Turbo Mag's Top 10 Used Performance Car Bargains
The Most Intense Bang-For-The-Buck On Wheel
E.K. Cozzene
Courtesy of

Select to enlarge photo

What are the hottest used performance cars? As hands-on enthusiasts who may not make enough money to afford the latest new car, pre-owned remains our preferred route. If you know where to shop, a mighty street car can be had at a realistic price--the key is finding a good example at the right price. Here we have collected the best buys on wheels; additionally, we have included input from some of the industry's top tuners to illustrate what can be done using these cars as platforms. Let the games begin!

In 2000, the Supra emerged as the hottest used performance car, hands down. For a Civic Si pricetag, you get a twin-turbocharged 320-horse supercar. The ultimate in technology, style and performance, the JZA80 can easily make 650 hp at the wheels on stock internals. Toyota engineering and build quality means there are a number of excellent examples to be had on the market. In conducting our research, we found the average price range to be $16k to $22k, but there were a number of twin turbos in the $14k to $16k range. In comparison with the others on this list, the price is high--but so is the payoff.


click to enlarge image

click to enlarge image

Tuner Talk: Alex Shen, SP Engineering: The Supra TT has one of the strongest motors in existence. On our project car, we reached 699.7 hp (at the wheels) on stock internals and no use of NOS--a power figure achieved with only bolt-ons and pump gas.

The Supra TT is a great performance car, reaching its true potential after only a few modifications. The most frequently utilized bang-for-your-buck performance upgrades are an exhaust, off-road downpipe, boost controller, fuel cut defencer and air intake. The 2JZ-GTE responds well to these modifications and power jumps anywhere from 360 to 400 (rear-wheel) hp, depending on tuning. The off-road downpipe is a good value, yielding about 40 rwhp and costing about $340.

From this point, tuning is a matter of eliminating bottlenecks, in particular the intercooler, clutch and airflow meter. As boost increases, the intercooler becomes inefficient; changing to a larger, more efficient intercooler permits the turbos to run more boost, therefore creating more power. The clutch also becomes inefficient as power rises. The stock clutch is good for about 450 rwhp, anything beyond that requires an HKS Triple-disc clutch or the OS Giken set-up.

To achieve greater power, the fuel system and the stock turbos will become a bottleneck and inefficient beyond 450 hp. Street applications can vary from 400 to 699.7 rwhp.

The following are options for a street/mild race application.

The GReddy T78 or T88 single-turbo kits provide the most bang-for-your-buck and are excellent systems that can be used in both street and race applications. HKS offers both single- (T04R & T51R-SPL) and twin-turbo kits (GT2835) that can also be used for street and racing applications. The GReddy, HKS and Blitz (K3T twin and K27 single) turbo kits provide power ranging from 480 to 750 rwhp depending on the fuel management used.

Fuel management is critical and can often be very complicated. The essential elements for a good fuel system are larger injectors, fuel rail, fuel pump, fuel pressure regulator and fuel management devices.

On the air meter front, the HKS Vein Pressure Converter (VPC) allows for the replacement of the OEM air meter and converts the car to a speed-density system. The VPC and GCC allows tuning to take full advantage of the larger injectors and higher airflow.

Other items that should be considered are HKS 264 cams, cam gears and an HKS metal head gasket. In total, a true, high-performance machine is like a work of art that is built with meticulous attention and precision. The tuning of the parts is essential to achieve the maximum horsepower.

Sean Glazar has ripped off a 9.10, a 9.16 and a pair of 9.17 quarter miles in his all-wheel-drive, first-gen. Diamond Star. The 4G63 engine is a gem and can be easily modified to make gargantuan power. From the street to the strip, there may be no better bang-for-the-buck; we saw a few of these cars going for $700 to $900. These were running (tired, we're sure) and register-able vehicles that were just begging to be snatched up and transformed into racers or street monsters.


click to enlarge image

click to enlarge image

Tuner Talk: Sean Glazar, Extreme Motosports: The Supra TT has one of the strongest motors in existence. On our project car, we reached 699.7 hp (at the wheels) on stock internals and no use of NOS--a power figure achieved with only bolt-ons and pump gas.

These cars are one of the best cars to modify; they have great potential due to their race-inspired powerplant. All of the model years are similar, with some minor cosmetic changes. There are some differences, though. Any DSM owner will tell you the 1993-1994 model has the better transmission, and in the 1992 model year, the GSX received a beefier rear end--but the transmission and rear can be fitted into any of the years. The 1993-1994 GS-T has stronger, larger axles. As far as the engine is concerned, the 1993 model incorporated smaller rods, smaller head bolts, and a lighter crank, as well as adding a one-piece girdle for the main bearing. Although there are differences between the years, they are all equally up to the task of being modified.

Leaving a DSM stock is committing a sin--it's just not right. The basic upgrades, such as an exhaust, air filter, boost controller, and intercooler pipes are the best place to start; they deliver the most for the performance dollar and the fun factor is more than exceeded. If spirited driving is a goal, a new clutch may be in order. One downside to cars that are often driven fairly hard is maintenance items such as plugs, wires, and a fuel filter are often taken for granted and not checked or changed at proper intervals. But if the car is not abused, basic maintenance kept up, and parts bolted on with some forethought, 1990 to '94 DSMs will reward you with performance for years to come. (We have seen cars with 200,000-plus miles, running 12s on the original engine and driveline).

The second of the high-tech supercars on this list, the Nissan 300ZX twin-turbo is a force to be reckoned with. The Z car has a stout aftermarket following and, considering it is the oldest design of the three, it still looks good. There are plentiful staged performance packages that can propel the VG30DETT into the 600-hp range, while still delivering civilized driving characteristics. The only drawback? Working on the Z can be hard service, due to the car's cramped engine bay.


click to enlarge image

click to enlarge image

Tuner Talk: Steve Millen, Steve Millen Sportparts: The 1990-'96 300 ZX Twin Turbo has always been a lot of car for the money. But today, the used-car price is especially attractive to those looking for a high-performance car.

The VG30DETT is incredibly strong. With correctly calibrated fuel, ignition and boost management, the engine is good for 500-600 streetable horsepower.

There are no glaring "weak spots" in the engine, though high-mileage motors should be tested for compression and leak-down before a turbo upgrade. For racers, we offer piston, rod and camshaft upgrades to build the ultimate motor.

Though some subscribe to the "bigger is better" philosophy, I prefer a mid-sized ball-bearing turbo. Combined with our intercooler upgrade, this combination produces impressive power across the engine's operating range. In most instances, smooth power delivery and quick throttle response are more important than ultimate peak power.

Two things Z owners should not neglect are suspension and brakes. Our six-piston AP Racing Big Brake upgrade is highly recommended for enthusiastic drivers. We also have camber adjusters, HICAS eliminators, adjustable tension rods and just about anything else you can imagine to make your Z car faster in a straight line or through the corners.

The upgraded styling of the second-generation Diamond Star doubles the cost. In our opinion, the car has double the looks of its predecessor, making it a fair trade. All the positives--turbocharged 4G63, all-wheel-drive and a large pool of aftermarket parts--are available as well.


click to enlarge image

click to enlarge image

Tuner Talk: Dave Buschur, Buschur Racing: The highest output of the second-generation 4G63 with stock internals is in the 400-bhp range. Mitsubishi changed the size of the connecting rods in late 1992. The cylinder heads were changed in 1995 to a much smaller intake port size. To realize the full horsepower potential of the car, the cylinder head needs a lot of port work; another option is to switch to the 1990-1994 cylinder head.

The boost can be run very high on all the 4G63s. With stock internals, pump gas and a basic fuel pump upgrade, there is no problem running 18 psi on pump gas. With this much boost pressure, we generally suggest an APEX Super AFC for additional tuning.

The stock intercooler is a weak spot. Mitsubishi made the inlets and outlets of the stock unit bigger than the previous years, but it made the core smaller.

We have really pushed the Mitsubishi turbo since we started working with DSMs in 1989. We still do. The 16G turbos we sell are a direct, stock-appearing turbo. Times as fast as 11.5s and 121-mph trap speeds using this set-up have been seen. With the 20G turbochargers we offer, we have run 10.7s at 131 mph. Remember, these times are in street cars, not gutted tin cans.

The best bang-for-the-buck modification plan for the second-gen. cars would be done in the following order; K&N air charger, upper i/c pipe with new blow-off valve, full 2.5-inch exhaust from turbo back, Hallman manual boost controller, in-tank fuel pump and boost gauge.

With these few mods, you can expect to see quarter-mile times in the 13.7 range at 98 mph. The biggest change to the car comes from the turbo. Adding the 16G kit to a car with these modifications will drop the car to at least 12.5s at 108 mph, if you're using racing fuel.

The Integra GS-R has held its value admirably over the years. With numerous B18C engine swaps going into Civic racecars, there is a vast landscape of go-fast parts on the market. The car's popularity in the show scene means, too, that there are a grip of body-tuning possibilities a phone call or click of the mouse away. Translation: a kick-ass street car with a big bark and a big bite to back it up can be easily conceptualized and constructed.


click to enlarge image

click to enlarge image

Tuner Talk: Javier Guttierez, JG Engine Dynamics: The Acura Integra's line-up of engines (B17A, B18A, B18B, B18C,B18C-5) are very well-built and, kept stock, will go 200,000 miles with just maintenance. As soon as they see a dramatic bump in power, they can degrade pretty quickly if there are ongoing detonation problems.

On turbocharged cars, we have found the limit to a stock engine is about 280-300 hp at the wheels, if the engine is perfectly tuned. After that, no matter how well tuned the engine, even with race gas, the ring lands will break. From what we have seen, with anywhere from 7 psi or 15 psi of boost, at 300 hp, the pistons will break. If aftermarket pistons are installed, such as an Arias or JE, the weak link then becomes the cylinder wall. While we have made more than 450 hp with the stock blocks and rods (Dave Shih's Silver Bullet CRX), as soon as they detonated, they were sent to the grave. The 1992-'93 GS-R runs a VTEC motor. The head is the same as a B16A and very similar to the Type R head. The '94-'00 B18C head is different and has smaller combustion chambers (this is my favorite head). Its high intake port and small chamber make it the better choice.

In the summer of 2001, JG, in league with Edelbrock, will be releasing the first aftermarket cylinder heads for the B series engines. We are going to incorporate all the best features of the OEM heads; it will be available as raw castings for the do-it-yourselfer or finished, CNC-ported assemblies.

Of those that are naturally aspirated, the '94-'95 GS-R is the best to modify. It is pretty simple to make 190 hp at the wheels with a stock block. This is due in great part to the ECU in this model. It is easy to make a daily driver run low 13s without too much drama. The '94-'95 LS, GS, RS is the best of the non-VTEC Integras to modify. These examples will easily make 150-160 hp at the wheels with a stock block. Again, the car's user-friendly ECUs are a big part of the equation.

6th Place Tie TOYOTA MR-2 TURBO
The Mister 2 has many of the same attributes its big brother the Supra brings to the table; namely, factory turbo power, intercooler, rear-wheel drive and an attractive silhouette. Indeed, it even offers some cards its higher-priced brother doesn't; mid-engine design and less weight. The 3S-GTE powerplant has shown a fondness for additional boost and, as our Project MR-2 illustrates, looks tight rolling on 18s.


click to enlarge image

click to enlarge image

Tuner Talk: Rafael Estevez, Drag Racing Technologies (drt): The Toyota MR2 Turbo is capable of making around 275 hp to the wheels with just minor bolt-ons. One of the weaknesses of the motor is the pistons which can only handle around 15 to 18 psi. Another shortcoming is the stock intake manifold. We have found an extra 100 hp by making a sheetmetal manifold on a few of our customers' vehicles.

After installing a new intake, the cylinder head should be ported by a reputable shop and fitted with high-quality, stainless-steel valves. The intercooler and piping should be replaced as soon as possible; the stock unit and piping are not really efficient at higher boost levels. The positive points include strong rods and a good crank.

Bolt-on upgrades should include aftermarket exhaust, turbo, boost controller, intercooler and some type of fuel enrichment, such as an HKS VPC or GReddy Rebic fuel computers.

There are various turbo upgrades available for the MR2; the best upgrades are the TD06 (for the stock motor) GReddy T67, T78 and the T88 (for the built motors). The highest output for the street checks in around 475 to 500 hp at the wheels. It should be noted that 500 hp is about the level that transmission gremlins start showing.

The MR2 is capable of making tremendous horsepower, but we don't see too many MR2s on the street. Perhaps this has to do with the MR2's short production run, but overall, the car is a great platform on which to build power.

The 1992-'97 Mazda RX-7 Twin-Turbo is the third of the three supercars. We were surprised to see a number of FD RX-7s in the $5,500 to $8,000 range. While there is little doubt the apex seals on these examples must be very close to molecular breakdown, the potential of the 13B rotary makes the price ever-so-enticing. The apex seals are the most critical factor in purchasing any FD; their shelf life is acutely affected by maintenance and driving habits. Usually within the 85,000-to-95,000 mile range is where the problems start arising. Why not buy a $7,000 to $10,000 car and rebuild the engine? The total cost of the project could be less than that of a premium-priced example.


click to enlarge image

click to enlarge image

Tuner Talk: Chris Ott, Rotary Performance: The greatest appeal of the third-generation RX-7 is, without a doubt, the fact it is the closest thing to a factory-produced racecar that Japan has ever rolled off the assembly lines. The balance of handling, stability and performance is second-to-none. Maximum power output from the 13B-REW engine with stock internals is impressive. On pump gas, you can expect about 400 hp to the wheels and with race gas, this figure jumps to 500 hp. Detonation is the only concern for the engine--control the air/fuel ratio properly and the engine can take a lot of punishment. Apex seals are the most common failure on stock engines. Upgrading to 3 mm units (stockers are 2 mm) can help the engine resist damage if detonation were to occur. The best order for street upgrades begins with the exhaust and intake systems; performance gains of as much as 50 or more hp are very common from these mods alone. The next step would be upgrading the intercooler and fuel pump and reprogramming the ECU. A boost controller would also be a likely add-on at this point with boost usually limited to 14 psi. For racing applications, single-turbo conversions, stand-alone engine management and countless other enhancements are available. We have produced more than 700 hp at the wheels from a gasoline-burning 13B-REW in full race trim.

Since the dawn of the import industry, the Civic has been the core enthusiast platform. While not a performance car out of the box, its unmatched popularity has been the breeding grounds for parts that span the spectrum. From engine dress-up items to street turbo kits to 700-hp race systems ,the Civic is a willing partner in the quest for performance. Will the 2001 redesign carry on this tradition?


click to enlarge image

8th Place HONDA CRX
Honda's CRX is a cult car of sorts. Easily stylized for the street, the lightweight, two-seat CRX also makes a potent racer. Just ask Team Bergenholtz and other fans of the CRX. It should be noted that there are GSR engine swap kits available for all versions. With a number of sub- $1,500 examples on the market, you're not far from putting together a racer to compete with the best.


click to enlarge image

click to enlarge image

The second-generation Supra represents a car on the brink of an evolutionary step into supercar-dom. The Supra's 7M-GTE engine is a capable powerplant and the car is a comfortable way to exercise the adrenaline glands. This edition of the Supra was a bit heavy and its styling is now dated. For the solution to these shortfalls, see the top of this list. Similar performance can be tuned into the JZA70, and the entry fee is significantly less than the JZA80. An interesting proposition.


click to enlarge image

A real sleeper, the Sentra SE-R provides a better starting place than the popular Civics but doesn't have the same aftermarket support. The SR20DE powerplant can handle more stress in stock form than most Civic engines and the sedan coupe's edgy styling makes it a standout on the street. SE-Rs can be hard to find, but are worth the search. Hint: surf the 'net.


click to enlarge image

Tuner Talk: Jim Wolf, Jim Wolf Technology: Here is a car that is probably the all-time sleeper. This body style is actually still produced in Mexico (1.6 liter only), due to the need for solid, dependable transportation. Add the SE-R option and it becomes one of Nissan's most potent sedans. Nissan nailed its first serious attempt at an aluminum block engine with the SR20 powerplant that comes in the SE-R Sentra. Owed to the fact that the block is the same as the SR20DET, a turbo version not sold in the United States, it can handle more than 200 hp per liter. We have developed new engine management programs that perfectly match the modifications to the engine, as well as the intended use of the vehicle. Our inventory of SR20 parts includes: ECUs, turbochargers, fuel injection systems, cams, springs, pistons, heads, rods, clutches, motor mounts, and much more. Also, look for our 50-state-legal turbocharger package that has just passed CARB certification and will be in production in 2001.






Courtesy of