Most of us middle-class gearheads dream of having 500 horsepower! From American wild horses to raging Italian bulls, from GT-Rs to Gallardos, 500 horsepower has been the baseline of all supercars. And you might think it’s an exclusive club offered only to those with six-figure bank accounts, but what if I told you that you could have 500 horses for less than $20,000 in parts?
Think I’m lying? Well, today I’m going to uncover 7 of the cheapest ways to get over 500 horsepower so that you can stomp on your neighbor’s 911! Just as long as you don’t live near me and my 911…
Honda B-Series ($10,000)
So, let’s start it off cheap, like Civic cheap. And before you start picturing a total ricer with an over-modded Civic, forget it, because we’re talking pure performance!
Offered in Acura Integra GS-R models or as a pre-2000 Civic Si, the B-series was the precursor to the K-series. To get it to 500 horsepower without spending a fortune, go grab a Humble Performance kit for the Honda B-series, which promises 600 horsepower!
The base kit will set you back just $1,900 and comes with a Shanghai GTX3582R turbo, a turbo manifold, an intercooler, oil lines, a blow-off valve, and a wastegate. But, you can spend $1,300 more on some even higher-quality parts. No matter the kit you get, they don’t throw in intercooler piping, so you’ll have to spend another $200 on that, and about $900 on forged internals.
You’ll then have to upgrade your clutch for $425 with a Competition Clutch Stage 5. And from there, you’ll only have to spend $3,425 on modifications! The car itself floats right around $6,500, so you’re looking at up to 600 horsepower for right around $10,000!
Unfortunately, it’s not going to be all that luxurious. Want a little luxury with your power? You could go spend thousands on your interior, or you could just go out and get a BMW. Still want more power? Get yourself a 135 or 335i from 2008 to 2010.
335i or 135i N54 ($12,000)
The legendary N54 motor is a great place to start on your quest for 500-horsepower nirvana. Sure, it doesn’t have 500 right out of the box, but with a little bit of money, you’re knocking on the door of 500 horsepower easily. And that’s not even the limit with these motors, with enough cash, you could probably get up in the million-horsepower range! Well, no, but pretty damn high!
But, if 500’s enough for you, you’ve got to do some supporting mods like colder spark plugs and a big front mount intercooler, which are only going to set you back $525. Not too bad, right? Then, go and add dual cone intakes for $90, and that’s good for 20 more horses. Pair that with a girthy 3-inch catless downpipe for $300 and you’ve got another 25 horsepower.
The best way to take advantage of those mods would be to get a tune. So, you’ve got to drop $500 on a JB4 Performance tune to bring out their full potential. But, even with that, you’re still just shy of 500. What do you do? Get an MHD flash so it can run on 40% E85 for $150. There you go! 500 horsepower!
To build an N54 up to 500 horsepower, it’ll cost you around $1,565 in parts alone. So, if you want to build a 335i, you can get in a sleeper E90 sedan, a slick E92 coupe, or a sweet E93 convertible, any of which you should be able to pick up all for around $7,000 to $10,000.
If you want to have a smaller and lighter 1 Series, chances are you’ll be spending about $1,000 more than the 3 Series for either the coupe or the convertible. So, you’re looking at anywhere from $8,500 to $12,000 to get 500 horsepower out of these Bavarian ballers. Not bad at all!
But, the headache of repairing a 500-horsepower German car might not be worth it. So, how much does it cost for American simplicity? Let’s find out. First up, the almighty LS.
4.8L or 5.3L Vortec LS ($14,795)
Go to your local junkyard and you’re bound to find loads of LS engines lying around. The cheapest to buy in working condition is either the 4.8-liter or 5.3-liter Vortec LS engine. Why do I say both? Because from the exterior, they’re identical, and both are go-to engines for GM trucks and SUVs made newer than 1999.
Without tearing into the engines, it’s impossible to tell the difference, unless you get a borescope and look inside at the top of the pistons. The 4.8-liter will have flat-top pistons and the 5.3-liter will have slightly dished pistons. The pick-a-part that it’s sitting at probably won’t go through all that effort to see which is which, but both can be made into 500 horsepower beasts for cheap. The 5.3-liter will make it a little easier, as it’s a bigger engine, but a 4.8-liter will work too.
Toss the parts shop $300 and you could have yourself a shiny new couple-hundred-thousand-mile LS engine. Bring that home and rig it up to a computer. I’d suggest spending about $1,000 on a Holley Terminator X system, and you’ll have a running engine for just $1,300! But, you’ll only be at around 350 horsepower…
We’re not done yet, though! Throw in a cam and valve springs for $480, then drop $515 on a nitrous kit, and you’ve got yourself a 500-horsepower LS for just $2,295!
Buy a $5,000 Miata and drop $7,500 on a Miata swap kit, and you’ve got a 500-horsepower-LS Miata for $14,795. Let’s go! That’s one hell of a burnout machine.
But, if you’re like me all that sounds like a lot of work. What if I told you there’s a car that you could buy and do a simple tune to hit 500 horsepower? The Porsche Cayenne Turbo makes it simple and easy!
Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($14,500)
Out of the factory with 450 horsepower, the Cayenne Turbo needs a little bump to cross that 500-horsepower mark. Wait, it’s a Porsche, and it’s got the word “Turbo” in its name, so it’s got to be expensive, right? Well, today they can be had for $12,000 to $15,000. We found a prime example for less than $14,000.
Go throw $600 at VR for a tune, which brings up that power from 450 to 501, baby! Sure, it has a lot of weight to lug around, but it’s still one of the cheapest and simplest ways to join the 500-horsepower club, and haul your kids to soccer practice while convincing people that you’re rich.
But, if practicality doesn’t matter to you and all you care about is 0-to-60 times, then you might want a small lightweight car that will out-accelerate motorcycles. I’m talking about a Honda Civic! A Honda Civic? Oh, I meant a Honda Civic with modifications, a K-series to be exact.
Honda K-Series ($13,000)
Alright, so you will have to put more money into the modifications. But, for this article, cheap is the name of the game, and a Civic is cheap and light. Plus, some of these cars are perfect candidates for power. Every 4-cylinder Honda or Acura (except the Civic coupe or sedan) has a K-series under the hood that’s just asking to be bumped up to 500 horsepower.
Which ones would I go for? Probably a cheap generation like the EG or the EK. But if I wanted a cool-looking cruiser, I’d choose the Acura RSX. If you want to take any of these K-series cars and get them revving 500 horses, your first step is to pick up a kit from Humble Performance, and those are going for just $3,250! The kit includes a turbo, a wastegate, a blow-off valve, oil lines, an intercooler, and a manifold.
That won’t get you all the way to 500, though, you’ll need to add a fuel system capable of handling that power for $700, then an intercooler piping and a downpipe for $850. All those modifications add up to only $4,800! Just don’t forget to upgrade your clutch and flywheel for $450.
After that, it’s time to look at the internals. Retainers, valves, and springs will set you back $475. New pistons for around $500, rods for $800, and all in you’re looking at around $7,025. Add in a Civic for about $4,000 or an RSX for around $6,000, and you’ll have a little pocket rocket for $11,000 to $13,000!
The K-series is definitely a legend when it comes to motors, so when you put enough mods on it, it’s easily going to hit 500 horsepower. How about a plush luxury car, though? Not possible, huh? Well, what about a BMW 550i?
BMW 550i ($17,000)
With an MSRP north of $60,000, you wouldn’t expect the 550i to be cheap, but your good friend depreciation is here to help you get to 500 horsepower. A stock BMW 550i comes with a 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 making 445 horsepower. Not quite 500, but it’s close.
Get yourself a $749 tune from Racechip and bump that 450 horsepower up to 512 and torque to 553 pound-feet. All you have to do is plug the device into your OBD2 port, and boom, 500 horsepower!
Remember how I said these cost over $60,000 new? Well, today, they can be had for right around $15,000. And with the Racechip tune, you can have over 500 horsepower for under $17,000. Sure, that’s a little expensive for the car, but it’s a cheap way to get to 500 horsepower.
If you’d rather get a cheap model and throw all your money into the engine, it’s time to check out a Subaru WRX.
Subaru EJ ($20,000)
If you can get your hands on a WRX or an STI, 500 horsepower is definitely in your wheelhouse. You can use the 227-horsepower EJ205 from the WRX or the 293-horsepower EJ257 from the STI. Of course, the STI is more expensive, but the bottom end of the STI’s EJ257 is stronger than the EJ205 from the WRX.
Both are going to need a bit of work to get to 500 horsepower. You’ll need a bigger turbo like a Perrin GT3582 rotated kit for $3,465. And you can’t really reap the benefits of that kit without some additional mods. 850cc injectors from DeatschWerks for $550 are probably the best place to start. Next comes a front mount intercooler kit for $850, then $440 on catless headers to get the turbo spooling faster, an exhaust ranging from $100 to $1,000, and a water-and-meth kit for $465.
But, if you giving your Subaru that much of a power boost, you’re going to need a base that can handle it. So, it starts with a transmission rebuild that will set you back $2,580. If you’re going to be doubling your car’s power, a new gear set on your transmission is absolutely crucial, if you don’t want to end up in a ditch, that is.
After that, it’s time to build up the motor. Forged rods pistons, bearings, ARP head studs, and more, which will cost you around $1,600 in all. You’ll have to spend $675 for a COBB accessport, then take it to a shop for about $400 to take full advantage of the tune. Finish up the build with a clutch and flywheel from ACT that can hold all that added power. So, the entire build will cost you $12,975.
However, you do need a car to do all this on. Considering you can buy a rusted-out high-mileage Midwest WRX for like $3,000 or a pristine low-mileage car for near $15,000, it really depends on what you want and what you’re willing to spend. Assuming a decent WRX will cost about $5,000 to $8,000, you’re looking at around $20,000 to jack that thing up to 500 horses.