Power! You want a lot of it, but you don’t have much money to get it. If that’s you, you’re in the right place because, in this article, I’m going to show you 8 cheap cars with unlimited tuning potential. These cars represent all different types of engines, including 4-cylinders, 6-cylinders, 8-cylinders, and even 10-cylinders! There’s also front-wheel drive, rear-wheel, and even all-wheel drive! We have naturally aspirated animals, supercharged beasts, and even turbo monsters!
2006-2010 BMW E60 M5 – V10 Rocket
When you think of horsepower, I bet you think of turbochargers, superchargers, and nitrous! But, what if I told you that there was a car from the factory with 500 horsepower out of the gate for cheap? You would probably think I was lying, especially if I told you it was naturally aspirated too. But that’s the case with the E60 BMW M5!
The fun doesn’t stop at stock either because this is a list of cars with tuning potential! And the E60 M5 sure has a lot of tuning potential, thanks in part to its naturally aspirated V10! Inspired by an F1 car’s engine, the 5.0-liter V10 revs to an insane 8,250 RPM redline, which leaves us with plenty of room to make power!
Now, since the E60 M5 is naturally aspirated, you have plenty of different options to make power. If you want to stay naturally aspirated, you can throw in a stroker kit from Dinan, which bores the 5.0-liter V10 all the way up to 5.8 liters! That’ll take the horsepower up from 500 to about 630!
But, if forced induction is your route, then you can turbo or even supercharge your V10 monster. While they might not be the cheapest options on our list, turbocharging or supercharging a V10 not only sounds insane, but it also goes like crazy, almost every time producing at least 1,000 horsepower!
But, for some people, that just isn’t enough, like the people that built the custom twin-turbo E60 M5 that ran a 6.93-second quarter-mile! A Bugatti Veyron runs a quarter-mile in 10.1 seconds… And while just about everyone knows what a Veyron looks like, the subtle look of the E60 M5 means that you can blow the doors off of almost any unsuspecting car.
And considering that you can pick one of these 500-horsepower beasts up for under $14,000, we have to question why you and I haven’t just gone out and bought one yet. For me, it’s the rod bearing issues that plague these motors. But, luckily for you, our next pick, the Ford Focus ST, doesn’t have these issues.
2012-2018 Ford Focus ST – Can Be Fast
Starting with a mere 252 horsepower, the little 2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder doesn’t pack that big of a punch stock. But, with a tune, you can up that number by nearly 50 horsepower before any other mods. Add a bigger turbo and supporting mods, crank up the boost, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a tire-shredder! Unlike the Bimmer, the Focus is actually known to be a reliable car too.
So, if something goes wrong, it can be serviced for cheap and at your local Ford dealer. But, if you want to turn up the boost and push the limits of the block, these motors can handle 500, 600, and even more than 700 horsepower if combined with the proper drivetrain mods. Stroke out the motor and you could be facing a number closer to 900 horsepower!
Did someone say torque steer? Throw on a pair of grippy tires and you’ll have a hard time finding a more fun car to rip around on the backroads with, thanks to its well-balanced chassis and its smooth-shifting 6-speed manual transmission. So, if you want to save the manual transmission, go ahead and snag yourself one of our “Save the Manuals” t-shirts!
With all that in mind, I bet you think that it probably costs as much as the M5 right? Well, it costs about half of that M5. Today, you can pick up a Focus ST for less than $7,500!
But, I bet the Focus, especially with power, won’t handle the snow all that well. I bet if it had a Quattro all-wheel drive system, though, like the B5 Audi S4, it would handle great in the snow.
1997-2002 Audi S4 – Quattro Power
Built like tanks and engineered to German standards, the B5 S4 is one of the best sports sedans to come out of Germany! Thanks in part to its small structure paired with the Quattro system, it handles like it’s on rails! But that’s not even the best part! The engine is a solid powerplant taken from the bigger brother, the A6. But, that wasn’t enough, so Audi altered it a bit.
They started with the big 2.8-liter V6 and then they added two turbos to it. While they’re small, they’re good for 250 horsepower. The developers wanted to overengineer this engine, so they actually destroked the motor! They took it from 2.8 liters to 2.7 liters to thicken the block so that it’d be able to handle that boost.
To the tuners delight, this new 2.7-liter design is able to hold some power, a lot of power! With a stock block and bigger turbos, 500 or more wheel horsepower is achievable. Do a bit more work and you can easily double that number! Some people have reached over 1,500 horsepower with these cars. Driving them must be like a roller coaster; get buckled in and hang on!
While making it to these numbers might not be cheap, you could pick up a B5 S4 sedan for under $7,500! A B5 S4 wagon will cost more than double the sedan version. These cars are so cool that even Ed Bolian from VINwiki had one. But reliability issues also plague these cars. So, our search for more cars takes us back Stateside to a Chevrolet Cobalt SS.
2005-2010 Chevrolet Cobalt SS – Record Holder
While the Cobalt SS might not be the most exciting car, sporting only 205 horsepower from stock, there is a lot more that can be done to up that number. From the factory, GM’s EcoTec engine comes with a Roots supercharger strapped onto the front of it. Throw on a smaller pulley, a solid tune, and injectors, and you’ll be looking at a gain of almost 100 horsepower!
But, you could go full send (and you should go full send) up to 1,000 horsepower with a turbo swap or more if you send the boost to the Moon! In fact, the EcoTec engine in the Cobalt SS holds the world record for the fastest 4-cylinder down the drag strip. It ran a quarter-mile in less than 6 seconds and went on to achieve 230 miles per hour down the quarter-mile! That’s about 3 seconds faster than any production car. I’m talking about Bugatti, Koenigsegg, and Pagani! And it’s all from an engine in a car that costs less than $4,500!
So, why not take one and make it fast? If you want a luxurious interior and arguably a more prestigious ownership experience, an old entry-level Chevy might not make the cut for you. But what about a fully loaded Mercedes E55 AMG?
1999-2006 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG – Supercharged Sledgehammer
The Chevy Cobalt SS is a cute little car in comparison to the beast that is the Mercedes E55 AMG. From the factory, the AMG has a beastly 5.4-liter supercharged engine with 475 horsepower and 520 foot-pounds of tire-shredding torque! Coming with wood trim, heated seats, and other luxuries that other cars on this list wouldn’t even dream to have.
The E55 AMG proves to be not only luxurious but also lethal! That torque comes thanks to a massive supercharger, a supercharger from the same manufacturer that makes Dodge’s Hellcat superchargers. I bet you didn’t know that! But, throw on a smaller pulley, a full exhaust, and bigger injectors, and you’ll be looking at some serious pulling power.
With all this luxury and power, I bet you’d expect a bigger price tag than what it costs. But these are cheap cars, so you can pick up one of these E55 AMGs for less than $10,000! And, unlike the M5 that we mentioned earlier, these E55 AMGs are built to last with many of them crossing 200,000 and even 300,000 miles!
Our next car is also known to last long and it comes from the “Land of the Free,” from the factories of freedom. It’s the Dodge Neon SRT4!
2003-2005 Dodge Neon SRT4 – Neon Is Back
These won’t be pushing much more than your mom’s Camry in stock form. But, if you were to throw on a turbo, it would be a much different story. These SRT4s are built to take a lot. I’m talking about turbos the size of your head! Build your block and the only thing that you will be battling is traction! Bugattis beware!
If built properly, these Neon SRT4s will do a quarter-mile in under 8 seconds. And, if tuned for top speed, these Neons will hit over 230 miles per hour! So, it’s fair to say that these things can scoot. With a bit of time, patience, and parts paired with a proper tune, a Neon SRT4 would be hard to beat.
And, for less than $9,000, I wonder if there’s a better car for the money. Mazda enthusiasts would probably say so considering they’ve got the Mazdaspeed3 to count on.
2007-2013 Mazdaspeed3 – Torque Steering Fun
These stout little hatchbacks love power! Throw some mods at its peppy 2.3-liter turbo 4-cylinder and you’ll be able to take your hot hatch from mild to wild! It pushes out 263 buff Japanese horses in stock form. But, add some bolt-ons and you’ll be looking at around 400 to 500 wheel horsepower! Build your block and crank up the boost for some 1,000-horsepower fun!
But, beware of that much power, you’ll be doing more steering with your gas pedal than the steering wheel. Throw on some drag slicks and you’ll be hooking up and running down the strip in under 10 seconds!
And the Mazdaspeed3 hatchback brings an added practicality so that you can transport not only yourself but also your four other friends! And the fact that you can pick these up, regardless of which generation, for less than $6,000 is just crazy!
But what do you have to do if you know that there ain’t no replacement for displacement? You buy an LS! And one of the best cars with an LS is a Pontiac GTO.
2003-2006 Pontiac GTO – LS Is Best
The LS is Chevy’s small-block V8 packed with a punch. And, in the case of the LS1 that’s in the GTOs, out of the box, they come with a fairly impressive 350 horsepower. But things go up from there. You’ll get 450 with cams and a tune, 500 horsepower is achievable naturally aspirated, and strap a supercharger on for around 800 horsepower. Add a turbo and that power goes up even more for close to 1,500 horsepower!
The GTO is a perfect platform for tuners and enthusiasts alike because of the endless combos you can go with thanks to its aftermarket support. Throw in some boost or nitrous and the car will stay reliable. These LS engines from Pontiac are made to take a beating! And, for less than $10,000, it might just be the best cheap car on this list.