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The fastest, cheapest things on four wheels

2008.10.05 — Business | Cars | by Derek Jensen

Beck Spyder

Beck Spyder. [source]

Sure, you could get yourself a Bugatti Veyron or a Lamborghini Murciélago, but all your friends would just sneer at such an obvious show of ostentatious. To really impress them, you should put the bulk of your vast fortune in sensible investments and buy your adrenaline cheap. A motorcycle is the obvious choice for cheap speed, but motorcycles have one major drawback: they raise your chances of becoming an organ donor to uncomfortable levels. So what's a sane human being to do for fun without intentionally risking his or her neck? What kind of fun can you have on four wheels for under, say, $40 grand?

Specialty cars

The Ariel Atom is the darling of the sports car purist world. It doesn't even bother with body panels, and it tears up the track at a blistering pace. But that pace costs money, and its $80 grand price tag in the US puts it outside our box.

The Beck Spyder is a tube-frame Porsche 550 replica. At about $35 grand turn-key, it's on the money and has body panels, but no roof (you can put on a cover if you stop and get out). Likewise, the Superformance MKIII is a tube-frame Ford Cobra replica that runs about $50 grand, ready to race, which is a bit on the high side for a car with no convertible top.


Quad bike

GG Quad. [source]

Or, you could go down-scale and into the world of motorcycles, where speed on the cheap is possible, but at an obvious secondary cost. Here, most motorcycle enthusiasts would look on a quad bike and ask—why the extra wheels? If you're serious about speed, maneuverability, and money and are willing to get mud all over you, a dirt bike is the sensible thing to buy. You buy a quad bike because you are afraid you will crash a proper two-wheeled motorcycle—which you will. However, what you may not count on is the fact that you will also crash a quad bike. Yes, if the main purpose of having four wheels is the added measure of safety, that measure is subtracted here.

For the most part, 4-wheelers are not street legal in the US and cannot be made to be (altho why is a mystery, since 2-wheelers certainly are). So any high-speed fun will have to be done off-road.


Shifter kart

Shifter kart. [source]

Karts come in two basic varieties: the tiny go-kart and the car-like big-boy kart. Adults can race around in many go-karts and they aren't expensive, but they aren't going to deform your face into a permanent grin—just a temporary one. The big karts are actually not the fastest ones.

It's the adult versions of the tiny karts that are the demons. They're called "shifter karts" because they have transmissions that can shift, allowing them to attain 100+ MPH speeds with little 30+ HP engines. They cost around $6 grand and can be kind of finicky, since most of the engines are designed for racing snowmobiles, which is a different environment.

Reg'lar cars

Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5. [source]

The obvious choice for speed and comfort is the trusty automobile. You could get a hot hatch like the VW Rabbit GTI, Mazdaspeed 3, or Subaru Impreza WRX. Of course, these are front-drivers, meaning you'll have to deal with torque-steer, but they've got the power and handling you crave—at less than $25 grand.

The Mazda MX-5 offers top-notch fun on a budget at around $25 grand, too. And it's a full-on sports car with 180 HP and a convertible top.

The choicest choice is probably a used BMW Z4 or Boxster/Cayman. For $30 to $40 grand, you can have speed and refined elegance, gently-used (or thrashed to a pulp, and repairs tend to be expensive on premium cars). You could even get a 911 for that price, but it would have to be several years old.


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