With the cold dark nights slowly starting to go away and all of us recently transcending into a new year, this is the perfect time to go out and buy and modify a potential track weapon for the summer season. With car season coming into full effect in a few month’s time, this is the best time to be buying a cheap track day car. With a majority of people not being able to buy something expensive in the first place and insurance being difficult for covering track days, the cheaper the car, the easier it is to insure so think carefully when picking your perfect cheap track day car. Here are ten potential track day cars that won’t break the bank but should be great fun when modified right.
Mazda MX-5 NA/NB:
It was just typical that a Mazda MX-5 would make this list, but before thinking that this is just news repeating itself, hear me out before you scroll away. There’s a very good reason why the MX-5 is so loved on the track day scene. First of all, they’re undeniably cheap. with good examples being anywhere from £1000-£2000 you can pick one up easily. Secondly, they are a good base for modifications and with a massive scene for MX-5’s in general, you’ll have a field day getting the right parts needed to make your MX-5 a little track weapon. With early Na & NB MX-5’s having a really low curb weight, you really don’t need much to get the most out of an MX-5 really good for track days, with power being low from standard, insurance should be well cheap and fairly easy to get as well. Look out for rust on the early ones, especially the NA’s as these suffer quite bad from tin worm.
MG ZR 1.8 160 VVC:
Yes, I know what you may be thinking…….an MG ZR? really? well, hear me out on this. As the name suggests, the ZR has 160 bhp from the factory which is plentiful for track days. With a few suspension tweaks like coilovers and uprated anti-roll bars and you soon realize the full potential the Zr has to give you handling wise. Reliability isn’t fantastic, especially the fabled head gasket issues these cars suffer from but as long as you can get an uprated gasket fitted to them, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever have an issue with them going bang. With an FWD drivetrain layout, it may not be as pure to drive as the MX-5 above but what it lacks in purity it makes up for in usability. Where the MX-5 has the opportunity to spin out on a damp or really wet track, the FWD layout of the ZR means that it’ll pretty much stick to the track regardless of the conditions. Prices can be had from a few hundred pounds to about £2000+ for a minter. Insurance isn’t the cheapest, especially for really young drivers but for what it’s worth, if you can afford one and modify it properly, it’ll be a rewarding drive.
Renault Clio 197/200:
Potentially the newest car here, it’s an honest surprise that these are now becoming so cheap now to go out and buy & run. While these two are quite a bit more than the MG or MX-5 above, £3,000 isn’t to be sniffed at for a well looked after Clio 197 or Clio RS200. Because it’s a Renault, you’re almost certified to be the king or queen of the track day thanks to their impeccable handling, their fantastic grip and last but not least the stonking amount of power they both have. in Cup spec, you really get a true understanding of why Renault has a certain reputation when it comes to fast hot hatches. reliability is so-so but as long as you can get a good one and know your way around French electrics then you should be fine.
Subaru Impreza GC8 Turbo 2000:
Possibly the only AWD car on this list, the MK1 Subaru Impreza Turbo 2000 is a very good shout for a track day car. With 215bhp and an old-style AWD system, the 2000 Turbo is both quick and easy to drive regardless of weather conditions. With 4 doors on tap and a big boot, these are also very practical as well. The Impreza is a very well known contender on the rough stuff and pretty much cut it on numerous rally stages across the world making it an icon in the process. Due to that, they handle really well and with their signature Flat-4 engine under the bonnet, it makes for both a fantastic noise and a pretty much 50-50 weight distribution. Finding one isn’t that easy these days, especially one that is in a mint condition but if you search high and low, you’ll be bound to find one within budget. Watch out for rust with these as just like any Japanese ’90s car, they rust badly.
Ford Fiesta ST MK6:
This list wouldn’t be complete without the MK6 Fiesta ST or even a Fast Ford for that matter. While it may have not worn the RS badge, the MK6 ST made up for that with a stonking 150bhp from a 2.0 engine. That may not sound like much these days but considering that a Citroen C2 VTS had about 120bhp and a Corsa C SRi had about 130bhp, this Fiesta was a little firecracker. Add in the Fiesta MK6’s lightweight and it’s fantastic chassis and it’s no surprise that these can become a fantastic track car. Fast Fords are always a perfect buy but watch with the MK6 ST, due to these being owned by a good few boy racers over the years, it can be very easy to find a bad example of one. Make sure to get one with full ford service history and try and get one preferably owned by an enthusiast. If you want to make more power then there is, of course, both Mountune and Airtec to help you with that as well as a plethora of others.
SEAT Leon Cupra 1M:
Before anyone says anything, this choice right here isn’t a biased choice whatsoever. For those that know me, know that one of my favorite hatches is a Seat Leon. In my opinion, even though we own an MK2 Leon FR that is fantastic, my favorite Leon is the original – the 1M. Now while a Cupra R will be way out of the equation, a 1M Cupra 1.8T will be well within budget and still looks and goes just as well as it’s badder & faster stablemate. With 180bhp from its 1.8T 20v engine, you are bound to have a great time thrashing this little beauty around a track. Reliability is very good with these cars as long as you can get a good one and with aftermarket support as long as your arm, you’ll be sure to improve on any weak points the car may have. Prices for these are very cheap even for a minter so finding one shouldn’t really be an issue.
MK3 Toyota MR-2:
Here we have a left-field entry and our first mid-engined entry into track day car ownership. While the MK3 may not be the best MR-2 money can buy, what it lacks in credibility it certainly makes up for with driver enjoyment. The MR-2 always was and always has been a driver’s car even from the get-go throughout its 3 generations. With the third-generation car, the 3S-GE & 3S-GTE engine was dropped for a 2ZZ unit shared with the 7th Generation Celica T-Sport. While it wasn’t the quickest and you do have to wring its neck to get every available power out of it but that’s the charm of this generation of MR-2. If power is an issue then it is very easy to fit the 3.0 V6 engine from the Camry into the car. This pretty much doubles the power of the original engine, gives it way more torque and also has a wonderful engine note to boot. Being a Toyota, reliability shouldn’t be an issue, even with a V6 swap so mechanically it should be ok. Check for rust though as these cars suffer from it, while not as bad as other cars, if not treated it can become worse over time.
MGF & TF 1.8:
While on the subject of mid-engined cars, let me introduce you to yet another left-field choice and also another MG to make the list, this time the MGF & TF. Just like the MR-2 above, the F/TF is a mid-engined 2-door sports car with a low amount of power and also a low weight to boot. With the 1.8 fitted it creates 134bhp which may seem like a piddly amount compared to others on this list but trust me, with a car as light as the F/TF, you don’t need tons of power to get the most out of these cars. Buying & finding one of these cars is fairly easy to do as prices are cheap and there’s plenty around the place. Reliability is the same as the ZR above and unfortunately, just like that car, the F & TF both suffer from Headgasket issues, fear not, however, as you can get a stronger head gasket to fit into these cars to make the engines stronger and more capable of abuse a track day brings.
Peugeot 306 GTi-6 & Rallye:
No track day list would be complete without one of the best hatchbacks of the ’90s, I am of course talking about the Peugeot 306. In particular the 306 GTi-6 as well as the 306 Rallye. Considered by most as one of the best budget hot hatches going, it’s only right that these two variants make the list. What made these two cars great was their handling, as with every ’90s Peugeot, the 306 handled beautifully and could easily run rings around a similarly aged Golf or Astra. The Rallye is the rarer variant out of the two and for good reasons, they were lightly stripped out to make them a pure driving machine. The items that were removed consisted of the electric windows as well as the electrically operated mirrors, the Alloys were changed out for lightweight steelies and even the stereo was removed to remove as much weight as possible. Put any of these cars on a track and you’ll soon realize why they are loved the world over. Prices have not quite hit big money for these cars yet but trying to find one isn’t easy, especially a Rallye. Reliability isn’t terrible on these cars, especially considering French car’s reputation for their reliability.
Honda Civic VTi Coupé EM1:
Last but not least, we come to the Honda Civic Coupé EM1. First of all, these cars are unbelievably cheap to buy and run, with a VTi costing about £2000-£4000 depending on condition, these are one hell of a way of getting a VTEC powered track car. With 160bhp on tap, the VTi is no slouch neither and due to its lightweight, it certainly shifts. Being a Honda, reliability is never going to be an issue and with aftermarket support as large as ever for these cars, it is very easy to get bits together to make the perfect track day beast. With a very large engine bay and a small bay, it is very easy to do most modifications yourself making it so much cheaper to transform into a track car. Alongside the decent power figure is also a very low weight figure. weighing in at around a ton, it doesn’t need a lot of modifications to make it competitive. With EP3’s and FN2’s still being a tad expensive, getting an EM1 makes perfect sense as they are relatively cheaper and a whole lot lighter as well as being a very good left-field choice for a track day car.
With car season coming up within the next few months, it is very tempting to want to go to a track day, I know I’ve been thinking about them recently. Whether it’s your first ever track day or you’re a master, it is very easy to go out and buy something expensive, fast and way too on the edge for most tracks and conditions but with these cars above, it shows that you can go out and buy something on a budget, fairly quick and competitive and also capable around most tracks without being too much on the edge.
Hope You Enjoy!