You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a cool, fun car. One of the best new rides for cheap fun is the Ford Fiesta ST, but its $21,435 starting price still puts it out reach for for the enthusiast on a tight budget. But if you do a little digging and keep an open mind, it’s possible to find interesting used cars in good shape for cheap money.
To prove this, I took a look through my local Boston area Craiglist, and picked out some cars that look like fun, need little or no work, and all cost $3000 or less.
The Honda Civic is a mainstay of cheap, fun cars. This particular coupe isn’t the sporty Si, but the EX is still a high end model. This one has 167k miles, and being a Honda it has many left to go. It has a 5-speed manual, aftermarket 17″ wheels, and a Pioneer stereo, and the photos show a sunroof and cruise control. For $3000, this looks like a good reliable ride with enough sportiness to keep it interesting.
The E46 body style has aged well over the years, and this particular 325i seems like it has, too. There isn’t much information in the ad, including mileage, but BMWs are typically well equipped, especially for cars in this price range. Its automatic transmission may turn some people off who prefer to do their own shifting. So might its need for new rear rotors. But for $2745 it’s a great deal, and for $3000 the seller will replace the rotors for you. Unfortunately, the dog is not included.
Enthusiasts tend to gravitate toward the WRX, or at least more sporty versions of the Impreza, rather than the crunchy granola Legacy. But if you live in the snow belt, this AWD wagon with a manual transmission could be a fun winter beater. It already has some exterior blemishes, so who cares if you bounce off a few snowbanks while following Colin McRae’s mantra “When in doubt, flat out?” This would also be a good choice for someone who needs a more practical car or room for the dogs. No word on head gaskets (this car’s weak point), but for $2800 you could romp this until it breaks, then swap in a motor from a totaled WRX to enhance your rally experience.
The Stealth Fighter is black, and this Maxima is like it in more ways than its color. This car is an excellent sleeper, and despite its ho-hum looks, it was the fastest Japanese sedan on the market in its time. A 3.0 liter V6 sends 190hp to the front wheels through a somewhat rare 5-speed manual transmission. This particular car has many new parts, appears to need nothing, and for just $1400 you can drive it away.
That’s no typo – this is a 325e, not 325i. It has BMW’s M20B27 2.7 liter 6-cylinder eta motor, tuned for economy and torque (170 lb/ft, more than the 325i) rather than horsepower (121). Everything else is standard E30. I almost bought one of these myself once. The diesel-like 4500rpm redline takes some getting used to, but I thought the car had plenty of get up and go. If you disagree, a simple ECU upgrade adds 20 to both numbers, but requires premium gas. This particular car has a 5-speed, leather seats from a donor car, and looks to be in great shape for a 30 year old car. $2500 takes it away.
If you’ve ever been on the internet, you’ve probably heard that “The answer is always Miata.” Once again, this is true. This appears to be a stock example of the original Miata, 1990 being its first model year, with the seller claiming to have all maintenance records since new. With 135k miles on the clock, it has many more to go. My old 1990 Miata is well over 200k, alive and well in its retirement in Georgia. It sounds like a good deal for $2000, and too nice to turn into a Spec Miata. And being 25 years old, you could actually put antique plates on it and preserve it.
If the idea of yet another Miata bores you, you can get this MR2 Spyder for $3000. It lacks the surprisingly good cargo room of its AW11 and SW20 predecessors, but the top drops. This car’s automatic transmission may not be everyone’s preference in a car like this, though.
Don’t think I’ve gone soft here, because this ex-cop Crown Vic’s suspension isn’t soft at all. I owned a 2003 example, and while it’s no corner carver, it handles far better than you’d expect from a big chunk of American iron. The front bucket seats have little support but are fairly comfortable, and though it needs a back seat, upgrades from other Crown Vics, Grand Marquis, and Town Cars bolt right in. There’s plenty of room for the whole family, and the plastic interior and rubber floor make it easy to clean up after the kids. They made a zillion of these, so parts are cheap and easy to find. Best of all, for $2200, you get a car that no one is going to mess with when you drive it.
Top photo by the author. Other photos from the original Craigslist ads – click the headers to go directly to each ad, while they last.