Top Ten

5 Iconic Enthusiast Cars Everyone is Sleeping On

Horsepower, rear-wheel-drive, stick-shift fun, and a decent badge to boot.

By Chris D'Alessandro Wheels.ca

Apr 25, 2023 6 min. read

Article was updated 7 months ago

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Everything in the world of cars is expensive nowadays, if not flatly overpriced. Things are particularly dire if you want to drive something fun — something that lets you change your own gears, that sends the power exclusively to the rear wheels and which accelerates to 100 km/h with some excitement to the occasion.

There are of course some more obscure “enthusiast” options out there that haven’t seen an explosion in price. But there are reasons for that. In some cases, they’re simply not “icons” that have permeated pop culture — recognizable nameplates that garner a certain intangible appeal. In other cases, they were junk.

So don’t expect forgotten, alternative choices like the Dodge Stealth / Mitsubishi 3000GT or pure pain on wheels like the Pontiac Solstice / Saturn Sky on this list.

No, these are badges with some equity behind them and which the neighborhood kids will recognize. It’s just that even icons have generations that have fallen out of mainstream favour. And a lower demand, thankfully, means lower (or at least reasonable) prices.

C5 & C6 Corvette Base - (1997 - 2013)

Chevrolet Corvette C6

Perhaps because the C8 has managed to steal all of the oxygen out of the room, or perhaps because the C7 is still so fresh in our consciousness, the market for previous-generation Corvettes remains puzzlingly soft.

The C5, the last generation ‘Vette to feature pop-up headlights, but the first to feature the mighty LS-based small block V8 can often be had for under $35,000 — with relatively low km and a manual transmission.

Interestingly, this low interest in millennial Corvettes seems to have spread to the more recent C6 generation. While special editions like the Z06, ZR1 and even Grand Sport still command high prices, low-km examples of the base model C6, like the C5, can be had for around $40,000. Prices go down if you’re willing to tolerate a convertible, targa roof, or automatic transmission.

While the C6 lacks the pop-up headlights, it does boast 400 horsepower from its 6.2-litre LS2 V8 and 0 - 100 km/h times around five seconds. Sure, it might be difficult to find one with all the most desirable options to fit your budget. But there’s simply no getting around the value of yesteryear ‘Vettes when comparing performance per dollar.

Sure, $40,000 is a nice chunk of cheddar cheese — but that’s what you’ll pay in markup alone on a C8.

SN95 “New Edge” Mustang GT - (1999 - 2004)

1999 Ford Mustang

Now two generations old, prices are starting to soften on S197 Mustangs, particularly the three-valve 4.6-litre V8 powered cars.

However, the last SN95 cars, aka the “New Edge” Mustangs (one generation prior to the S197) seem to have hit the absolute bottom of their depreciation curve.

Of course, special editions like the Saleen cars or the infamous “Terminator” supercharged Cobra Mustangs still command a high price, and presumably always will.

However, the cars powered by the reliable 2V 4.6-litre V8 and equipped with a Tremec 5-speed manual transmission can be had for around $15,000.

Why exactly? The New Edge Mustang is in a bit of a weird place — not quite possessing the desirable styling of the S197 or the raw nostalgia / kitschy appeal of the Fox Body cars.

The performance is a little dated as well. The New Edge’s 260-horsepower and 6-second-ish 0 - 100km/h times seem sluggish compared to today’s muscle cars (because they are).

But on the positive side, the 4.6-litre V8 does shine in its exhaust note, durability, abundance of cheap replacement parts and seemingly bottomless catalog of aftermarket support.

Of course, there’s always the option to swap in a Coyote 5.0 — an increasingly popular upgrade for fans of the SN95.

Some special editions of the New Edge cars — such as the ‘99, ‘01 Cobra and ‘03 - ‘04 Mach 1 — which feature a 32-valve DOHC variant of the modular 4.6-litre, producing 320-horsepower can still be had for under $30,000 in decent knick.

BMW 128i & 135i - (2008 - 2013)

BMW 135i

BMW never sold its full 1 Series line-up in Canada. But honestly, who cares? Because the one 1 Series we did get was the rear-wheel-drive coupe equipped with an inline six producing 230 horsepower and available with a six-speed manual.

If you’re feeling like the newer M240i or M2 is just out of reach, this is your answer. Low mileage examples are trading for under $18,000.

And if you’re really keen, there are even a few 135i models floating around for about $20,000. The 135i features the same I6 engine as the 128i, however the 135i’s engine is turbocharged for a beefy 300 horsepower and a 0 - 100km time under 5 seconds. For context, that’s about the same kind of power and acceleration you get from a brand new GR Corolla or Civic Type R.

Are you getting the headlines here? Small bimmer. Inline-six engine. Turbo. Six-Speed. Rear-wheel drive. $20,000.

Mazda RX-8 Series II - (2008 - 2012)

Mazda RX-8

It’s no mystery as to why people still don’t want the RX-8.

First, it’s just not and never will be the RX-7 — neither in terms of performance nor iconography.

Second because for most people after an inexpensive, compact, rear-drive sports coupe, they’re going to go for the 86 / BRZ and avoid all of the RX-8’s infamous gremlins (rotary-related or otherwise).

But if you’re someone who sees rotary-engine ownership as a plus (and yes, there are positives), then you’re in luck because the best example of the latest model of RX-8, with low KM can be had for about $15,000.

Yes, you’ll still need to top off the oil every third tank of gas. But you won’t complain when you scythe the RX-8 through corners, thanks to its low center of gravity, near 50-50 weight distribution and trick suspension geometry. You also won’t ever mind screaming the 1.3-litre rotary engine to 9,000 rpm just for the sake of daily maintenance (that’s a real thing).

A mid-cycle refresh for 2008, the “Series II” RX-8 received not only a cosmetic facelift, but also many mechanical upgrades including a trapezoidal shock tower brace and enhanced rear suspension geometry. Additionally, a more aggressive final drive ratio enhanced acceleration.

However, most importantly, an updated Renesis rotary engine included additional lubrication injectors — one more for each rotor housing — which ensured the apex seals lasted longer.

Nissan Skyline R33 GTS-T (GT-R in image) - (1994 - 1998)

1995 Nissan Skyline GT-R

No. Not a GT-R.

But, crucially, a noteworthy, true JDM sports coupe you can have for not bonkers money.

Unlike the RB26-powered, AWD GT-R, lesser R33 Skylines, such as the GTS-T were rear-wheel-drive and available with the less-powerful RB25DET engine.

Is it the legend? No. But it’s a real Skyline you can purchase and plate in Canada, with a turbocharged inline-six engine. And you can probably have one cheaper right now than a lot of other iconic ‘90s JDM cars.


Well, the R33 has always somewhat skirted under the radar — not quite achieving the legendary racing reputation of the R32 or the cultural significance of the R34. And since we’re not talking about the GT-R here, this one has just been overlooked by most.

If you were thinking of getting into something like a 370Z or maybe even a 300ZX, this could be an interesting alternative for similar money. Some searching should dig up a few desirable examples around the $35,000 mark.

Are these easy to find? No. Are they a bargain? No, not really. But this is probably the cheapest way to get a real JDM Skyline coupe right now. So take that for what it’s worth.

But, come on. Don’t you want to drive around having everyone go, “Whoa! Look! A Skyline!”?




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