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7 comments

The Best Cars for $20K

Posted September 24, 2009 6:00 AM by CarDomain

I'm generally a fan of Car and Driver, but I thought their recent list of the best used cars for $20k was lame. No offense to people who own any of these cars, but with the exception of the EVO, none of their picks would be on my list of rides to look at for $20k or less.

Here's my list, which I cooked up in less than three minutes. I kept it to fairly late model stuff, otherwise you'd see a '69 Road Runner on here. I also didn't bother with any new cars (the Car and Driver list had two) or trucks or SUVs.

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#1

Re: The Best Cars for $20K

09/24/2009 7:32 AM

Gets my nod, but any Porsche 993 that you buy for less than $20,000 will likely be a mechanical nightmare clearly not worth owning unless it is a parts car you desire.

Prices are holding in the mid 20s and up depending on year, model, and condition. These are the last of the air cooled engines (1995 - 1998) and prices have been holding much better than the 1999 and later cars, which are taking a beating on the market.

That doesn't mean you can't find a distress sale somewhere, but that is a wild exception and most ads that describe such a care a likely to be a scam.

You can Porsche 911s for under $20,000, but you need to look at cars earlier than 1990 or so. The 1987 - 1989 Carrera will get you two thumbs up if you find a clean example.

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#2

Re: The Best Cars for $20K

09/24/2009 11:04 PM

I love my 2001 BMW 740. Turns out you can buy a 7 for about the same as a 5 series these days, and they are wonderful cars. They were $65,000 new, but now under $20K.

I also have a 1996 318 M3 conversion, and it is a fabulous car--28-30 mpg on the highway and a terror on the track. I don't know where you'd find something like this (haven't ever seen another for sale, but I see them at the track on rare occasions). Paid $13K for mine.

Evos and Subies are fast, but they are butt ugly--as are most cars today. Besides, most have been run hard and hung up wet.

My wife drives a 2005 Chrysler Hemi 300C AWD, and it, too, is a fabulous car. It just hit 90,000 miles, we did the recommended service, and expect to keep it for a few more years. Turns out (or so the mechanic told me), the '05 has a superior suspension than the later cars (which were cheapened), so it's a good car to keep. The AWD is fabulous. I've had four AWD cars, and the 300C is the best. 300Cs are under $20K now.

By the bye, all three cars are equally fast from a standing start to 120+ mph. The M3 might be a smidge quicker off the line, and the 740 probably has a higher top end, but it's hard to tell the difference in performance among these three fine cars. All three will go through our local Dead Man's Curve at a flat 100 with no fuss.

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: The Best Cars for $20K

09/25/2009 3:46 AM

I have to ask!

A 318 to M3 conversion?

What was done?

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#4
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Re: The Best Cars for $20K

09/25/2009 7:43 AM

My "332Ti" is a 1996 318 into which the mechanicals of a wrecked 1997 M3 were installed--motor, trans, suspension, brakes, seats and limited-slip diff. Also installed were a bunch of new BMW parts, including the M3 body kit and new radiator. The "build sheet" on the car lists $10,000 in parts and labor at a BMW shop in Jacksonville, Florida. The immaculate 318 body has 150,000+ miles, but the M3 mechanicals have only 50,000 miles.

These conversions are mostly done by BMW enthusiasts because the 318 body weighs 300 lb less than a standard M3, but the ones I've seen LOOK like they were done by amateurs. Mine is a professional conversion and it looks and runs great.

I use it as a "track day" car for HPDEs and running hot laps. I used to race an Eclipse, but now I just putter around the tracks with all the other wannabe racers. The beauty of a car like this is you can drive it to the track, run laps all day, never have to fix a thing, and drive it home with the air conditioning on.

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#5
In reply to #4

Re: The Best Cars for $20K

09/25/2009 9:53 AM

Absolutely awesome job. So what is the curb weight now?

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: The Best Cars for $20K

09/25/2009 10:10 AM

Not sure of the weight. The 318 is 300 lb lighter, but the big 6 motor is heavier. Some BMW folks tell me it's about the same as a M3 Lightweight (a racing version of the M3), so I essentially have a Lightweight for a fraction of the cost of a real one.

As long as we're on the subject, I am thinking of going to a race-type coil-over suspension and sticky tires. It's stiff enough to lift the inside front wheel on turns, but it has some body lean. With coilovers and sticky tires, I might be able to keep up with new M3s. Through the twisty bits, anyway. With 410 hp, they run away from my 240 hp car on straights.

Don't want to mess with the stock motor. It's plenty fast as is. Been that route with my race cars, and it is expensive, frustrating, unreliable, and leads to disaster.

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#7

Re: The Best Cars for $20K

09/25/2009 12:52 PM

In light of this blog, ehhh, I'd agree there is nothing too interesting for under $20k. The S2k would get my vote as the best performance buy. Good point on C&D missing out on other automotive greatness. A C5 vette is a marvelous choice if more displacement is on your list.

I think an under $30k article would be interesting. Some pretty rare stuff can be had for cheap in decent condition. Ferrari 308, Dodge Viper, Lotus Esprit (S4 possibly though it might be pushing 30 in desirable condition.) Personally I think owning a car where production floats around 10k total units is special within itself. The "undesirable" Porsche 928 is a bargain right now because it's SO undesirable. Sure there are other more modern / better performing choices that may appeal more to others.

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