Best Beginner Track Cars
If you are looking to get started in racing, whether it be autocross, club racing, time trials, or any other form of road course driving, these cars will get you into the game without breaking the bank too much.
The cars listed here are my recommendations based on research and what friends have owned. These are mainly for road racing and autocross type events. Other racing, such as drag or rally, is a different story. Some of these cars could be good at other types of racing as well, but for now we'll stick to road racing.
All of these cars have great aftermarket support since they are known pretty well in the world of racing. So if you are looking to get a little more out of any of these, whether it be suspension upgrades, or an engine swap, know that it can be done.
Now let's get on with the list.
This is one of everyone's favorites. For good reason, too. These little cars are rear wheel drive and usually go for under $3,000 for the first gen NA model shown. They aren't the fastest thing around, but handle like a dream. They even have their own racing series called Spec Miata.
The CRX is a great autocross car, and for front wheel drive, a great handling car as well. These are hard to find in stock form, but can be found for around $3,000, too. These are very popular candidates for motor swaps with the newer model Civic Si engines. A swapped one will run you quite a bit more, but might be worth it if you're looking for a good bit of a speed boost.
The FC RX-7 is also a popular track car. This one is also rear wheel drive. Although these are popular, and can be found for pretty cheap sometimes, you need to watch out for the infamous Wankel rotary under the hood. These engines have outstanding power to weight ratios and loved to be revved, but they burn oil and aren't the most reliable engines out there. Just be prepared to repair, or upgrade the motor at some point.
These are usually compared to the Miata due to their size and also being rear wheel drive, but this model is a few years older than the Miata. Although these are known to be pretty reliable, be prepared for higher maintenance costs since it is a BMW. They also go for about the same price, sometimes a little more, than a Miata in better condition. This car is also a good platform for engine swaps, and it has great aftermarket support. The M3 model is also an option, but be prepared to pay a premium for it as they are collector models now.
This is the successor to the popular E30 listed above. Of course, this model is going to cost you a bit more, but it is well worth it if you can afford it. This model is a little roomier and quite a bit more powerful, especially if you opt for the M3 model. These are also a really common car found on racetracks around the world. Like before, it is a BMW, so repair costs are going to run a little more than most, but you can save a lot of money if you know how to wrench.
The earlier model Honda Civics are also pretty good track cars, especially if you can find an Si model. If not, there is tons of aftermarket support for these cars. There are three different options here: coupe, sedan, or hatch. All are pretty popular. It really comes down to what you can find in good shape at a good price. These tend to keep their value pretty well since people know what they are capable of.
Volkswagen Golf MKII
This is another one that can be had for fairly cheap, but good luck finding one. People don't tend to sell these very often anymore. I recommend the MKII because the MKI is more of a collector car, and the MKIII is heavier and just not as good looking. These are fun little cars to throw around, but don't expect too much speed from the tiny engine. These are best for slow courses or autocross.
Now we're getting into the higher priced cars. The 2002/2003 WRX's are great cars, but they usually go for around $6,000. For that price, you get a turbo and all wheel drive. It is a great car for the money, and they are fairly quick, especially with a few modifications. This year was notorious for their "glass transmissions" though. The gears were pretty weak in these, and people were very hard on them. If you are easy on the shifting or can find one with upgraded gears, these are hard to beat for the price.
If you've always wanted a Porsche, but you don't have money to shell out for a 911 or even a Boxster, this might be the car for you. I have seen them for around $4,000, but at that price I would question the quality. This is also another good engine swap contender because like the BMW's, maintenance and replacement parts come at a higher price than most.
Ah, the S2000. My dream track toy. This car balances power and handling perfectly. It is a mid-engine, rear wheel drive car and probably the most expensive car on the list, but well worth it if you can afford it. Higher mileage examples sell for $8-10,000. There are three main versions of this car: AP1, AP2, or CR. The AP2 fixed a couple of issues people had with the AP1 such as rear suspension setup and lack of lower end torque, but the AP1 revs up higher. The CR edition, or Club Racer, was an AP2 with modifications that made it purely for the track. It didn't have a radio or air conditioning, and it came with a big rear wing among other things.
All of these are great cars for beginners, and some are good enough to hang with the upperclassmen. There are also other options out there that I didn't cover, but there are so many great track cars, that would take a while. All have great aftermarket support to fine tune the car to your liking. If you have the money, I would definitely recommend the S2000. At least go test drive one if you can. I made the mistake of test driving one, and now I want one so bad but can't afford it. For someone with a lower budget, I would recommend the Miata. It is very similar to the S2000, just smaller and less powerful. I am about to pick myself up a Miata for weekend track duty.