Mike is looking for an inexpensive car that can handle some track days, but he wants a cool ride from the ‘80s or ‘90s. Ideally, it would have a manual and rear-wheel-drive, but he isn’t too picky. However, he doesn’t have a ton of cash to spend and #Radwood cars are getting expensive. What should he buy?
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Here is the scenario -
I’m looking for a car to get into autocross and fill a niche interest for 80s and 90s sports cars, primarily imports. I have $7000 available but would consider spending around $10,000. I am a “dad taught” mechanic, so something I can get parts for and work on myself without too much difficulty. I’d also like to find something with some collector interest potentially, or at least a car you don’t see on the road every day. I currently have a 72 C10, Cadillac ATS, and a lifted XJ, and while this car will be primarily for autocross, I like to rotate my car for my ~20-mile commute on occasion. I’ve previously owned a Mk6 GTI, so likely wouldn’t want another GTI. Preference is for RWD and manual, but not necessary. I’ve considered some oddballs, like a VR6 MK2 GTI or RX7, but I am worried my mechanical knowledge would be stretched with those. A car needing some work is fine, as I modify or repair everything I own, but I travel a lot for work and don’t have time for a true “project car.”
Budget: Up to 10k, would prefer closer to 7k
Daily Driver: Not really
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Wants: Radwood-era ride, manual, good on the track
Doesn’t want: Something boring
Mike, I can confidently say that the staff here at Jalopnik was very excited about this topic. Most of us grew up during the ‘80s and ‘90s so the nostalgia is strong. What I will say is the key to getting a cool but affordable Radwood style car is to lean away from the popular picks. Everyone knows the Supras, RX-7s, Integras and the like so all of those cars that we wanted when we were teens but couldn’t afford at the time are all going for serious money.
What you need is a bit of an oddball but still respected and recognized as a great Radwood car, and that is the Mitsubishi Starion. To look at Mitsubishi’s offerings from 1980-1999 and then see their lineup now, it’s just sad, but that doesn’t mean you can’t relive the past. The Starion not only had a fantastic name (as most cool Japanese cars do), but it also looked like a spaceship. It was a legit performance coupe sending power to the rear wheels, and naturally available with a five-speed manual gearbox.
Our friend Gary Duncan has this 1987 Starion GSR-II for sale, and while that trim wasn’t the fastest version it put down respectable numbers and should do well at your local autocross. The price is right in line with your target budget, but you will have to learn to shift with your left.
When thinking about Radwood cars and imports specifically, everybody always wants to go Japanese. I say no—be bold, be brave, and drive a Pontiac. This 1985 Pontiac Fiero in Salem is the perfect Autocross project car.
It’s incredibly cheap (at least the purchase price is) at $3,500 considering your budget, which means you’ll have plenty of room to make sure the plucky little four-cylinder is in good shape. That also leaves you plenty of room to get all artsy and throw some cash to really rad it up. I’m talking wheels, paint job, better seats, mullet wig—after all, this is THE car of the “party in the back” mantra.
Am I only recommending it because I couldn’t find a Toyota MR2 in your area? Maybe. But either way, it’s mid-engine. It has a manual. It’s cheap as hell. It looks rad as hell. Plus you get a fuckin’ Iron Duke, which was known to be decently reliable if measly powered. Who cares, you’re doing Autocross. I think I win.
Mike, my dude. Do you like popping the collars on your polos? Spring skiing? White jeans? Tennis on the weekends? Using the word “summer” as a verb? Then you should 100 percent get your hands on an E30 BMW 3-Series.
Unfortunately, obtaining an E30 BMW as a fun driver’s car and sometimes-track car isn’t a new idea. But look at this way—it just means there’s plenty of literature and community forums out there full of advice and information to help you out. In fact, our own Patrick George once considered an E30 a fine purchase for himself, paying about 2,000 bucks for it.
Here’s the thing with the E30: It’s lightweight, comes in a manual, is either all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive and parts for it are reasonably abundant. By all accounts, it’s also pretty easy to work on. It’s great as a casual project car, since it probably won’t demand hours and hours of your time and one of your kidneys to boot.
They’re fun to drive and tossable in the corners. And they have great, classic styling. Greenhouses just aren’t this airy these days.
Here’s one on Bring a Trailer with about 45,000 miles on the clock. The bid at this time of writing is $3,500.
The key, I think, to a good Radwood car is to pick something that most people have forgotten about, but, when reminded, they’re delighted and then a bunch of vague memories or possibly lies come flooding back. I have a feeling a Renault Fuego is an ideal car for just this sort of reaction.
The Fuego wasn’t exactly anyone’s first choice for a sports car back in the day, but they weren’t terrible, either, and they had some gloriously distinctive ‘80s styling cues: that rear bubble window, and that black band of ribbed plastic that wraps around the car in such a way that you can just picture how amazing it must have looked in the designer’s exaggerated early sketches.
Maybe think of it as a more comfortable French Scirocco and it sort of makes sense?
I think they’re cool, and I think you will too when you see this nicely-kept 1984 one in Ohio, for only $5,900. It’s a very 1980s burgundy color, and the interior is the same, with seats that look like they’re made out of pastrami, with an amazing Renault-like diamond pattern sewn into them.
You could totally autocross this Gallic wonder, be a hit of any Radwood event, or even comfortably commute to work! What more could you want?