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Buy Fast or Build Fast---How Do You Decide?

Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
edited April 2014 in General
There seems to be a point of diminishing returns when you try to make a slow car faster. You often here the phrase: "If you want a faster car, go buy one".

The first few mods to make a fairly sedate car move along a bit faster seem affordable, but don't really get you very much speed for $500; then once you're hooked into the project, you might have to speed a *serious* sum of money to make a Dodge Neon or a stock V-6 Mustang go seriously fast. Turbocharging, bigger injectors, cams, headers, etc.-- or even an engine transplant.

What are some of the considerations when deciding whether to invest in the car you have, or turn it over for a car that the factory already made as fast as you want to go?


  • Dodge Neon is an excellent chassis for one. Its CHEAP used, fair durable, solid chassis and strong engines as long as the MLS head gasket was installed after the older versions failed and caused leaking.

    But for around $1,000 you can turn a standard Neon into one of the best handling FWD cars you can buy and its been proven by its SCCA track record.

    Hahn Racecraft over Christmas was selling their Stage 2 turbo kits with intercooler for less than $3,000.

    The stock engine can handle around 10-12psi as long as its in good working condition and last for several thousands of miles with regular maintance.

    In fact starting with a $2,500-3,000 mint condition '95 model sedan or couple for around $15,000 you can build car that does over 1 g on the skid pad, in both directions, bolt-on some slicks and run low 10 second ET's, have cheap insurance and still get over 30mph at freeway speeds if you keep the engine out of boost.

    That's not bad considering double that won't get you a car nearly as fast.

    That's just one example... 1st gen DSM's are an excellent value in a project car also.

    But honestly it just depends what your after. Not everybody can afford to pay $50,000 for some of the hotter hardware that the OEM's offer. That has always left room for the aftermarket to operate, where you can take the stripper base model of say a Mustang V6, with some bolt-ons run 13's on the motor, hit the nitrous bottle, run 12's and bolt-on a supercharger or turbocharger and hit 11's.

    Its already been done...

    Considering a V6, 5 speed Mustang runs around $22,000 out the door, that's much more to increase its performace to the level of even a highly modified Mustang GT.

    Part of the problem is people don't research deep enough and end up spending money two and three times before they get it right.

    But the truth is a project is never finished. It might end up in a state of being where you want it to be, but there's always one thing you would move, change or modify.

    There aren't many hobbies where you can turn a profit anyway and modifying cars is one of them.
  • carlisimocarlisimo Posts: 1,280
    True budget speed involves used cars and used parts. Get a $2-3k car, go the junkyard and get a $200 turbo...

    I think what happens a lot is that no matter what the owner's driving, he wants to add stuff to the car every month or two. If he buys a faster car... he's still going to want to do stuff. It's his hobby. So the modification budget comes before the car payment budget, and then it's not worth getting a new car.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    I understand and agree completely...but I was thinking that there are some cars where it really is a complete waste of time to try and get any decent performance out of it...contrary to popular belief, you can't really just "add up" the promised HP from each individual component. Or you create driveability problems that make your car much less pleasant to operate.
  • starrow68starrow68 Posts: 1,142
    The problem with the topic is that those cars you would include don't have an interest so no one is going to mention them. The ones that get lots of attention, asian rockets, Mustang, Corvette are all in work so people don't care what others think except at the end of the project.

    The real issue for me is that the original question is driven by two points, do you have more money or more time(given some talent)? Then given a or b, what do you want to do with those two factors? For most people there is no question that they have more time compared to money. In my case, no talent, I'll keep a stock machine and continue to try and improve driving skills but that does seem again to be in the minority. Most I see on the track have done lots of their own work and the work is almost as much fun to them as the result. For me the work is seat time and the result is little improvements that I recognize as I get a better line or higher rpm exit from a specific corner. Having lots of different tracks to practice helps as well.
  • 1racefan1racefan Posts: 932
    "but I was thinking that there are some cars where it really is a complete waste of time to try and get any decent performance out of it"

    When you said this, one immediately came to mind - Mitsu 3000GT. Car is heavy, and had mediocre performance to begin with (VR-4 models excluded). If I recall correctly, they also had some pretty sophisticated computer components on them too (for their time anyway). Not to mention, I would assume they are pretty expensive for a 20 something year old to insure.

    Point being, if you were going to buy one of these for $10,000 (just a guess for what an unmolested, decent one would go for), you could easily add $5,000 worth of goodies to it (CAI, exhaust, chip, tuneup, tires, wheels), and still not be where you could be by starting out with something like a $15,000-$18,000 low mileage '99 Mustang GT.
  • starrow68starrow68 Posts: 1,142
    The problem is you seem to be talking apples and oranges.

    The Stealth/3000 being awd, if I'm correct, are seen on track every so often and being low with lots of grip they do fairly well if a little underpowered for weight.

    The Mustang with solid axle, I think, is ok for going to the drags but is not going to do much on a road course without lots of help. As a daily driver I agree, they can be fun, but for performance you are missing a lot with one of them.
  • 1racefan1racefan Posts: 932
    "The Stealth/3000 being awd, if I'm correct, are seen on track every so often and being low with lots of grip they do fairly well if a little underpowered for weight."

    The VR-4 was AWD...The standard and SL models were fwd. The '97 SL model for instance weighed almost 3300#, and had 218hp.

    "The problem is you seem to be talking apples and oranges"

    Depends on what you consider apples, and what you consider oranges. I am comparing apples to apples in the fact that I am comparing 2 vehicles that have $15,000 invested in them - remember my original example of a $10,000 3000GT (non VR-4 model) with $5,000 worth of mods, vs a $15,000 used Mustang GT??
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    I think AWD is nasty to drive at serious speeds on a track, but that's another topic of discussion!

    Less weight = horsepower and upgraded brakes and steering have got to be worth 50 HP on the track.
  • starrow68starrow68 Posts: 1,142
    Not that I'm a fan but there seem to be a few out there:

    Just so happens that a couple of my coaches/instructors have been 3000 drivers and they do quite well but probably have set ups that are far from stock. Then again, my stock Vette on street tires has the HP advantage and after some time on track seems to pull away. The AWD guys seem to love it on track and I can see some advantages but we all seem to run what you brung!

    At the track, road race courses, build fast is most often as you note, upgrade things other than under the hood. There is something to be said for passing a 500hp car that gets on track about twice a year. But then again, my teacher mode kicks in and I usually show them the line and off they go.
  • starrow68starrow68 Posts: 1,142
    There are lots of things that cost the same but don't do the same job. That is what I mean for your comparison. The amount of suspension work required to get a Mustang to handle is beyond most and gets messed up more often than not when done by other than a professional. The 3000 otoh is fairly capable out of the box which the Mustang is really not. JMO

    The opposite is probably true at the drag strip where I've seen lots of Mustangs and many are set up to run very well, in many cases better than my stock 350hp Corvette on street tires. All about deciding what you want to accomplish with either the purchase or through the after market and not making too many detours.
  • Go to an Open Track Day or Time Trials and just see how well a EVO operates on a road course. Every type of car takes a different driving style. You don't drive a FWD, like a AWD, like a RWD, like a Rear engined car or like a Mid-engined car.

    Its all different...

    Some cars are hard to modify because they have no aftermarket support. Sorry, but the Neon is most likely the only other car to have challenged the Honda market effectively on the street and tracks of American and Canada.

    There is no 10 second Focus, a Focus hasn't won any sort of championship but has a better aftermarket and more smog legal parts than the Neon does.

    There's already a two 9 second Neons that could be driven on the street if the desire where there, but they are 100% trailered track cars.

    The EVO is the best bargin in a new performance car, period. There isn't another car you can buy brand new for under $30,000 that's a complete giant killer the EVO is, that includes the WRX Sti.

    At last count there are 5-6 EVO's, with 2 of them being daily driven that run 9 seconds in the 1/4 and make well over 600hp.

    For the total investment for less than a Corvette Z06, you can roast just about anything on the road with one of these in a highly modified state and not advestly effect day to day driving.

    A true dual purpose weapon.

    I would get just as many props for a hot EVO has I would for some fancy Audi or something. Not to diss Audi, but their cars, even the S series aren't all that fast for as much as they cost.

    There so many ways to do things, you have alot of choices making it hard to decide sometimes.

    Some would think a twin T67 turbocharged, 5.4L powered Ford Truck would be overkill at 600+hp on 92 octane pump. I say its just about right...
  • The 3000GT VR-4 is a really heavy car and with the crampped engine bay, it makes using upgraded turbos a chore.

    That is most likely one of the hardest of the old 90's Japanese supercars to modify effectively.

    Actually making a 5Oh handle isn't that much of an issue. For a sizable investment in Griggs racing parts, you can turn your Fox chassis based Mustang into a serious weapon on a road course. Also Saleen and Steeda Mustangs have done very well in showroom stock based competition.

    I would venture to argue the newest Mustang is the best handling car yet and a excellent platform to build from.

    I think this is where I should mention the Mitsubshi 4G63 turbo engine from a Gen 1 or Gen 2 DSM fits inside some early Hyundais with very little modifcations....

    You want a true sleeper? Put one of those into a Hyundai Excel.

    Its been done a few times and quite effective...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    I guess the question isn't so much "CAN you do it" but "SHOULD you bother to do it?"

    Now some people will say that just the challenge alone makes doing it worth it, but when I started this topic I was thinking more of general advice to first timers. Should they chuck that Excel or Mitsu 3000 and start with a fresh sheet of paper? Would that make them happier in the end?

    Ditto a flexi-flyer 5.0 Mustang. By the time you get that chassis to work for you, might you have been better off with a newer Mustang?
  • starrow68starrow68 Posts: 1,142
    Do DIY'ers really think like that? I'm not so sure from what I see. Those that are inclined jump in without thinking it all the way through, in most cases anyway. Where I have seen it is in Corvettes. First thing to add is the supercharger. Then they try to use it and break several other parts before figuring out that stock design for 350hp isn't going to work with 500+hp. Some go all the way and get it pretty sorted but many just back off and never really push the package since they know something else is going to break.
    Also with some friends of our daughter got to see the same in Mustangs for a year or so, and some modded right up to the point where it wouldn't run. It would have been funny if it wasn't so sad. I guess that makes the case, at least for me that it shouldn't be done by the back yard guy or gal, but there is always the exception and those are the success stories you mostly hear about. People don't advertise failure. But, on the bright side, these folks are probably keeping some of the manufacturing muscle that is still resident in the lower 48 by creating a fairly low demand for custom parts in the aftermarket. Not all of it comes from across a pond.

    Having a stock package that is functional out of the box and with a little experience driving is faster than most on track is really satisfying, at least for me. Laguna Seca was mostly dry last Friday, braking downhill into turn 2 for the morning through runoff over the track was worth some pucker factor (110+mph) but dried off as the day went on. Thunderhill on Saturday was even better but it was a school so with cone chicanes (?) on the straights they kept even the high HP cars under 100 all day.
  • Well if we want to talk fastest performance car for $15,000 why not just go buy a Camaro Z28 for $6,000-8,000 put $7,000-9,000 into it and be running low 11's? I'll never understand why Mustang GT's get so much hype about being great track cars. The f-body is simply a faster car with equivalent mods.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,482
    It might be faster but quite honestly (no offense intended) the last generation Camaros are about the worst-built car I have ever experienced in my life. They are so cheesy it would be hard for me to own one---even though they are really fun to drive and all that.
  • no offense taken... friend of mine has had two of them (V6's but I understand the build quality was about the same across the board) and they were pretty cheap interiors...

    that said, the thread was about cheap speed, not interior quality. If you want a good interior AND speed, I'd say an '05 GTO would be the choice over a mustang of the same year.... I'm admittedly a GM fanboy when it comes to muscle cars, but even so, the GTO is faster, handles better (thank you IRS), and according to most sources has one of the best interiors available in any GM product. Tack on a pedders suspension kit for $3-4k and some bolt on engine mods and there's your street friendly mustang killer...
  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,699
    Can't I buy a late 90s C5 Vette for less than an '05 GTO? If my goal is all around performance, wouldn't the C5 be a far better car?
  • Well, that's kind of apples to oranges, but ok, I'll play...

    According to Edmunds' own rating system:

    A '98 Vette (best engine, cheapest price) that's fairly well optioned with average yearly miles (12K/yr) will run ~$12,700 (private party), while an '05 GTO with average miles will run ~$18,400.

    So yes, you can buy a C5 for less money. You'll also be getting a car that's probably been beaten up to some degree whereas the GTO is still new enough that it's not likely to need any major repairs yet. The GTO also has a better (though slightly) motor to build on (LS2 instead of LS1 for the Vette). If performance is your goal then I'll leave off all that nonsense about the great GTO interior and the Vette's less than perfect interior or anything about standard options, daily driveability, # of seats, etc...

    The Vette will probably be faster around a circuit course where handling is key due to it's lower weight, and lower center of gravity. However, when both were new, the '98 coupe vette ran a 13.3 1/4 mile and the '05 GTO ran a 13.3 1/4 mile ( The same site has the Vette running 0-60 in 4.7 and the GTO in 4.8.

    Simply put, the GTO (due to weight) might be a little more sluggish around the corners, but just as fast on the straights. If you want a pure performance car for the money, and don't mind it having a little age/wear then the Vette is probably a better bet, but not by much. You're paying $5,000 less for a car with a lot more miles, and similar performance.

    However, if you take two cars of something closer to the same year (i.e. the vette and GTO are about 7 years apart) and compare the '98 Vette to a '98 Camaro then you've gotta take the Camaro. Once again you'd be sacrificing some things (a nicer interior, handling, etc) for a car thats cheaper to make go fast.

    When they were both new (even according to Edmunds) the only edge the Vette had over the Camaro was prestige and styling. It was $15,000 more expensive and not $15,000 faster. It's up to you to decide if a '98 Vette would be $5,000 faster than a '98 Camaro. By the same token, it'd be up to you to decide if the '05 GTO would be $6,000 better than the '98 Vette. It all depends on what you wanna do with them...
  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,699
    Camaro, I served with Corvette. I knew Corvette. Corvette was a friend of mine. Camaro, you're no Corvette.
  • True enough. When it comes down to it, I guess there's no substitute for personal preference.
  • paisanpaisan Posts: 21,181
    There are several factors in play here.

    What is the car being used for? Racing? Street driving/cruising? Showing? etc.

    There are several schools of thought in the racing world on build v. buy.

    Pros and cons to both.

    Build: Pros- you know the car is solid, it's custom for you, you may already own it.
    Cons- Usually costs more, more time involved, more shakedown time

    Buy: Pros- Cheaper, quicker Cons- Sometimes fall apart w/o notice, less personal interest, not custom to your desires.

This discussion has been closed.