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Cheap Fun: Affordable Sports Cars from Every Era

Craig Fitzgerald

Every time I see some anonymous tan family sedan with a $27,000+ price tag, I want to grab people by the lapels and shake them until they make better financial decisions. Twenty-seven large is an insane amount of money to pay for a car with all the sex appeal of a Westinghouse dishwasher. With that kind of money, you can purchase any number of killer sports cars, from the 1950s right up until the last few years. Yeah, it’s going to take $27,000 cash, not financed out for six years, but money is money:

1950s – MG MGA
(1955 to 1962)

MGA Coupe

For $27,000, you’re going to have a tough time trying to find that XK120 you’ve always lusted after. But really, the MGA – in either coupe or roadster form – is the next best thing, on a scale that’s easier to fit in the garage. The MGA is a stunningly beautiful car, and because it’s smaller than the XK, the inline four-cylinder hauls it down the road just as enjoyably as the bigger Jaguar. For our money, the MGA might be the greatest bargain in classic, British sports cars.

1960s – Triumph GT6
(1966 to 1972)

Triumph GT6

It’s a similar story with the GT6: you’ve always wanted an XKE coupe, but the funds have never been there. The GT6 offers some of that beautifully athletic GT styling, along with a big inline six engine. Triumphs have never rung cash register bells with any authority, so you can buy a GT6 for short money almost anywhere, and there’s a huge aftermarket ready to support it.

1970s – Datsun 240Z
(1971 to 1973)

Datsun 240Z Sports Racing Coupe 1972

The Datsun 240Z is the quintessential sports car of the 1970s. For a short time, it put Datsun on the map as a serious builder of revolutionary sports cars as good as any out of Europe, for a price that regular schmoes could afford. Today, good 240Zs are spendy, but $27k should buy you the best one available.

1980s – BMW M3
(1986 to 1992)

E30 M3

If there’s any sports car that’s emblematic of an era, it’s the E30 M3. Collectors were sucking these things up like LS6 Chevelles at Barrett-Jackson for a little while, but the market seems to have stabilized a bit. Buying an M3 isn’t like buying any other car on this list. It’s a true homologation special, straining the limits of what most of us think of as a street car. Drive one before you decide, though. With its 7,000 RPM 2.3-liter, they’re a radical departure from the torquey inline-six we’ve all become accustomed to from BMW.

1990s -Mustang SVT Cobra

Mustang SVT Cobra

On the one hand, a 14.5-second quarter mile and a 5.9-second zero-to-60 time might not be all that impressive today. But when the 235hp Mustang SVT Cobra hit the scene in 1993, it was earth-shattering, putting the Mustang well out in front of its Camaro-based SS rival. Years ago, these fourth-generation Mustangs were everywhere, but finding one in great condition today reminds you of how stylish and advanced they looked. You can find a super-low mileage example today for less than $20k.

2000s – BMW M Coupe
(1998 to 2002)

BMW M Coupe

Right now, the early 2000s offer a mother load of sports car bargains from all over the world. You’ve got the earliest iteration of the current Mazda MX-5, decent Porsche Boxsters, or the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice providing the enticing combination of sports car and orphan car. The greatest sports car of the era, though, has to be the Clown Shoe BMW M Coupe. It’s the last time a team at an auto manufacturer ever really said “Eff You” to the man and built a car for no other reason than they wanted to. They’re bringing real money, so $27,000 is going to get you into 75,000 miles or so, but it’s worth every dime.

2010s – Chevrolet Corvette
(2005 to 2013)


From the get-go, the C6 Corvette was completely uncompromising. It was fast, well-built, incredibly executed and built to a standard that Corvettes – no, all American cars – had never been built to before. Years later, even amongst Corvette enthusiasts (read: notorious bellyachers), the C6 Corvette has exhibited only minor issues. There’s a rear end chatter, which most owners find is eliminated with a fluid change, and there are a few minor electrical issues (ABS warning light, radios going silent) but that’s it. These cars are pretty near bulletproof if you don’t dump the clutch at 6,000 rpm, and they’re competitive with anything Europe offers at four times the price. You won’t get a ZR1 for $27,000, but you can get a super-nice coupe with low mileage for that. It’s an amazing sports car bargain by any measure.

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