A new track day season is almost upon us – you'll be needing a new track day car, then…
By PH Staff / Saturday, March 12, 2022 / Loading comments
Porsche Boxster S, 1999, 109k, £4,995
It’s that time of the year again: the mornings are brighter, the evenings longer, the local tip busier as garages are cleared of winter junk. And what do we need a tidy garage for? All together now – a track car! With new road cars almost impossible to enjoy in public, and every circuit running an extensive calendar of events through the year, so the appeal of something cheap and fun to drive as fast as you dare on track continues to grow. We can’t be held responsible for how much your track car might end up costing, sadly; but we can gladly point you towards six affordable starting places…
It begins with a cheap Porsche, of course. Once upon a time (because that’s what 2019 now feels like), I raced a Porsche Boxster S and had an excellent time. I won a race at Brands Hatch, in fact, and the spasm of joy that resulted you can see here – my arms have never done anything like that before or since.
To make a Boxster track project like ‘my’ Hippy 917 tribute has been an ambition ever since, the old Porsche responding so well to fairly minor mods. Of course, a cage isn’t the work of a moment, but the powertrain was standard, the suspension used control parts from JRZ, the stickier tyres sat on standard wheels, the brakes were upgraded with pads and fluid – that was about it. And the little Boxster stood up admirably to all the abuse, while sounding brilliant in the process. I think about what fun Boxster and Bird would have on track again quite a lot.
And all the while they’re getting more expensive. Once upon a time £5k bought a decent Boxster (the Restoracing car was £10k with just 30,000 miles!) but now it’s the entry point. Still, this is a £5k flat-six Porsche, and every week you find one feels like it’ll be the last. This 3.2 S now has a six-figure mileage on it but apparently just one owner, and it must now surely have escaped any RMS/IMS woes. I might try a Rothmans livery this time around… MB
Mazda RX-8, 2008, 62k, £3,999
Let’s be honest, the main reason for throwing an RX-8 into the ring for a ‘track day hack’ brief is what’s under the bonnet. Sure, the rest of the proposition is good, with rear-drive, a slick manual box, and relatively little weight evenly split between front and rear, as per Mazda tradition. But it’s the rotary engine that steals the show – revving to a giddy 9,000rpm and making 231hp from very little displacement, thanks to Felix’s Wankel’s ingenious design of combustion chamber. A smaller engine weighs less, too, which has to be a good thing for a track project.
The non-conventional, high-revving twin-rotor engine ensures you’ll be scuttling around Brands with a grin on your face, at least until something inevitably breaks. As RX-8s have a reputation for. You’ll also pay dearly at the pump, but hey, what track car worth its salt doesn’t have money poured into it? At least you didn’t buy a boat. At just under £4k, too, you’ve got some financial wiggle room to begin modifications with.
This example looks like a solid pick, in a lovely colour with leather interior and a long list of equipment. The bodywork appears very straight and tidy (for now), too. It’s almost a shame to suggest tracking it! AF
Ford Fiesta ST, 2006, 104k, £2,499
I’m thinking basic might be best for this challenge, and there’s nothing as basic as a Blue Oval product when it comes to tuning. This Mk5 Ford Fiesta ST is half our budget, so that already leaves money left to start the modifications, and being a fast Ford, there are many suppliers ready with upgraded parts. The first of which would be a set of adjustable coil-overs, stiffer bushes and uprated anti-roll bars with some added chassis bracing so keep it true.
As it started off with 150hp from its 2.0-litre 16v motor and the ST weighs around 1,100kg stock, that’s a good base to work with. Once it’s stripped of its unnecessary interior bits with a cage and two buckets added (I think the ability to share the experience makes sense), there’s no need to go chasing massive power hikes – Mountune did a kit back in the day that extracted 185hp, and that seems like a reasonable target. The main focus would be on stripping the engine and gearbox and rebuilding to make them as bullet proof as possible.
Then the brakes. Some braided hoses with racing pads and discs would be just the ticket, and a decent set of lightweight alloys and better tyres should top it off. And just because this is fantasy land, so I can do what I like, a floor-mounted racing pedal box to allow perfect heel-and-toe changes with a short shift box. I think that sounds like a lot of fun right there. JH
Renaultsport Clio 182, 2005, 113k, £3,250
Considering anything other than a Renaultsport Clio as a track car at this price point is like going to your local curry house and ordering the scampi and chips. Who does that? A 197/200 will most likely be faster and can also be bought for less than £5k, but as someone who’s owned seven Renaultsports including a 200, 172 Cup, 182 Cup and 182 Trophy, I can tell you that the 182s are so much more fun.
They’re not as cheap to buy as they used to be, but they’re cheap to run and will go on to do a lot more miles than this example, which is why they’re so popular as track cars. Fit decent tyres, a set of braided brake lines, some high temperature brake fluid and a set of track-biased pads up front and that’s all you need to go around in circles all day long.
This example needs a little bit of love, but given that it’s being sold by Mark Fish – who’s well known for working on these cars – I’m sure a set of belts and a new alternator can be fitted and still come in at under £5k. It already has a PMS shifter and a set of OZ alloy wheels, too. Bargain!
BMW 330Ci, 2003, 141k, £2,500
While the cheap E46 M3 ship has very much sailed (a long way over the horizon), there are still manual 330Cis available for relatively little. Obviously track day cars need to be cheap to buy and cheap to repair (with good parts availability) should a mishap occur, and for those reasons there can’t be much better than a tired E46 as the base. Yes, this one definitely is tatty and would need TLC to be taken seriously in the office car park, but as a track car that stuff really doesn’t matter (and if you’re really fussed a pair of used wings will cost you less than £100).
There’s plenty of advice on the forums on how to get an E46 track day ready; strip out unnecessary weight, re-bush, fit bucket seats, tyres, new suspension and possibly even a cage and with a £2.5k starting price you’ll still come in under the £5k budget.
This three-keeper example has a reassuring 13-stamp service history and has an MOT until August; so, if you’re feeling really confident, you can even drive it to and from the track, although investing in a trailer may well be the more sensible option for a novice like me! SL
Mazda MX-5, 2007, 93k miles, £4,990
Before I ended up at the career-defining PistonHeads, I worked on a little known magazine called What Car?. That’s when the two still worked under the same roof, conveniently for me.
As part of my road tester initiation, I got sent on a track day to see if I could actually drive. Thankfully, my best friend and yours Matt Bird had his long-term Mazda MX-5 in the carpark, so I popped up to Bedford Aerodrome and got to work. (He hasn’t let me borrow anything since, so probably didn’t do the best job…)
That was the Mk4, and obviously there aren’t any of those for under 5Gs in the classifieds. That’s no real shame, though – this lovely Mk3 will do the job nicely, especially if you’re a bit of a novice like I was and just want to skid about with the heated leather seats on. It’s the 160hp 2.0-litre model, obviously, which will be more than enough to make the most of a nice weekend track. And that’s before the modifications start, of course. Plus, because it’s a convertible, when it all gets a bit hot under the collar, you can cool down with a nice breezy drive home. Lovely. An MX-5 isn’t the Answer to Everything for no reason… BW
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