James Watt… The man, the legend. Some of you may have heard his name, while most of you likely haven’t. His mere existence founded the measurement of power many have been forced to debate their own pride or ego based on that very concept. Before I go further, this is not a biography on James Watt. This is all about the most popular measurement of power that we use on a daily basis in the car world since the earliest work of James Watt and today to somehow prove the statement of “My car is better than your car”. That’s right, the number everyone cares about once you figure 550 foot pounds per second or rather 33,000 foot pounds per minute… Horsepower.
This isn’t something put together just to find the brand spankin’ new and fastest machine for your dollar. I’ll be including many different pricing brackets and production year will not be considered… with “Horsepower” being the most important term in mind, The only factors will be: Horsepower, torque, acceleration and top speed.
- Vehicle can be acquired easily in good running condition within the price bracket
- Factory performance; No performance modifications (despite being the best part).
- Each pricing bracket will be incremented in $10,000 ranges and feature five vehicles.
- For the sake of budgets, we’ll stop the brackets @ $40,000
- Picture must come from a vehicle advertisement; proving it’s legitimacy of price
- Measurement of power will only be applied to cars (coupe, sedan, saloon, exotic, etc.)
Side note: With a good amount of unbiased research into this subject, I understand not all great cars can be covered, but kudos in advance to those that can submit a better selection into the appropriate pricing bracket.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
1995-2001 BMW 750il 5.4L V12 // $3,500 – $6,000
- 326bhp & 361lb-ft
- 0-60 mph @ 6.2 seconds
- Top speed @ 155 mph
Nothing says “I’m looking for all the bells and whistles ahead of its time, but don’t want to spend more than $5,000” like a 10 year old BMW top of the line model (once you get past some of the common electrical issues). Equipped with a V12 that screams like a 24hr Le Mans racer when the exhaust is modified, the engine is praised for being pretty bullet-proof by many, but you can be certain to only enjoy it until the fuel tank runs empty, which doesn’t take long churning 15mpg in a 4,500lb car. The vehicle pictured is asking $5,200 which is a pretty great price for something in this good condition. You can also find one in Alpina trim if you’re lucky enough.
1997-2003 Jaguar XJR 4.0L V8 Supercharged // $4,000 – $8,000
- 370bhp & 387lb-ft
- 0-60 mph @ 5.6 seconds
- Top speed @ 155.3 mph
Yes, it is a “jag” and you might look like one driving it. Yes, it will have its baggage of problems. A quick search on Craigslist can snag you one in great condition for a minimum of $4,000. Not a bad purchase when you compare statistics of this vehicle and how it shouldn’t be possible in a 5000lb car.
1999-2004 Ford Mustang GT // $3,000 – $10,000
- 260-390bhp (varies)
- 0-60 mph @4.4-5.2 seconds (varies)
- Top speed @ 150mph
It is impossible to write this up without mentioning the all-American Ford Mustang. While the one pictured is a GT which packs a mere 260hp, you can find plenty of different special edition Mustangs which offer ample power (ex: Mach1, SVT). The 260bhp GT is still no slouch in this horsepower competition, with a 0-60 time of a pinch higher than 5 seconds flat, it will still plant you in your seat. The 2002 GT pictured is in pristine condition, and the seller is asking $6,900. You can easily find plenty of ponies for your wallet under $10,000 within the same search. Too good of a bargain to pass!
1998-2002 Chevrolet Camaro SS // $5,000 – $9,000
- 305-325bhp (varies)
- 0-60 mph @5.1-5.4 seconds (varies)
- Top speed @ 162mph
Who can mention the Mustang without mentioning his party-going, mullet wearing rival… The Camaro! Stock for stock, the Camaro lacks in the dead stop launch compared to its rival but plays catch-up very quickly in the mid to top end… and making this catfish a good catch for under 10k! If you’re not feeling the Camaro styling, you can always try the Pontiac Trans Am which shares the F-body platform.
1992-1996 Chevrolet Corvette // $6,000-$10,000
- 300bhp & 340lb-ft
- 0-60 mph @ 5.1 seconds
- Top speed @ 172mph
The most under-estimated, under-appreciated Corvette of any generation… The C4. Even with 300bhp, it is far from slow on its lightweight fiberglass containment. On paper, this car will leave the others in your rear view mirror. Nowhere can you find a 80’s/90’s vehicle to take you this close to the 200mph club at the price. I wouldn’t put the top speed to the test unless the car is running in tip-top shape but teenagers can rejoice and celebrate mid-life crisis 25 years early! Be sure to crank up the Van Halen while approaching track days… I’ve been told it gives the car increased stamina (could be a myth).
—-$10,001 – $20,000—-
2011-2014 Ford Mustang GT // $17,000-$20,000
- 412 bhp & 390lb-ft
- 0-60 mph @4.3 seconds
- Top speed @ 145mph (governed)
I feel as though the pony cars will sound like a broken record throughout this article, so to avoid any explanation… ‘Merica! 2011 was the model year that the infamous 5.0L (officially branded the nickname of “coyote”) came back to the market, and it came back in a big way. You can get one for yourself at the approximate price listed above. The one pictured is asking $19,700 which still is a bargain when looking at the performance on paper.
2010-2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS // $18,000-$20,000
- 426bhp (varies)
- 0-60 @ 4.6 seconds (varies)
- Top speed @ 155mph (governed)
The 5th generation Camaro was arguably a way for Chevrolet to tell Ford “We still got it!”. It came with more power than its rival and really put Chevrolet back on the map. Although extremely difficult to find a 5th generation SS Camaro for less than $20,000 since it has a little better resale value than its rival, it’s still possible to find one on the 20k budget. If you’re looking for one, 2010-2013 is a good model year range. The Automatic gives you 400bhp and a hairline quicker than the 6-speed when sprinting from a dead stop in the L99, where as the 6-speed Manual will fetch you an extra 26bhp in a bonafide LS3.
2004-2007 Cadillac CTS-V // $13,000-$20,000
- 400bhp & 395lb-ft
- 0-60 mph @ 4.6 seconds
- Top speed @ 163 mph (governed)
Normally if one wanted a Cadillac 20 years ago, they’d go see a boat salesman. GM decided they were done making their luxury brand look like the sole reason why global warming is the largest problem in the world, to still making sophisticated machines and maybe compete with some European companies in the process. Although based on consumer needs of today, the first generation CTS-V may not provide the best bells & whistles but was still well equipped for the production years. What’s not to hate about a luxury 4 door Z06 Corvette? This 2005 featured asks just below $16,000 and probably the best bargain in this budget range! Not feeling luxury? Find yourself a Pontiac G8 GT for an even better price.
2002-2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 // $17,000-$20,000
- 405bhp & 400lb-ft
- 0-60 mph @ 4.0 seconds
- Top speed @ 170mph (drag limited)
Speaking of the Z06 Corvette, why not bring it up? A cool $20,000 or less, you can get into a C5 Z06. The top speed is drag limited and with some aerodynamic modifications, most are confident they can feel warm and welcomed into the 200mph club (I don’t recommend attempting this on public roads). Try to find a 2002 or newer equipped with the LS6 rather than the 2001 model year lacking 20bhp & 15lb-ft in comparison with the LS1. The Z06 featured in the photo is asking sub $19,000 for some tire shredding, heart pounding track day fun!
2004-2010 Chrysler 300C SRT8 // $12,000-$20,000
- 425bhp & 420lb-ft
- 0-60 mph @ 4.9 seconds
- Top speed @ 171mph (governed)
Finally, an SRT trim made it to the list. At first glance it really looks like something you expect your grandpa to step into. Once you start the car, everything changes. This no longer feels like your grandpas car, even “that guys” car convincing you really hard to think its a Bentley when you squint your eyes. It feels like a tank and has every right to with a curb weight of 4,000lbs, but when you stand on the gas pedal… it gives every sports car a run for their money. A top speed that would make a C5 Z06 owner cry as you’re dead even on a “closed course”. At 171 mph, the computer cuts off the fuel which “limits” you from higher speeds. Although it doesn’t quite compare to the rest in this list off the line, rest assured you’ll catch up and pass in the top end. The vehicle featured in the photo can be obtained with just shy of $14,000.
—-$20,001 – $30,000—-
2011-2014 Dodge Challenger SRT8 // $22,000-$30,000
- 470bhp & 470lb-ft
- 0-60 mph @ 4.4 seconds
- Top speed @ 182mph
The monster 6.4L Hemi was introduced to the SRT product line in 2011 and still being equipped in SRT trims today. Much like all Dodge/Chrysler performance cars, it somehow doesn’t ship off the production line unless it passes the “weighs over 4,000lbs” test… You can consider this car in any “heavyweight” boxing match if one were ever to be announced, but don’t count on it when it’s competitors (Ford/GM) are trying to lose weight and compete more in the middle-lightweight match-ups. As it sits, Chrysler will need to aggressively diet to stay in the game… otherwise they will find their performance division in last place in the near future. Still, you really have to hand it to Dodge because the Challenger today feels like a dying breed and the last surviving “true” muscle car. You can get this very powerful piece of machinery pictured for just under $25,000. That’s not a bad price considering “Yellow Jacket” Challengers are a special edition. Not feeling the coupe? Opt-in for a family friendly 2011-2014 Dodge Charger SRT8 or Chrysler 300 SRT8 for the same power and around the same cost.
2006-2009 Audi S8 5.2L quattro // $20,001 – $30,000
- 450bhp & 398lb-ft
- 0-60mph @ 5.0 seconds
- Top speed @ 155mph (governed)
All pretty well and fair performance numbers despite the electronically limited top speed. Hop into an Audi S8 and feel warm and welcomed. Audi during time of production set the bar for all luxury brands to compete with. So although the interior is standard to consumer needs of today, from 2006-2009 the S8 was well ahead of its time. The 5.2L V10 is something magical, and not just because it is derived from the Lamborghini Gallardo and used in the Audi R8. Little key differences split the drive-train from the S8 and the R8 or Lamborghini such as material used in the rotating assembly. This definitely remains as a sedan you’ll appreciate and might just feel you’re part of something bigger. Dare I say it was specifically made for a hitman… mob boss… getaway driver? Either way, for under $30,000… you can be whatever you want.
2005-2010 BMW M5 // $20,001 – $30,000
- 500bhp & 383lb-ft
- 0-60mph @ 4.0 seconds
- Top speed @ 155mph (governed)
While we’re on the subject of V10 engines, let’s go ahead and list a car ready to slap the face of its competition. Welcome to the 500hp club! The E60 M5’s were so special to BMW, they engineered the S85 V10 specifically for the 2005-2010 BMW M5 and no other production vehicle. The 2005-2010 M5 was also the world’s first V10 equipped saloon. There is certainly something special about bringing your luxury car to the drag strip and hitting the 1/4 @ almost 12 seconds flat. The 2008 M5 pictured can be driven off the lot for a pinch over $25,000.
2006-2008 Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG // $25,000 – $30,000
- 510bhp & 531lb-ft
- 0-60 @ 4.5 seconds
- Top speed @ 187mph (governed)
We’re on a Germany streak here with yet another Deutschland addition to the list. The Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG or “the used entry level supercar”. Everything about these cars will leave you wishing you bought it. Real fender vents and heat extractors to make all the auto part store stick-on vents jealous, and more badges plastered on the car than you can keep count. In all seriousness though, these cars are worth every dollar. Over 500hp, reaching 60mph well under 5 seconds and a top speed that is limited to 187mph (most have reported 202mph once limiter is removed!). These cars are hard to walk away from at this price range.
2006-2008 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 // $25,000 – $30,000
- 505bhp & 470lb-ft
- 0-60mph @ 3.6 seconds
- Top speed @ 198mph (unofficial: 216mph)
The legendary Corvette strikes again! The C6 Z06 is a very hard find for under $30,000 but if you look in the right places, you can find one. The one pictured is asking $29,995 and depending on how dedicated you are to obtaining one, you can find some for even less. Your money is nowhere near wasted here when you consider being hurled into your seat at an 11 second 1/4 mile sprint while financing it on a sub-average salary. With a 0-60 acceleration time to scare your mother, this car sounds like what budget dreams are made of.
—-$30,001 – $40,000—-
2010-2014 Ford Mustang – Shelby GT500 // $32,000 – $40,000
- 550bhp & 510lb-ft
- 0-60mph @ 4.0 seconds
- Top speed @ 155mph (governed)
The Shelby legacy has always been held close to the Ford Mustang. You could say the names Shelby and Mustang go together better than PB&J. You won’t find a super snake within the price range but a standard GT500 is more than good enough. The car sounds like an animal and acts like one too, as you take a seat inside, it feels like pure heritage and class had a baby. There is nothing to hate about this car and now that they’re available for under $40,000… I’m confident we’ll see more and more people enjoying them on the road as the future summer seasons approach. Just be extra careful leaving car shows!
2012-2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 // $34,000 – $40,000
- 580bhp & 556lb-ft
- 0-60mph @ 3.9 seconds
- Top speed @ 184mph
The fifth generation Camaro clearly displays inspiration from the first generation Camaro. Most people would agree that no Camaro looks better than the first generation but the ZL1 in particular has a strange and unique history for 1969, and GM decided it was time for a comeback. If you want a 1969 ZL1 (COPO 9560 package) Camaro, prepare to fork over almost a million. For the fifth generation ZL1 comeback? Expect a bargain 35-40,000 dollars. Look for 2012-2013 model years because the 2014-2015 exterior refresh models haven’t come down in price just yet. General Motors have always had a competitive mindset when marketing against Ford, the revival of the ZL1 was their version of GT500 kryptonite.
2004-2006 Bentley Continental GT // $34,000 – $40,000
- 616bhp & 590lb-ft
- 0-60mph @ 4.0 seconds
- Top speed @ 205mph
Bentley is pretty well-known for using the same design and constantly beating that dead horse until no one is buying them anymore, but the wealthy will continue to buy. Lift the hood and feast your eyes on what happens when performance and art come together to make something oddly fascinating. The W12 layout leaves you to question how any of this actually works. Between a gigantic 12 cylinder engine and a little help from two turbos, it’s all necessary to move almost 5,500lbs of a rolling tank. You can score the one in the photo for just shy of $35,000 and be two more turbos away from being in a Bugatti.
2003-2006 Dodge Viper SRT-10 // $34,000 – $40,000
- 500bhp & 525lb-ft
- 0-60mph @ 3.8 seconds
- Top speed @ 190mph
While the Ford GT is almost impossible to obtain on a budget, the Dodge Viper is considered a top contender in a “tried and true” American exotic car. Sure, the Corvette has quite the brass to compete but they’re so common that they lose that special appeal. A Viper seems only common at car shows or cruise nights and when one is spotted randomly on a highway during a Sunday stroll, it actually feels special seeing one. The coupe is a little quicker than the roadster and maybe the roadster is slightly less desirable by the Viper community. Whatever the case, it drives the value down for bargain shoppers which is good news. The roadster featured here can be driven off the lot for only $35,000. It’s rare to find a coupe within this price range, but if you ever find one and you prefer it… go for it! If you’re planning on purchasing one, use extreme caution… A Viper might leave you thinking it’s trying to kill you, and it just might.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray // $38,000 – $40,000+
- 460bhp & 465lb-ft
- 0-60mph @ 3.8 seconds
- Top speed @ 186mph
Seriously… Why am I forced to bring this car up again? The Corvette is an absolute weapon, a molotov cocktail in the hands of General Motors to say “We’re the best”. The most common sports car that acts like an exotic but the C7 looks like one too. Of course we can all keep joking about how it’s the “old mans toy” but when GM’s marketing executive tells everyone, “Nobody wants to be seen driving an old man’s car, but everybody wants to be seen driving a young man’s car.”, you can be certain that GM is trying really hard to put those jokes to rest, or maybe because 82% of their customers are median age of 53. When you put all that aside, the C7 Stingray is undoubtedly the best looking Corvette yet. With a top speed of 186mph tested on the Autobahn and a sub-4 second 0-60 time, you certainly won’t be cracking any mid-life crisis jokes. Acceleration and top speed aren’t the only perks to this car either, take it to your local autocross event or a circuit track day and this car will not be dubious but rather reward you on every apex. If you’re serious about shopping for a C7 Stingray, only a 2014 model year will be within sub-40k budget. GM equipped 2014 models with a 6 speed automatic which wasn’t something “new”. 2015 was updated to the 8 speed automatic. For the purists, the 7 speed manual is always available (and recommended).
We all have the love for cheap thrills, fast cars at cheap prices are as good as that gets. If you have something you think should belong in a pricing bracket, category, etc. Who knows? It’s possible there are many cars out there that can best any horsepower numbers in this list. Let us know and comment your selection and discuss!
Featured banner image: James Watt (dazeinfo.com)
(Numbered in order of each vehicle featured)