You’ve been doing odd jobs, favors for little old ladies in the neighborhood, pinching pennies, and keeping those grades up. But the hand-me-down Corolla in the driveway just isn’t calling your name. And Uncle Larry’s old minivan is essentially social suicide. What’s a teenage gearhead to do? Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been driving for 40 years, sometimes “safe and economical” just doesn’t set the heart a-fluttering. Luckily, we took the time to check out the classifieds and scope out ten of the best rides that would make a great first car for a car enthusiast.
We set the bar at $5,000 since that’s a pretty appropriate amount for someone new to the automotive world. You’ll find a few vehicles on this list can be had for quite a bit less—leaving money leftover for aftermarket mods and upgrades. Whether it’s hot rodding you’re after or muddy trails, we’ve got a little something for everyone.
G-Body Cutlass/Grand Prix/Monte Carlo
G-body cars are the perfect starting point for those looking to get into hot rodding. In stock form, they aren’t exactly fast or powerful, but they are big muscular cars with a big following. These platforms are great to learn about driving, and they make it really easy to bump up the power. Modifying the stock small block under the hood, or even swapping it out for a more powerful substitute, can allow for some serious gains. These upgrades can usually be done on the cheap too, which is great for any newcomer. Ultimately, pricing and availability plant these cars on our list, and make the platform a good first car for a car enthusiast.
It’s only right to mention the F-150. These trucks come in so many different shapes and sizes with an almost religious following. Whether it’s for off-road use, minor hot rodding, or even just to use as a parts hauler, these are fantastic platforms. Even better, the aftermarket is more than ready to answer any demands you may have, making this platform universally perfect for beginners.
Second Gen Camaro/Firebird
Finding one of these cars for under $5,000 is the perfect option for the guys who want a hotrod—and don’t mind working through the odds and ends. Sure, it may be a bit beat up. But these are iconic rides with massive potential.
You might have to spend some of the summer under the hood tinkering to get it running right, but these are definitely the best-looking cars on our list and an excellent first car for a car enthusiast.
The Miata is a great starter car for the sport compact lover. These nimble little rides cut through turns unlike anything else within our price range. What’s better, they’re fairly common and have something of an underground following. It’s a great option for newcomers looking to standout, and the knowledge and support of a community is there if any questions or issues come up. That sense of community is essential to getting started.
SN95 Ford Mustang
The SN95 Mustangs have to be the most common muscle car of choice for teenage boys. Why? They’re cheap, they’re everywhere, and they’re great looking. If you want a muscle car but don’t want to spend weekends tinkering with the carb or are worried about highway driving, then this is the ride for you. They’re powerful to begin with but if you want to step things up, the aftermarket is overflowing with speed parts to suit your needs.
XJ Jeep Cherokee
XJ Jeep Cherokees are the perfect starter vehicle for those looking to get into the Jeep scene and a fantastic first car for a car enthusiast. They have the powertrain and the aftermarket following to make them great off-road vehicles. And best of all, finding one in decent shape for under $5,000 is no challenge at all. Just watch going to dealerships, as they tend to mark these rides way higher than their real value.
Toyota Pickups may seem like an underdog, but these little guys can take quite the beating. For off-road use, you might catch some flak from the guys with bigger trucks. But, really, these are the little-trucks-that-could.
Capable off road, very easy to find parts for, supported by the aftermarket, and best of all? They’re dirt cheap. These are perfect starter trucks and a great option for new enthusiasts.
It’s rare to find a WRX within our price range, but it does happen. If you come across one, you should jump on it—because it sure won’t last. These cars are great cars for any level of enthusiast to get involved with. They’re reliable with huge potential and they handle like they’re on rails. Sure, not much of the $5,000 will be left after the initial purchase, but you’re not going to need it for upgrades yet anyway.
C/K series trucks
C/K series GM trucks are an excellent starting point for both hot rodders and off-roaders. You’ll notice that there are a lot of Chevy’s on our list and that’s because they are the affordable option. The square body trucks are great platforms that have been subjected to all sorts of build types across the world. And regardless of the year or drivetrain you’ve got, whatever you want to do with these trucks is almost too easy. To the right gearhead, this ride could easily be the best first car for a car enthusiast.
Every now and again, you’ll come across an El Camino at a decent price–well, under $5,000 at least. No, it won’t be a ‘60s or ‘70s. Think more like an ‘80s. Sure, they’re a little ugly. But under the hood they’re the same as Monte Carlos of similar years, which is a decent platform to work with. They also happen to be attention magnets—if you’re into that kinda thing!
It’s the mullet of the automotive world, but everyone seems to love and appreciate them. This makes it easier to learn more about cars through other enthusiasts and help you grow your passion.
The truth is, the best first car for a car enthusiast is often the one you’re already wrenching on. And, whether you manage to save up enough for something on this list or you’re stuck cruising around in your Dad’s old beater, you’ll always remember your first. What was your first ride? Share with us in the comments!