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CHEAP American Cars With INSANE Tuning Potential

2004 ford mustang svt cobra
Road & Track

American tuner culture has been around for decades, from hot rods to hardcore naturally-aspirated muscle to drag monsters. However, it now seems like the American tuner cars have been eclipsed by the popularity of the JDM and German machines. 

But, that isn’t the case, and us cowboys have been making sleepers with unlimited tuning potential for a while now. Yee haw! Today, we’re going to look at some American tuner beasts that’ll give you wings! Kind of like a can of Red Bull

2003 – 2005 Dodge Neon SRT-4 – The Boosted Bad Boy

2005 dodge neon srt-4
Bring a Trailer

Sold for only a couple of years from 2003 to 2005, the Dodge Neon SRT-4 was meant to be an affordable compact fun car that anyone could buy. This cute little sedan had an all-American turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-four that you could tune to get ridiculous horsepower numbers.

And with that front-wheel drive and manual transmission, you’re going to be doing some sweet burnouts! Hey, if you’re down to help save the manuals, snag one of our limited edition t-shirts! And even sweeter is the fact that the power of the SRT-4 is easy and cheap! And by easy and cheap, I mean easy and cheap.

With some basic mods like an intake, tune, and a couple extra little engine components, you’re pushing 300 horses. And if you want to go hard in the paint and get bigger turbo and a fully-built setup, there have been examples that get up to 500 horsepower! Good luck with that wheel spin, though.

While the Neon glowed green, starting at around $20,000 new, I found one for a much more attainable $5,000. Another great thing is that the Neon is super reliable, and if anything does break, you can hop over to an AutoZone and find parts just like that.

This seems like some seriously boosted fun, but hey, maybe turbos aren’t your thing. Here in America, we prides ourselves on our naturally-aspirated V8s. And the Pontiac GTO is the prime example.

2004 – 2006 Pontiac GTO – Horses in the Back!

blue 2006 pontiac gto
Bring a Trailer

The Pontiac GTO is a cold-blooded coupe with an engine from another American legend, the Corvette! That sounds absolutely bonkers! Now, depending on which year you get, you can get the LS1 V8 for the 2004 model, which puts out a strong 350 horsepower. However, I recommend getting either a 2005 or 2006 with the LS2 V8, which had 400 horsepower!

And building up these is easy peasy. With some engine mods like a manifold, an exhaust, and a tune, you can get around 500 ponies! And if you want to get some forced induction, a supercharger kit, in addition to all the previously mentioned mods, you’ll be up around 700 horsepower!

The sweetest thing is that you can find this value ‘Vette for a good price. I found a 2005 LS2 GTO in a gorgeous red for $9,000. Getting a Corvette engine-powered coupe for $9,000 definietly sounds like a lot of fun.

But maybe this coupe isn’t for you, and you want something a little more practical, then the Focus ST is for you, my friend.

2013 – 2018 Ford Focus ST – Hot Hatch? How Cool!

yellow 2018 ford focus st
Edmunds

This hot hatch is the way to go! And if you want a fun and affordable boosted car that you can also pick up a flatscreen in, the Ford Focus ST is perfect for you! And these things are so fun to tune! You get a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that puts out around 250 horsepower, which is a whole lot of fun when paired up with the 6-speed manual. And this front-wheel drive is going to help pull you through corners without sliding around.

Now, let’s get down to business. If you want to go crazy, grab a Cobb tuner, an intake, and an exhaust, and you’re looking at around 50 extra horses, putting you at 300. But, if you want go full send, you can get any number you please! I’ve seen examples easily get up to 450 horsepower! But, the sky’s the limit! Well, the end of the road is the limit, but that’s not important.

What is important is the cost of one of these hot hatches used. I found a 2014 ST for only $9,000. And you can probably talk that price down even more by using the Ideal Car Strategies! For sure, the ST is a pretty crazy tuner, but this next car is straight up a beast!

2003 – 2004 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra – Terminate!

2003 ford mustang svt cobra
Cars & Bids

The Ford Mustang SVT Cobra, otherwise known as the Terminator Cobra, is one of the most loved American cars ever built, and also one of the easiest to tune and modify. Stock, this horse-snake hybrid hosts a 4.6-liter supercharged V8, and when that supercharger sings, you’re going to put out 390 horsepower. Nowadays, you can get this types of power from a turbo-four cylinder, and we have cars like the Hellcat that make double that, but back in 2003 this was crazy!

And it wasn’t long before people started modding the hell out of the SVT Cobra. The Terminator gained a mass following, being a car that had ludicrous power. To tune this car doesn’t take much at all! With an exhaust, pulleys, an intake, and a tune, 500 horsepower is at your fingertips! But, if you want to swap the supercharger, oh baby, 700 horsepower ain’t out of reach! That’s pretty dang fast for a horse-snake-Terminator thing.

The hard thing now is that, because this car is so cool, it’s pretty hard to find cheap. However, I found a mean looking convertible Terminator Cobra for $17,000. Now, I don’t know about you, but I would gladly pay extra to have a car that’s nicknamed the Terminator. It’s so sick!

But, maybe that’s too expensive for you, and you still want a rear-wheel drive V8 American tuner monster. Then, the Dodge Challenger R/T is the renowned American muscle car modern classic for you.

2008 – 2019 Dodge Challenger R/T – Hemi-Powered Hoon!

2014 dodge challenger r/t
Edmunds

Under the hood of the Dodge Challenger R/T, you got a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that puts on around 372 horsepower. With that power and the Challenger’s larger-than-life handling characteristics, you’re going to have a challenge not sliding it into a wall. But, if you can control this rear-wheel demon, then you have a super-lively, attention-grabbing, V8 monster.

Now, the whole reason this car is on this list is because it has insane tuning potential, and this V8 doesn’t disappoint, it’s one of the most restricted engines from the factory. But lucky for you, with some parts like an intake, exhaust headers, a downpipe and a tune, you’re making a strong 425 horsepower! And if you want to make even more, with some forced induction like a supercharger kit, you can make over 500 horsepower. Which, if paired with the right suspension and tires, can plant you through any corner.

I found a 2010 R/T in white with some sick stripes for $11,000. Any model year after 2008 will have the same body design with just minor updates. So, go look around and find one that fits what you want. I would go for a 2015 because Dodge handed out a big cabin upgrade that year with some new infotainment stuff and dash. Whichever year you go for, you have a rear-wheel drive beast that you can wrench and tune to your heart’s content.

But hey, maybe the Ford SVT Lightning is the American tuner truck that you’ve been waiting for.

1999 – 2004 Ford SVT Lightning – Can You Hear the Thunder?

red 2004 ford lightning svt
Mecum Auctions

Not only does the Ford SVT Lightning look super badass, it’s so cool that our boy Brian O’Connor drove it! Also known as the late Paul Walker! And if you want to check out Paul’s $1.37 million Skyline check out our Ideal video here!

Anyways, the burnout queen is an absolute sleeper of a truck. When you look at it first, you might think this is just a plain F-150, but the team over at Ford’s high-end racing division SVT, the same homies that brought us the previously mentioned Terminator Cobra, decided to make this regular old truck not only fast and fun to drive, but a tuner’s wet dream as well.

Now, stock the Lightning came with a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 ripping out about 360 horsepower! That’s a pretty great number, especially given that this was released in 1999! Now, if you choose to spice things up under the hood with normal stuff like an exhaust, pulleys, and an intake, you’re making upwards of 400 horsepower! And if you want to do the whole shabang with stuff like a new supercharger or forged internals, then I’ve seen examples get up to 550 horsepower, which sounds like a whole lot of burnouts and doughnuts!

These things are not too hard to find if you do some digging. I found a sweet red one for just under $12,000. But you know what’s cooler than driving Brian O’Connor’s truck of choice? It would be driving our ideal car… the DSM Eagle Talon!

1990 – 1994 DSM Eagle Talon – ”American” Eagle

1st generation eagle talon
Wikimedia Commons

The DSM Eagle Talon is a turbo all-wheel drive beast with JDM roots that you can tune to beat supercars. The three diamonds of Mitsubishi and the pentastar of Chrysler came together to make Diamond Star Motors back in 1985. But, in 1990, they made the Holy Grail of “American” tuners, the Eagle Talon.

It came in a front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive platform, and with a naturally-aspirated or turbo Mitsubishi 2.0-liter inline-4. To go fast, you’re going to want an all-wheel drive turbo, because it doesn’t take much to get this thing to super yee-haw numbers. Stock, a turbo would make around 195 horsepower. However, if you go crazy with this Talon and build the engine, get a bigger turbo, and other little bits and bobs, you’re going to be knocking on 1,000 horsepower’s door. Let me say that again. 1,000 horsepower! From a Chrysler-Mitsubishi mess! That’s right!

What’s sad is that people love dragging these things, which makes them super hard to find stock. However, I found a 1994 1st generation turbo all-wheel drive Talon for just $2,500! Not only is it the cheapest American tuner on this list, but it also has the most potential, making it a certified Ideal deal.

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