Don't let skyrocketing E30 prices get you down.
Ten years ago, it would have been unfathomable to imagine that an E30 BMW M3 could ever be considered a six-figure car. Perfect examples can cost upwards of $140,000, but even high mileage examples are hard to find for less than $40,000. These skyrocketing values have completely priced out many enthusiasts who just want a pure, old fashioned sports car to drive around. We hate the feeling of knowing that a car has appreciated to become unobtainable, which is why we have come up with five cheaper alternatives to the E30 M3.
It's no secret that the later E36 generation M3 lacks the prestige of the original car. It was larger, heavier, and less pure than the original, which also means that it is now much cheaper. US-spec M3's were hampered by a severe lack of power compared to the European models, but these cars are starting to reach an age where the good ones can be imported into the US. Surprisingly, the lack of good E30 M3 examples has started to increase the prices of the E36, but it is still possible to find a good one for less than $20,000. The E46 M46 seems to be the car that everyone gravitates to, so the E36 should always be the best value in the M3 world.
Much like the E36, the Porsche 944 is not well loved within the Porsche community. This is mainly because it wasn't rear-engined or air cooled, so it's safe to ignore the criticism. We love the styling of the 944, with its retro pop-up headlights and useful rear hatchback. The 944 only came with a 158-hp 2.5-liter inline-four, so it wasn't particularly fast. The 944 Turbo, which can be found for less than $20,000 today, did bring the power up to 217 hp with a six-second 0-60 time. Since the 944 isn't the most valuable car in the Porsche family, you won't mind beating it up on the track.
The Nissan 240SX (or Silvia as it's known in Japan) is a tuner car icon. This car is known for its high level of tune-ability and flexibility for engine swaps. Aside from the Miata, the 240 is one of the least expensive ways to buy a RWD chassis that can easily be worked on and improved for track or drift use. If you could drive a 240 back-to-back with an E30 M3 blindfolded, there is no way that you'd say the BMW should cost ten times as much. The 240 may not come with the same level of prestige, but if you only care about the driving experience, the Nissan will not disappoint. If you want to be a bit more unique, import a Silvia from Japan and you will attract as much attention at car shows as an E30 M3.
The Honda Beat is one of the coolest cars that never made its way into the US. The Beat is what's known as a Kei car, a small class of Japanese cars that have small engines under 660 cc. This little sports car packs a tiny 656 cc three-cylinder engine with only 63 hp. This may sound like a boring recipe, but that little engine can rev up to 8,100 rpm. We've had the opportunity to drive one of these, and we can attest that it is one of the most fun driving experiences that we've ever had. The lack of power means that you can mash the throttle all of the time, and enjoy the buzz of that little engine. Even with the cost of importing one from Japan, the Beat can be purchased for under $10,000.
Even though the BMW M3 was designed specifically to compete against the 190E Cosworth, Mercedes never really gets the credit for being the benchmark of high-performance sedans. The 190E Cosworth is not nearly as valuable as the E30 M3, but it does have the same cool factor. Likewise, the AMG C-Class models that followed it can also be had for staggeringly good value. Both the 276 hp C36 AMG and the 302 hp C43 AMG can be found for less than $10,000 in the US. Mercedes only built 200 C36 examples for the US, and only a few hundred of a rare model called the C55, which had the larger V8 from an E55 swapped into it. These engines were all hand-built and add to the awesomeness of these cars.