So you like European sports cars

A great combination of sportiness and economy, these Euro cars are a ton of fun. There’s a lot of performance to be had but you’ll be scratching your head more often and spending more time searching for parts compared to most American cars.

Alfa Romeo Alfetta/GTV6/Milano:

A personal favorite, what you give up in ease of maintenance you gain in spirited driving characteristics and Italian flair. A spirited owner community will help you with the required preventative maintenance. The rear transaxle makes for terrific balance and the Busso V6 in the later cars is heaven-sent.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 4
  • Rarity: 4

Alfa Romeo 164:

This chassis was shared with the Saab 9000, and two Euro-only cars (a Fiat and a V8 Lancia!). With the highly capable 24 valve 3.0L V6 and available at a steal of a price these cars make a terrific luxury European sedan. The FWD layout is less popular than earlier RWD Alfas but greater availability is an incentive. Look for the 164S models for a bit more performance.

  • Purchase cost: 1
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 4
  • Rarity: 3

BMW E30:

One of the quintessential European sports sedans, the E30 has a near legendary following and really catapulted the BMW 3-series to its popularity and status. Don’t bother looking for an M3 in your budget but you can build one to almost the same level of fun, sans fender flares.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 3
  • Rarity: 3

BMW E28:

The lesser known big sibling of the E30, the E28 is still a terrific and fun car that can be had for cheap. It did for the 5-series what the E30 did for the 3-series. Also scout out it’s predecessor, the E12.

  • Purchase cost: 3
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 3
  • Rarity: 3

BMW 2002:

The car that announced BMW to America, the 2002 is a rowdy and lively little car. Extensive vintage racing keeps performance parts on the shelf. These cars are appreciating in value, jump on them while they’re hot!

  • Purchase cost: 3
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 3
  • Rarity: 4

Porsche 944:

One of the best chassis’ you can get, a rear transaxle car that Porsche purist’s never warmed up. Leaves more for us! For maximum fun look for the much more expensive 944t, a built up turbo model. These are some of the best track cars and are a common sight at Porsche Club of America track days. The Porsche 924 was the first iteration of this car but for much of its life had an undesirable VW engine, only the last few years of the 924 (sold as the 924S) had the much better Porsche 2.5L engine and are only differentiated but a more svelte body lacking fender flares.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 4
  • Rarity: 3

Porsche 914:

The VW-Porsche hybrid provides ridiculous amounts of fun. The VW parts keep it cheap to work on and it warms up very well to some light suspension modifications. It’s a mid engine car which gives it great balance.

  • Purchase cost: 3
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 4 (It’s a simple drivetrain but the mid engine layout makes access difficult.)
  • Rarity: 4

Mercedes 190E:

Often overshadowed by it’s DTM rival, the E30 M3, the 190E is still a great car. They’re much smaller than you’re imagining, this is not your grandfather’s boat of a Benz. Look for the Sportline models for pre-upgraded suspension or buy a base and reap the benefits of that terrific MB build quality.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 3
  • Rarity: 2

Mercedes W114/W115 and W123:

This is your grandfather’s boat of a Benz. These classic old Mercedes chassis’ are some of the most venerable cars in existence. Designed for 30 years of daily usage they have a dogged reputation for bulletproof reliability. After their successful runs in Europe, many have been imported to the Middle East and are one of the most popular taxis in many countries of that region. The diesel models (with the OM617) in particular are reliable and sought after, with easy waste vegetable oil (WVO) conversions available from companies like GreaseCar. If the big old Benzes tickle your fancy also check out similar chassis’ from the era, such as the W116 that the awesome 450SEL 6.9 rode on, or the much classier W111 available in a stylish fintail body style.

  • Purchase cost: 1-2
  • Maintenance cost: 2
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 2

Bertone/Fiat X1/9:

Mid engined? Italian? Classic Bertone wedge shaped? What more could you want in an exotic sports car. Rust ate most of them but the ones that are still around are worth saving for sheer personality alone.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 4 (Like the 914, this is more difficult because it’s mid engined.)
  • Rarity: 5

Opel GT:

Despite humble technology, GM’s European division turned out a stunning car. It sold for many years seemingly on looks alone. A classic “3/4 size” sports car, these little guys are rare but still cheap.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 5

Saab Sonnet:

If you’re not against FWD, these are funky but neat. The Sonnet 2/V4 hits the sweet spot between looks and cost, the Sonnet 3 took a dive in the former. It’s a Swedish thing…

  • Purchase cost: 3
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 5

Volvo 240:

Depending on who you ask, older Volvos may not fit the bill of sports sedans but they’re a great old car with a good following anyway. Affectionately referred to as ‘bricks’ they’re a fun car with original power plants, turbo chargers, or a variety of motor swaps. Within the 200 series there are various higher performance options, such as the 242 GT. The successor, the Volvo 850, is a good car as well but the FWD/AWD architecture isn’t quite as much fun.

  • Purchase cost: 1
  • Maintenance cost: 3
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 1

Volvo 122/Amazon:

In addition to the lovely styling, this is the model that really cemented Volvo’s association with safety and reliability. They also share a lot of parts with the lovely Volvo P1800. Respectable performance can be wrung from the stout inline 4 cylinder but they’ll always be practical and handsome.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 2
  • Maintenance difficulty: 1
  • Rarity: 3

Volkswagen Beetle/Type 1:

“Sports” might be generous but the iconic Bug is European and so it winds up here. The People’s Car, the Small Wonder, possibly one of the most revolutionary cars of all time. Though not as common as they once were a Bug project is still affordable and brings smiles to faces all over the place. There are also almost as many ways to modify a Bug as there are Bug owners.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 2
  • Maintenance difficulty: 1
  • Rarity: 3

Ford Merkur XR4Ti:

Wait what’s this doing over here? A blue oval?! Well the Merkur was a short-lived plan to sell European Ford vehicles in the US. The XR4Ti was the first and one of few attempts at this. The car was sold in Europe as a Sierra, where it was rallied extensively. Still popular for racing, this turbo-4 RWD chassis is funky but highly capable and unique. Though rare they’re still cheap and I’d highly recommend a nice rally treatment complete with white OZ rims, if you can find them.

  • Purchase cost: 2
  • Maintenance cost: 3 (Expect to be tracking down parts from Europe or specialty distributors.)
  • Maintenance difficulty: 2
  • Rarity: 3

 

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