Chip is looking for a secondary car to complement his Audi A6. He has had dreams of owning something with beauty and speed, but the choices can be difficult within only about $35,000 to spend. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario:
I’m looking for a second car that’s as beautiful as it is fun to drive. Something that makes me smile as I’m walking to it and then maintains that joy during the drive. I will mostly use the car when I’m not taking the kids to school. That means hot Florida summers, so the a/c needs to work well. I currently own an Audi A6 with a tune on it that makes around 450 hp, so this car has to be more fun than that.
While I love Aston Martins a beautiful car doesn’t have to be European as I happen to think the Viper is stunning as well. I don’t plan on keeping this for very long, maybe three years max so while it needs to be somewhat reliable I don’t need to worry about it lasting a long time. I would really like to have a manual and I can spend up to $35,000.
Budget: Up to $35,000
Daily Driver: No
Location: Central Florida
Wants: Beauty, Handling, Power in that order
Doesn’t want: Anything that resembles a Pontiac Aztek
Well, Chip, I can certainly understand your desire for a stylish car. But while $35,000 gets you a nice car, it can be a challenge to get you a nice exotic car. But if you are a bit flexible on some of your requirements, it can be achievable.
Behold, the Maserati GranTurismo! You may be surprised that these absolutely gorgeous GT cars are now well within the $35,000 range and that doesn’t mean you need to buy some high mileage nightmare either. Of course, the Maserati does not have a manual transmission but with these looks and the sound of the Ferrari-sourced V8, your left foot won’t feel too bad.
As for handling these Maseratis aren’t necessarily the type of car you attack your local racetrack with, but if you happen to find a twisty road in Florida you won’t be disappointed. Here is a nice blue one in Texas with less than 30,000 miles. Maintenance isn’t super cheap, to say the least, but within a three-year period it hopefully won’t need too much.
The 2005 Lotus Elise was introduced the right way. It started out as race-spec only in the U.S. while the company figured out a way to get it road legal, which means it is practically the definition of a race car for the road.
And this specific Elise is as good as it gets. Yellow—the most exotic color. Manual. Already in Florida. Your priorities are beauty and handling before speed. With the Elise, all three were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect little sports car.
It’s got the looks, layout and philosophy of an exotic car, and the best part is it won’t even take up too much driveway space. $32,900 for one of the best sports cars of the century so far. Seal the deal.
You want an Aston Martin, but you have a normal-person budget, want a manual and don’t care if it’s American or not. Immediately my mind went to the current Ford Mustang, which kinda weirdly almost looks like an Aston Martin (even more so pre-2018 refresh) and is a truly phenomenal car.
It’s fast, handles well enough for its size, looks great and packs a wonderfully modern and powerful naturally aspirated V8. And you can get a recent used Mustang GT for under $35,000, easily.
But let’s take this exotic idea even further—what about the old Mustang Shelby GT500? Good Lord, those have gotten cheap. Stretch your budget a bit and you can maybe get a 2013 model, the one with the supercharged 5.8-liter V8 and a staggering 662 HP. Here’s one near you for $40,258.
If that’s a bridge too far, I have never, ever had a bad time in a “regular” Mustang GT. All the newer ones are a blast, and they’re classless cars too—everyone looks cool in them, whether you’re a tech millionaire or just a working stiff like the rest of us.
I know there’s many of you out there who believe that I often don’t take these seriously enough, but I assure you that’s not true—I’ll stand behind every suggestion I make, and I earnestly believe in the cars I suggest. This time, though, well, you may have a point. Even so, I can’t help that the first car I thought of for an exotic car for non-exotic money was this one: a Laser 917.
The Laser 917 was a Volkswagen-based kit car designed to look like the legendary Porsche 917 race car. And it did look like it! Racing movies would sometimes use these as stand-ins for the much more rare and expensive real thing (well, one of the Herbie movies did, at least) and while they were originally designed for VW motors, people have built these with Porsche engines, Corvair engines, even LS V8s to get a car that’s actually pretty damn fast.
So, I’ll stand behind the basic idea: you can get a really, really exotic looking and driving car, potentially, for much less money with one of these. The trick is finding one.
So far, the only non-total basket case I’ve found is this one in Florida, and it does appear to be very well put-together and in great shape. The problem is that the, um, style, with its purple-to-green color-shift paint and those wheels may not be to everyones, uh, taste. Also, it seems to just have a stock air-cooled VW motor.
Still, it’s a start, and at $14,500 (I bet you can talk them down, too), there’s plenty of leftover money to make this thing right. There’s even a Detroit-based company that specializes in making really amazing Laser 917s. I say, get this well-sorted but taste-challenged one from Florida as cheap as you can, and spend the rest of your budget with these RCR people to make the car just what you want.
It’s a little more work, yes, but in the end you’ll have something that’s genuinely exotic, no question or compromises.
It’ll be fun, right? Isn’t that what this is all about?