, so it can handle it. Best stick with the Red Vines dispenser and Bohemian Rhapsody ready tape deck and call it a day.
11 Moddable: Mazda Miata
It’s the obvious choice. The simple and affordable two-seater sports car is the last word in cheap reliable road fun. The Miata has been the last car standing, outlasting and outselling any other pretenders to the small roadster throne. It’s just a well-built fun car. Like the other import tuner cars on the list, its popularity and longevity mean that there are a ton of options available. When Mazda claims that more Mazdas are raced on any given weekend than any other car, it’s largely on the back of this plucky little roadster. You can go racing with your Miata right out of the box in the numerous spec Miata races across the world, or you can take the tame out of its road-going nature and dice it up in modified club races.
If all of that seems too pedestrian for your tastes, and you want something truly mad, something that will make even high-end performance car owners do a double take, there’s the Monster Miata, a company that sells kits that allow you to put a 5.0-liter Mustang V8 in a tiny Miata.
Now you’ve got Cobra level performance for used Camry money.
10 Not Worth It: BMW 3-series
This is counter-intuitive, so bear with me. There’s no denying the popularity and reputation of the M3. Also, the tuner market for the already fast M3 is huge. It’s still a BMW and everything you do to it comes with a BMW price tag. Consumer Reports list the 328 as the second most expensive car to maintain outside specialty cars and limited models. If budget is the only limiting factor on how fast you want to go, doing it in a base 3-series is starting the race in lead shoes.
Sure, even in regular trim the 3 series is already kind of fast and kind of nimble, getting it go fast and nimble outright is going to cost. To be true, hot rodding a car means you’re shortening its maintenance window, which means that you’re now replacing expensive parts more often and spending more of your go-fast money just making sure it goes. If you’ve got the money to burn you might as well start with the M model which is already there. That is unless you want your car to be a symbol of how much money you spent.
9 Moddable: Volkswagen Golf/GTi
The GTi and the Peugeot 206 started the hot hatch world. The idea of taking these tiny odes to efficiency and convenience and giving them a warmed over engine and more aggressive suspension started a revolution and a hot hatch arms race that lives today in the Focus RS and Golf R.
The GTi continues to stand out as a great choice for someone looking for a cheap autocrosser or buzzy boulevard cruiser. The simple engines came packed with unrealized potential and with the VR6 and turbo, models started to come from the factory ready for a fight.
Since they share components in later models with the up brand Audi stablemates, the potential is fantastic. Plus, if you’re into advertising your non-stock philosophy the 90s models were a lightning rod for cheap body kits that could add box flares to your box flares. You could not only beef up your little hatch, you could cover it in foam muscles so everyone knows. Like the WRX, it still comes with a back seat and roomy hatch to carry your dress up bits back from the shop in it, or even groceries and the family dog. It’s the go-to option for hoped up economy rides if Japanese imports aren’t your thing.
8 Not Worth It: Audi A4
Like with the BMW, there’s a world of difference between the A series Audis and the S series Audis. In this case, for the most part, you’re choosing between a turbo four and a V8. For people looking for an all-wheeled drive alternative to the M3, the S4 and RS4 are arguably up for the task. Like the 3 series before it, the fight to make your A4 be the hot rod you want is an expensive uphill battle. Add to that the Quattro drivetrain (and if you’re getting an Audi, why wouldn’t you?) and that hill got a lot steeper.
This is especially relevant because at least for a time, suspiciously right around when the car chase epic Ronin was released where the S8 was a star, the S cars were pretty popular. This means that there are plenty lying around for under $10k. But beware, these are all over 10 years old and most have long hard miles on them. You’ll be spending a lot of your go-fast money just getting them back to fighting trim before you start adding bits.
7 Moddable: Nissan 240sx
There’s a lot of reason that Japanese imports have become the tuner car of choice in the last few decades. Some of it is down to style or engineering, a lot of it has to do with availability, and some of it comes down to good old school hot rodding potential. Some speed-addicted bargain hunter noticing that beneath some humble wrappings lies everything you need to make a sleeper that can wake the dead.
This is definitely the case with the Nissan 240sx. Not quite a sports coupe, not quite an economy car, on the showroom floor it’s a zippy little commuter, a car with enough craving to make that morning commute, not a total snooze.
Underneath it is all you need to make a traditional fast fun car. A big engine bay, an engine that takes to tuning, and a classic front engine rear drive in a car that doesn’t weigh all that much. In Japan, it’s a tuner favorite outside of Japan it makes it the perfect bed to make a hot rod in true hot rod tradition. Plus, if drifting is your thing the 240sx takes those mods like a duck to water. It’s a cheap and easy way to get yourself in the niche motorsport and live your Fast & Furious dreams.
6 Not Worth It: Chrysler Sebring
This is another case of ‘why would you,’ but stranger projects have been undertaken. But if you’re thinking of taking up an outsider hot rodder project and think that cheap Sebring might be your ticket, make some friends. Jalopnik highlighted some of the owner’s frustrations with the layout of the car.
For instance, if you’d like to change the battery, it’s lodged behind the driver’s side bumper. To get at it, you have to take off the front tire, then a fender skirt, then detach the battery.
We haven’t checked, but we imagine that you can tell how well your used Sebring was taken care of by checking to see if the previous owner bothered to replace that skirt. Repair Pal lists 42 known problems with the Sebring. For a car that shares a name with a legendary endurance race, it just doesn’t live up to it. With that many issues, it doesn’t even make a good cruiser much less a hot rod. The bland look doesn’t help matters.
5 Moddable: Mazda RX-7
The RX-7 has been the connoisseurs choice for import rods since its introduction, and it has more than a little to do with its unconventional power plant. No cylinders for this lightweight sports coupe, the RX-7 is powered by the Wankel rotary engine. It works on the same principle of a piston engine in compressed gas and air but does it through a rotor that spins in an ellipsis with spark firing at the points where the chamber becomes the smallest. This means more power and more revs from a smaller plant.
While it also means that traditional bolt-ons won’t work on your RX-7, through its three generations the allure of that fast spinning engine has attracted tuners who have plenty of go-fast bits for you. Not that this doesn’t come with its own quirks, you might want to carry some extra oil with you. If you’ve got the extra money and can find the last American generation twin turbo RX-7 you not only have a car fast out of the box that you can make faster, you have one of the best looking cars Mazda ever made.
4 Not Worth It: Toyota Celica All-Trac
This is oddly specific but unlike maybe the Pacer or Sebring, this might be tempting for tuning. It’s got rally heritage, it’s an early all-wheel drive. Celicas were popular enough to modify that the factory started to make hot versions of it that eventually became the Supra (which quickly stopped being a Celica, but it was a start). So an all-wheel-drive Celica is a tempting starting point. Like with so many of the bad ideas on this list, it’s a ten sardine car in a nine sardine body.
Jalopnik has a reader recount the steps he had to take to just replace his clutch. It took three mechanics to get it out and then had to suspend both the transmission and engine on their own hoist. To replace the clutch.
Unlike the Pacer or the Sebring, however, the Celica All-Trac in 1993 came from the factory with 200hp and of course all-wheel drive. If you like a challenge or are really good at Tetris it might actually be a car worth trying, but invest in some mechanics gloves if you like skin on your knuckles.
3 Moddable: Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser/Eagle Talon
Remember when the Fast & Furious movies were about street racers from Echo Park? When the plot to Point Break was resolved with a classic stop light race? The beginning of that movie has our inexperienced undercover cop taking a hopped up Eclipse into a four-way race where he blows his nitrous too early and fries his engine. You might be convinced that the Eclipse is a ‘busters’ car, but you get the right model, and you’ve got the building blocks to a potent street rod.
The turbo model came with the 4G63 engine and some non-turbos did as well. Unfortunately, others came with a straight 4 out of a Neon, so choose carefully. Although, a base 4G63 can become a turbo with ease. With the option for all-wheel drive and a few decades of a dedicated aftermarket, the Eclipse’s fan base is well-earned. The Laser and Talon are the same cars made through a partnership between Chrysler and Mitsubishi, so if you don’t want to have just another Eclipse you can have the only car people remember from Eagle’s brief time as a car company. Just don’t get it confused with the upcoming crossover that’s bafflingly also going to be called Eclipse.
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