Friday, July 8, 2016's Top 11: Good Cars For An Aspiring Teenage Gearhead

  • I would like to recommend a great "Gear Head Site" on the internet.  I have spent many hours on this site and like it very much.  Not only is the site fun and entertaining the site was started by a Dallas Area Classic Chevy Club member.  Here is a link to the web site. LINK  
  • Below is an example of the site's posts that I have just read an appreciated.  
  • -Alan Arnell
  • Post written by contributor Matt Cramer.

Top 11: Good Cars For An Aspiring Teenage Gearhead

Top 11: Good Cars For An Aspiring Teenage Gearhead
We hear it all the time. “There are no cool cars available that kids can afford.” Well, that depends. Clearly you have to keep your standards within reach, and also be realistic about the cool you can afford, but if a teenager wants it they can roll a first project that nobody will be ashamed of.
Our buddy Matt Cramer sent an email to us saying that he wanted to write a blog item on this very subject, and it has sparked a lot of discussion here at We’ve got some ideas of our own, on cars that easily could have been added to the list, but we’re going to let you stew on Matt’s list for a bit and then we’ll bring in some additional hitters we think are worth paying attention to.
Words by Matt Cramer
    We’ve had a lot of discussion about what difficulties kids getting into the car hobby face lately.  It’s not easy getting started when you have very little money, little experience, and don’t have the luxury of a separate project car and everyday car.  But let’s not forget the advantages of getting started today. Sure, you can’t pick up a clean Chevelle SS for pocket change anymore, and it’s not easy to score a 440 Wedge at your local Pull-A-Part for $150. But there’s still overlooked gems on the used car market, and the Internet makes it a lot easier to be in touch with other enthusiasts.
    So, I’ve put together a Top 11 list of great cars for a teenage hot rodder just getting started.  This is kind of like Rough Start in that I’m capping the budget at $5000.  All of these cars will have a least some entertainment factor out of the box, with the potential to add more. But unlike Rough Start, there’s a lot more restrictions here to deal with the realities of getting started.  $5000 will have to get you a car in good enough shape to drive to school and work everyday, not a used up track rat or a project where one cylinder head is in the back seat.  I’ll try to keep this list free of weird unicorn cars too; these should be something relatively easy to find anywhere.  I was able to find examples of all of these cars on Atlanta Craigslist that show some promise without having to expand the search to other cities or go over budget. And in light of that “find anywhere” theme, we’re staying with cars built in 1980 or later to minimize tinworm infestations for those in the Rust Belt.
    We realize there’s another variable in play here – parents.  And if you’re still living with them, what they allow can be all over the map.  You might have parents who insist on a late model import – or the sort who insist you get your motorcycle license at 16 on the grounds you’ll learn more defensive driving that way.  So we’ve put in a few cars that may be a bit more likely to get parental approval – plus a few options for if your parents are a bit more permissive.

1. 2002-2006 Acura RSX. Are your parents insisting that you drive some sort of sensible late model Honda or Toyota? Get one of these with a stick shift, and that won’t be quite so bad. These had 160 hp in the base model or 200 on tap in the Type S, and the Fast and Furious crowd didn’t take to them as well as earlier Acuras, meaning they’re a bit less likely to have questionable mods or abuse.
Craigslist example:

2. 1992-2005 BMW 3 series. The entry level BMW can be had with a four cylinder if you need good mileage or a silky smooth inline six.  You won’t find a good top of the line M3 for that price, but the regular versions still are plenty of fun to drive.
Craigslist example:
bmw 3 series

3. 1997-2004 Buick Regal GS / 1997-2007 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. The Regal GS and Grand Prix GTP (known as the GT from 2006-2007) were in some ways an effort to build a sequel to the Grand National. Like many sequels, they copied the same formula (in this case, take a midsize car with the 3.8 V6 and add boost) but didn’t exactly live up to the original. Still, they’ll run high 14’s to low 15’s stock, and you can turn up the boost as your budget allows.
Craiglist example:
Regal GS

4. 1982-1992 Chevrolet Camaro / Pontiac Firebird. Collectors are starting to notice the IROC-Z, but you can still pick up a Z28 or Trans Am for cheap. And don’t forget that the Camaro RS at this time was V8 powered, unlike the fourth generation. You might be able to ship a bit newer and pick up an LT1 powered fourth gen in this budget, but finding the ’98 and later LS1 powered examples for under $5000 is a tall order.
Craigslist example:

5. 1984-1996 Chevrolet Corvette. Sure, it’s got a gold chain poseur image, but that doesn’t change the solidly engineered chassis and amazing handling.  Sure, the TPI motors these had in the ’80s didn’t make the best power in stock trim, but it’s a small block Chevy.  Keep your eyes out for the Z51 handling package.
Craigslist example:
C4 Corvette

6. Cop cars. You can get an ex-police Crown Vic for $2000 if you buy one from an auction, or pay a bit more to get one that somebody already bought but at least lets you take for a test drive. Sometimes Chargers will also pop up in this price range.  Rear wheel drive, V8 power (OK, some Chargers have V6s, but one with the 3.5 V6 still has some get up and go), and you can tell your parents you’ll be safer in something this big.
Craigslist example:
Crown Vic

7. ’94-’04 Ford Mustang. $5000 won’t get you the best of the breed, but you’ll have better luck finding a good, solid SN95 Mustang than the older Fox bodies.
Craigslist example:
SN95 Mustang

8. ’89-’97 Ford Thunderbird, ’93-’98 Lincoln Mk VIII, ’89-’97 Mercury Cougar. With the 4.6 V8 and an independent rear suspension, these cars offered a high tech interpretation of the classic muscle car formula. You could also get a supercharged 3.8 in the Thunderbird and Cougar, which was the only way to get these with a stick shift.
Craigslist example:

9. ’90-’05 Mazda Miata. OK, the econobox sourced four cylinder will bore you to tears if you drive it in a straight line. So don’t drive it in straight lines (and don’t get an automatic if you have two operational legs). It’s meant for autocross or winding mountain roads. Think of it as a modern version of the tractor powered Triumphs.
Criagslist example:

10. A pickup truck. Any pickup truck. The aftermarket has cranked out a surprising number of parts for just about any sort of truck made in the past 30 years, from Japanese minitrucks to American full sized rigs.  And if you later find yourself in a position to have a separate daily driver and project car, a pickup will make a great support vehicle.
Craigslist example:

11. SAAB 9-3 Turbo. The trouble with shopping for a factory turbo car on a $5000 budget is that you’re likely to run into cars “tuned” with an unholy mixture of no-name eBay mods and aquarium plumbing parts. The SAAB quirkiness, however, has kept most of these out of the hands of Fast and Furious wannabes.
Craigslist example:
Saab 9-3

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