Who says a race car has to be expensive?
As car enthusiasts, we dream about having the disposable income to blow on an expensive track toy and a weekend at a fancy racetrack. Unfortunately, this isn't really a reality for most of us. The best we can hope for is a couple of days of autocross in a parking lot with our daily driver and if budget permits, a set of nice tires to help us go faster. If you're one of these people then don't fret, because we have complied five budget track cars that you can drive every day, and take on a fun weekend for less than $5,000.
The E36-generation 3 Series is not the best of BMW's most popular model. However, the company built tons of them and they can now be had for an incredibly reasonably price. The M3 of this generation is very difficult to find in this budget and the previous E30 3 Series is starting to become a bit of a collectible. For less than $5,000, you can find the best of the non-M3 E36 cars, the 328is. We found a 1996 model for $4,995 for sale in Ohio. The 328i comes with a 2.8-liter inline-six engine with 190 horsepower. Like most BMWs, the car is RWD and has a five-speed manual transmission. The car weighs just over 3,000 pounds and gets almost 30 mpg when you leave the race track.
The Toyota MR2 is the ideal track car thanks to its mid-engined layout. It's unfortunate that Toyota no longer makes the MR2, because it was arguably the best affordable track car that money could buy. It would be hard to find any mid-engine car for less than $5,000 because most of the cars with this layout are expensive exotics. The MR2 is an interesting choice for less than $5,000 because you will actually have a choice between all three generations at this price. We are partial to the second generation model, which came in a 200 horsepower turbo model. The second generation was built from 1989 to 1999 if you want one, but you really can't go wrong with any of the generations.
The Honda Civic is not the first model that you would think of when considering a track car. However, from 1992 to 1997, Honda built a two-seater targa version of the Civic called the Del Sol. The Civic Del Sol was a successor to the highly-regarded CRX, but was actually a very good car in its own right. The most powerful model was the Si, which had a 160 horsepower 1.6-liter VTEC engine. The Del Sol makes for an excellent track car because it's small and nimble. Curb weight is only around 2,300 pounds and the aftermarket is plentiful. You can strap a turbo to a Del Sol and create a track monster for autocross.
The Mini Cooper is another great choice for a track car. Even though the BMW-built Mini Coopers are not as light as the originals, they still weigh less than 3,000 pounds in all trims. For less than $5,000, you can still find a Cooper S, which has more power than a standard Cooper. We recommend that you find one that was built after 2007, which is when the company switched to a 172 horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. The previous Mini Cooper S came with a 1.6-liter supercharged engine with 163 horsepower. The supercharged car was also very fun, but the reliability of the newer car is a bit better. You can also get more horsepower by tuning the turbo car.
It should come as no surprise that the Mazda MX-5 Miata makes this list. For years, the Miata has been the ideal track weapon for someone on a budget. It doesn't really matter which Miata you choose, because they are all pretty spectacular. We would recommend the original NA generation for sheer collectibility, but the NB generation might actually be a little cheaper to buy. The NA came with either a 115-hp 1.6-liter engine or a 131-hp 1.8-liter unit. Both of these cars are not what you would call fast, but they offered extreme balance and light weight which made them great track cars. Anyway, part of the fun of having a Miata track car is modifying it to have more power.