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10 Cars You Can Get on the Cheap and Easily Modify to Awesomeness

Buying an older or cheaper car and modifying it to make it both unique and better is a long-held tradition in American motoring.

Since Henry Ford first started churning out Model T’s by the hundreds, car owners have been customizing and modifying their cars to make them faster, more job-specific, or just more fancy.

Whatever the goal, it always starts with “more.”

Modifying a car can be as easy as bolting on a new spoiler or as time-consuming as re-tuning the engine and adding a roll cage for racing safety.

Here are ten vehicles that you can easily modify to be faster or cooler than their original.

While almost any vehicle can become a tuner, the cars on this list were chosen based on price, availability (for the car as well as parts and tuning kits) and beginner-level simplicity:

Acura Integra

Before the Acura RSX, there was the Integra.

Modified Acura Integra

Source: Richard Andrianto

The Integra was a great-looking little car that came out of the factory with a good start at being excellent. The third-generation Integra is often the one most sought after by tuners for its classic looks and solid build quality. The rare, but very sought-after Type R editions are especially prized.

Ford Mustang GT

Almost any Ford Mustang that is not the base V6 model can be well-tuned for straight-line racing.

Ford Mustang Modifications

The GT 350 designed by Carroll Shelby began it all decades ago, and since then the Ford Mustang GT has been a go-to choice for tuners.

Tuning for the Mustang really took off in the 1980s after the introduction of the “Fox body” Mustang from 1979.

Recently, famous drift racer Ken Block did an extreme modification to a classic 1965 Ford Mustang and has since been traveling the world, tearing up streets and burning tires with it:

1965 Ford Mustang modification - Ken Block

Source: Hoonigan

Honda Civic

The Honda Civic has long been a popular choice for amateur tuners.

Honda Civic Modifications

Its simple front-wheel drive platform, excellent handling dynamics and robust transmission have made the Civic a go-to tuner car for weekend performance tinkerers for years.

Likewise, its bigger brother the Honda Accord has gathered attention, especially in its coupe body style.

From outlandish spoilers to over-the-top snorkels and intake cuts, the Civic is extremely popular among street tuners.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

The Mazda Miata has a reputation for being one of the most customizable sports cars ever made.

As the world’s most popular roadster, the Miata is prolific enough that cars and parts for them are easily found.

Mazda MX-5 Miata modifications

Miatas are often modified for track racing, road course racing, drifting, and autocross. Modifications range from body styling to extreme engine tuning.

The small four-cylinder in the Miata can be tuned and turbocharged or replaced with anything up to a small-block V8, if you have the knowledge and skills.

The car’s excellent handling characteristics, low build, and simple, yet versatile chassis make it a winner all around when it comes to tuning potential.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

As far as automakers go, few have the racing credentials and reputation of Mitsubishi.

Although not very well-known in the United States as a general carmaker, Mitsubishi is one of the top names globally in various racing formats.

Few of their cars, however, have garnered the attention (and trophy case) that the Lancer Evolution has.

Mitsubishi Lancer modifications

Since its U.S. introduction in 2003, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has been one of the most coveted sport tuning cars since it arrived.

It features a robust all-wheel drive system, turbocharged engines that beg for bigger turbos and excellent track-ready handling characteristics. Whether on the pavement or in a rally, the Lancer Evolution is usually on the podium when the race is done.

Nissan 240SX

The 240SX is primarily known to tuners as one of the best drift machines you can build.

Red Nissan 240SX

Source: dongwan

It is rear-wheel driven, has a strong transmission, and an engine that just cannot be killed.

While body kits and wheel options are plentiful for the 240SX, most tuners aim for tire and rear chassis mods to improve the car’s drifting capability for both competition and fun.

The 240SX is often on the used market at very low prices and modifications are relatively cheap to make it competition-ready for amateur drifting.

Scion tC

The cheapest car on our list when purchased new, the Scion tC is relatively new to the field, but has become a popular tuner thanks to the plethora of aftermarket options that flooded the market when this popular little coupe hit showrooms.

Scion tC modifications

It comes off the line with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a transmission that both beg for upgrades.

The style of the car and its low price of entry has also meant that body modifications are a given for nearly everyone who buys one.

Wheels, an aftermarket spoiler and more are all to be had here.

Scion FR-S

Like the tC, the Scion FR-S (and to a lesser extent, its Subaru BRZ twin) are very popular tuner cars.

Red Scion FR-S

Source: Aurimas

These are track-ready, rear-wheel drive cars in their own right, with good power and great handling characteristics.

Designed as a collaboration between Toyota and Subaru, the FR-S and BRZ utilize a boxer four-cylinder engine and a very hot-looking exterior design. The collaboration proved successful and these cars sell very well out of showrooms nationally.

Now, the tuner culture has caught on and everything from turbochargers to new rear spoilers can be had for these cars.

Most of the tuning in the FR-S focuses on speed and track-readiness, but many popular kits are all about the bling too.

Subaru WRX STI

One of the few serious competitors for the above-mentioned Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the Subaru WRX STI is often a World Rallycross champion, and for good reason.

White Subaru WRX STI

Source: dave.see

The STI packaging for the cars comes with nearly everything the power-monger would want already installed. With a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out impressive power, the WRX STI is ready to rock out of the box.

Most tuners concentrate on body kits, rollover kits, interior modifications for racing and tire and wheel combinations for the track.

With four doors and family-car credibility, the WRX STI can also double as a daily driver.

Volkswagen GTI

Probably the most popular German car for tuning, the Volkswagen GTI is the original “hot hatch.” With practical performance, the VW GTI created its own culture of tuners.

Volkswagen GTI modifications

Most concentrate on track readiness with handling, control, and power output being their targets. However, aftermarket body kits and interior modification sets are becoming more popular as street tuners turn to the GTI for new inspiration.

Our Conclusion

The beauty of modifications is that they can be done to just about any car, so there are plenty of other models you could try too.

Check out our used car listings for an endless list of options!

26 thoughts on “10 Cars You Can Get on the Cheap and Easily Modify to Awesomeness”

  1. I drive a Volkswagen GTI and I can assure you that this is the best purchase I ever made. Especially driving this in turbo function is doing it for me!

  2. You are wrong about the v6 Mustang not being tunable, a GT costs $10k more, at least and for $5k in a v6 you can turbo/supercharge it for over 500 hp.

    1. Tom u are tight i have a 2003 3.8 that i have started modifying and have seen nice hp gains for cheap. next will be turbo and still isnt expensive fro the amount of horse power being put down

  3. Don’t forget that certain alterations to the body of your vehicle will necessitate a modification of the driveshaft as well. The ideal angel for most driveshafts is only one degree. It’s pretty easy to miss this mark. If it is off, it can cause damage to your vehicle and turn your upgrade into a huge liability. The biggest culprits that require attention are installing lift kits, changing the exhaust system, and using a car for racing.

  4. I have a 2013 3.7 Mustang. It comes with 305 hp from the factory. Add a procharged kit and it’d be pushing around 500 whp. You need to research cars if you’re going to talk about them.

    1. i could build a wrx sti and smoke any of your mustang or build up a dodge neon str-4 and still blow the doors off your mustang

  5. The only problem with 500hp on a Mustang is the lack of ability to corner. So says the STI as it leaves you or a typical corner. 🙂

    1. BS… just install the Street Eibach kit. handling on rails after that.
      I will take on an car (with the same hp) on a track with my GT.

    2. question about the sti which is on my list of test drive. my pos current new vw gli has major oil consumption issues and read online that some subaru models have same issue. have you had any problems like that? i love turbo cars but refuse to have to walk arround with a jug of oil in my trunk. i would apreciate your input. thanks

  6. Hey! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog
    and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the
    fantastic work!

  7. Haha right Charlie especially the Evo good luck getting and evo 8 in good condition for under 15k

    For me I’m going do drop a rebuilt z28 or corvette junkyard engine in a rx7fc and blow them away

  8. Volkswagen MK7 GTI stage 2 ! This thing eats Hemi scat packs, 2015 Mustangs, STI’s, EVO’s and gets over 30 miles to the gallon when you drive rite. The interior is sweet and so is the ride.

  9. You did not seriously put a honda civic put tuning potential and not put a Bmw 335i which has the N54 engine with a twin turbo, detuned un purpose so the E46 M3 has sales. And they are fairly cheap cars.

  10. To be honest the best cheap cars to tune is got to be the classic Mini Cooper and the volkwagen bettle just cause you car put a subra engine and they are light and not a lot of people do stuff to the cars.

  11. Whoever wrote this article clearly is a import fan. The vehicles, besides the mustangs, on this post will not be “fast”. The modifications are not “cheap” on most of these cars, and to get any real power you will have to spend some serious dough…

    What’s sad too is that you mentioned the v6 mustang not being a good starting point, and then you list a Civic??? Most modded Civics cannot beat a v6 mustang….

    You want to build a cheap fast car, buy a foxbody, camaro, or Trans Am. Will easily beat any of those cars, handle better, and look way better with way less money.

    So sick of this import tuner generation.

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