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Sub-10k Supercars - Part Two

Forget emptying your bank account for a new car! For just 10 grand - 'toy money' - you can get yourself into something that's still very good overall!

By Michael Knowing

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Ten grand is pretty insignificant when you're putting it towards a new performance car; it buys the front left corner of an XR6 Turbo, perhaps only the gearbox and a couple of other parts out of a new STi and, well, maybe the wheels and tyres off an HSV GTS.

In the second-hand market, though, you can get yourself into a car that's nearly as sophisticated (more sophisticated than a couple of the examples above!) and that has very nearly the amount of all-round performance. Sure, the second-handies might show some normal battle damage and they won't give you that new car smell (more likely a wet dog smell!) but it really pays to step back ad look at 'the big picture'.

Now - more than ever before - the second-hand market is loaded with some bargain buys. In the final of this two-part series, we'll take a look at the atmo-inducted rippers...

The Big Displacement Bruisers

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Certainly one of the most popular performance machines of choice is a V8 Commodore - pretty well any late-ish model V8 Commodore. The 1978-released VB-series are now getting a little bit long in the tooth and the most recent in that series - the 1986 unleaded VL - was only ever promoted as a tow machine; it was never particularly quick (in non Group A form, at least). That leaves us looking in the VN-series V8s, which used a fuel injected 5.0-litre V8 capable of 165kW and 385Nm (at 4400 and 3600 rpm) in base trim. On average, the VN-series 165kW V8s run 7- 8 second 0 - 100s.

Note that the injected V8 was offered in all Commodore models - Exec, Berlina and Calais - plus the sporty SS. The biggest step up, though, came with the introduction of a wider front track and the availability of an IRS in the VP model. The VP also addressed a few NVH and quality issues of the VN. Prices vary hugely, but VN Exec V8s kick off at around $6000 and VP Calais V8s (with IRS) hover around 10 grand.

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Hot-up potential is immense; there are heaps of off-the-shelf aftermarket products available to suit. You can bolt on anything from cold air intakes and extractors to a number of supercharger kits; it's not hard to reach over 500 horsepower if you've got a fairly generous budget. Note, though, the standard T700 auto trans can handle more torque than the T5 5-speed manual 'box option - hence the use of a stronger gearbox in the VN Group A.

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On the other side of the fence, the blue oval offers a couple of fairly quick big bangers - a V8 and a tasty six. Combating the Holden VN SS back in the early '90s was Ford's newly introduced EB XR8 - a car that is very similar overall to the Holden. Both vehicles have exactly the same swept capacity and peak power - 165kW - the biggest difference being the Ford is over 100kg heavier than its rival. On the other hand, it offers slightly better torque and shorter gearing, allowing it to run virtually dead even with the Holden V8 - 0 - 100 km/h takes a whisker under 8.0-seconds. An EB XR8 sets you back between 7 and 10 grand.

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Stepping into the XR8's spotlight is also the better-balanced and more economical EB XR6. Using the everyday Ford 4.0-litre in-line six as the base, Tickford engineers tidied up the 2-valves-per-cylinder head, fitted stiffer valve springs, altered the camshaft profile and timing, upped the compression ratio (to 9.0:1 prior to the EF update), swapped the fuel pressure reg, re-burnt a chip and fitted a low back-pressure exhaust. This gave the 4.0 motor some 161kW at 4600 rpm and 366Nm at 3650 rpm. Zero to 100 km/h sprints take less than 8-seconds (where a 5-speed manual is fitted) and the quarter mile takes mid-to-high 15s.

An EB XR6 costs about $5500 upward until you get beyond $10,000 with the EF model update.

Both the XR6 and XR8 will give you extra power with fitment of a free-flow intake and exhaust - more so the XR8 - but for big gains there are a few aftermarket blower kits that shape up quite nicely. Expect at least a 40 percent power gain with a forced induction kit.

The Small to Medium Size Maulers

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A car that has only very recently settled in value is the BMW 325i - available as either a 2 or 4-door sedan. The small E30 chassis that swallowed a SOHC 2.5-litre in-line six cranks out 125kW with 222Nm (at 5800 and 4300 rpm respectively) and weighs about 1250 kilograms; it can shift to 100 kays in an impressive 8.3 - 8.6-seconds. Very s-m-o-o-t-h is the 325's engine.

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Of course, being a BMW, the 325i is also beautifully built and offers excellent practicality. And if you want street cred, a BMW - even a fairly old one - can give it. Sold only through 1988 'till 1990, though, there aren't a great number on the market; and beware of personal imports! A locally delivered E30 BMW 325i will cost $9000 upward and, due to their age, it'd be wise to keep some cash aside for maintenance. The usual intake and exhaust modifications, meanwhile, can give slightly power improvements but you really need to go forced induction for big gains.

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Dumpy is the word usually used to describe the 1993 released U13 Nissan Bluebird SSS, but this is another exceptionally accomplished all-rounder. With all the space of a medium family sedan, the Bluebird SSS goes another step further offering sports seating, CD, climate control and a head-up speed display. Speed is no problem either, with a KA24DE DOHC, 16-valve, 2.4-litre FWD four good for an honest 112kW at 5600 rpm and 210Nm at 4400. Hauling the 'bird's 1300-odd kilogram to 100 km/h in the 8s was no problem for the 5-speed SSS, which also boasted a viscous front LSD. No, it's nothing outa-this-world, but drive the LSD'd SSS Bluebird for a while and you soon realise it's no bad thing. There's a little understeer but not enough to be a real worry.

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Hot-up performance extends to the usual intake and exhaust mods for maybe 10 percent more power, but - if you're serious - it's possible to convert to SR20DET power. Note that the U13 was factory released in Japan with the SR20DET plus all-wheel-drive.

U13 Bluebird SSSs currently fetch anywhere from $8500 upwards.

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Through the late '80s/early '90s the hot-hatch crown well and truly belonged the 3-door Suzuki Swift GTi . From its introduction in 1986 through until its demise in the late '90s, the FWD GTi was scooted along by an ever-willing 1.3-litre DOHC four putting out 74kW at 6450 rpm and 113Nm at 4950 rpm. The earliest models - the squarer looking ones - were the lightest in the series and, accordingly, were slightly faster than the newer models - 0 - 100 took about 9.1-seconds, while the later (835-odd kilogram) models stretched to around 10-seconds. With the Swift update in 1988, however, the overall vehicular package improved considerably; space was increased and the entire package was refined. And, judging by the number of enthusiasts that snapped them up, the later GTis were also a whole lot better looking.

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Today, one of the original Swift GTis will set you back anywhere from $3000, while the latest models run right up to our 10k limit; note, though, the later models suffer heavy steering where power assistance is absent. Tuning potential is quite limited without spending a decent wad of money - an exhaust, intake and chip upgrade might give at best a 10 percent power gain.

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Another very accomplished little screamer is the 100kW SX version of the Toyota Corolla and Seca. If the Swift is a little too small and impractical for you, you should definitely check out these SX Toyotas - they offer four doors, a decent hatch area, comfortable sports seating and a little more low-down punch. Using the 1.6-litre 4A-GE engine as the platform, the SX incorporates a high state of tune (with a 10.3:1 compression ratio) and are credited with 100kW and 147Nm (achieved at 6800 and 6000 rpm respectively and only when running premium unleaded). Driving the front wheels - without an LSD - the 1075-kilogram Corolla SX is a tad quicker than the marginally heavier Seca variant - the Corolla whips to 100 km/h in mid-to-high 9s. It's no rocket, but at least its styling doesn't scream, "Drag me!" Its factory alloys, fatter tyres, some subtle aero add-ons and unique paint treatment - oh, and just a single SX badge on the rear - are all quite conservative.

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If you have a tendency to fiddle your cars, the SX doesn't leave a whole lot of room for improvement - it's already pretty well factory tuned. Still, a free-flow intake and exhaust should yield slightly better response and a bit more power. For real grunt you'd need to convert to a supercharged 4A-GZE motor (or perhaps bolt on a ZE supercharger and make the necessary changes to the original engine). A good Corolla or Seca SX costs between $4500 and $7500.

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An often-overlooked hot hatch is the cute little Pug 205 GTi 1.9. The 205 GTi gains its performance from a tried and proven formula - a big engine in a little car. With its 1.9-litre four generating up to 90kW (in 1991 onward models), the 875-kilogram Peugeot - available as a 5-speed manual only - hikes to 100 km/h in a fuss-free 9-seconds. And its handling is something else - like a go-kart, if you believe contemporary road tests.

Inside, the 205 GTi makes a statement - its red/black trim is difficult to miss. Its cheeky external looks also score points.

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Price? Well, early 205 GTis - which run on a lower compression ratio and make 'only' 75kW - sell from just $4500. Models after 1991 - with the full 90kW serving - are around our $10,000 ceiling. Bung on a zorst and high-flow filter and enjoy an extremely quick yet flexible package. Alternatively, we've seen people transplant in a 108kW 2.0-litre motor out of the 405 Mi16...

Ten grand; do you really need to spend more buying your next car?

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