Cheap Alternatives To Your Expensive Dream Car

A significant portion of kids grow up taking a liking to all things mechanical. This includes motorcycles, airplanes, trains, automobiles, and more. Usually, those with an interest in all things car-related will develop a certain attachment to a brand, model, or particular kind of car they can aspire to while on the way to reaching adulthood. For some lucky youths, 16th birthdays come and they find their ideal truck or car parked in the driveway, waiting for them to take a first drive and get a taste of freedom. But for most of us, we were lucky to have received anything at all, and getting something with four wheels that runs is good enough to keep us happy.

For those of us who are never able to realize that automotive dream, or simply find other life goals to be more important, there are options. For every supercar or luxury sedan created, dozens of rides carry more manageable payments and less expensive maintenance, too. It is good to have dreams, but equally important to be grounded in reality. For those with the means to obtain a ride to at least partially fulfill a dream or to satiate the desire, some choices are much more budget-friendly. Therefore, considering overall budgets in relative terms, here are some cheap alternatives to expensive dream cars.

Porsche 918 - Toyota MR2

Porsche has made several amazing automobiles that could rightly be categorized as supercars, including the legendary 959 and Carrera GT. For the modern age, the Stuttgart company's current flagship car is its gas/electric hybrid 918. Packing a 4.6-liter V8 making 875 horsepower and augmented by an additional 282 horsepower from the electric motors, the 918 is made for adrenaline junkies. A generous helping of aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber makes the car as light as it is powerful, according to Top Gear. Sadly, with a price tag just shy of $1 million, most of us will never own one.

For anyone who wants a mid-engine car with excellent handling that can whip around a track on the weekends and not be afraid to drive for fear of degrading its value or being hit on the highway, a Toyota MR2 can be a delightful ride. Built from 1985 until 2005, the MR2 can be had for a very low buy-in cost and leave plenty of room to add some power. MotorTrend lists the debut model as having 112 horsepower, and Toyota introduced a turbo model in 1991, boosting that to 200. With a bit of weekend tuning and adding a larger turbo, fuel injectors, or other engine mods, a properly fast MR2 can be created, resulting in a fast and fun affordable alternative to an overpriced supercar.

Lamborghini Aventador - Chevrolet Corvette C8

For half a million dollars, you can buy the current Lamborghini flagship, the Aventador. It is a 12-cylinder beast with 769 raging bulls of power traveling through all four wheels, per Car and Driver. Outside, it looks angry and maybe even a bit hostile while inside, it is full of sleek Italian style. The Aventador is an aspirational car that is an object of desire for anyone who loves fast cars. It is just that the excessive price tag keeps it in the hands of Arab princes and rappers for the most part.

However, a good mid-level executive or average dentist can get their hands on something that looks just as mean and has nearly the same performance without driving to a Miami exotic dealership to pick it up. It is the C8 Chevrolet Corvette. With its aggressive and modern styling and Chevrolet's decision to move the engine behind the passengers, it has everything needed to go up against a Raging Bull. The debut model we tested came with a 6.2-liter V8 making almost 500 horsepower and it has a new driver-focused interior with all the digital features expected from a modern performance car. For a car with a base price equivalent to a decent optioned Lexus, the Corvette is an excellent choice for supercar fun on a pediatrician's budget.

Nissan GT-R - Nissan Z

Nissan's halo performance car for many years has been its GT-R, aka Godzilla. It features a twin-turbo, 3.8-liter V6 that spits out nearly 600 horsepower through all four wheels, achieving a 1-60 time of just 2.9 seconds, per Car and Driver. It is a nice car and it is very fast. It comes from a long tradition of fast cars stemming from the venerated Skyline GT-R model only found in Japan until import restrictions allowed those more than 25 years old into the United States. Nissan ended up relenting and produced a U.S-spec model and it has been with us for about a decade now, but the current model does cost more than $100,000.

For those who might have trouble keeping up with a $2,200 payment, there is hope. At less than half the cost, around $42,000, Nissan offers the all-new Z. The latest iteration of the long-running Z car line, the Z features a similar V6 to Godzilla and it puts out around 400 horsepower (via Car and Driver). While that falls short of the 565 ponies of big brother, it is still ample power to get the car around a track and have some real fun. Z cars have always been fun to drive and known for their good handling, specifically excelling in drift competitions. Furthermore, aftermarket parts and accessories are endless. It is a sensible choice.

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 - Ford Mustang SVO

When Ford introduced the Mustang in 1964, it not only created a sensation in the auto industry, it created a whole new class of car: the pony car. An affordable and sporty car capable of good performance seemed to be just what American buyers wanted at the time. A few years later, Carroll Shelby, architect of the Shelby Cobra and GT40 racing programs, was drafted to breathe life into the new Mustang. One of his creations was the Shelby GT 350, a high-performance mustang featuring a 306-horsepower, 289-cubic-inch V8 and a few choice appearance items to make it stand out from the crowd (via Mustang Specs). Finishing the car with racing stripes and some GT350 decals ensured the car would enter the status of icon in the coming years.

Due to its status as an icon, the Shelby's price is among the highest of American muscle cars. With a range of $150,000 to $200,000, they are hard to come by. But, for anyone wanting a unique special edition Mustang on a more modest budget, the Mustang SVO is an excellent choice. Ford's Special Vehicle Operations used the overhead cam 2.3-liter, 4-cylinder engine, strapping a turbo onto it and boosting its power up to the level of its contemporary V8 GT model, which was just 175 horsepower (via Hemmings). Looking through records on Classic, an SVO can be picked up for less than $20k in excellent condition. With minimal alterations, that little 2.3-liter engine can easily exceed 300 horsepower and be something that will draw as much attention as any GT350 at Cars and Coffee. It's a no-brainer.

[Mustang SVO image by Jimnva via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | Public domain]

Plymouth Road Runner - AMC Hornet SC/360

While all of the big Detroit automakers released powerful and impressive muscle cars during their heyday in the late '60s, Chrysler's HEMI engine was the one to beat. By the time it made it up to 426 and 440 cubic inches, its power and torque ratings were significant. Horsepower from these engines went up to 425 horsepower, and one of the favorite cars to find them in was the Plymouth Road Runner. A front-engine, two-door car with rear-wheel-drive, the Road Runner is the epitome of a muscle car, good for track wins and Saturday night cruising. They can also be found sometimes on Bring A Trailer, but bids can exceed $100,000 on particular machines, with $50,000 bids commonplace.

To get that all-American feeling of unadulterated horsepower from an unencumbered, pre-EPA-regulated car without the high cost of classic car ownership, AMC has you covered. AMC released some great muscle car competition in its Javelin and AMX models, but in 1971, it gave us the Hornet SC/360. Street Muscle Magazine says the Hornet was the mid-size car in the lineup, and AMC stuffed its 360-cubic-inch V8 in the car to boost it to 285 horsepower with an incredible 390 pound-feet of torque, making it a small and fun tire-roasting machine. While it won't compete with a big block HEMI, it will be fun to drive and it comes complete with a four-speed transmission and working vacuum-operated hood scoop. Best of all, if you can find one like this example from Sotheby's, it can be had for less than $50k.

BMW Z4 - Mazda MX-5

There's no arguing the BMW Z4 is not an amazing convertible. It is chock full of technology and makes plenty of power for Sunday top-down cruising. In top trim level, it includes a turbocharged inline-6 making 382 horsepower, and a dynamic handling package for a perfect electronically controlled driving experience. Being a BMW, the convertible top is power operated and the interior is full of digital goodies and seats with endless power adjustments and heating elements. It is a BMW and one expects a certain level of luxury and refinement from this kind of car. That said, one also expects to pay a hefty price for it, as a new BMW Z4 will run around $65,000 before dealers add a bunch of useless paint protection packages.

For the reasonable person with a bit more frugality in mind, but who still enjoys a cruise up the PCH with wind in hair, the Mazda MX-5 is a prudent choice. While the BMW is all about high technology and sophisticated electronics, the MX-5 is more down to earth. It takes the two-seat, open-top formula and distills it down to the basics. The 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine is sprightly but not overly eager to break the tires loose. The suspension is also a bit old school but remains firmly planted in the bends. To be blunt, the Mazda is no BMW, but it also can be had for nearly half the price. Therefore, if having a fun driving convertible is ultimately more important than showing off at the country club, the Mazda comes in well under par.

Rolls-Royce Phantom - Chrysler 300S

For more than a century, the highest level of luxury and indulgence in automobiles has come from Rolls-Royce. Today's luxury flagship sedan is the Phantom, a sublime exercise in excess. Wool carpeting, hand-picked British leather, intricate "starlight" fiber optic headliners, and almost no exposed plastic in the interior are all hallmarks of a Roller. Car and Driver states the highlights of the Phantom as its ability to glide silently and serenely down the motorway, eliminating the feel of nearly any imperfection in the road. Its big V12 engine is a twin-turbo model that produces 563 horsepower, however, it does not exist for speed, but to provide enough torque to speed the hefty luxury liner ahead with aplomb. The only fault the magazine finds with the Phantom is its price, which is set higher than the average house.

It must be said that without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is not possible to attain a similar experience that Rolls-Royce provides. But for a fraction of the cost, one can pick up the newest Chrysler 300C. It is styled in a way as to ape the Rolls-Royce. Its straight-cut lines and large grill opening offer a classic look and its 485-horsepower HEMI V8 engine packs plenty of punch, according to U.S. News. It is a well-equipped car with plenty of upscale features and a comfortable interior, so it is not the worst place to find yourself during a commute. It may not be as exclusive as the back seat of a chauffeur-driven Phantom, but, at about 10% of the cost, it should suit most people just fine.

Toyota Supra Mk4 - Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4

Toyota's turbocharged '90s sports car has become a legend in the decades since it left production. Its inclusion in movies and video games helped accelerate its status, but it always was a great car with one of the toughest engine blocks ever made, the 2JZ-GTE. The DuPont Registry claims this engine is so overbuilt, it can withstand up to 1,500 horsepower without breaking, and some car builders have done it. While the "Fast and Furious" movies shot this car to its height of fame, the Supra was always a capable sports car. Nonetheless, the fame may have contributed to its astronomical value as Motorious tells us nice examples today can sell for six figures.

For those who want a sleek Japanese '90s sports car, there is hope. At the same time Toyota released the Supra, Mitsubishi gave us a similarly equipped car in the 3000GT VR-4. MotorTrend tells us this car has a twin-turbo, 3.0-liter V6 with twin cams that makes 320 horsepower, which is right on par with a stock Supra. The Mitsubishi does come with all-wheel-drive, so it gets a leg up on keeping planted through the corners. Otherwise, the Mitsubishi is a fairly standard '90s Japanese car on the inside, but with good styling and excellent fit and finish. While today it barely exists, Mitsubishi once offered a range of great cars. Recent sales on Bring A Trailer show that a reasonably well-kept model with reasonably low miles can be found in excellent condition for around $20k with very nice ones for $40k, making these cars an excellent option to their Toyota counterpart.

Ferrari 250 GTO - Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Few mechanical devices can match in beauty the looks of Ferrari's svelte 250 GTO of 1962. According to, Ferrari only made 36 examples of this car, all of them destined for the track. From its beginnings, Ferrari as an automobile company existed to support the Ferrari Scuderia racing team, rather than being the other way around like other manufacturers. The 250 GTO was created in response to Jaguar's E-type, but only as competition on the track. The beauty and especially the rarity of this Ferrari make it one of the most valuable cars ever produced. In 2018, The Drive reported an auction by Sotheby's in which bidding for a 250 GTO ended at $48 million.

For the wealthy car collector who does not yet own his fourth yacht, the Ferrari is probably well out of reach. However, in 1963, Chevrolet transformed its popular roadster into a full-fledged sports car by adding a roof and applying more aggressive styling. The Corvette debuted with a hard top for the first time in 1963 to critical acclaim. It also featured a unique split rear window which was eliminated the next year. LSX Mag explains that it hindered the driver's rear view and complicated production by adding unnecessary expense. But that has resulted in the split-window 1963 Corvette being extraordinarily valuable and coveted. Therefore, with similar performance as a comparable Ferrari and classic American styling that definitely competes with Ferrari on looks, a 1963 Corvette split-window Stingray is dirt cheap next to a 250 GTO. Recent Bring A Trailer auctions have ended for less than $200,000, a veritable bargain.