From stately and powerful BMWs to lightweight sports cars and everything in between, there are a number of exciting vehicles available for three grand or less. With prices of new cars starting at roughly twenty thousand dollars and only rising from there, it is easy to see why used cars make so much sense to those not willing to break the bank. With some research and Craigslist searching one can find a perfectly functional and reliable car for 1000$, but for those of us that want to have some fun a little more is often required.
Little being the operative term, because a fun runabout or even the basis for a truly amazing piece of machinery can be had for barely 2000$. There are several well known enthusiast cars that can deliver many smiles for very little money, no matter what set of cars one is into. Early Golfs and Jettas for European fans, Foxbody and SN95 Mustangs for muscle car loyalists, and featherweight Civics for the followers of JDM. There are, however, more obscure cars and trucks for purchase that are just as cool, and this list will focus on these. Some of these cars are off the beaten path, some are better known, some are classics, some are late model, but all have the character required to be fun behind the wheel.
Prefer a running project, or something already totally complete? Perhaps a heavy and powerful cruiser, or maybe a light and agile sports machine? Whatever the automotive inclination, it is here.
20 1999 BMW 528i
The 528i is a smooth German luxury machine, stately and composed. While far from a boy racer looking automobile, the medium sized sedan has excellent suspension and brakes, and would be fun to scoot around town in while exercising it’s rear wheel drive layout. This particular example is in very good shape for the price, the only damage being paint chips on the front from highway miles.
Rust free and clean, this vehicle is a good example of what one could buy for well under 3000$.
While BMW maintenance costs must be considered to make sure this car would truly fit one’s budget, this example sold for a low 2000$.
19 1975 MG Midget
Agility and fun define this little roadster. Top down, wind in the hair fun, with rear wheel drive and a manual transmission to growl through gears with. While certainly not powerful or fast, there are few automotive experiences more pure than cornering in a proper lightweight sports car. This MG is in very good condition, with 69,000 original miles and a new convertible top. The condition of this car takes some of the hassle out of owning a classic British sports car. Ready to find the nearest tight set of corners to carve and put a smile on a driver’s face, this car sold for 2700$.
18 1997 Mercedes-Benz S420
Owned by the likes of princesses, dictators, drug lords, and corporate executives, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has always had a certain panache. Large, comfy, elegant, and very luxurious, the top of the line Mercedes set the standard for opulence in the arena of high end executive cruisers. When these vehicles were new, they were cars the owners hired drivers for, but these days they are far more attainable for those not capable of spending hundreds of thousands on a car. Depreciation hits the high end of the car market hardest, and now this good condition S420 has sold for 2700$.
17 1985 Nissan 300ZX
The “Z31” chassis code Nissan Z is a sports grand tourer, a car meant to compete with the Corvette in the American market at much less cost. This generation of Z succeeded at this, offering eighty percent of a Corvette for ten grand less. A selection of burbling inline six and V6 engines gave the power the 300ZX required, along with a practical opening fastback hatch and well tuned suspension.
This car has the optional t-tops, but while being mechanically sound is rough on the outside.
A good candidate for restoration, or perhaps even use as a racing or drift car. It sold for 1500$.
16 2005 BMW 325i
Considered by many to be the best generation so far of the BMW 3-Series, the E46 generation strikes a mature balance of taut handling, respectable engine power and response, and easy to use practicality. This was engineered to be a sports car in a suit and tie. This clean example is a sedan, which adds further practicality without removing the basic sporting nature of the E46 layout. Also optioned is a factory sport pack, arming the vehicle with a more aggressive tune to take advantage of the naturally good weight distribution of the 3-Series. For 2805$, this would be a proper purchase.
15 1987 Porsche 944
On its release the 944 was the closest thing to an everyman Porsche, with a basic front engine/rear drive layout and far lower pricing than anything else in the German sports car maker’s range.
These days, while parts are expensive, the 944 remains the easiest way to own a Porsche.
A sports grand tourer, like the 300ZX, the 944 is a sports car one can easily take on long road trips. This example is quite clean and ready to be driven like it was built to be. With a sunroof and classic Porsche wheels, this 944 is a relative bargain at 2250$.
14 1986 Ford Bronco
The Bronco is a legendary off road vehicle and the progenitor of an entire segment of enthusiast-oriented SUVs. Locking four wheel drive, an easily modifiable old school V8, and two door styling contributed to the Bronco being a staple for decades, including a massive fan following that continues today. This example suffers from surface rust in the outer wheel arches, but is mechanically sound. While this could be used as-is, this truck could also make a great base for a baja truck, rock climber, or even a restoration. This Bronco sold for 886$, which definitely allows for some cash left over to modify.
13 1978 Ford F-250
A true workhorse, the F-250 came equipped with the 351 Cleveland V8 engine, and a very large bed. These trucks were truly tough, with a body-on-frame construction that would allow the F-Series pickup to tank hits that would total a unibody car. Rugged and simple, this truck would get people and gear anywhere, and get them back home. This particular truck has a bed cap with windows that protects cargo in the bed from the elements, and an extended cab for more interior space. Its condition is good, right down to the two tone paint and complimenting chrome. This truck sold for just over three grand, at 3,050$.
12 1988 Pontiac Firebird
The third generation Firebird is a staple of the 80’s, and not just because a modified version of the Trans Am was driven by David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider. With a choice of engines including the stalwart Chevy 350, the Firebird continued a lineage of American pony cars that harked back to the 60’s. While when new this generation of Firebird was choked by emissions regulations, the modern aftermarket can easily make one of these truly fast for very little money. Even less money than the 2550$ this decent example sold for, making this Trans Am good muscle car bargain.
11 1988 Ford Mustang
Many of the Mustang faithful say the last true muscle car Mustang was made in 1993, as the last descendant of the original Foxbody line. Even though these Fox Mustangs looked like a stretched Ford Escort economy car, the instant one started it became very apparent they were the rightful and direct heirs to the thundering muscle machines of the late 60’s.
Relatively light weight, very low cost, and extreme modifiability means these are popular machines for enthusiasts to have all kinds of fun in.
This one is in decent working order, comes with the proper 351 Windsor V8 engine, and sold for 1574$.
10 1999 Mercury Grand Marquis
When old habits die hard, sometimes it’s a good thing. The Mercury Grand Marquis pictured here is a car originally sold in 1999, but with technology from forty years prior. Old steering, old suspension, and tough old body-on-frame construction that now only persists in trucks. While this does mean this Panther-platform vehicle does not turn, go, or stop quite like a modern car, it does mean that it will run practically forever. Especially since the vast majority of first owners of these vehicles were from the generation that first bought the large sedans this Mercury apes. This pristine and indestructible time capsule was sold for 2605$.
9 2005 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor
Like its Panther-platform sister the Grand Marquis, the Ford Crown Victoria is virtually indestructible. For this reason, the Crown Vic was and to a degree still is employed by a large number of police departments, with their own upgraded version.
The Police Interceptor takes the standard Panther-platform toughness and cranks it up to 11 while dramatically improving handling and braking performance.
This includes “severe duty” suspension designed to hit a curb head on at 45mph and not flinch, high performance brakes, heavy duty cooling, limited slip differential on some models, and a slight power boost via a new intake. This is on top of the many improvements given to the Panther-platform cars in 2003. All of this was sold for 2000$.
8 1998 Eagle Talon
The original Diamond Star Motors trio of the Plymouth Laser, Mitsubishi Eclipse, and Eagle Talon were a founding force in the tuner community, and this was only built upon when the second generation Talon and Eclipse were launched. With much curvier bodywork than their predecessors, the new DSMs were practically made to end up as the main character in a movie, which The Fast and the Furious did. Cheap, turbocharged, and relatively light, these cars stop shows and win races. Fantasy has become reality, as drag racers often make 10 second cars for ten grand in modifications with these cars. This mint example sold for 2200$.
7 2000 Jaguar XJ8
A proper European luxury sedan, the stately XJ8 is powered relatively small displacement finely tuned V8, and while capable of getting out of its own way was not meant for driving hard. This is a cruiser, a highway denizen with a British accent, and a car capable of making the longest drives politely enjoyable.
Parts costs and reliability are roughly what you would expect from a British car, but despite this Jaguar loyalists swear by them.
This one is suffering from fading clear coat, but is mechanically sound, with only one previous owner. This proper English automobile sold for 2900$.
6 2006 Mercedes-Benz C230
A more modern Mercedes, with luxury balanced with affordability. The C-Class is Mercedes’ equivalent to BMW’s 3-Series, but the difference in the two competing German manufacturers is quite evident in their products. BMW made driver’s cars that had some level of refinement, while Mercedes emphasized outright luxury instead of driving prowess. This results in a more plush, warmer interior, but less sharp handling. This particular C-Class is in mint condition and finished in bright red, making even the plush sedan look somewhat sporty. While parts and service are expensive, if one wants a proper German luxury car, this is a possible starting point. This C230 was sold for 2550$.
5 1970 Chevrolet C-10
The 70’s C-10 Chevy trucks are true classics, often modified into slammed street machines or lifted off road slayers. Easily modifiable, equipped with a range of torquey engines, and with parts widely available, these vehicles can be built into a wide variety of end results, sometimes without much money required to make it happen, depending on how it is done. This particular truck, while running and driving well, is not showroom fresh. That said, with little work and practically no money this could be made into a reliable daily, or for more outlay could be built into something amazing. This truck sold for 2600$.
4 2008 Nissan Maxima SE
Nissan has been known to be a very popular and dependable car manufacturer. The 2008 Nissan Maxima SE was a quality car, and it sold fairly well.
It sported a 3.5 Litre V6 engine, which put out a very exciting 255 Hp.
It even delivered a combined 22 MPG, and was a very reliable front wheel drive sedan. It didn't have the most striking appearance, but it was spacious enough and offered a look that was fairly elegant in its simplicity. Depending on the condition, this car can go for anywhere between 2500$ and more than 5000$. Of course, the more mileage, the lower the price.
3 1982 Cadillac Deville Mary Kay
This Cadillac is a proper land yacht of a previous era, when luxury was not gadgets and technology, but space and comfort. Despite only having two doors, this huge machine had more interior room than some modern crossovers. Plush lounge chairs, expansive leg and headroom, and a gigantic trunk rounded out the old school definition of luxury. This car is a rare Mary Kay edition, complete with hot pink paintwork. Not anyone could pull off rolling up to their destination in a massive bright pink Cadillac, but those who could probably would not have it any other way. This yacht was sold to her new captain for 2500$.
2 1986 Ford Bronco Camper
Showing how truly creative the Bronco fanbase can be with their chariot of choice, this off road machine has a camper module fitted into the bed. Fully capable of driving to any location and being its own campsite, this Bronco comes prepared. The camper includes a kitchenette, bunk space, and a pop up roof to provide extra space and headroom in the living area. This truck retains its tough powertrain and locking four wheel drive system, and with basic maintenance will get you out into nature via the road or trail. This awesome piece of off road engineering and creativity sold for 1500$.
1 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass
The “G-Body” platform 80’s GM muscle machines, including this Cutlass, started as smog-choked, lumbering bricks.
But these days they are cheap muscle that can be made to perform to incredible degrees with very little money.
There are many modified examples capable of 10 second quarter mile times, with just junkyard parts and a hefty dosage of nitrous oxide. The Cutlass has long been a staple of budget drag racers, but with the inexpensive nature of the vehicle and the modifications required to make it a street machine, it is possible to build G-Body vehicles into almost anything. This Cutlass, in full working condition, sold for 2000$.
Sources: autotrader.com, cargurus.com, kijiji.ca