So I bought a benchmark sports car
Yes, we were saving up for a benchmark used “hot” hatchback, but as we went around for a few months looking for a decent deal, we realised we had saved up enough for a real sports car. So we switched gears and started looking for a used sports car that could best our rocketship 1987 Toyota Supra Twin Turbo, which we have sold off. The Supra still runs like the wind, but it is in rather poor overall shape, and a pain to drive due to its modified underpinings. We estimate the Supra has 300+ hp now after mods, and we managed the 0-100 kph sprint in 5.3 seconds once. Also consider that we sold this Porsche-killer off for Dhs 9,000! We just bought a used replacement for it, and it is still red, but let’s look at what other options we had in the sports car market for around Dhs 50,000 or less. The only criteria was it had to be fast, it should have a manual gearbox, it had to handle reasonably well, it had to have reasonable reliability, and its maintenance had to cost less than that of an overpriced Porsche Boxster.
1997-2000 Chevrolet Corvette
Specs: 5.7-litre V8, 350 hp, 0-100 in 5.2 seconds
Good: Looks, seriously fast, mechanically solid, excellent handling
Bad: Small build-quality issues, truck-like gearbox, cheap cabin
Our first choice. Reliable except for stupid annoyances such as broken headlight motors and permanently-locked steering wheels. Very hard to find a manual. Seems most Corvettes come with an automatic sadly. We found a clean 2002 automatic for Dhs 80,000 and many other autos, but when we finally found a Japan-imported 2000 manual, the loser dealer wanted Dhs 90,000 for a car that should cost no more than Dhs 65,000, saying that “locals” will pay his price. We then decided to expand our search to other car models.
1998-2002 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Specs: 5.7-litre V8, 310 hp, 0-100 in 5.8 seconds
Good: Very fast, mechanically solid, fair handling
Bad: Targa roof leaks, truck-like gearbox, basic rear suspension
Largely reliable engine and gearbox, with abundant parts availability. Non-independent rear suspension means handling suffers over uneven roads. Also, the body is too long and the car feels cheap inside and out. We only found one 1999 manual for Dhs 35,000 with a crappy moulded bodykit and nearly 160k on the clock. The rest were all automatic.
1998-2002 Audi TT Quattro
Specs: 1.8-litre turbo inline-4, 225 hp, 0-100 in 7.0 seconds
Good: Looks, umm….
Bad: Tons of electrical issues, dull handling, basic rear suspension
Audi Middle East hates us, but we gave their product a spin anyway. The VW Golf chassis is front-heavy, has a non-independent torsion beam rear suspension, and largely acts like a front-wheel-drive Beetle. Electrical issues with ignition coils, windows and more can be a regular annoyance. Nice interior, but not worth the prices demanded by overconfident owners. The cheapest we found was a 180 hp version for Dhs 35,000, while individual asking prices for the 225 hp version range above Dhs 50,000, until the owner gets bored and sells them to a used car dealer for pocket change. But still too slow and incapable for the price.
2000-2002 Honda S2000
Specs: 2.0-litre inline-4, 240 hp, 0-100 in 6.0 seconds
Good: Looks, total reliability, excellent handling, racy engine
Bad: Lacks torque, basic interior
We had seriously started wanting one of these great handlers, even though it would probably be defeated in a straight line by an Accord if a shift is timed wrongly. That’s because the engine is utterly gutless at anything less than 6000 rpm, and driving it with authority requires revving it to 8300 rpm for peak power. The exhaust buzz will probably get annoying after a while. Also, people have blown the engine with just one missed downshift. Anyway, we forgot about these barebones cars after owners wanted as much as Dhs 62,000 for a 2002, which is 50% of the original price for a six-year-old car. Funny part is, Honda fanboys are ready to pay that much as the S2000 and the Civic Type-R are sold quickly for such prices. Even worse are their claims of beating Supras and Skylines on the highway. Somebody ask these geeks how VTEC works.
1999-2004 Ford Mustang GT
Specs: 4.6-litre V8, 260 hp, 0-100 in 6.3 seconds
Good: Reliable mechanicals, fair handling, sort of has a back seat
Bad: Slightly cheap cabin, basic rear suspension, hard gearbox
The torquey engine and gearbox are solid, and power is great, although slightly outclassed by cars in this category in power. The engine is easily modified for more juice, although handling suffers on broken roads due to the non-independent torsion beam rear suspension. Cabin quality better than Camaro, but worse than all others. We found many 2002 and older automatics for less than Dhs 35,000, although the asking price for the only manual we found was an unreasonable Dhs 40,000.
2000-2002 BMW Z3 3.0
Specs: 3.0-litre inline-6, 231 hp, 0-100 in 5.9 seconds
Good: Surprisingly reliable mechanicals, rather good handling, upscale cabin
Bad: Relatively pricey parts, some build quality issues
A rather ignored sports car that handles well enough even with a chassis based on the 1989 3-Series. Easily confused with the crappy 1.9-litre basic Z3 models from 1996. The car runs reliably, but watch out for possible instances of loose seats and cracking metal under the luggage area, both being fixable issues. We found 3.0 automatic models from 2001 for less than Dhs 40,000 but no sign of a manual unless you go for a basic 1.9 or 2.0 model. The 3.0 is only one step below the dragon-slaying M Roadster.
After a month of searching through various sports cars, we ended up buying a rare car of which only 15,000 were ever made. It is red, it has a manual, and it will probably kill us with future maintenance requirements, but it’s a keeper. A worthy replacement for the Supra. But more on that later, assuming it passes the government inspection. If not, you’ll hear me cussing a lot, because I already paid for the damn thing.