Guest contributor: Vince B. of Daily Turismo on the best used car bargains between $5k-15k

As guys who eat, sleep, dream, tinker, breathe and drive cars, we at Daily Turismo routinely get asked the question, what car should I buy? Each driver has his own needs and each car has its own place in the market (yes, there are people who we’d recommend a Prius to, maybe even a brand new Prius, but we won’t recommend any new Lincoln under any circumstances) and we have our favorite cars on the market today. Our picks tend to be well used since they provide an excellent value and we try to stay away from cars that will continue to plummet in price. Mostly though, we love cars that are fun to drive, rear wheel drive and cheap to buy/insure/maintain. Here is a list of our top ten bargains, not top top $5k-15k cars, but the ones we think are undervalued in the market. Here they are, in no particular order.

1995-1999 E36 M3

The E36 M3 still represents about the best BMW M-car buy on the market today; the E30 generation has appreciated to collector prices and E46s are still dropping – but the E36 cars seem to have found a $5k bottom and provide an incredible driving experience for next to nothing. All of them come equipped with a 240 horsepower inline 6, 5 speed (manual is our preference, but an auto is available) transmission, limited slip differential in the rear, and a perfect 50:50 weight distribution (we like the sedan ourselves —Ed.).

1975-1993 Volvo 240 (242, 244, 245)

This is an easy one – it’s the Daily Turismo project car – and we think the Volvo 240 series offers a surprising amount of fun at an extremely reasonable price point. The staff at the Daily Turismo has run Volvo 242s in autocross events and survived to tell about it… surprisingly the car was fun to drive, not fast at all, but not the prison-camp experience you may expect from a heavy, low powered beater. We think it’s because the 242 is equipped with rear wheel drive, a rack & pinion steering system and 4-wheel disc brakes.

1977-1985 Mercedes-Benz W123 E-Class

The Mercedes W123 series was the predecessor to the modern E-class sedan and is known as one of the most rugged cars ever built with examples running millions of miles all around the world. It was sold from 1976-1985 and today the nice examples are affordable and minty clean.

Volvo P1800/1800/1800S/1800ES

The 1800ES was known internally at Volvo as the “Beach Car.” It is a fairly rare model, only sold in 1972 & ’73 model years as a way to extend the life of the long-in-the-tooth 1800 coupe (originally known as the P1800, released in 1962). The funky looks can be polarizing – the Germans call this model Schneewittchensarg, which translates literally to “Snow White’s coffin.” We can’t help of think of Sid the ground sloth from Ice Age whenever we see the front end, but at least it’s a friendly face! Volvo management envisioned well-tanned and well-moneyed stylish California beachites loading up their boards and cruising the coast when they designed the “shooting brake” style 2-door mini wagon.

Honda S2000

The Honda S2000 redefined the convertible rocket when it entered the market 12 years ago. It still is a good looking car and the AP1 (first generation) cars come with a 9200 rpm engine speed limiter. Mean piston speeds that reach a modern F1 engine specs and Honda reliability make these cars an easy choice for the sun seeker. As an added plus, an LS1 V8 fits nicely in the engine bay…

Chevy Corvair 2nd Generation

The 2nd generation Corvair has a double-jointed independent rear suspension (instead of the earlier and allegedly dangerous swing-axle) a choice of flat six in naturally aspirated and turbocharged trims. It is a real shame the Corvair was abandoned by GM as it was a good car in its final years and favored handling over muscle – the closest any American manufacturer came to making a 911 competitor back in the ’60s. Driving a 2nd gen Corvair on a twisty road should be on any auto lover’s bucket list.

BMW E28 M5

The E28 M5 was the first generation of BMW’s world changing rocket-ship sedan. The M5 did to the 4-door sedan what the Pontiac GTO did for the 2-door sedan – set up a devastating formula for others to follow. The E28 M5 (only available Stateside in 1988) packed the engine derived from the M1 supercar into a luxury sedan and changed the world (for the better) – you can thank the ’88 M5 for every AMG, M sedan, IS-F, SHO etc. It is a rare car even by ///M standards as a total of just over 2000 units were produced for only one model-year. Today the E28 is still a value and hasn’t budged much in price as the E30 M3s have skyrocketed in the past 10 years – but don’t expect that trend to last forever.

Ford Mustang

The first generation Ford Mustang sold like gangbusters when first released in late 1964. Just into the 2nd year of production, Ford sold its millionth Mustang – phenomenal sales numbers and a percentage of the US market share that entire auto manufacturing conglomerates would only dream about today. The classic Mustang (1965-1973) are our favorite, closely followed by a Fox body, especially in turbocharged and Koni-adjustable-shock SVO trim. Unfortunately, the classic Mustang market is become highly inflated in the last few years (although maybe not compared to Alfa GTV or Porsche 911), but you can find some bargains in the Fox generation.

Subaru Impreza WRX STi (GC/GD chassis)

While we don’t necessarily enjoy the ‘hey look at me, I’m 12 and can’t get enough of these flat-brimmed baseball caps’ persona associated with driving an Impreza with a wing that could lift a Boeing 737 and a scoop that could be turned upside-down and clear Pennsylvania Ave after a snowstorm… these things are just about the fastest sub $20k sedan you can pickup. They are also deceivingly simple with minimal electronic gizmos, no traction control and simple mechanical devices to do things like limit slip in the differential.

Mercedes-Benz W108 280SE 4.5

Anyone who likes any Mercedes must certainly appreciate the worth of the W108 series vehicles with the 4.5 liter V8. These have long been a favorite choice for a daily driver. The last of the breed to be endowed with rock solid workmanship, allowing you to take your in-laws out to dinner in a 42 year-old car without having to listen to them gripe about why you haven’t bought a Camry to properly chauffeur their daughter. 

Vince is the founder of Daily Turismo. You can check them out at

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Motoring Con Brio. But they’re pretty close!

~ by velofinds on March 29, 2013.

24 Responses to “Guest contributor: Vince B. of Daily Turismo on the best used car bargains between $5k-15k”

  1. Great list, Vince. These cars represent a good balance of reliability, build quality, performance and price point. Need an E30 in the mix though…

    By the way, I’m a little surprised – only 2 Volvos in the DT Top 10 list?

  2. This is like my $5,000 car dream garage (except the Corvair and s2000). Great list, people.

  3. Ill take a 5.0L LX Notchback please

  4. As a former S2000 owner, I can attest to their value. With nothing more than sticky rubber and stiffer springs and shocks, you can hunt down Porsches (excluding GT3s and the like) at the track all day long. And that’s coming from a guy who loves Porsches. The S2000 is a performance bargain – no joke.

    Other cars that I would add to this list:

    Miata (Even Mk IIIs can be found for less than $15K)
    LS1 Camaro
    C5 Corvette

  5. Forgivable oversight:
    Roadmaster Estate LT1

    DT FTW

  6. I’m in the process of buying an E36 M3 for the princely sum of $3250. Straight car, clean title, but needs everything in the suspension replaced, as well as reupholstering of the passenger seat, rear seat bottom and headliner. I ran the numbers and came up to about $9k total investment to get it driving better than new (and back within the realm of “safe”) while being cosmetically a bit rough.

    Keep in mind that the buy-in isn’t the important thing, the investment to turn the car into exactly what you want is. Always take that in mind, and unless you love wrenching some of these cars at dirt-cheap prices can be a headache.

    • I always say to buy the best example you can afford! Unless, of course, you’re in it for the project (as you allude).

      $8 or $9k should net you a pretty nice-looking, nice-driving E36 M3 from the very get-go.

      • I completely agree with the idea of buying the best example one can afford- and it is with some embarrassment that I will admit this M3 is exactly that right now. The fact that it’s been in my family since ’02 also provides some of the (un)reasoning.

        I despise doing work on an unreliable car, but on a worn-out car I have no problem. The E36 M3 is pretty darn mechanically reliable, even with ~170k on the odometer. Replace some seals, do a complete suspension refresh, have the VANOS unit rebuilt and delete ASC without harming the ABS and you’re golden.

        One day, I’ll purchase a car that’s in the higher end of its NADA values. I’ll have it serviced by competent technicians and go on road trips without worry. On that day, I will have achieved wealth. Until then, you’ll find me either in the driver’s seat or on a creeper.

        • No shame in any of that. Sounds like the car is in good hands! Kudos.

        • Been there, so I certainly respect where you’re coming from, SOneThreeCoupe. You buy the right car for you at the time, and do whatever you need to do to keep it going.

  7. Do I even need to ask why the GTV6 isnt on this list??

  8. All – thanks for you comments and suggestions, and while I do agree in spirit with all of the additional cars for the “short-list,” I tried to limit myself to cars that I have actually had significant exposure to. I have daily driven or raced all but two of the cars on this list – and the other two were owned by other contributors to the dailyturismo. Perhaps I did miss an E30, 2002, GTi, GTV, MX5, C5 Z06, 986, Roadmaster Estate, anything with a Brougham emblem on it…and for that I apologize! I thoroughly Enjoyed putting together the list and collaborating with Drew and the MCB staff for the posting. Happy motoring to all, and thanks for the kind words and written abuse (sometimes I need it!).

  9. IEDEI’s list:

    MK1 Audi TT
    Audi Ur quattro
    Volvo 850R
    Audi B5 S4 Avant
    Mazda Miata

    honorable mention:
    Lancia Beta
    Alfa Romeo GTV6 (for bradley)
    BMW 3-series (E30)
    Saab 900 Turbo

    i do think the E36 M3 is a great car and a great buy….so i think it’s fair game for that list. I love the Volvo 240….but it is hooptie to actually drive…rubbish in fact.

  10. I’ve been saying it for years, but the E36 BMW is a seriously hard to beat performance bargain right now. When you consider that they have a huge aftermarket, are very reliable, cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, easy to work on, and offer a truly incredible driving experience, there are few other cars out there which can beat it at any price. Many people like the E30, but the longer wheelbase and more refined rear suspension of the E36 make it a better track tool than the E30. And who doesn’t like listening to a straight-6 engine sing?

  11. You are right about the w108 4.5. I daily drive mine…approx 70 miles total a day. Rock solid.

    However, it never met a gas station that it didn’t like.

    • So, you are topping up every few days? Ouch.

      Years ago, I had a 75-mile each way commute, nearly 40K miles/year. Fueling was once every day and a half (3 one-way trips). Fuel was cheaper then, but it still hurt.

      Fortunately, most of it was entertaining backroads through NY’s Putnam, Orange and Rockland counties, so that helped. I could have lived with my parents (5 miles from my job) instead of with my girlfriend…but seriously, at 22 years old, who would make that choice?

      • Nice story, Larry. Hope your car at the time was a willing partner on those twisty roads upstate!

        • RX-7 or Scirocco 16V, depending on weather and mood. Great driving roads. Minimal traffic until I got closer to the city. Fuel and insurance costs sucked, and I piled a lot of miles on the cars, but I really can’t complain about the rest of it.

          • One could certainly do a lot worse than either of those— sounds like a grand life for a 22yo, in fact.

            • Thanks, Drew. Rent was a lot cheaper that far out from the city, so I could (mostly) afford a couple of really fun rides for the commute. Then again, at 22-years-old, I was pretty much willing to do the 150 miles/day just to be with my girlfriend, regardless of what I was driving. Yeah, kind of pathetic, I know.

  12. Reblogged this on Classic & Vintage Audi and commented:
    A pretty strong list…albeit missing the 300ZX, Acura Legend GS 6-speed (coupe or sedan), BMW 850i, VW Passat w8, Audi S8, S6 Avant (C4 and C5) and probably a few others.

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