So you just got out of that high-performance driving experience and are thinking about getting a track car of your very own. Now comes the hard part: choosing the track car that’s right for you. If you’ve got the cash, go ahead and buy that 911 RSR – it’s fast and will look right at home at your Swiss villa. But for the rest of us, it makes more sense to get a “normal” car and build it up for racing duties.

While technically any car can be a track car, it’s best to start with something cheap. Something with a ton of aftermarket support. Something proven. And most importantly, something with a large enthusiast community behind it. The following cars meet all this criteria, and then some. These are the cars that are loved by their communities at large, and loved by their owners for their on-track prowess.

Mazda Miata (NB)

Mazda’s little roadster is so good at everything, and an absolutely perfect driver’s car, it became a meme. (“The answer is always Miata.”) 

Sure, this car is small, but it’s mighty. The Miata offers bulletproof reliability, telepathic levels of response, and a near-perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution. Just a good set of tires (and a good driver) can help it shame supercars on a track. And with a robust aftermarket, the Miata’s performance potential is nearly unlimited. You can’t go wrong with any Miata, but if we had to choose, we’d start with an early second-gen (NB) car. It offers a similar curb weight to the first-gen Miata, but also offers a slightly larger interior, and more power right out of the box.

Honda Civic (EM1)

There’s a reason people pay insane premiums for a clean 1990s Civic. It’s the car that launched the modern tuner market, and remains a surprisingly good drive. Credit Honda’s racing spirit. Civics of this era enjoyed track-inspired features like a double-wishbone suspension at all four corners, four-wheel disc brakes, and legendary VTEC powertrains. They’re a joy to drive stock, and it has been said that only the Mustang rivals the Civic when it comes to aftermarket support. So whatever your performance goals, you can achieve them with this Honda.

Now with that, which Civic to buy? We say: the 1999-2000 EM1 Honda Civic Si coupe, mainly for its 160-horsepower DOHC B16 VTEC engine. Ignore the ones that grab headlines; lower-cost ones that have been “used” are a lot friendlier to the wallet. 

BMW 3-Series (E36)

Considered one of the best driver’s cars since, well, forever, BMW’s 3 Series is a popular sight at racetracks all over the world. Even we have one – you can see our KhachiLife E46 M3 tearing up racetracks all over Canada. It’s hard to go wrong with any 3 Series, but for those looking for that “first track car,” we’d recommend starting with an E36 328i.  

The E36 chassis has that perfect old-school mechanical connection drivers crave, and still feels modern despite its 30-year-old chassis design. The E36 328i may not feel as hardcore as the M3 version, but its inline 6-cylinder M52 engine is still a potent powertrain with tons of aftermarket support. The E36 is also one of the best-looking BMWs extant, meaning you should have one in your driveway anyway.

Porsche Boxster (986)

Some say that the Boxster was made for those who can’t afford a 911. Let’s keep that line of thinking alive, as it’s the only reason Boxsters are still affordable, making it one of the best performance values out there. This “entry-level” Porsche offers one of the purest driving experiences anywhere, and with its mid-engine layout, further ensures that its handling capabilities are otherworldly. Put the right engine in the car, experts say, and the Boxster would handily eat even the best 911 for lunch. 

With the wealth of Porsche-focused racing experiences out there, it should come as no surprise that there are numerous spec series focused on the Boxster. The easiest way to get involved would be with the purchase of a first-gen 986 Boxster, which out of the box is more car than most new drivers need. A clear upgrade path means the car can easily be developed to match your growing skills, too. Best of all, at the end of the day, you’re still driving a Porsche.

Ford Mustang GT (Fox Body)

No list of track cars would be complete without the inclusion of Ford’s iconic Mustang. For more than 50 years, Ford’s pony car has defined what it means to go fast, and has launched a movement dedicated to helping the car go even faster. So if you’re after cheap speed, look no further.

For a first track car, you want to find a Mustang that’s new enough to feel modern, but old enough to where parts can be purchased for pennies. And with over 2 million units produced between 1978 and 1993, the “Fox Body” Mustang perfectly fits that bill. Want to turn one into an 8-second drag car? There’s a catalog full of bolt-on parts to help you do that. If straight-line speed isn’t your thing, just grab a different catalog of bolt-on parts to turn said ‘Stang into an IMSA-inspired GT car. With a level of aftermarket parts support that’s so robust, it borders on being unreal, the only limiting factor with a Fox Body Mustang is your imagination. 

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.