It’s no secret that sports cars are some of the most popular and sought-after vehicles on the market. But what if you’re on a budget? We’ve compiled a list of the 15 best sports cars under $50K that you can buy today.
When it comes to sports cars, a sum of $50,000 is a sweet spot between performance, value, cool factor, and collectability. Those cars can still be enjoyed daily with reasonable running costs. Many of them will at least hold their value in upcoming years while also offering sheer joy every time you step on the throttle.
In recent years, we’ve witnessed a significant jump in prices of the late 1990s and early 2000s classics, pushing many collectible cars out of reach for many enthusiasts. As a follow up to our list of sports cars you could buy for less than $30,000 today, we’re raising the ante to $50,000 where things are getting more interesting.
Here’s a closer look at the top 15 best sports cars under $50K:
1. Shelby Cobra Replica
Whereas the market for original Shelby Cobras is dictating seven-figure prices, replicas and recreations from reputable manufacturers could be found just below the $50,000 mark.
Should you decide to go for a replica of Shelby’s iconic roadster, you’ll be most likely to find a Factory Five MK2, MK3, or MK4 cars equipped with Ford V8 engines ranging from modest but sufficient 289 to the infamous 427.
Composite bodies of Factory Five Cobras were based on two original 427 roadsters, namely chassis no. CSX 3042 and CSX 3035, the Fastest 427 in the world Dick Smith drove to 198 MPH at Daytona in 1967. In essence, that means Factory Five Cobras are faithful recreations of America’s most legendary sports car.
2. Austin-Healey 3000
Continuing on with the roadster theme, but this time with more European flair, there’s the 2.9-liter straight-six Austin-Healey 3000. In its heyday, this sports car was a common sight on race tracks on both sides of the Atlantic, so you’ll see it both as a boulevardier and a historic racer today.
Whatever you choose to do with it, an Austin-Healey 3000 can still be found below $50,000, albeit more often as a good survivor or a running project. On the other hand, frame-off restorations can double the asking prices.
Still, the Austin-Healey 3000 was among Britain’s most fabulous roadsters, and running it today, even imperfect, is a bold statement.
3. Meyers Manx
This proposition is challenging an idea of a sports car as a fast road car because the Meyers Manx isn’t either. But, what the Manx brings to the table is jovial and fun up to eleven making it a worthy addition to our best sports cars under $50K. The original beach buggy was presented by Bruce Meyers in 1964, just in time for the great cultural revolution.
This amalgam of Beetle parts with a fiberglass tub soon became an American icon and an omnipresent beach decor throughout California. More than half a century later, Bruce Meyers left us in February 2021, while the Manx is still loved and still in production as a living testament of its iconic status.
Whether it’s the 1960s original or the modern Kick-Out, the Manx is a sought-after recreational and weekend car. Provided that your driving habits and climate allow it, you not only could, but you also should buy one for around $50,000.
4. Lotus Elan S2
With a fiberglass body, lovable and straightforward design, and rear-wheel drive, this compact Lotus looks and acts like a nimble speedboat on wheels. Powered by a Ford 105E-based 1.5-liter Lotus Twin-Cam inline-four engine, the Elan S2 had 100 horsepower on tap. Weighing just around 1500 lb, it transferred that power to the road just beautifully.
Apart from being a phenomenal drivers’ car thanks to the four-speed all-synchromesh manual transmission, independent suspension on both axles, four-wheel disc brakes and rack and pinion steering, the Elan also holds a historical significance for Lotus as its commercial success enabled Colin Chapman to further develop his road car business.
While high-profile classic car dealers from both the United States and Europe will offer the Elans for prices over $50,000, you’ll be able to find these stunning little cars for less if you get them from private sellers. In the end, Lotus was always about giving power to ordinary people, and the Elan is proof that exotic cars from the 1960s don’t have to break the bank to offer an astonishing driving experience.
5. Porsche 911 SC
A classic air-cooled 911 is one of the all-time greatest classic sports cars, and it’s somehow in a class of its own. The most interesting variants of the 911 are deep into six-figure territory. However, there’s still plenty of cars you can find for $50,000 or under, making it an ideal candidate to be within our best sports cars under $50K.
Our pick is a late 1970s to mid-1980s Porsche 911 SC. The Super Carrera was the first 911 to use an aluminum flat-six engine, initially producing 180 horsepower but later upgraded to 188 and 201 hp. A rear-mounted 3.0-liter flat-six was mated with a 5-speed manual transmission, offering a classic 911 driving experience to this day.
Alternatively, suppose you prefer Porsche’s classic front fascia with all benefits of owning a modern car. In that case, you can also go for the 3.8-liter, 355 horsepower early 997-generation Carrera S.
6. BMW E30 M3
Ask any BMW fan, and they’ll probably tell you that the primordial M3 is the greatest M-car ever built. In fact, they might as well be correct because the E30 generation M3 truly kickstarted the cult following BMW Motorsport has today.
Due to that same cult following, the E30 M3 has been a matter of several market bubbles, or at least that’s what we thought. The prices are still growing, which poses a question: what are people really buying?
Given that the 2500 lb M3 is powered by a 200-horsepower 2.3-liter inline-four mated with dogleg Getrag 5-speed manual transmission if imported from Europe, we’d like to say they’re buying one of the greatest driver’s cars of the 20th century.
7. Lancia Delta Integrale
Street legal versions of the iconic six-time consecutive world rally champion were never initially offered in the United States, meaning that its prices significantly increased when the car turned 25 years old. As of 2021, every single variation of the Delta Integrale is eligible for import to the US, so let’s see what’s on offer for prices under $50,000.
Prices of the final iteration named Evo 2 have surged beyond the $60,000 mark, so what’s left are Evoluzione and 16V variants. The former comes with 207 horsepower, while the latter is good for 197, both from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder twin-cam engine.
Naturally, the Evoluzione commands higher prices, usually north, but sometimes still south of $50,000, and it comes with a wider track and larger fender flares, as well as numerous go-fast changes under the bodywork. On the other hand, the Integrale 16V is more likely to be found within the budget, with the prices circulating from $30,000.
8. Buick Grand National
Turbocharging not only did wonders in Europe, but it also played a significant role in America’s reclamation of power. Buick Grand National is an emblematic car of Detroit’s horsepower renaissance, and it’s no wonder that this personal luxury coupe is a hot commodity today.
The Grand National is famously powered by a 3.8-liter turbocharged V6 initially pushing 200 ponies and 300 lb-ft of torque in 1984 and 1985. However, these numbers climbed up to 235 horsepower and 330 ft-lb torque and 245 horsepower and 335 ft-lb in 1986 and 1987, respectively.
As black and menacing as Darth Vader himself, this Buick is now an impossibly cool piece of 1980s nostalgia that can still pack a punch too. That being said, the Grand National is highly regarded among collectors and enthusiasts alike. You’ll be most likely to get one from $40,000, although pristine, low mileage examples can easily cross the $50,000 mark.
9. Toyota Supra Mark 4
For obvious reasons, Fast and Furious-era JDM cars were long frowned upon by the more traditionalist collector community. Yet, thanks to a new generation of collectors, these cars got all the recognition they deserved.
Due to the enormous tuning potential of the 2JZ 3.0-liter straight six, many fourth-generation Supras endured various extents of modification, while some have fallen as donor cars as well. There enters scarcity, and an unmolested 2JZ-powered Supra with manual transmission is one of the most collectible Japanese cars of its era.
In the past few years, we’ve seen low-mileage Supras showing up on auction blocks on Barrett-Jackson and RM Sothebys, outperforming household collector cars, something unthinkable just five years ago. Luckily, you can still find a Mark 4 Supra under $50,000 if you’re patient enough to browse through online ads making it a valid addition to our best sports cars under $50K.
10. Dodge Viper
America’s angriest sports car is an unhinged bare-bones roadster and one of the hottest cars from the 1990s. Unsurprisingly, it is also highly collectible, and its prices are bound to go up in the next few years.
When it comes to the Viper, sub-$50k options on the used and collector car market are limited to the first three generations, both in roadster and GTS coupé form. The first two generations were powered by a 8.0-liter V10 producing 400 and 415 horsepower, respectively. At the same time, the third-gen ZB I Viper got a displacement increase to 8.3 liters and 500 wild horses.
Picking a perfect Viper is a matter of personal choice, but what’s worth noting is that the first generation is the least user friendly but also the best investment opportunity and the closest thing to a modern-day Shelby Cobra.
11. Cadillac CTS-V
For decades, Cadillac was a plush, but ultimately dull brand with a few odd efforts towards creating an exciting driving experience for its customers, but then came 2004 and the first CTS-V.
The second CTS-V debuted in 2009, bringing a supercharged 556-horsepower LSA V8, a close relative of the LS9 you’d find in a C6 ZR1 ‘Vette. Pair that with Tremec TR-6060 six-speed transmission, and you’ll be getting a formula for a truly mesmerizing car.
The second-gen CTS-V was available in sedan, coupé, and wagon bodies. Only the long roof variant is out of reach for $50,000. A majority of offerings will be available with the Hydra-Matic 6L90 six-speed automatic. Still, if you’re patient enough, you could get a decent example with three pedals as well.
12. Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Depreciation can sometimes be a beautiful phenomenon, especially if you’ve been eyeing once unobtainable cars like Aston Martins. These beauties from Gaydon don’t start under six-figure sums, but when second hand, the price tags are significantly lower, giving it the opportunity to rank within our best sports cars under $50K.
Among Aston Martin vehicles you can get for $50,000 or less is the V12-powered DB9, but its compact V8 Vantage sibling is also on offer. The V8 Vantage was introduced in 2005 with a 380 horsepower, 4.3-liter V8 engine that was later upgraded to 4.7-liter and 420 horsepower configuration. Rear-mounted transaxle gave it near equal weight distribution. If equipped with an optional 6-speed manual transmission by Graziano Transmission, it is a rewarding sportscar blending modern and traditional.
A sum of $50,000 will get you earlier models both with the 4.3-liter and the 4.7-liter V8, and if you are a fan of open-top motoring, that money could buy you a convertible as well.
13. Shelby GT350
At the time of writing, the upcoming 2021 Mustang Mach 1 is set to start from $52,720, narrowly out of our budget, so let’s go for the next best sub-$50,000 Mustang on the used car market being the 2016-2020 Shelby GT350.
Powered by a high-revving, naturally aspirated 5.2-liter flat-plane-crank Voodoo V8, the GT350 was a true sports car rather than a modern interpretation of a classic muscle car. With cross-drilled brakes, magnetic suspension, track-tuned chassis, this spiced-up Mustang is built to do more than just sprint a quarter-mile and burn some rubber at your local Cars & Coffee event.
Sophisticated, capable, and thunderous, this GT350 might be the best all-round American performance car, and yes, a second-hand low mileage example can be yours for under $50,000.
14. Jaguar F-Type R
With the E-Type getting out of hand and the XJ-S being a plush grand tourer, sporty Jaguar two-doors have been basically reduced to the mid-1990s XK100 and mid-2000s X150 XK cars and the F-Type. In the $50,000 zone, our pick gravitates towards the latter.
Unlike the GT-oriented XK cars, the F-Type is definitely on the sports car side of the spectrum. What will surprise you is that fifty grand could get you a second-hand R version in coupe body style.
Jaguar F-Type R is powered by a 5.0-liter supercharged V8 good for 542 horsepower followed by a slew of angry noises from its double twin-pipes. Though it’s equipped exclusively with paddle-shifting automatic transmission, the F-Type R is one of the most immersive sports cars released in the previous decade, and that’s one reason more to experience its charms.
15. Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody
With the starting price of $45,995, the Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody sits just below the insane Hellcat range as a somewhat sensible performance-oriented alternative with 485 horsepower coming from a 6.4-liter V8. The HEMI engine is mated with 6-speed TREMEC transmission or with TorqueFilte 8-speed automatic, which also gives it a multi-displacement system.
However, suppose you want to spec your Challenger as a true American sports car. In that case, you’ll probably stick with the manual, choose one of 13 no-cost colors, including the historic Go Mango and maybe get a Bumblebee stripe for $495. A sum of $695 will wrap your 20-inch forged aluminum alloys in Pirelli P Zero rubber, and for a symbolic $1, you can get rid of your rear seats too.
All this being said, the Scat Pack R/T Challenger is as nostalgic as modern American muscle cars get. When configured tastefully, it’s not necessarily in a bad way at all.
Are there any other vehicles you would have liked us to include in our ‘Best Sports Cars Under $50K?’ Comment below.