Top 10 used trackday cars
Tuesday 16 August 2011
If you spend your weekends enviously watching motorsport wishing you could have a go, you’ll be surprised to learn how affordable it can be to get on the race track.
Track days may not have the glamour or speed of F1, but they are a great opportunity to drive fast, legally and safely. For many, thrashing the family hatchback around a racing track all day isn’t a realistic option but buying a car specifically for the track may not be as expensive as you think.
From a few hundred pounds to many thousands, our guide suggests cars that will be at home on the track, whatever your budget.
Mazda MX-5 – from £750
Despite being inspired by the British sports cars of the 1960s, the Mazda MX-5 has become an icon in its own right. Light with superb rear-wheel drive handling, the MX-5 is the perfect starter track car. Neither the 1.6- or 1.8-litre engines are scarily fast, which is no bad thing if you’re just dipping your toe into the track day waters. They are wonderfully reliable and with regular servicing will happily handle abuse from novices and track experts alike. There’s even a popular and affordable racing series just for the little Mazdas.
Subaru Impreza WRX – from £2,000
The Impreza is a great track car for those who want to go quickly but do so in safety. Its 2-litre, turbocharged flat-four engine produces around 200bhp in standard guise – most have been tuned to produce far more. The four-wheel drive system is fool-proof, meaning even the inexperienced can get away with a ham fist, within reason. Subarus are also very well built but can be pricy if they go wrong. Being four-wheel drive and heavy, you’ll need to budget for four new tyres after a day’s track work.
BMW M3 E36 – from £3,000
It’s hard to believe you can buy a BMW M3 for so little isn’t it? Having been developed by BMW’s Motorsport division they feel at home on the track. Early 3-litre models produce 286bhp and later 3.2 Evo models pack 321bhp but both make use of the car’s beautifully balanced chassis. Insurance, road tax and parts are expensive for this is a proper performance car, but it represents one of the best track cars which can be used every day. Check for crash damage, and a full service history is advisable given the cost of parts.
Honda S2000 – from £3,500
The S2000 has the best engine and gearbox of any car here. The screaming, 2-litre produces 240bhp and revs to 9,000rpm. Its lack of pulling power at low speeds can be irritating on the road but it comes alive on track. The six-speed gearbox is also a joy, but despite its ideal weight distribution and front engine/rear drive layout, it has a reputation for being tricky during fast cornering – it can reward and terrify in equal measures. The engine is bombproof, but check carefully for crash damage and service history is a must.
TVR Chimaera – from £5,500
With a lightweight, fibreglass body and a range of sonorous V8 engines, the Chimaera is a brute. Few cars can match its pace, but the lack of anti-lock brakes or traction control means its not one for the trackday novice. Underneath the pretty styling and luxurious cabin, its pretty unsophisticated making it easy to maintain. Build quality can be very poor, resulting in niggling issues – electrical problems and related fires are common. Buy from a specialist dealer or an owners club member as they’re more likely to be correctly maintained.
Renault Clio RenaultSport 197 – from £6,000
The ultimate hot hatch. Others may be faster but the Clio 197 – and the slightly newer 200 – has a superb balance of power, affordability and incredible cornering ability. RenaultSport has worked its magic with the Clio, transforming a standard hatchback into a talented track tool. The standard 197 is good but the Cup version, with its uprated suspension and revised gearing, is worth hunting out. The optional air-con adds weight, but you’ll need it after a summer’s afternoon driving, plus it’ll make it easier to sell.
Vauxhall VX220 – from £7,000
It might lack the iconic badge of its brother, the Lotus Elise, but the Vauxhall VX220 was built on the same production line, using many of the same parts. Plus it was fitted with Vauxhall’s 2.2 or 2-litre turbo engine which avoids the reliability problems of the Rover engine used in early Elises. Standard models are extremely fast but Turbo models are pocket supercars, although it can be pretty uncomfortable on long journeys. Check for crash damage, particularly to the plastic panels underneath and the front bumper, and expect the low-hanging front bumper to get knocked off frequently.
Nissan Skyline GT-R R33 – from £9,000
The Skyline’s uses advanced electronics to be as fast as possible. Its four-wheel drive and four-wheel steer systems constantly adjust the car’s behaviour for fast laptimes. The 2.6-litre, twin-turbo engine is strong and many have been modified for enormous power. It’s phenomenally complicated to fix, although there are plenty of specialists and as it was never officially imported, much of the service history is likely to be printed its native Japanese, meaning background checks can be tricky. Specialist dealers are recommended.
Porsche 968 Club Sport – from £10,000
The Porsche 968 is often overlooked in favour of the 911 but is considered to be one of the best handling cars of all time. The stripped-out, lightweight Club Sport version is particularly desirable, with bucket seats and track-biased suspension. Its 3-litre engine offers plenty of pulling power while retaining bulletproof reliability. Timing belts need to be changed every 40,000 miles (costing £500-600) and make sure the clutch has been replaced recently (costing £800). Prices are on the rise so now’s the time to buy.
Caterham 7 – from £15,000
It may have been designed in 1957, but the Caterham (née Lotus) 7 is still the king of track days. Caterham offers cars in kit form or as a factory-built cars. Plenty of engines are available from basic Ford and Rover units upwards. What they all have in common is a focus on simplicity and lightness for extreme speed and agility on the road or track. They retain their values well, and its lack of weight means its not heavy on tyres or brakes. They’re very easy to fix too. Caterham has a steady stream of used examples for sale.
By Owen Ready, contributor
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