Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mid Week Match-Up: Best $1k Track Car

In this week's edition of Mid Week Match-Up, we (that'd be you!) try and find the best sub $1000 car for taking to a track day -- not a full blown 24 Hrs of LeMons car that requires a trailer and garage spot, but something you could park in front of your neighbors house but still run to the track on the weekend.


My choice is this 1978 Porsche 924 offered for $900 in Fairfax, VA.  It is described as having a strong engine/tranny and needs body help...unfortunately the car does not start currently, so you'll need to solve that before you start whipping past any apexes.

What sub $1k track car would you suggest? Comments below.

45 comments:

  1. I mean assuming we're talking about an actual track toy,"motorcycle" is the answer at the $1k price point, in my estimation.

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    1. ...Assuming a vintage, low-displacement motorcycle class.

      I would assume even a LeMons racer could easily tally a five-digit figure, once you include track prep.

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  2. 924 seems like an excellent choice. Hard to match for the price. I did find a decent looking MR2.

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  3. Gotta be rear wheel drive, manual transmission and not a rust heap. What about this 1993 BMW 318IS? http://sfbay.craigslist.org/eby/cto/5184168704.html

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  4. How about a nice four door sedan with a small displacement V8 and a stick? You can load up the whole family with helmets and start drifting. Not sure what to do about the title but it sure would be fun for a little while.
    1994 BMW 530i

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  5. Looking through my local options is a lot like the market of men in Alaska for women - the odds are good, but the goods are odd.

    Hows about a CRX? http://anchorage.craigslist.org/cto/5185919463.html

    [img]http://images.craigslist.org/00808_jf9K5IVXk31_600x450.jpg[/img]

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  6. I think I would rather have the 99? in the background.... Oh and how do you replace that back glass with plexi? Should save a 100lbs.

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  7. So I was in the process of finding and looking at several cars that would meet the "track" and "$1K" criteria. Instead of posting what I found which would illicit zero response, I'll ask questions instead.

    Would this be a good list of criteria and how flexible are these given the intended purpose? Also, what sort of track and does a clear title matter?

    RWD
    Manual
    Lightweight
    Balanced
    4, 6 or 8 cylinder - what's better? Lighter weight or more power?

    The 924 gives me pause, based on my prior 951 experience. Wouldn't it be better to buy something you can get cheap parts for just about anywhere? Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper to run something like a 240SX or a Miata instead of the 924? Given the $1K limit, it would seem to me to be the wiser direction but I'm most certainly not a racer so I don't know that for a fact. I'm not criticizing the choice of the 924 but what would the logical path be here?

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    1. I couldn't find any $1K Miatas in my neck of the woods. I assume all the Spec Miata racers got them.

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    2. Next question; doesn't the type of racing determine which is a better engine location? For example, doesn't the Sakebomb's mid-engine placement (extreme, in this case) help it significantly? Would the original location of the engine cause more problems that it would be worth in terms of maintenance access? By that logic, wouldn't a Boxster be a real PIA? Surely mid-engine cars have a handling advantage for racing...right? But again, which kind of racing?

      [img]http://i.imgur.com/x0Pfnw0.jpg?1[/img]

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    3. BTW, I have yet to communicate with a DTer who wasn't into racing of some sort. Many of them are involved as actual racers but there are also many that are judges and track workers of varying sorts. Pretty cool, huh?!?

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    4. sproing - i have zero racing points - but i'd sure like to give it a try sometime - maybe someone will ask me to design their livery

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    5. I think you and I are in the minority, KBZ. My racing experience is limited to a small amount of SCCA cone dancing and not so legal street racing in my 'ute (which is COMPLETELY stupid - do NOT do it!).

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    6. Add me to the list. I did a racing school at Portland International Raceway about 10 years ago and I did the Dirtfish Rally School a couple of years ago, but never did any racing on my own. I'd love to do stage rally, but it's one of the most expensive forms of motorsport.

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    7. K2, to address your original comment above, I'd say that's a great start for trackday car attribute criteria. Stick with 4-cylinder as a beginner. Light weight and responsive handling are far, FAR more important than extra cylinders or horsepower. At least until you hone your driving skills enough that the car becomes the limiting factor instead of the driver (which takes a lot of practice unless you're a savant or something).

      The sort of track we're talking about is the closest road course you can go circulate on a weekend. In the Northeast that would be somewhere like Lime Rock Park, Watkins Glen, or similar. Around here it's Buttonwillow, Willow Springs, & Chuckwalla Raceway in the deserts & valleys of So-Cal, but Laguna Seca, Sears Point, and Thunderhill are all excellent tracks in the dry-but-slightly-cooler northern part of our state.

      The 924 is getting old enough that parts availability will be a problem, and things that you never expected to EVER wear out will break on the track. Long-term maintenance items will have far accelerated wear (wheel bearings, brake rotors, suspension bushings, etc) so you'd better have a cheap source for those or a budget stockpile of spares. When something fails at the track you can usually get it repaired on site if: a) your car is common enough that there are a few other owners there who can help you out, and/or b) your car is common enough that whatever the closest PartzZone store will have exactly what you need on the shelf. Barring those, you'll need to get creative in adapting parts from other cars (e.g. Volvo 240 & 940 parts being used extensively on our Kawasaki Ninja powered AW11 MR2 Lemons car).

      Engine accessibility is a plus for a track day car. Front engine is easiest (Miata, E30, S13). Rear and mid engined cars are harder to work with in situ (Boxster, MR2, Fiero, Beetle) but bring enough jack stands and creepers and it's usually no big deal.

      The MR Sakibomb's engine placement in the former passenger's seat area is ideal for servicing the right side of the engine since the door still opens and gives easy access. Getting to the left side of the engine requires disassembling our custom doghouse safety shroud that encapsulates the screaming 12krpm mill. Takes a few minutes with electric impact guns to tear down, but in the heat of a race it goes quickly.

      [img]http://i.imgur.com/tWP3HFxl.jpg[/img]

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    8. Thanks CFlow, for the information!

      So the SCCA-sanctioned races I've participated in and observed were cone-defined courses that rewarded light, small, RWD vehicles. But are the courses you're talking about considerably different? Aren't there fewer curves and longer straights? Wouldn't that actually mean that a FWD car could be competitive, a GTI or Prelude say?

      To keep things cheap, it also seems to me that newer is better to take advantage of what you said (easier and cheaper part accessibility and lower cost)?

      I'm not part of that whole world, so I don't really know but I'm unaware of the Fiero being fielded often. This both does and doesn't surprise me. It surprises me because the car can easily run with all of the body panels removed and the cage is enormously strong. I know because I did it with my car (a long story you don't care about). The suspension was not particularly sporty, nothing compared to the MR2 in my opinion but that can be addressed quite easily. Power is easily upped and weight loss is, while not all that easy, doable.

      There are plenty around like this.

      These cars are nuts simple and parts are plentiful and easily accessed. Am I wrong and people are racing them? Or is there just some kind of major, un-overcomable (making up words there, Matey) design flaw that prevents them from being good platforms for racing? They are considerably heavier than the contemporary MR2, I'll grant you that. But back to the stripped of all body panels and not suffering any detriments because of it point....

      [img]http://i.imgur.com/a8zXBte.jpg?1[/img]

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8anaPmCYhA

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    9. Lift-off oversteer is a possibility that comes to mind.

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    10. No problema, that's why I'm here! Technical Editing and babbling away (via keyboard) when someone asks about trackdays, engine swaps, crapcan racing, etc.

      Sounds like what you've participated in is SCCA autocross. Cone-defined courses on flat tarmac like a parking lot or airfield will almost always fall into the autocross category, but within that there are "tight" courses and longer, higher speed courses depending on the event and location.

      What Vince and I mean by track car or trackday car is something you'd want to take on a dedicated road course, which would mean higher speeds, a permanent track with elevation changes, camber changes, runoff area, longer straights, control tower(s), corner worker stations, etc.

      Even though it may seem like horsepower is super critical for having fun at a trackday on a dedicated road course, it's not. Plenty of Miata drivers have the times of their lives with stock 1.6s and 1.8s. Newer would be better for parts availability but maybe not for budget. A late '80s or '90s Japanese sporty car is the sweet spot, I think. MR2, Miata, 240SX, Sentra, Civic, CRX, whatever. New enough to be super reliable and robust, and to have parts availability anywhere. Old enough to be cheap to buy and cheap to maintain and repair. By and large they are light, nimble, communicative, and easy to upgrade. Best fun per dollar, unless you have to have a BMW for other reasons.

      That being said, I've seen several Fieros at trackdays, mostly being driven by older novices but they all looked like they were having fun. My wife's uncle recently bought a sub-$1k Fiero to turn into an autocross car. It had the terrible Iron Dook [sic] 4-cyl which was woefully inadequate for anything but putting around slowly in town. He did a supercharged 3.8L V6 swap and is having a blast with it, on the cheap...DT style all the way.

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    11. BionicTorqueWrenchAugust 27, 2015 at 3:37 PM

      Coming late to this party, but I'll throw a couple of cents in anyway. I know a little bit about this.

      There are several reasons a person might want a $1000 race car. I'm going to assume, for this purpose, that it's because you're new to racing. This is not true in many circumstances, because I might be interested in a $1000 race car, yet I have done it before. Nevertheless...

      My first advice would be that, if you want to start four wheel motor-racing and don't have a lot of money, then karting is the way to go. It will teach you driving skills and racing skills much more quickly than anything else. Tight racing, fast, twisty tracks, great fun.

      I had considered small motorcycles for racing. What dissuaded me was this - learning to race on four wheels involved numerous Visits To The Scenery. You spin, you go into the grass or the gravel, and nothing is damaged. On a motorcycle, Visits To The Scenery involve scrapes and bruises and broken fingers and sprained shoulders or ankles.

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    12. BionicTorqueWrenchAugust 27, 2015 at 3:38 PM

      On K2's list above:
      RWD
      Manual
      Lightweight
      Balanced
      4, 6 or 8 cylinder - what's better? Lighter weight or more power?

      All else being equal, RWD is better. But all else is never equal. Back in the mid-ninties, when the then new 2 litre formula was established for British Touring Cars, they devised a 100kg penalty for RWD. So a FWD car had a minimum weight of 950kg, and a RWD a minimum of 1050kg. Over time, they reduced this penalty to 50kg, and with that margin there was no competitive difference over the course of a lap.

      If you are actually racing, it's quite nice to have the opposite of what the rest of the field has. RWD follow different lines through corners than FWD, so if everyone is rocking RWD and you have FWD, you can make a nice overtaking maneuver by using your different line through the corner.

      Manual - obviously.
      Lightweight - as light as possible.

      Balanced - yes, but you can over-emphasise this. For example, you don't have this in the US, but in many places in the world, Alfa Romeo made the Alfetta and the Alfasud series at the same time. The Alfetta you know in the US - RWD, near perfect weight distribution at 51:49, manual, 2 litre engine, de-dion rear axle. In many places we also got the Alfasud - FWD, 60:40 weight distribution, manual, engines eventually topping out at 1.7 litres, though for most of the production run the biggest engine was 1.5 litre. In stock form, the Alfetta had the advantage in power-weight ratio. But very few people anywhere where they had the choice would chose to race the Alfetta over the Alfasud. Because the Alfasud just ends up being faster.

      4, 6 or 8 cylinder - if you are starting out racing, it's way better to learn in a low-powered car than a powerful car. You just learn to be a much more efficient driver. I had an Alfasud Sprint with 105hp, and raced people with much more powerful cars, such as E30 325i with 170-odd hp. And they would monster me down the straights, and I would make it all back through the twisty sections. They got better only slowly, because they could rely on hp and didn't really need to. I needed to learn to be as efficient as I could because I had so little hp to play with, so got better quickly.

      The other final thing I would say is that your $1000 only buys you the original car. You're doing pretty well if you get it on the track without a second $1000. At the very least, you need some race-spec brake pads (standard or heavy duty pads will turn to smoke quicker than you can believe, then trash your discs). You should replace your rubber brake hoses as well, and put high temp fluid in. You need to check that the cooling is in top shape, because laps at full throttle really tax the cooling system. And your first day at the track in the car will throw up a bunch of stuff that needs immediate maintenance. Things like brake bias valves that are sticky, causing the rear wheels to lock up under heavy braking, resulting in Visits To The Scenery.

      Man, I could write about this stuff for hours. That's enough for now.

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    13. Regarding two wheels, bear in mind that many of today's top superbike racers started on the dirt. You learn skills that quickly transfer over to save your tail on pavement. Scenery visits often result in little to no damage to rider or bike, just a bruised ego. The kart may be more dangerous, since you're strapped to it.

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    14. Also, just wanted to point out that a motorcyclist has a bit more control over the machine itself physically than any all-encompassing vehicle. What I mean by this is that, when a car spins and reaches the theoretical "point-of-no-return", there's not much you can do but brace for impact. Conversely, with a small or light enough motorcycle, there is a chance to muscle it back from instability or a looming high-side. I've even avoided rim damage from unseen potholes by pulling up really hard at the last moment. I've been able to act as a human steering damper on two wheels by loosening my grip and following the oscillation, fighting the instinctive urge to tighten the grip. Tried that off-road once in my manual-steering-equipped '83 toyota 4wd pickup and nearly broke my thumbs when the steering wheel snapped back. Only motorcycles have what I call "variable weight distribution".... Not just F/B, also L/R.

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    15. I think FWD has the best chance to recover from excessive oversteer. They call it the Scandinavian Flick. (No, it's not triple-X rated)

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    16. Otherwise known as the pendulum turn, it can be used with any car, FWD, RWD, AWD. You just flick the car sideways opposite of the way turn goes to unsettle the car before turning in. It's a favorite of rally drivers everywhere on loose surfaces. Here is the late, great Colin McRae demonstrating:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8gPY66O1wg

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    17. Tarmac this time: THE Stig (Blomqvist) demonstrating the technique in a Grp. B Audi Quattro:

      http://youtu.be/M6cAHQQH1g4

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    18. I seriously doubt there are any DT regulars that don't know exactly what the Scandanavian Flick is.

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    19. Given all of the info, my first inclination would be try to find or cobble together a ZX2 S/R or Neon ACR. Cheap as dirt, easy to work on, fun to drive on a track like I stole it and newer than most other options. Balance is not too great but when I tiptoe thru the tulips off-road with Tiny Tim I know whatever goes pear shaped will be an easy fix.

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    20. The pendulum turn does work well to get a FWD into an oversteer, by overwhelming the unpowered rear tires, forcing them to break traction. I always thought the part of the S.F. that's referred to is the part at the end, where you release the brakes and the car will "yank" itself back following the line, sometime usually right after the apex. I guessed that, in a pinch, you could "yank" a car out of an understeer condition as well. Tried it in the snow, and it seemed to work very well! Seeing as how a Saab 900 has even more weight over the front wheels than some J-tin that I likely drove, I would assume that it can perform this "FWD trick" proficiently!

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    21. My Google profile picture not long ago, to acknowledge his passing. Result: zero DT response.

      [img]http://i.imgur.com/P7adNmZ.jpg[/img]

      A larger, even more glorious image of The Man.

      [img]http://i.imgur.com/lj9mhfA.jpg?1[/img]

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    22. Shoulda had it in 'Freewheel'.

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    23. There was an ACR roller for sale locally for $700. Probably break the bank to get it up to speed. But there are plenty out there, like this one. I think it wouldn't be too hard to find one for zee racing porpoise.

      I don't know much about the ZX2 with S/R doodads. Maybe it's worth too much. But I've been told that, properly kitted out, they've had some racing success.

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    24. Not too keen on the ZX2, though I found one here. The Dodge would probably cost marginally more. I would go with whichever I found first :-)

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    25. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABXqjgq253U

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZdigKf63Jk

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQxgJvSRH3k

      I wonder how a ZX3 would hold up. I suppose you might find one within budget but you wouldn't have much left over for "upgrades".

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkn9TX5Cpv0

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    26. It would probably hold up as good as any other third-gen (North American) Escort. Which is to say, better than a GM front-drive, but worse than a Ford Focus. Can we talk about lift-off oversteer in mid- and rear-engined cars now? ;-)

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    27. For the record, Stig Blomqvist is still very much alive. Eric Carlsson did pass away this May, pictured above next to his overturned Saab 96.

      Both were Swedish and known for mad rally skillz behind the wheels of Saabs, among other machines.

      And yes, mid-engined lift throttle oversteer is a thing. I've experienced it firsthand in the MR Sakibomb Lemons abortion. It was entirely my fault and happened mid-corner in Turn 2 at Sears Point, a famously off-camber turn known for spinning noobs into oblivion, myself included.

      Re: rear-engined lift throttle oversteer - see the recent video of Magnus Walker slamming his 911 into the back of a truck, whilst demonstrating awesomeness to a news reporter who was riding along.

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    28. The Audi Word Rally Team brought the S1 E2 Quattro over to the U.S. in early July,1985 and ran it in the Olympus Pro Rally as a shakedown prior to it's debut on the 1,000 Lakes Rally.

      I was lucky enough to be there to see it. Incredible car. Mikkola in the S1 beat Buffum in a LWB A2 Quattro by many minutes.

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    29. Magnus Walker is a douche...

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  8. How about this 1983 280ZX for $1,000 in Humptulips, WA. Probably not a good track car unless you are doing Hornets, but I just wanted to type "Humptulips" (it's a real place Stan).

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    1. Hey I think Stan actually made a reappearance a few days ago in another thread. Welcome back, Stan!

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  9. If the Fuchs wheels on the 924 are "Real", they are worth more than the $900.If I was close, I would snap that up, take the wheels and sell it for $1000

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  10. Cheaper and Running(er):

    [img]http://newyork.craigslist.org/wch/cto/5136436383.html[/img]

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  11. 15 years ago, it was a time when cars like the CRX Si and Integra were the budget racers. You could pick one up for $600 ($831.49 adjusted for inflation). Nowadays they sell for 3-4 times that. Anyhow, the cars were light, packed fairly reliable, revvy motors that responded well to modification, and had decent suspension setups. As an added bonus, the cars had precise shift linkages and a light clutch feel. I am not sure what the modern-day equivalent would be, but I've seen Miatas for $800 in my area for sure.

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