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9 CHEAP Sleeper Cars With Unlimited Tuning Potential

custom dodge neon srt-4
Pinterest

Want to take on that fool in the Ferrari off the stoplight and wipe that smug smile off his face? Well, the cars on this list can give you a fighting chance without having to sell a kidney to afford them. That’s right, we’re looking at 9 cheap performance cars that can be easily modded to take down Chad and his dad’s Porsche.

And even better, you can find links to each of these supercar slayers below! So, let’s buckle up and start double-clutching like we should! This is going to be a fun one! Let’s go!

1999 – 2005 Lexus IS300 – 2JZ On a Budget

2005 lexus is300
DailyTurismo

Let’s jump into our first car on this list, a jack of all trades that’s got style, luxury, base performance, and the ability to hit rocket-like speeds off the stoplight. The Lexus IS300 has become something of a legend in the tuner community.

Lexus secured its own reputation for build quality and luxury with the LS400 in the 1990’s, but the IS300 was built to take the BMW 3 Series head-on. This Lexus land missile has that all-important sports car requirement, rear-wheel drive. And with power going to the back wheels, you’re guaranteed hooning without any modifications. 

But let’s move onto the 2JZ. You know as well as I do that the 2JZ is a legend. We could probably just stop right here and move onto the next car. But if we did, I wouldn’t get to talk about the fact that if you take the rear-wheel drive with the tunability of the 2JZ, you got the formula for a seriously kick-ass drift machine. 

Since the 2JZ has its signature cast iron block, you can push to double the stock horsepower and beyond without having to open the bottom end. Not to mention, the 2JZ was engineered to last well into the 21st century, so you’ll be able to enjoy that ridiculous horsepower until you’re in the nursing home. 

And, in case you were wondering, it is possible to swap the 1JZ engine into the IS300. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t even try it! As with all swaps, odds and ends may not line up 100%, and you might end up ruining a car that was fine to begin with if you’re a novice in the swap game. 

The IS300 interior follows typical Lexus ideology, luxury touches throughout with a dash of sports car attitude and some quirky Lexus amenities for your girlfriend to talk about. Have a thing for nice watches? Then the instrument panel has a special surprise for you. The gauge cluster was purposely designed to mimic an expensive chronograph. Lexus sure does know their audience. 

Of course, since it’s a Lexus, you get the same reliability guaranteed with both the Lexus and Toyota badges. With rear-wheel drive, an optional 5-speed manual, and the legendary 2JZ under the hood, the IS300 was built for lane-scorching success. 

Unfortunately, for the executives at Lexus, but fortunately for us, it didn’t quite make the mark they were expecting. This means the IS300 can go for cheap and be built into the ultimate luxury sleeper with Toyota reliability. You could be dusting fools with a badass 6-banger for just $7,500!

Find a cheap Lexus IS300 on AutoTempest!

2003 – 2007 Infiniti G35 – A True G

2005 infiniti g35
G35Driver

Yeah, I know, the 350Z is the obvious choice here. It established itself as a JDM legend thanks to The Fast and the Furious, Need for Speed and the many tuners and racers who’ve made the 350Z their performance platform of choice. But let’s say you want the same performance with a little added luxury, or a car you can take the kids to soccer practice in. The Infiniti G35 has you covered. 

Since the 350Z chassis has been around since 2002, and is set to be the basis for the upcoming 400Z, you can expect the Infiniti G35 to have that same performance prowess until hell freezes over. It’s just that good of a chassis. I mean, have you ever seen Tokyo Drift? The Drift King didn’t get his crown driving a Camry! 

And with a few mods you can be the Drift King of your own abandoned parking lot, and maybe also add a little tuner style to your ride. Sharing a chassis and engine with the 350Z also means you get the same aftermarket support, so expect to hit some serious numbers with just a couple mods. 

You can already find stock G35’s with more than enough horsepower, and a few bolt-ons will get you an extra 40 to 50 horsepower easily. A few minutes on Google will lead to fully-fledged guides on how to build your G35.

We found a stock G35 for $9,000! And I would definitely use our Ideal Car Strategies to get it for under that asking price!

Find a cheap Infiniti G35 on AutoTempest!

1993 – 2002 Pontiac Firebird – Free Bird

2000 pontiac firebird
Mecum Auctions

Specifically, let’s talk about the Firebird from 1993 to 2002, since the ones from the 60’s and 70’s are pretty much the polar opposite of cheap cars. This is one of the many ugly duckling muscle cars from the 90’s and early 2000’s that tried to bring the muscle cars of the 60’s and 70’s back into the limelight.

The 4th generation Firebird may be as ugly as its Camaro stablemate, but it packs a classic American V8 under the hood. That particular V8, offered for the Formula and Trans Am trim levels specifically, was essentially the same V8 powering the C4 Corvette. Hopefully, you’ll be able to squeeze enough power out of your butt-ugly Firebird that no one will see you speed by, or maybe you’ll want people to see your sweet mullet billowing in the breeze through the Firebird’s removable T-tops. No one can deny that T-tops are cool, it’s just a fact. 

And having that Corvette V8 means you can mod the crap out of these things. Everyone knows that one guy with a C4 or C5 Corvette packing a million horsepower under the hood. The GM aftermarket community is as expansive as the company itself. Even the V6 from lower trim levels can get you moving with a few mods, and will stay reliable all the way. You could also go for the “cam only” LS1 build to really scorch some earth

Thanks to a pretty terrible appreciation and a market that doesn’t care for this generation of muscle cars, all of this sweet stars-and-stripes badassery can be yours for under $10,000. We found one for just $6,000!

Find a cheap Pontiac Firebird on AutoTempest!

Nissan Sentra SE-R – I Forgot They Made Those

nissan sentra se-r
AutoEvolution

The Nissan Sentra is the national car of your high school history teacher, and a car you’d never expect on a list of supercar slayers, but hold up! Yes, it’s inoffensive, it doesn’t make a fuss about anything, and it blends into daily traffic as effectively as a Corolla. But, after two generations of being “just good enough”, Nissan decided they wanted to pump some extra life into their everyday sedan. 

With two doors lopped off and some extra performance bits thrown in, the Sentra became the SE-R, a sleeper out for blood. The SE-R then took a back seat to the 4th generation Sentra, only to make a trimuphant return for the fifth generation. A larger engine and reworkings around the underpinnings turned the SE-R into a straight-up sportscar killer. 

The SE-R Spec-V raised the bar even further with more aggressive suspension, more power, and a six-speed manual transmission. This is as far as you can get from the boring commuter that spawned it. And guess what? They’re going for cheap too. 

Plus, there’s a huge aftermarket community that’ll put you on the modding track toward hellish levels of power. Some people have even reported getting close to 600 horsepower from their Sentras. That’s more power than a new Mustang!

So, the next time you see a plain little Nissan in traffic, take a second look. It may be a sleeper ready to take down the biggest prey. We found a later model Spec-V for just $6,000! Just look at that perfect shifter placement!

Find a cheap Nissan Sentra SE-R on AutoTempest!

1992 – 1999 BMW E36 – E30-Sick

Honest John Classics

The E36 3 Series blasted out of BMW factories in 1992 and carried the 3 Series over from the E30 until the E46 took over the new millennium. While the M3 remains the the team to beat for 3 Series performance, the lower trim levels can still give you a great platform for supercar slayer. 

The naturally-aspirated straight-six available in the E36 gives you the same buttery smooth power delivery you expect from the 3 Series. Plus, you can get it mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Save the manuals!

After you’ve had your fill of the standard BMW experience, a few bolt-ons can get you well into M3 territory. Slap a turbo or two in the engine bay, and you’ll be well on your way to chasing down supercars at stoplights. The good news keeps coming, because you can also add software updates, a new exhaust system, and nearly any other mod to keep your horsepower raising the roof.

That’s right. A few mods later and that M3 is toast. The E36 chassis is naturally built for sporty driving. This is a 3 Series after all. 

Prices for the E36 are pretty reasonable right now, but expect to see prices jumping up as the market takes notice and the E36 ages. So, not only are you building a great, practical sports car for yourself, it could also be a great investment. Jokes, jokes, people. You can’t buy a car this cheap and make money, so don’t try. 

But if you want a tight-turning kraut car, we found a convertible with low miles for just under $10,000!

Find a cheap BMW 3 Series on AutoTempest!

Dodge Neon SRT-4 – Dodge This

dodge neon srt-4
MotorBiscuit.com

This trashy-looking car has to be the most unexpectedly awesome front-wheel drive car coming from an American manufacturer… or three. The Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth Neon came into production, with a serious identity crisis, in 1994 as a low-cost economy car. Although, it is worth noting that the Neon concept car had sliding suicide doors. Looks like there were some executives at Chrysler who wanted the Neon to be the unassuming badass it would eventually come. 

Two generations passed, and Chrysler decided they wanted to inject some hot-blooded fury into the Neon’s veins. So, they introduced the SRT-4 in 2003. Out of the factory, the SRT-4 had a turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 2.25-inch exhaust with two resonators and no mufflers. Loud and proud, baby! 

The SRT-4 was a class leader when it came out, and because it’s been around for so long, the aftermarket scene for the Neon is massive. When it came out, the SRT-4 hit 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds. That’s not bad even by today’s standards! Working off that, it wouldn’t take much to make the SRT-4 a supercar crusher. And like most of the other cars on this list, you can fly under the radar on your daily commute. 

Better act fast, though, because of their relatively low production numbers, the SRT-4 is getting harder and harder to find. Prices may also continue to go up as the market starts taking notice of the SRT-4. We found one for $7,000!

Find a cheap Dodge Neon SRT-4 on AutoTempest!

Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG – Start Strong

2008 mercedes c63 amg
Autoweek

I know you’re already saying, “A C-Class AMG as a cheap supercar killer? You’ve completely lost it.” But hear us out on this one, there’s a reason Jeremy Clarkson flexes his collection of AMG’s so often. 

You’ll have to travel slightly outside the budget we’ve given you for this article, but just look at what you get. The 2008 C63 AMG is an absolute beast right out the gate. The AMG V8 makes some great horsepower off the showroom floor, and the monstrous 443 pound-feet of torque will tear most other cars apart. It may also tear your tires apart, but hey, live a little, lose a little. 

And if you think about it, you’re getting a luxurious super-sedan with insane power for the same amount you could invest in a cheaper alternative. Other than the torque, tire smoke, and noise, which will more than likely shatter windows in the next town over, no one will think twice seeing you pull up next to them at the stoplight. 

The C63 doesn’t boast about that supercar-crushing power. Like all German sedans, styling is subtle. And if you feel the need to really push that Merc to the max, there are tuning companies out there who will boost your badass Benz for you.

Just don’t mash the pedal too hard, otherwise you’ll end up picking someone’s hedges out of your grille. This one’s up for sale for around $16,000 right now, but keep in mind what you get for that price.

Find a cheap Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG on AutoTempest!

2007 – 2009 Mazdaspeed3 – Maz-Duh

2008 mazdaspeed3
Edmunds

The Mazda3, like so many other cars on this list, started as a point-A-to-point-B commuter car. But Mazda has always had an ability to take mundane commuter cars and scrape every bit of fun out of them. Everyone knows Mazda for the rotary Wankel engine and the MX-5 Miata. Both have long standing lineages and impractical applications. 

The Mazda3 gave Mazda the chance to apply some of their sports car knowledge to something you could actually take to the grocery store. The first Mazdaspeed3 was brought into production in 2003 as a compact wagon with manual transmission only. If you wanted to have a fast Mazda, you had to have it as practical and driver-focused as possible. Not necessarily a bad thing. 

You also get 263 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque… in a Mazda from the early 2000’s. Woah. And if you know how to handle torque steer, the Mazdaspeed3 will fulfill all of your hyper-hatch dreams. 

With crushing figures straight from the factory and a huge aftermarket community, the Mazdaspeed3 may just be one of the best cheap performance bargains out there. We found one for just over $6,000!

Find a cheap Mazdaspeed3 on AutoTempest!

BMW E92 335i – The New Supra

bmw e92 335i
teahub.io

The BMW 3 Series shows up again on our list of budget supercar slayers because, well, of course it does. The E92 matured the 3 Series even more after the E46 was ready to retire. As usual, you can have your 3 Series in a variety of different flavors, from the entry level 325i all the way up to the new M3 with a screaming V8 under the hood. And the 335i is right in the middle of that road. 

This German giant-slayer comes equipped with the standard BMW inline-6 with a special little bonus thrown in, two turbos bolted to that sweet inline engine. That means that out the gate you get just over 300 horsepower and around the same amount of torque. 

Bolt on a few mods and you’ll be hitting M3 numbers in no time, and it’s not unreasonable to push past that benchmark for some really insane numbers. Amateur drifters may also want to give the E92 a look too. With natural BMW chassis balance and tuning capabilities, the E92 can be a drifter’s next wet dream.

There is a catch, however, this particular BMW engine has proven to be quite temperamental. Even without any mods, the 335i needs proper maintenance to run smoothly. Tack on a few mods and you may be headed down Headache Lane. 

But still, the E92 is a sexy, smooth-looking ride with all the right stuff to send your performance to the next level. And they’re still relatively cheap too, since they sit between the “too old to be expensive” and “too new to be a classic” categories. We found an example with relatively low miles for just under $10,000!

Find a cheap BMW E92 335i on AutoTempest!

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