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Low Hanging Fruit: 25 Cheap Cars We Can Make Into Racing Machines

Some of the cars on this list may not look like much, but under the hood, they've got more power than the average driver can handle.

Ever since the dawn of cars with the Ford Model A, people have been wanting to exceed the limits of the stock capabilities. Have you ever heard the phrase "Built, not bought." That is exactly what we're going to cover today, with twenty-five cars you can pick up and have track-ready for around $10,000.

From Europe masterpieces to US muscle, and Japan-made monsters, we have something for car enthusiasts of all tastes. With the proper TLC and modifications, be ready to dominate track day with these low-hanging fruits, most of the time for less than the cost of a used sports car! It takes time, love, and dedication to turn these cars from stock to competition-ready, and you have to appreciate all the hard work that goes into these cars.

Some of the cars on this list may not look like much, but under the hood, they've got more power than the average driver can handle. These cars were built to be pushed to the limit, way beyond stock capabilities. Many of us haven't even pushed our own cars to their stock limitations! Buckle up, and join us for a ride through the world of cheap race cars.

25 Ford Mustang

via TagMyRide

The Ford Mustang is one of the most beloved US muscle cars on this list, and deservedly so. From the factory, these tiny Mustangs come packed with a five-liter, eight-cylinder engine that packs a whopping two-hundred plus horsepower. They are also rear-wheel-drive, which makes them perfect for taking out onto the track. Easy to upgrade and maintain, they are also relatively cheap coming in around $10,000.

The Fox-Body featured in the photo is fitted with a ten-cylinder engine from a Viper!

24 Subaru WRX STI

via IWSTI

Possibly the best looking car on this list, the Subaru WRX STI. This gorgeous piece of machinery comes with a turbo, and is all-wheel-drive straight from the factory. It's a great option for those looking for something all-wheel-drive, and can commonly be found for less than $8,000.

With a few simple upgrades to the transmission and handling, and this car will be ready to take on any track you want to throw at it and completely lose the competition and put down some hot lap times.

23 Toyota AW111 MK1 MR2

via Pinterest

With body lines that you can tell are straight from the 80s, this car is a personal favorite of mine and will be the next car I purchase. They're sometimes imported from Japan with the right-hand-drive platform, but they can still be found in the US with the left-hand-drive platform.

It's equipped with the 1.6L 4A-GE or 1.6L 4A-GZE, both of which could be considered the little brother to the 2JZ-GE. They're incredibly tiny, and the supercharged model has plenty of horsepower to put down some hot lap times with just a few simple modifications!

22 Mini Cooper

via Pinterest

The Mini Cooper is definitely one of the least used cars on this list for track day, but don't discount it! The wide and short wheelbase gives it good handling capabilities, and believe it or not there is actually enough room in the engine bay to swap in some pretty impressive engines.

Coming in around $8,000 for even the newer year models, it comes standard with a turbocharged 2.0L that puts out 189 horsepower, and is front-wheel-drive, all of which make it a great option for beginner racers.

21 Mitsubishi Lancer

via Pinterest

The Mitsubishi Lancer should definitely be considered one of the kings of the street. Its got a platform capable of handling enormous amounts of horsepower and is extremely common, which makes it easy to find one that's in decent condition. You can often do so for less than $8,000.

The Lancer platform can be transformed from an average daily driver to a track dominating monster with a few simple modifications. This car can be used for dirt rally, or tarmac driving, making it a very versatile platform.

20 Nissan 240SX

via SuperStreet

The Nissan 240SX is a car that is very common in the drifting community, but what some people don't realize is that just because that's the direction most people take, doesn't mean it can't be used for racing! It is an incredibly capable platform, and is a great project for any level of car enthusiast.

This car holds a certain status in the hearts of most Japan-made car enthusiasts, and rightfully so. Simple upgrades such as bigger brakes, better coil-overs, and forced-induction can have this car track-ready in no time.

19 BMW M3 E36

via ModBargains

One of the more common cars on this list, the BMW M3 E36 is ready for the track straight from the factory! But if you're willing to put in some hard work, time, and a little bit of money, you can have yourself an absolute monster.

Modifications like a wide-body kit, upgraded brakes, racing coil-overs can greatly improve the handling capabilities of the car. If you're looking for a little bit more than handling, adding a turbo is a great way to increase your acceleration and top speed.

18 Acura Integra

via SuperStreet

The Acura Integra is one of the most revered front-wheel-drive vehicles of all time, holding an almost legendary status in the tuning community. This Japan tuner car is perfect for turning into a track machine and definitely has the ability to out-perform plenty of other cars on the track.

People commonly add turbos and fully build-out the engine with forged parts to turn this car from a daily driver to absolute speed demon. Front-wheel-drive can have a less significant learning curve on the track too, so it's a great car to start out with.

17 Chevrolet Corvette C5

via Corvette Forum

Many people would scroll away from this car on their local Craigslist because they would assume it's too pricey, but you can commonly find the fifth generation Corvette for under $10,000!

It's another car on this list that is ready for the track straight from the factory, but with a few simple modifications, you can be sure that you'll dominate on track day. Aerodynamic and transmission upgrades are very common for this car, simply because the LS engine platform has more than enough power for most of us.

16 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

via Pinterest

Most definitely one of the more unexpected cars on this list, it's the Chevrolet Cobalt SS. It's small, light-weight, front-wheel-drive, and its only got two doors, all of which make it perfect for turning into a track monster.

As previously mentioned, the fact that it's front-wheel-drive makes it a great beginner car, but don't let that detour you from buying one. As you can see in the photo, it can be rear-wheel-drive swapped and is a great platform for engine swaps from the LS series.

15 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS

via Wikimedia Commons

The Chevrolet Monte Carlo was the base for many NASCAR series race cars, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that it's a great car for track day. You can often pick up an unmodified Monte Carlo for under $5,000, which makes it an absolute steal.

Depending on how much time, money, and effort you're willing to put into it, this car can either be a monster of a daily driver, or a full-on track machine that's capable of completely slamming the competition.

14 Dodge Neon SRT-4

via BJ Motors

Another rather unexpected car on this list is the Dodge Neon SRT-4. Weighing in at less than 3,000 pounds, with a front-wheel-drive, front-engine capable of 250 horsepower, this thing can really move! You can often find an unmodified Cobalt for less than $5,000.

With only some subtle modifications such as better brakes, upgraded coil-overs, and minor weight reduction, this car can become a dedicated track beast. It may not be the best looking car on the track, but it definitely has the capability to shine on track day.

13 Ford Focus SVT

via Diesel Station

The Ford Focus SVT is a car that at first glance, you would assume is nothing more than a glorified grocery-getter. But in all actuality, the Ford Focus is a base for many track cars used today. You can easily find one for under $4,000.

It's one of the more common cars driven on the Nurburgring in Germany because it's ready to go straight from the factory and companies make money renting them to tourists who cant afford to ship their own car. However, if you own one and have the time and money, it can become a serious competitor.

12  Honda Civic

via SuperStreet

Ah, the Honda Civic. Sometimes revered, sometimes feared, but more often than not they get smeared. I hate to say it, but a Honda that can win on a track day is harder to find than if you're looking for Bigfoot in New York City.

Notoriously under-powered with a few exceptions, they still make a great track car because they're small and light, and front-wheel-drive is easier to drive at its limits than rear-wheel-drive. The K20 engine is one of those exceptions because with the right turbo it can produce around 500 horsepower!

11 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

via SuperStreet

The only Hyundai on this entire list, the Genesis Coupe. This is one beast of a car straight from the factory, with rear-wheel-drive and an optional 3.8L V6 capable of almost 350 horsepower. Trust me, this thing can seriously move.

Depending on what trim package, there's a possibility you won't need to do a single thing to it before you can take it out onto the track and absolutely destroy competition. Pushing this car to the limits of its handling capabilities far exceeds the skill required to drive most of the other cars on this list.

10 Lexus SC300

via SuperStreet

If you don't know about this car, you need to. I'm sure you're familiar with the famous Toyota Supra, well consider the Lexus SC300 its brother.

The 2JZ-GE engine that has become one of the most popular engine swaps of all time can be found under the hood of this beauty, although you would never know just by looking at it. The 2JZ-GE is one of the most capable platforms in the world, and can produce absolutely insane amounts of horsepower with the proper modifications, making this car a great candidate for track day.

9 Mazda FC RX7

via Pinterest

The FC Rx7 is one of the more unique cars on this list because of its use of the Wankel rotary engine. The rotary engine is a very capable platform, however without the proper maintenance and care it can turn into a complete nightmare.

The engines are known for destroying what's called the 'apex' seal, leaking oil, and a litany of other serious problems. If you can get over that, they are absolutely incredible. With a redline that's close to ten thousand, the sound alone is enough to fill you with adrenaline.

8 Mazda Miata

via Pinterest

This car has an entire race series dedicated to it, so it's no wonder that this ride is one of the most common cars people take to track day on this list. It's a very small, very light, rear-wheel-drive coupe and it's perfect for upgrading.

There are so many different things you can do to a Miata to get it track-ready, from simple things like upgraded coil-overs and brakes, to completely swapping out the engine for a bigger one. The Miata is commonly engine swapped with engines from the LS series, which is more than enough power for this track-ready coupe.

7 Mazda RX8

via RaceCarsDirect

Last of the Mazdas on this list, but definitely not the least, it is the RX8. With its iconic style and unique engine, it's perfect for taking out to the track. You can often find an unmodified RX8 for less than $7,000.

This car is commonly fitted with a turbo because of the increase in acceleration and top speed and has excellent handling capabilities straight from the factory. If you're willing to put in the money, effort, and time this car can be great for taking out to the track and putting down some good laps.

6  Nissan 350Z/370Z

via Car Throttle

The Nissan 350z is another car that's very common with the drifting community, but unlike the 240SX, it's equally as common in the grip-racing community. It's one of the most common two-door coupes on the road, and there's a good reason.

It's a rear-wheel-drive, and comes standard with a 3.5L V6 for the production years between 2007 and 2009, and is very commonly fitted with a turbo to increase top speed and acceleration. With a few simple upgrades, this car can be ready to get on the track for less than $10,000.

5 Porsche Boxster

via Racing Classifieds

A Porsche on a list of low hanging fruit? That's right, you can own this wonderful piece of machinery and it can be yours for less than $10,000, which makes it an absolute steal. It's a masterpiece of driving perfection, and doesn't need to be touched before you can take it to track day, but if you want to have the full Porsche experience, a few simple modifications and you'll be ready to leave the competition in the dirt.

The Porsche Boxster comes with the standard water-cooled, rear-engine flat six, which was actually Porsche's first engine configuration of this style.

4 Scion TC

via SuperStreet

The Scion TC is one of the few all-wheel-drive cars on this list, which means it's slightly harder to launch and is prone to more understeer than rear-wheel-drive, but that doesn't mean for a second that it's a bad track car. In fact, it is quite the opposite!

The Scion TC makes for a great intermediate level car for someone that is used to how other drive platforms handle under load. They can often be found unmodified for under $10,000 and is another car that can be track-ready with a few simple modifications.

3  Toyota Celica

via CarScoops

The aerodynamic body lines and front-wheel-drive platform make this a great option for taking out to the track, along with the fact that they can commonly be found for less than $5,000. It is a Toyota, so that means that with the proper maintenance and care this engine will run indefinitely.

Better tires, bigger brakes, forced induction, upgraded clutch, and better coil-overs are only a few of the upgrades that can be done to get this car track-ready. It is a great project for any level of car enthusiast.

2 Toyota Corolla

via SuperStreet

Even though this is one of the older cars on this list, that doesn't mean that it's a bad track car! It's small and light, and ready for any kind of modification you want to throw at it. The Corolla has been around for so long now that anything and everything that you can think of has been done to it.

They can commonly be found unmodified for less than $5,000, depending on the condition. The Corolla platform is incredibly versatile and can be track ready with only a few minor upgrades.

1 Volkswagen Golf Mk2

via ColumnM

The Volkswagen Golf MK2 is one of the more under-appreciated cars on this list, but with the right modifications, it can be ready to completely dominate on track day! It has a longer wheelbase that's relatively wide, which gives it an advantage in the handling department.

There's enough room in the engine bay to do some pretty crazy engine swaps, or you can fully build out the stock motor. They can commonly be found already built for less than $10,000, which makes it an absolute steal.

Sources: SuperStreet, CarThrottle, DriveTribe

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