(Photo Credit: dancomden)
1984-1991 BMW 325ix:
The Ultimate Driving Machine can thrive in the dirt if you let it. Often overlooked as a potential rally crosser, the 325ix offers 168 horsepower and all-wheel drive at about half of our $5000 price cap. Look hard enough and it’s even possible to find limited slip differential equipped vehicles, making a near-perfect amateur gravel racer.
(Photo Credit: kevin1024)
2000-2003 Ford ZX-2 S/R:
The little known S/R version of the mighty Escort came from the factory with more power, 143 horsepower compared to the stock 130 horsepower, Eibach springs, Tokico struts, polyurethane bushings, four-wheel disc brakes, and a short-throw shifter. At less than 2500 pounds this is one nimble coupe and can usually be had for less than three grand.
(Photo Credit: dwstucke)
1976-1988 Porsche 924:
The poor man’s Porsche might seem like an odd pick for rally cross but don’t discount it. Designed with a rear-mounted transaxle it offers nearly 50/50 weight distribution, adequate power, and a low enough curb weight to not exaggerate the barely adequate braking power. With prices regularly south of $2000 and mostly Audi- and Volkswagen-sourced parts it’s easily one of the most affordable Porsches ever built.
(Photo Credit: JamesHenry)
1993-2001 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS:
Sure, the turbo WRX variants get all the press but in the U.S. market it all started with this naturally aspirated, 2.5-liter AWD Impreza RS. What the RS may lack in power, 165 horsepower compared to the WRX with 227 horsepower, it makes up for in cheaper maintenance, engine bay simplicity, and lowered odds of blowing up. Add to those a name that was built on its rally racing pedigree, and the RS becomes hard to ignore. Depending on age and condition, prices can nudge pretty close to the five thousand dollar mark.
(Photo Credit: bdogggut34)
1992-1995 Honda Civic:
This list would hardly seem complete without a nod to the venerable Honda Civic. Cheap, lightweight, an endless list of aftermarket parts, make it a tuner’s car of choice. There is a slight popularity tax but sub two grand cars are still easily found. Plus, you’ll get great gas mileage (good anyway) even while flinging it sideways around a dirt course.
(Photo Credit: grant subaru)
1979-1987 Toyota Corolla:
The early model Corolla, often called the AE86 in reference to the chassis code, has for years been the drifter’s car of choice. A lightweight (2,200 pounds), rear wheel drive, platform that has proven to be a reliable balanced car that responds exceptionally to modifications. The AE86 is a fairly sought after automobile with a fierce cult following but unmolested versions can still be found for under $3000.
(Photo Credit: capcase)
1990-1994 Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser/Eagle Talon:
These early model DSMs (Diamond Star Motors), as they’re affectionately known, are available with all-wheel drive and a bulletproof 190 horsepower turbocharged four. At around two thousand dollars it’s a performance bargain with plenty of power and the ability to put it down.
(Photo Credit: virtualErn)
1991-1994 Nissan Sentra SE-R:
Surprisingly fast in its time, the Sentra SE-R still serves as a great all around car for the amateur racer. Equipped with 140 horsepower, four-wheel disc brakes, and a factory limited slip differential it’s no slouch. Despite a somewhat cult-like following around two thousand dollars will still get you a decent example.
1997-1999 Dodge Neon ACR:
With stock Koni adjustable dampers, fast-ratio steering, heavy duty sway bars, and four-wheel disc brakes, it’s hard to argue why the little Neon wouldn’t make a great starting point for a rally car. With used prices between one- and two thousand dollars you won’t cringe (as much) when you shotgun it with gravel.
(Photo Credit: Moe)
1984-1989 Toyota MR2:
Around a thousand bucks gets you a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, sports car that can’t help but make you think of the Lancia Stratos. Tipping the scales at a mere 2200 pounds it’s a virtual featherweight and responsive to boot. Just be ready for over steer.