Want Bargain Exotic Design? Buy Used.

lotus exige

We recently postulated “Why is Good Design So Damn Expensive“?  That spurred a ton of argument discussion about “tooling” and various other automotive manufacturing things that I know very little about.  Apparently there are quite a few folks, even in the enthusiast community, who don’t think its possible to build a brand new exotic-looking car for the price of something more pedestrian.  Something about how curves cost more.  I could probably wax immature poetic with an inappropriate witty analogy about how that is true in other industries as well, but I won’t.  The end result of a whole bunch of, well, arguing, is that exotic design is still expensive, at least for new cars in the U.S.  Whether that will change with time and progress through processes like 3-D printing and the like, we shall see.  For now, let’s look at the alternatives for someone who is yearning for an exotic looking car on a budget.  Let’s face facts, you have to go used.  This is part of a series of articles addressing the shadowy world of used exotic cars.

What do I mean by Exotic?

Well, I’ll tell you.  You know it when you see it.  Sorry, but that’s how it is.  OK, I’ll quantify it a bit, it normally isn’t something you see several of within a short period of time.  As much as I proposed the potential for building an exotic car design inexpensively in the predecessor to this article, as it stands exotic typically means limited production.  If you see more than one per week, it’s either not terribly exotic, or you live in a very affluent area.  Exotic normally means low and wide, it should have interesting lines and a swoopy design.  Apparently “swoopy” isn’t a word.  Even when you put it in “quotes”.

So now that I’ve got you about as confused as the 20 year old restaurant hostess who never understands it when I say “Salinger, Part of Five” when reserving our table, we can proceed with the examples!  These are all found via a nationwide search of cars.com, your results with your car search websites may vary.  Post your favorite alternatives from Auto Trader, Ebay, etc.  Click on the image of the posting to see the actual ad.


Ah Acura, how the mighty have fallen.  Remember the days of Integra GSRs and the almighty NSX?  I’m already digressing, you saw how well they did in the RFD HP Report Card (spoiler alert, poorly) so I’ll go back to pining for the days of yore 90s.

NSX – 35 Found; Pricing $25,000 – $74,950; Mileage 6,439 – 209,600

acura nsx-t If you’ve been reading RFD recently, and you should because it’s great, you’ll likely have seen Josh’s introduction to a series about his daily driver NSX.  Keep an eye out, that series has a ton of additional articles in draft. Regardless, when looking for an affordable exotic on the used market, the epitome of this entire exercise is the Acura NSX.  Or Honda NSX depending on where you are reading this from.  You can find used Acura NSXs on the market in many forms, the earlier pop-up headlight versions to the NSX-T and even some Type-R clones.  Take a look at that mileage range listed above.  These cars get driven.  A lot.  Because they are reliable.

acura nsx

acura nsx-t


There are 1,378 used Ferraris on cars.com.  So there are no shortage of choices!  Even limiting it to $100,000 you have to sift through 182 cars.  So we will adhere to a $75,000 limit for our Ferrari shopping which nets you a still respectable 79 matches.  Specifically, you can choose to spend your early withdrawal 401K on the following: 308 (1), 328 (2), 348 (8), 360 Modena (14), 360 Spider (3), 456 GT (2), 456 M (12), F355 (27), Mondial (5), Mondial T (1), Testarossa (1).  Now that’s some exotic shit right there, so I don’t think I need to use any text telling you why Ferrari’s are exotic. Which means, if you are able to stomach the maintenance, which can vary wildly with this group of cars, this may be a tempting option.  Here are some of our favorites.

*EDIT* I’ve been lied to.  The first two I clicked on were replicas.  Fucking kit cars!  I feel like Frank Underwood just pulled a fast one on me, at least I didn’t end up in front of a DC Metro train.

Here are some of our legitimate favorites. Take a look at this bunch, the 456 is easily one of the best looking cars of our generation and the F355 Spider oozes exotic…stuff.  Yes please.

ferrari 348 spider
ferrari 456M
ferrari f355 spider

The following cars are easily some of my favorite options on the list, brought to you by the boys from a little town in Norfolk, England called Hethel.  This 9.84 square kilometer town has a population of 446 people and only 171 households.  At least according to the 2011 census, which was all that Wikipedia had in the description of Hethel.  I can’t really be bothered to research this further, suffice to say, Hethel tis a silly small place.  But it’s home to Lotus Cars, has been since 1966.  While Lotus circa 2015 may not seeing the sales they need to stay alive, they have produced some pretty special cars over the years.  Lotus was on our shores back in 70s, 80s, and some of the 90s before shipping back to the UK.  Luckily they made it back to the U.S. in 2005 and we can buy them on the used market.

Elise – 43* Found; Pricing $23,500 – $58,000; Mileage 745 – 76,442

lotus eliseThe Elise may be my favorite car on this list.  Between it’s tall fenders, crazy bug headlights and generally not-at-all-normal-car design, it is not only a great drivers car, but certainly exotic.

While it may not be the best daily driver, it is a perfect track day fun car and will be at home on your favorite back roads.  Here are a few that we particular liked.

lotus eliselotus elise

*One was a Hennessey Venom and was not priced

Exige & Exige S – 8 Found (3 Base/5 S); Pricing $39,990 – $77,000; Mileage 4,321 – 29,778

lotus exigeTalk about exotic, the Exige and Exige S basically take the Elise and dial it up a bit with bigger and better everything.  Including price.  The North American Exige was unveiled at the LA Auto Show in 2006 and with its neon paint and aggressive styling, definitely fits the “exotic” car bill.

Here are some of our favorites that you can go buy right now just in time for your next HPDE track day.

lotus exige lotus exigeEsprit – 10 Found; Pricing $21,000 – $41,995; Mileage 13,313 – 59,000

lotus espritEven before Richard Gere Lewis borrowed George Costanza’s Esprit and drove it down Rodeo Dr. (poorly) I’ve been a fan of this British exotic.  “Handles like it’s on rails”.  That’s all you really need to know about the Esprit. Well that and it may be a bit of a hand full from a reliability standpoint.  Unless you find one with a more reliable engine swapped in.  Regardless, it makes our short list of budget exotics.  If you dare  Much 80s.  Very wedge.

lotus esprit turbo selotus esprit v8Conclusion

So this ends Part 1 of the series.  I think we found some fun options.  But what did we learn from this little exercise.  I’ll quote the great Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”.  Replace “scientists” with “potential exotic car buyer” and you’ll see where I’m going with this.  The NSX, yeah that doesn’t really scare me.  The Elise and Exige, well that’s got a little 1.8L Toyota engine, what could go wrong?  The others, well let’s just say I would want to cut back to a part time working schedule, expand my garage, and invest in some parts discount services.  Is that a thing?

If you didn’t find anything you want to spend your money on this time, don’t worry, we’ll be back for Part 2 soon.  Until then, what say you internet, what’s your favorite exotic car bargain buy?

  1. Will, I appreciate the content, but you need to have your editor sharpen up your writing some. That whole bit about Hethel was belabored and still didn’t manage to put a small manufacturer into the greater context of the British automotive industry. And “tis” is short for “it is,” not “is.”

  2. I’m able to buy something like these cars, but I don’t know enough to be able to avoid the cars that will cost $30,000 in maintenance every year, need the engine removed to set the timing, etc.

    If there was a way to find an expert in a given car line to guide one to avoid known weaknesses, like a Porsche that is known to tear up a crankshaft bearing pretty regularly, etc. then I would be way more inclined to go for something like this.

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